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Who WE Are

Welcome to Wild Earth! Get to know our Staff and Board of Directors. Want to know more about our values, etc? Visit our About page.

Wild Earth Staff – check out our new Employee Handbook!

Wild Earth Staff

Abby SchmeichelAbby Schmeichel, Communications & Recruitment Coordinatorabby@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Abby grew up in NY, VA, IL, and PA moving frequently and living in a mix of urban, suburban, and rural environments. She discovered a passion for the outdoors in the backyard spaces of her many childhood homes: collecting acorns under oak trees in VA, hunting for snails in a small garden in the Bronx, exploring a thin strip of forest separated by farms in northern Illinois, and many more. Abby enjoys working outdoors with youth and communicating the wonders of the natural world, skills which she developed over the last 5 years as an educator at several outdoor schools in WY, WA, and MT and as a researcher, outreach coordinator and administrator in MT. She recently moved back to NY to be near family and was excited to join the Wild Earth team in 2022.
Alisha Mai FrankAlisha Mai McNamara, Program Directormai@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 x 6 – Mai grew up in southwestern CT, where she spent her days clamoring across barnacled boulders lining Long Island Sound, and capturing crickets to feed to her leopard frogs. She studied acting at Emerson College and graduated from Hampshire College with a self-designed B.A. in ecosystem mimicry agriculture and community circus theater. Alisha Mai has run nature-immersion programming since 2008, with Vermont Wilderness School, the Institute for Natural Learning, Wolftree Programs, White Pine Programs, and most recently, Wild Earth. Mai enjoys working with girls and teens, and incorporating physical play into her programs. She draws upon her background in theater and circus to create zany and magical experiences in nature. Alisha Mai is certified in Wildlife Track and Sign (Level II) through CyberTracker, and is a Wilderness First Responder. She teaches vinyasa yoga and aerial silks, and studies at Circus Warehouse in Queens.
Caleb MercadoCaleb Mercado, Programs for Schools Teen Coordinator – caleb@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Caleb grew up in Chicago and has worked for non-profit organizations for almost 2 decades, with his focus primarily being on community advocacy for underserved youth. Now at Wild Earth, Caleb uses outdoor spaces as a way to offer support, instill life skills, and environmental awareness for underserved students in the Kingston City School district.

