Kayla VanHouten, Middle School Assistant Program Coordinator – firstname.lastname@example.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!
Sarah Nason, Bookkeeper & Financial Administrator
, (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 Barringer, Instructor
– 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 Jones, Associate Director
, (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.
David Brownstein, Co-Founder & Executive Director Emeritus email@example.com
– After twelve years working as a private wealth advisor on Wall Street, in 2002 David miraculously extricated himself from this soul-deadening work and came home to New Paltz with his family to realize a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children and creating a small family farm. Over the years, the Brownstein family (Three Suns Farm) have raised dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees, and fruits and vegetables in season. In 2004 David co-founded Wild Earth with a vision toward regenerating a living community culture centered around nature connection. From its humble beginnings serving a few dozen local children, Wild Earth now serves close to 4,000 youth and adults each year. David served as its Executive Director for nearly 20 years until 2023, when he passed the baton of leadership to to Omari Washington and the next generation of incredibly capable and inspired leaders. Today, David continues reaching toward his vision, now through his Root Connections (rootconnections.org
) practice; he offers mentoring, coaching, and collaboration rooted in place-based, relationship-first and village-making work and life ways. David loves to work and play in the garden, meadows and woods, and is an avid cyclist.
Kapi`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
Wild Earth Board of Directors
Aja 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 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.
Tina 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 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 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 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 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.