About WYP Staff
WYP counselors bring many years of experience working in naturalist roles, social services, teaching, and mentoring. Our staff members show dedication to life skills and mentoring with a nature-based approach. Staff members are First Aid/CPR certified, most have Wilderness First Aid and some have Wilderness First Responder. We fingerprint all of our staff and volunteers. We invite you to get to know us further.
Employment Opportunities: If you are interested in joining the WYP team as program staff, please learn more about our volunteer opportunities. Most staff start as volunteers–we look forward to you joining us. View other job openings.
gro.pyw@fnad Dan came to Santa Barbara while pursuing his PhD in Engineering from UC Santa Barbara. A naturalist and birder, Dan transitioned from the private sector in 2003, starting as a volunteer. He has worked in every capacity at Wilderness Youth Project: helping in the camp kitchen, leading programs, and taking on the role of Program Director. Dan has been Executive Director since 2008. On weekends, you can find Dan outdoors with his family at Ellwood Beach or the Santa Ynez River.
gro.pyw@akire Erika was born and raised in Santa Barbara. In 2001 she returned home after graduating from UC Santa Cruz and worked for over 5 years promoting sustainable transportation, especially bikes. Erika’s connection to nature comes from growing up in the foothills of Mission Canyon, exploring the vast Pacific ocean and attending Santa Barbara Middle School. Her passions include surfing, biking, listening to and watching birds, playing music, dancing salsa, and pondering how culture lives and grows. Some of the (many) reasons she loves working at WYP include its focus on learning, connection, justice and equity. Erika oversees many of the day-to-day operations of WYP and is ever-fascinated by the opportunities of building deeper connections between WYP and the many diverse communities of people, plants & animals living in Santa Barbara’s south coast.
gro.pyw@ellehcim A sailor and backpacker, Michelle is thankful to bring her love of the outdoors to work. The Development Director for WYP since 2005, she previously spent seven years as an executive in the software industry and ten years in grassroots fundraising, organizing and writing. A UCSB alum, Michelle feels fortunate to have called Santa Barbara home since 1992. She spends her free time exploring the wilderness in our own back yard with her family.
Director of Early Childhood Programs
gro.pyw@yllek Kelly Villarruel grew up in Santa Barbara and has an intimate knowledge and love of our area. She has a degree in early childhood education and has worked in both preschool and home day care settings for more than 20 years. She also holds a degree in Environmental Horticulture with an emphasis on restoration and regeneration. With Wilderness Youth Project she is thrilled to find an environment to combine her passions for children, nature, and awareness skills. She currently is our lead mentor for our Woolly Bears Early Childhood program. She is the mother of 3 and proud grandmother of a healthy boy.
Program Director & Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@norahs How do we live in a place of constant connection and bring a genuine culture to our future generations? This is a daily question that inspires Sharon to follow children in the natural world, work with her hands and guide young and old through life transitions. In addition to supporting programs, staff and families at WYP, Sharon co-created Women’s Reclamation and Renewal and offers personal and group programs for teen Rites of Passage, Women and Fire, and Women’s guided quests. Sharon enjoys surfing in the Pacific, cooking and spending time with her family. Sharon still gets butterflies every time she witnesses someone getting fire by friction for the first time. When will you try?
gro.pyw@ytirahc Charity grew up in New Mexico, hiking and camping with her family in the Rockies. She went to college in Philadelphia, where she realized how much she missed the mountains and sunshine of her youth. She moved to Santa Barbara in 2005 to work as an interior designer, and initially found Wilderness Youth Project in 2009 via the Americorps Nonprofit Corps program. She supports WYP with her graphic design skills. She spends much of her time bike-commuting around Santa Barbara with her family, as well as searching out adventures both locally and in any mountain range she can get to. She enjoys following her curiosity for the plants and animals of the terrain she passes through, whether by mountain bike or foot, solo or with young children.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@werdna Andrew is always quick to point out that he grew up in Vermont. Throughout college he worked off and on in the field for the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. After graduating with an Earth Science Degree from Wesleyan University he continued the work of backcountry education in New York, Alaska and California. He holds an MEd and has taught 3rd and 4th grade, as well as Middle School. His wife and daughter continue to school him in the wonders of the beach while he revels in the Mediterranean winters of the California Coast.
Mario (Chiqui) Mendez
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@oiram Mario is a native of Colombia and carries with him a deep connection between people and our environment. Having lived in South America, the Middle East, Northern Europe, and various parts of the United States, he has an innate ability to learn from and adapt to diverse environments and cultures. After earning a degree in Business, Mario has continually found himself being involved in programs that benefit the youth, whether by working to find homes for older orphans, helping at risk youth find strength and support, or by sharing his passion for life and the natural world with students of all ages. After enjoying three years living in Lake Tahoe, Mario decided to move to Santa Barbara and continue in his path of education and mentoring. In addition to his passion for nature and education, Mario loves to dance, play music, ride his bike, and spend time with his family and friends.
Assistant Director of Development
gro.pyw@ynohtna Anthony Hickling joined Wilderness Youth Project in 2015. At the time he was a fresh graduate from UCSB and was looking to support an organization to promote healthy people and a verdant planet. As a child, Anthony felt most alive when exploring creeks, riding his bike, snowboarding and wakeboarding. Time in nature is still an important part of Anthony’s life that is kept alive via long rides on little waves, bicycle rides in the mountains, and occasional adventures with participants at WYP. He currently supports development at Wilderness Youth Project by planning community events, leading our marketing efforts and building relationships with our donors. He has his MBA in Sustainable Solutions from Presidio Graduate School.
Maricela Macias Cisneros
Office Manager & Registrar
gro.pyw@aleciram Maricela was born and raised in México. As a child, she remembers spending a lot of time at the “cerros” (hills) helping her parents taking care of the farm animals and harvesting crops. Her family moved to Fresno, CA, at the age of seven. She graduated high school and attended Fresno State University for two years. Maricela is a self-motivated professional with extensive experience and skills in customer service, office support, and registration. Having worked in 4 different call centers, she has interacted and maintained relationships with a variety of customers promoting, supporting and registering them on government programs. She is enthusiastic about working with WYP since her life values are aligned with WYP’s mission and values. Having developed a deep passion for nature and wanting to live in a place surrounded by it, she had initially moved to Grover Beach and recently transferred to Santa Barbara in November 2018. In her free time, she likes to visit family, go to the gym, the beach, hike, play tennis or just relax listening to an audiobook.
Lead Program Staff & Transportation/Risk Management Coordinator
gro.pyw@nlocnil Lincoln (aka Linc) has been involved with WYP for over a decade of wild adventures, and has experienced firsthand, and witnessed in countless others, the healing, inspiring and transforming powers of Nature. Through his time in the mountains, forests, creeks and marine environments, he has constantly worked to be an active co-creator in the magic of connection and seeks to share this with all beings around him through the sharing of stories, and the creation of new ones. A few of his emerging passions include sailing and free diving, and he is most alive when howling at the moon, surfing a wave, or diving in a kelp forest. His focus of late has been working with the wonderful teens at WYP, and you can find him most afternoons adventuring in the wild and feral corners of the central coast with a bunch of incredible youth.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@snad Dan’s quest for deep connection and understanding of relationship with self, others, and the natural world has led him into various roles and adventures involving youth and wilderness settings. Spending his early childhood in Yosemite and growing up in a large family (11 children), he developed an integral love and appreciation for family, community, and nature. He has traveled the world working with youth in Scotland, India, Europe, and parts of the USA—acquiring an AA in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, a BA in Theology, becoming a husband and father, spending a year with the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program, and ending up in Santa Barbara. Dan holds a MA in counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is now working to integrate the power of Coyote Mentoring in his work as a Marriage and Family Therapist.
Lead Program Staff & Transportation/Risk Management Coordinator
gro.pyw@ainos Sonia’s passion for the outdoors grows every day while spending time outside with kids. Although she spent her collegiate days and much of her career in Civil Engineering, she spent her free time hiking, backpacking and getting outside whenever she could. Now that she is raising a daughter, she continues to be inspired by the joy of being outside with children.
gro.pyw@airolg Gloria joined Wilderness Youth Project in 2018. She grew up in the rich and diverse cultural epicenter that us EL LAY (aka the concrete jungle of Los Angeles) and comes from a working class background. These parts of her story give her a keen ability to leverage the power that community has to create change, space and movement. She is passionate about working with youth, families and communities for equity, access and justice. As WYP’s Community Outreach Coordinator, she is committed to creating an inclusive and diverse space for all to reconnect with nature, to heal and to protect pachamama for future generations.
gro.pyw@arual A dedicated non-profit finance professional and Wellesley College alumna, Laura spent seven years working for EcoLogic Development Fund, an organization that empowers rural and indigenous peoples to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. When she’s not crunching numbers at work, she’s usually doing something crafty or creative, or going on adventures with her wife and their dog. The three of them have driven cross-country together four times in the last three years!
gro.pyw@kcin Nick moved to Santa Barbara in 1994 to attend UCSB where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature. He continued his studies in Oriental Medicine and Herbology, becoming a Licensed Acupuncturist. Nick has great interest in the native plants of Santa Barbara and how the Chumash use those plants as medicine. When Nick’s son, Adrien, turned three he began attending WYP and was immediately embraced by the community. It was by experiencing the positive results that WYP had on Adrien (positive role models, tight community, parents with similar values) that led Nick to become a member of the staff. Nick is dedicated to enlivening those values in all of the children and parents in the WYP community.
gro.pyw@lehcar Originally from New Jersey, Rachel graduated in 2006 from Muhlenberg College with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Environmental Studies. After graduating, she began working for various outdoor education centers on the East Coast in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and North Carolina. Once she began working as a naturalist in California in 2008, she immediately fell in love with the west coast. Since then, she has obtained her Wilderness First Responder certification and has lead trips for hundreds of students in exciting places such as the Colorado River, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Point Reyes, Santa Cruz Mountains, and all along the California coast. Some of her favorite things to do are rock climbing, running, poi (fire spinning), music, laughing, and travel. Her passion for climbing and adventure has taken her to such places as Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Mexico. She believes her enthusiasm for the outdoors originated from the summers she spent as a kid at overnight camp in Maine. Camp helped her build self-confidence, become more self-reliant, establish life-long friendships, and develop an appreciation and respect for nature. As an outdoor educator, she strives to achieve these same things in the students she works with.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@sesilu Ulises brings years of experience working with young people to his work with WYP. He’s a Santa Barbara native. He grew up with the loving mentoring offered by the Santa Barbara United Boys and Girls Club and has been both volunteer and staff with them. Ulises also has a landscaping business and is an experienced professional caregiver to an elder who has become his family. Ulises is known to his WYP kids as Ulises Scrub Jay and often can be identified from afar because of his ponytail of feathers. He cares deeply about working with kids from all backgrounds.
Kristin Van Der Kar
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@nitsirk Kristin has been nourished by nature ever since she was a young child. Growing up on a farm in Carpinteria gave her the opportunity to form connection to place by climbing avocado trees and tending goats. She pursued her love for the environment and her passion for working with children at UCSB where she majored in Environmental Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Education. Kristin also studied in Thailand and Malaysia where she spent her days snorkeling through the coral reefs to collect data on the effects of a warming ocean and ocean acidification. Kristin is excited to be working with Wilderness Youth Project where she feels her gifts can encourage children to connect with the natural world. She believes that deep connection with the natural world fosters humans that are stewards of the earth. When she is not working with children you will find her swimming, hiking, surfing, crafting, painting, gardening or camping in our local mountains.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@eirb Brieanna’s connection with nature began before her ability to walk. Yet what truly tipped the scales for her to becoming a lifelong friend, lover, student, and advocate of the living world was the solace she first found during her early explorations in the Eucalyptus forest and canyons near her home growing up in San Diego. When she was sad the trees understood and worked their healing ways, and they have been the guides ever since. She holds a BA in Biological Anthropology from UC Santa Barbara and can easily be found at the farmer’s markets selling almonds, dates, and lavender, with a big smile on her face. She is forever grateful for the life-giving union she is developing between plants and animals.
Diana La Riva
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@anaid Diana grew up in Orange County frequenting the beach and tide pools year round and camping in the sequoias each summer. She studied Environmental Plant Science, Agronomy, Natural Resources and Italian at Purdue University. By traveling and exploring other lands and cultures, she expands her curiosity and understanding of various people and places and their connections to our natural world. She feels a strong connection to what we eat and our food systems, learning through small farm experiences and teaching in school gardens. She shares her passions and curiosity with our youth through WYP, nannying and everyday interactions. Diana can be compared to a solar powered rainbow maker: she is energized by being outside, her mind spins scientifically and she spreads rainbows everywhere she goes.
gro.pyw@haras Sarah is a Santa Barbara native who recently migrated back to the south lands after a decade among the redwoods and waves of Santa Cruz, CA. She has experience mentoring youth as a surf and JR lifeguard Instructor, swim coach, and outdoor adventuring nanny. Sarah’s other livelihood has been as a massage therapist for the last 13 years, and so if she’s not adventuring in the ocean or mountains she can be found easing aches and pains and helping folks reconnect with their bodies with therapeutic touch and herbalism. She has had a program crush on WYP after hearing many a tale of their adventures , and after moving back to SB and volunteering during the summer 2016, she joined WYP staff in fall 2016.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@ydoc Cody’s passion for the landscapes, creatures and people of the southwest led him to join WYP staff in 2011 as a teenager. His passion for the wild led him north to Oregon to conduct ecological surveys and southeast to Arizona to aid in search and rescue in the Sonoran desert. Cody returned to WYP in 2016, ready to reconnect with the ecology of Santa Barbara via an academic lens at UCSB as well as through the eyes of his newborn daughter. Cody loves how a day in the woods with Wilderness Youth Project feels like a string of experiences rather than a linear agenda dominated by minutes and hours. He enjoys making unsophisticated art with his family, trying out new dance moves with his daughter and every time that someone reminds him to look up at the stars.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@fkcin Nicholas lives to explore this planet and learn about its beautiful diversity and connection. He loves learning about all life forms including animate and inanimate ones and how they are all linked together and supportive of each other in their cycles. He worked in horticultural therapy in Hawaii with Pacific Quest, a company that used a rites of passage and wilderness therapy model to help struggling young adults, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia for 2 years, and has worked as a camp counselor and mentor at Camp Mendocino, a Boys and Girls summer camp. He also has experience working with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities through a local non-profit Pathpoint. Working with Wilderness Youth Project fills him with joy and hope for our future generations. He wishes you peace, happiness, and laughter!
Salesforce Data Analyst
gro.pyw@selym Myles has lived in Santa Barbara his whole life, near the ocean in which he’s spent much of his free time. Myles has been spending time in nature ever since he was a young child, either with his family or with WYP. He took part in WYP programs year-round throughout his childhood, and in high school he began volunteering for WYP as well. Myles is currently attending UC Riverside and is working remotely with WYP to help keep our Salesforce database running smoothly. He spends much of his free time surfing, kiteboarding, skiing, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, and playing piano.
gro.pyw@anin Growing up in Manhattan, Nina developed a strong curiosity for nature. Upon graduating from Wesleyan University, where she studied East Asian Studies, she lived on a permaculture farm in Hawaii. On the farm, she experienced a transformation that she credits to nature connection, gaining a stronger sense of self, expression, and aliveness. She feels driven to share the gifts of nature with others and feels especially passionate about children having access to the wonders of nature connection. She has spent her past two years in Santa Barbara studying permaculture with Warren Brush, teaching at Wild Roots, participating in the WYP apprentice program, and studying with the Eight Shields program Kamana. She loves camping, tracking animals, dancing, singing and playing ukulele
Curriculum Development Project Manager
gro.pyw@nna Growing up in rural Wisconsin, Ann has always felt the sacredness of open, free space and unplanned playtime. She spent much of her childhood building snow forts, catching fairies and grasshoppers, and exploring the surrounding fields and lakes with her sisters. Making her way to the California sunshine during adolescence, Ann has never looked back. Ann earned her BA in Literature and Education in Santa Cruz before moving to Santa Barbara to pursue her elementary teaching credential and M.Ed. She has taught 5th and 6th grades, and is a big advocate for getting kids outside while learning. When not working with kids, Ann is happily riding her bike, practicing yoga, camping, and petting other people’s dogs. Even though she’s been in California for 20 years, Ann still marvels that, year-round, she gets to eat fresh, local produce from the Farmers Markets, take evening beach strolls with her husband, and wear flip-flops wherever she goes.
gro.pyw@ynnaD Danny grew up exploring the watercourses and mountains of the Santa Barbara backcountry with his family. The landscapes and plants of southern California have a deep and sustained presence in his life and work, and he is excited to share those connections and learnings with youth. After almost a decade away farming and making art in northern California, Danny has returned home with the intention to work with kids in nature, so he is more than excited to be a part of the WYP community. Past adventures include a printmaking degree at UC-Santa Cruz, years as an artist and illustrator in the Bay Area, working on a medicinal plant nursery in rural northern California, and most recently running a medicinal herb farm in Point Arena, CA. In his free time, Danny makes art, gardens, skateboards, plays music, and explores and botanizes in the desert and mountains.
Stefani (Kittyhawk) Henderson
gro.pyw@fets Kittyhawk, or Stef, grew up in the redwood forests of the East Bay of California. She moved down to the Santa Barbara region in 2014 to get her Environmental Studies degree at UCSB. She spends her free time playing in the forests and ocean, climbing trees, dancing professionally, doing aerial silks, climbing, and smiling. She dreams of changing the world and saving the earth with her intense passion for connecting people to nature.
moc.liamg@mibalaksmiz Marc “Zim” is a transplant from the East Coast, primarily New England. He moved to Santa Barbara back in 2006 where he worked several years as a kayak guide for the Channel Islands. Since then he has been lucky enough to be able to explore the local trails and mountains as a dog walker for the SB community. Before coming west, Zim worked on and off with a Boys and Girls club in his home town, as well as a coach for the co-ed youth soccer and volleyball leagues.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@euqinimod Dominique’s heart broke open when she started this work of wild connection a decade ago. As a result, she is perpetually bathed in the brilliance of children untaming themselves in Santa Barbara’s backyard. A tracker and plant lover, she revels in chasing animals across blistering vistas, meeting landscapes with her senses, and resurrecting road kill into more glorious forms. Her deep well of healthy soul work and naturalist skills fuels her devotion to making life more livable, liberated and love filled for all. Historically, she breathes the Sonoran Desert, prostrates to Maine’s heavy hitting coastline, and is enamored to break bread with cherished friends and family under coast live oak.
Julian De Rubira
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@dnailuj Julian grew up in suburban southern Orange County, inspired by his father’s love for the ocean and surfing. He found Track and Field in high school taking him to UCSB where he majored in Environmental Studies with a minor in Architectural History. A post-college move to the high altitudes of Flagstaff, Arizona allowed Julian to pursue his Olympic dreams for a few years. Seeking more richness, Julian returned to Orange County to continue his search for community, deeper nature connection, and earth skills. He sought out Earthroots Field School, and began as a volunteer and eventually led a full year of forest kindergarten, assisted with homeschool field classes, and worked with an eco-literacy program at a Waldorf charter school. Recent adventures include traveling in a van through Mexico, reconnecting with his relatives and ancestry in Ecuador, and surfing the Galapagos Islands. Julian comes to Wilderness Youth Project with a strong passion to facilitate reconnection to the culture of one’s ancestry; be it through craft, language, food, plant knowledge, etc. He is thrilled to be working with the Bridge to Nature programs and building confidence and curiosity with kids within our community.
We called ourselves the little rascals and there was no nook or cranny of the forest where a fort could not be found. Some were built under fallen pine trees, others – dug-outs in the dirt, yet all were shelter from pirates, dinosaurs and “grown-ups”. Ding dang ding! Just as the sun set, a bell rang in the distance and seven of us in matching mud-stained clothes, pockets full of acorns and sling shots, and good ‘ol Massachusetts ticks clinging to our cuffs bolted home for a proper dousing and nourishment. As we grew, so did our appetites for adventure and years later I found myself at the helm of a 71 ft Swan sailboat. As we dropped anchor in the lucid waters of the Fijian archipelago, local children with their brimming smiles dotted the shores. It was almost time for Sevu Sevu ceremony and they were gathering sea cucumbers and clams to feed a village. A life of interdependence with the land and ocean meant survival by way of nature, by way of communion and practice. Their laughter and way invoked my inner child and guides my path today; facilitating youngsters in the pursuit of wild harvested foods, Red Tailed Hawk sightings, hand-stitched pouches, animal tracks and adventure!
Mike grew up in Glendale, CA as the kid parents would invite over to get their kids outside. Within days of starting school at UCSB he was hooked on slacklining, rock climbing, and being outside. This love for outdoor activity took a turn towards nature connection after a wilderness awareness course with Charlie Coupal, with whom Mike has assisted and taught wilderness skills and awareness practices to UCSB students. Mike volunteered with WYP in 2016 and after finishing his degree in Mathematics, he is back to share his passion and enthusiasm for the outdoors with youth and adults.
Hailing from Connecticut, Becca has made her way West to California over the past 10 years. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, she adventured down to the U.S. Virgin Islands where she spent two years working and living both at a campground and cooking on a term-charter yacht. After a short stint exploring the “desk-life” of New York City, she answered the call and moved to Durango, Colorado where she spent the next 3 years as a Wilderness Therapy Field Guide. Durning this time, she lead therapeutic backpacking trips in the backcountry of Utah and Colorado for teens and young adults. This lead her to Costa Rica, where she worked in experiential education with adolescent boys at a therapeutic boarding school, focusing on graduating high school and adventuring in the backcountry. She’s now living in Santa Barbara, attending Pacifica Graduate Institute and working towards becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. WYP stole her heart when she volunteered during her first months in Santa Barbara. She believes in the individual and collective benefits of play, adventure, imagination, and connection with the natural world.
Lead Program Staff
gro.pyw@eilrahc Charlie’s passion for the wilderness began in the rural setting of upstate New York. As a boy he wandered the forests, paddled rivers and lakes and explored the Adirondacks. Eventually he was lured to the west coast where he began working with Wilderness Youth Project in its founding years. He has trained with The Tree of Peace Society, Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, Wilderness Awareness School, The School of Lost Borders, Quail Springs Permaculture, NAMTA Montessori Adolescent Institute, American Mountain Guide Association and NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute. Charlie has a deep appreciation for the influences of positive mentors in his life and stewardship of the environment is a prominent aspect of his work. Charlie continues to fish, sail, rock climb, wander along animal trails and sit by fires on the west coast.