Craig DiazCraig Diaz, Middle School Coordinator – craig@wildearth.org – Craig was born to Martha Diaz and Jin Kim in Flushing, Queens. As early as he could flip rocks, he developed a passion for insects that followed him all throughout his academic and professional career. He has a B.S. in Environmental Biology from SUNY-ESF, an M.Ed. in Environmental Education from Bard College, and has worked for the Bureau of Invasive Species and Ecosystem health within the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Most of his work for NYSDEC included surveying and felling pitch pine trees infested with Southern Pine Beetle in the Long Island Pine Barrens. Having seen the need for a positive relationship between people, bugs, and the environment at large, Craig now proudly shares his passion and experience with and through Wild Earth.
David BrownsteinDavid Brownstein, Executive Directordavid@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 x 4 – In 2004, David co-founded and, today, is the Executive Director of Wild Earth, where he seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision.  Learn more about David at rootconnections.org. Have you seen David’s Wild Earth blog posts?
Devin MaximeDevin Maxime, Program Administratordevin@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Devin grew up in Mesa, Arizona where she’d run around barefoot outside in the scorching desert heat while getting cholla cactus stuck all over her clothes. She worked multiple jobs in high school, didn’t understand what the SAT’s were, and moved away from home at 17. After many obstacles, she became a first-generation college graduate with a BA in Environmental Studies from CUNY Hunter College. Her first time visiting the Hudson Valley was during a Hunter College Geography Club trip and she immediately fell in love. After college, she worked in managerial and administrative roles while volunteering in needs-based education with New York Cares. She later moved to Kingston and joined the Wild Earth staff!
Dustin LambertaDustin Lamberta, Associate Director – dustin@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Dustin grew up playing with his sister and other neighborhood kids in the “woods” (an acre of marshy land deemed too wet for development) near his suburban Long Island childhood home. After focusing his studies on political science, and philosophy at SUNY New Paltz, he began to take interest in local food and ecology while working at local farms and wineries. In Fall, 2011 he was introduced to Wild Earth by his friend Thomas Meli, and began attending the Dawn Song Village Program. He has since staffed several Wild Earth programs as well as some time with White Pine Programs in Maine and Coyote Club Wildlife Education Programs in New Hampshire. He is a passionate deer hunter, loves birds, harvesting edible plants, open fire cooking, gardening, and Earthenware pottery. He lives in Cottekill, NY with his wife Terrah and dogs Frankie and Peanut.
Esperanza Gonzalez Esperanza Gonzalez, Program Operations Directoresperanza@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Esperanza is, and has always been, a teacher at heart. From the early age of 8 she would hold play groups in her church and tend to the young children who would often disrupt the sermons. This passion to teach carried on through the years, bringing her to SUNY New Paltz where she received her Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and History. While living in New Paltz, she merged her love for the outdoors, her passion for teaching and her organizational and entrepreneurial skills into many different educational programs. She has taught in various local schools, led theater groups, kids yoga, art programs and of course worked with Wild Earth in a number of programs. Her commitment to community connection has guided her community service work in jails, juvenile centers, Americorps, inner-city art programs, soup kitchens and many more volunteer based initiatives. She sees every child’s potential and knows there is no better way to hold their blossoming than through the arts and the exploration of the natural world.
Jennifer Skipper, Instructorjennifer@wildearth.org – Jennifer Skipper grew up south of Albany, in Coeymans Hollow. From a young age she could be found exploring nature, and the wilderness she found surrounding her house. She developed a love for exploration, and adventure. Whether she is tramping through the forest, or building shelters, Jennifer finds great joy in her time in the wild. She has explored, and familiarized herself with the Northern Catskills, and Southern Adirondacks, Jennifer is an avid hiker, camper, and bush crafter. She also enjoys anything that will put her closer to nature. Jennifer participated in an apprenticeship with Dave Muska, from Ondatra Adventures. Where she learned, and practiced primitive skills, survival skills, as well as wild edible, and medicinal plant identification.

Jess Davis, Administrative Managerjess@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Jess has a background working in and for environment and social-justice focused nonprofit organizations including Housing Works in NYC and Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls. Jess had a transformative experience as a junior nature camper and counselor at the Oglebay Institute’s Junior Nature Camp in Wheeling, WV, that sparked a lifelong interest in ecology and the natural world, so Jess was thrilled to join the staff of Wild Earth in 2020.

Jessie LotrecchianoJessie Lotrecchiano, Field Staff Directorjessie@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Jessie has come to resettle here in the Hudson Valley after spending most of her young life in North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Elementary Education from Appalachian State University, Jessie went on to work in various child care professions before leaving the classroom to be a wilderness therapy guide in Utah for five years. During that time she learned and taught self reliance, survival skills and natural crafts with teenagers while hiking and camping in the desert. She loves learning and exploring in the outdoors and hopes to instill that passion in her students.
Jonathan GonzalezJonathan Gonzalez, Associate Directorjonathan@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Jonathan was born in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico to Carmen Patria Arbolay and Raul Gonzalez Castillo and the youngest of 4 brothers. His enjoyment for working outdoors started at a young age after moving to and growing up in Southern California. Riding bikes around the dirt tracks the neighbor kids made in the empty lot behind his neighborhood and spending all his free time outside playing was the norm. It wasn’t until his late 20s however that his enjoyment turned into deep passion and insatiable curiosity for ways of living with the earth. Jonathan spent the next 12 years learning earth living skills and ancestral ceremonial ways with many teachers and elders including Roman Guaraguaorix Perez and Tiokasin Ghosthorse.  Learning the earth living skills combined with participating in indigenous earth-based ceremonies along with a quest to connect more deeply with his ancestral lineage (Indigenous Taino (Puerto Rico), Chinanteco (Mexico), African, and European) has dramatically shifted Jonathan’s life over the last 13+ years. He considers himself lucky to have his background and be able to share his love of these ways with folks from all walks of life. Jonathan combines all this with a bachelor’s degree of Social Work and many years of experience working with folks with neurodiversity, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. He also has a certification in permaculture and spent several years working in gardening and landscape design.
Kapi`olani A. LaronalKapi`olani A. Laronal, MA, Ed., Consultant – Kapi`olani is a descendant of the Haida (Eagle Clan, Sgwaa Gitanee, People of the Tall Grass), Tsimshian, Native Hawaiian, and Filipino. Kapi’olani’s experiences working with Native communities on ocean and land restoration projects, cultural preservation, and protocols have played a significant role in shaping her educational and professional life. She is an educator, athlete, life coach, and consultant who teaches Indigenous approaches to positive change by using traditional teachings and knowledge to support transformation and growth. Kapi`olani brings 18 years of experience working in secondary and higher education institutions supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and policies centered on college student outreach, recruitment, and services for traditionally underserved and low-income communities of color. Her work specializes in Indigenous and First Nations community-centered partnerships.
She held student support and administrative positions at Yale and Dartmouth Native American programs, the Northwest Indian College, and the Enumclaw School District’s Title VII Program in partnership with the Muckleshoot Tribe. Kapiolani lives in the Bronx, New York. She is a solopreneur, consultant, and life coach. Kapiolani founded Indigenous Life Coach & Consultant Corporation and does what she loves helping others succeed. She creates virtual spaces for individuals and organizations that aim to support their health and well-being, as well as, centering Indigenous approaches to positive change and transformation.
She offers diversity, wellness, and self-development courses on Mighty Networks and her free mindfulness exercises can be found on Insight Timer.
Learn more: IndigenousLifeCoach.com.
Kate Pinyavan Kate Pinyavan, Finance, HR & Operations Directorkate@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Kate’s curiosity of the wild began while being raised on a maple farm in Central NY. Surrounded by natural forests and open pastures, she developed a passion for the freedom that exploration in nature provides for children. After discovering the Hudson Valley as her home more than 20 years ago, Kate now raises her two daughters in New Paltz where they take advantage of all of the amazing hiking spots on preserved lands. She comes to Wild Earth with many years of experience in nonprofit management, focusing specifically on youth development and providing access to marginalized communities. Kate is receiving her MPA from Marist with a concentration in Ethical Leadership. In her spare time, Kate leads an inclusive Girl Scout troop, teaching young girls about leadership and the responsibility we all have to care for our environment and our communities.
Kayla VanHouten Kayla VanHouten, Instructorkayla@wildearth.org – Kayla was born and raised in the Hudson Valley where she spent most of her childhood exploring all this beautiful valley has to offer. Her passion drove her to attain her BA in Environmental Studies & Policy in 2019 and work on various outdoor research projects before joining the Wild Earth team in 2021. She loves spending her time exploring the woods, crafting with natural materials and most of all, exploring these interests with other excited people!
Omari Washington, Deputy Directoromari@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Omari Washington identified his purpose in 2004, during a backpacking & paddling trip above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Despite emerging evidence, at that time few people were willing to believe climatologists’ warnings that humans were negatively impacting our planet. Hiking across the melting permafrost, Omari witnessed the significant changes already taking place. Moreover, he knew that many marginalized communities would be disproportionately affected by our inaction. After returning from that trip, Omari attended Green Mountain College in Vermont and received a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Since then, he has led hikes in urban parks, managed diverse teams of environmental educators, built school gardens, developed curricula, and helped plant 1,000,000 trees in New York City. The focus of all of this work has been to engage and empower youth in developing deep connections to nature, centered around their own unique experiences. Omari is grateful to be welcomed into the Wild Earth community, where young leaders are growing wild!
Sarah Nason Sarah Nason, Bookkeeper & Financial Administratorsarah@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Sarah grew up in Michigan, where her first introduction to the “wild” was through YMCA summer camps. She looked forward to exploring and getting dirty, and would jump into any body of water that she could find. Her passion for the outdoors led her to the Pacific Northwest, where she spent nearly 20 years on the shores and slopes of Washington State. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resource Management and has worked in the fields of environmental conservation, food justice, corporate accountability and civic engagement. A desire to build community and share her love of the outdoors with young people led Sarah to spend nearly a decade volunteering as a mentor and snowboard instructor for Seattle youth. Sarah moved to the Hudson Valley in early 2017 to be closer to family and is proud to call Wild Earth her home. She still loves to get dirty and will still jump into any body of water she can find.
Tiffany BarringerTiffany Barringer, Instructortiffany@wildearth.org – Born and raised in the magical Catskill mountains, Tiffany’s idea of a perfect day would be spent barefoot off the beaten path exploring the true wild woods, climbing high into the pines, bird-watching (especially at her favorite place, the Great Blue Heron rookery she visits as often as possible which had 5 nests and many babies last year!), tracking the local wildlife, snacking on the plants and berries along the way, and floating life away swimming in the streams. Graduating from Suny Ulster with an Associates degree in Science and spending nearly ten years in retail, she decided it was time she followed her passions and answering her own call to adventure, Tiffany began volunteering for Wild Earth, took the apprenticeship and is now proudly working as an instructor for the Wild Earth Kingston Project. She is also deep into her second year of the Ancient Art of Awareness classes taught by Michael Ridolfo and, just as she feels about her job with Wild Earth, she is enjoying every moment of it.
Zach JonesZach Jones, Associate Directorzach@wildearth.org, (845) 256-9830 – Zach “Maui” Jones has been with Wild Earth since the very beginning. As a child, Zach participated in multiple wilderness programs throughout the east coast. Growing up in the Hudson Valley, he enjoyed time outside in the woods and playing basketball, soccer, motocross, and BMX. Zach has spent countless summers working as a wilderness summer camp instructor while pursuing his education and traveling the world. In 2017 Zach joined the Wild Earth team in a more permanent role. Zach now coordinates the Wild Earth Kingston Project for both Bailey & Miller Middle Schools, as well as our summer camps for 7-10-year olds.

Wild Earth Board of Directors

Aja SchmeltzAja Schmeltz, Board President – Aja is an Afro-Latina, cisgendered, middle class woman raising 3 daughters with her partner of 20+ years, growing food and medicine, creating art, loving hard and strengthening connections in her beloved communities throughout the Mahicantuck (Hudson) River Valley. The Just Transition is central to her work, both personally and professionally, because she strongly believes that a successful community is made up of individuals working collaboratively on all fronts to create avenues to build a healthier, thriving, more sustainable environment. In addition to her roles at Good Work Institute, Aja sits on the board of The Hudson Valley Current, is a member of the Kingston Trust Hub Advisory Board, is a member of HUDSY’s Content Committee, is a member of the Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition, a member of the New Paltz School District Racial Equity Committee and is a thought-partner for many initiatives and organizations throughout the region.
Laura deNeyLaura deNey, Board Member – Laura deNey is a devoted Wild Earth parent and an Emmy award winning filmmaker who is passionate about telling hidden stories from around the world, often focusing on gender, race and the environment. She has produced and edited dozens of hours of documentary programming and is currently executive producing a documentary television series called Hidden Heroes, which profiles the incredible Wild Earth along with dozens of other deserving heroes. She looks forward to continue helping Wild Earth with their video storytelling and now serving on the board.
Patricia PerezPatricia Perez, Board Member – Patricia Perez is a housing attorney for a Hudson Valley non profit organization. She grew up in Kingston and lives in New Paltz with her husband and children. Despite growing up in the Hudson Valley she did not make it into the mountains until she was an adult. She then spent many hours on the trails with her first child. She recognized how healing and therapeutic the natural world was for both of them, and has made it part of their lives ever since. Patricia is bilingual and has worked in South America as an attorney and media researcher.
Tina DiernaTina Dierna, Board Member – Tina Dierna was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. She relocated to the Kingston area after obtaining her bachelor’s degree from Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, New York. She worked as a caseworker for eight years with the Ulster County Social Services Department. While working for the County she started a family and went back to obtain her Master of Social Work degree from Adelphi University. In 2015, Tina became a high school social worker for Kingston City School District. After a summer of volunteering to build a tiny home with five of her students, Tina became an Internship & Career Coordinator, a position that allows her to combine her passions for volunteer work and empowering and helping students succeed. Shortly after, she gained the added position of Transitional Counselor for Kingston High School, assisting students with planning their lives after high school, working with community organizations and creating partnerships throughout the Kingston Community. Tina has always been an active member of the community, whether it’s creating the first Pajama Program Chapter in Ulster, launching a healthy eating program for Cornell Cooperative or a parenting group for Family Services. Most recently she completed the Chamber of Commerce Ulster Leadership Development Institute where she co-chaired the group to launch a youth leadership program. This ultimately led her to run for the Wild Earth board of Directors and launch her own health and wellness lifestyle coaching business called Mom Overboard, a name that embodies her commitment to her community endeavors.

Stevenson EstiméStevenson Estimé, Board Member – Stevenson is a first generation Haitian American and was born and raised in New York City. He is a visual artist whose work deals with the representation of race, class and gender in media and popular culture. He received his MFA from Hunter College and teaches art and digital photography at a private school in Manhattan. Stevenson is passionate about spending time outdoors and enjoys landscaping and gardening. His daughters have attended Wild Earth programs for many years.

Aja HudsonAja Hudson, Board Member – ‘Shifting the way humans relate to the earth is only possible if we can start to shift the way we relate to ourselves and our communities. Mother Nature models this paradigm, and in essence provides us with a universal tool that can facilitate this shift. If we as humans can tap into this ancient wisdom, a deeper awareness will begin to open up. Then real change will have an opportunity to manifest.’ Aja is a mentor, a teacher, community organizer, developer of ecosystems and a conduit to the earth. She is a landscape designer by trade with a focus on ecological restoration and resilience. Co-creating interactive and regenerative environments for people and the earth is what inspires her. Since 2001, Aja was the founder and sole proprietor of what is now known as Earth Designs Cooperative, an environmentally friendly landscaping design and build firm. In 2014 she offered her employees an opportunity for shared ownership in the company. A year later that company was transitioned into a worker owned cooperative. Until her resignation in January of 2020, Aja served as the Executive Director and Board president. As a mentor and teacher to the team, she played an important role in both conceptualizing the trajectory of the Cooperative and supporting its growth. That company continues to thrive, supporting the wellbeing of over 30 employees while continuing to use earth friendly practices. Currently Aja is doing freelance design, continues to be a mentor and serves on multiple boards. Most importantly she is sitting in the possibilities of what the future might hold.
Joan Ewing and Wilton DuckworthJoan Ewing and Wilton Duckworth, Board Members – Joan Ewing and Wilton Duckworth are founders of Lost Cat Farm and co-founders of Green Phoenix Permaculture. Prior to moving to Lost Cat Farm, Wilton and Joan, lived for 8 years at Epworth Camp and Retreat Center developing a super-efficient timber-frame passive solar farm house, supporting annual gardens and perennial orchards/food forests, and running educational programming for children and adults. They are certified permaculture teachers and offer all that they can in a spirit of service and reverence for life.
Joel OppenheimerJoel Oppenheimer, Board Member – Joel Oppenheimer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker currently working at the Psychological Counseling Center at SUNY, New Paltz. Before coming to SUNY, Joel was Assistant Director at Daytop Village in Rhinebeck, New York, a long term, all male, residential drug treatment program. At Daytop, Joel applied his social justice lens working for racial and gender equity in drug treatment and criminal justice institutions. As a mental health professional Joel has been a new voice in helping individuals and groups find connections and recover from addiction, traumas, and loss. He has extensive experience working with men and is currently working on programs focused on male culture and its impacts on male behavior and mental health. Joel is a lifelong artist and performer who uses his creative abilities to implement innovative programs. Joel believes that connecting to community is one of the most powerful ways of healing and he is always seeking new ways to help people improve their mental health by telling their stories and engaging their community and natural environment.

©2022 WILD EARTH   |   EIN: 20-1675636   |   2307 Lucas Turnpike   |   High Falls, NY 12440   |   (845) 256-9830

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