Introducing PYE’s new Executive Director – Larisa Benson

We envision a world in which all young people lead creative, purposeful lives.

May 6, 2021

Dear PYE Community spread across the world,

I want to acknowledge the suffering in the world from COVID-19, and the systemic inequity that has made the suffering even more acute for those marginalized based on one or more markers of race, gender, tribe, caste and/or politics. It’s a tough time across the world. I send prayers and strength. 

PYE has also been affected by COVID in different ways, including leadership changes. We have a new Executive Director (ED), Larisa Benson, who comes with a strong connection to PYE and the right experience for visioning and guiding the organization into a new world as it slowly emerges from the collective COVID trauma. Infact, Larisa’s name was suggested by Helena!

We just said a fond farewell to Helena Hennighausen, our former ED, who is starting an exciting chapter in her life with a rapidly growing social enterprise called Third Sector Intelligence. “3si” recruited our talented Helena in their mission to use data to effect positive change for their clients in child welfare, education, and other policy sectors.

2020 capped Helena’s 7th year with PYE, and she pulled off a miracle in leading our organization through the first year of COVID. In fact, the day she became ED was the very first day Washington State officially went into shut down! With her steady “can-do” spirit, Helena led our responses to the COVID situation. As a result, our small but mighty team realized a long-held aspiration to translate our core offerings of Creative Facilitation into a virtual experience, responded to the immediate needs of educators and youth workers to learn ‘How To Lead Engaging Programs’ online, and launched the highly popular Creative Catalyst Series. And, we made it through 2020 net positive on the budget to boot!

Thanks to Helena’s leadership, we are coming out of 2020 in a position to grow and impact even more youth in the coming years. Helena, we appreciate you so much and we remain forever grateful for your heartfelt contributions over the years including a very difficult year through COVID.  You will always be a part of our PYE family. Thank you, Helena!

I want to introduce Larisa to all of you more fully. When we met with Larisa over Zoom (ofcourse), and we could hardly believe our fortune. She already had a deep, soulful understanding of PYE’s magic (core strength). Her own daughter, Alina Benson participated in Power of Hope camps on Whidbey Island in 2016 and 2017, and these experiences were — as they are for so many young people — nothing short of life-changing.  As a result, Larisa became keenly interested in learning about PYE’s methodology from our talented community of facilitators. Larisa studied Creative Facilitation and Art of Facilitation under PYE facilitators Claudia Pineda, Mari Shibuya, Alan Wong and Peggy Taylor. (Her AOF cohort was the one that was interrupted by the pandemic; now she can continue her learning by supporting the whole team!)

Larisa began teaching leadership in the Masters of Public Administration program and the University of Washington in 1998, and has been tapped by several elected and appointed leaders including former Governor Christine Gregoire. She is a 3-time National Award winner for transforming systems in the public sector, including child welfare and community-oriented governance. After a 30-year career as an architect of systemic change in government agencies, Larisa shifted to become an embodied leadership coach for younger leaders and volunteer as a chaplain for emerging social movements. 

She is a Leadership Embodiment and Mindfulness coach trained with Search Inside Yourself, a program that was born inside Google and is now a global mindful leadership institute.  She’s also a certified mentor with Racial Justice from the H.E.A.R.T.  One of the reasons we brought her on board is her deep personal commitment to social justice. She believes, as I do, that one of the greatest challenges we face today is working across differences that divide and separate us at the personal, professional, organizational, and societal levels. Young people are already leading the way, and PYE can play a meaningful role as part of this social movement with partners in the USA and across the globe.

Larisa sees the challenges of our times clearly. She is deeply committed to youth and to PYE flourishing in response to the cataclysmic forces pulling our world apart today. Please join me in thanking Helena for her great contribution to the PYE community, and in welcoming Larisa to us.

Thank you all for your work and support,


Deepa Narayan

Deepa Narayan
Board Chair
Partners for Youth Empowerment

Leave a Reply

BLOG Writing Sections

News: PYE updates, jobs, workshop announcements

Thought Leadership: Innovation Center publications, research, Creative Empowerment Model

Adult Learning: Stories of success using PYE facilitation practices

Impact Stories: Stories from our partners and PYE annual reports

Youth Empowerment: Camps, tips for youth work, camp youth profiles


Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletter