Meet the Ventura Wild Team!

Sarah (Trudy) Trudeau

Trudy was raised in the Ojai Valley, finding growth within herself deep beneath the mud that swallowed her bare feet. She believes one of the greatest gifts in her life was having access to nature and the support from her family to trail off on her own to follow her curiosities. Closely accompanied by her two goats, she’d travel to a nearby pond to search for tadpoles or carve tunnels within the fields of mustard. Through this freedom to discover, her youthful curiosity and confidence was able to flourish. This admiration and respect for her environment continued into her playful adulthood. She headed North into the PNW, where she earned her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, while building a career in wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. During this time, she found the love and gift of education through her focus on public outreach. After 10 years working with wildlife, she decided to turn her efforts fully towards nourishing the connection between our youth and the preservation of our environment. She has since returned to Ojai, where she is happily educating, climbing, birding, gardening, backpacking, and continuing to play!

Amy Davis

Amy has been a naturalist/educator/guide for nearly 20 years.  Her love of nature started in the Southeast in Charleston, South Carolina as she was earning a B.S. in Geology.  Shortly after graduating she started working at a Nature Center and leading canoeing, kayaking, biking and birding tours along with classes in the nature center.  After moving out to California to work as a naturalist educator teaching environmental education, she continued to be a kayak guide in the summer and winters.  The guiding took her to places such as Belize, Panama, San Juan Islands, Wyoming, Baja, Mexico and the Channel Islands.   She currently lives in Ventura and continues to teach outdoor education through several different organizations in Southern California along with leading hikes with The Nature Conservancy .  Birding is one of her biggest passions and loves to share that with others.  Her goal is to spread awareness of the natural environment in order to develop a deeper appreciation and love of the wilderness in hopes of conserving it.

Heather King

Heather King is the Co-Founder of Ventura Wild. She is most profoundly moved by the relationship between children and nature. “Nothing else has the same mirror to the nature of being human; A sense of calm, a surge of energy, a marvelous moment that lasts a lifetime, these are the gifts of nature, and I can only hope to create the space for that connection to happen more often”. Heather has two daughters and is married to Greg Grant (her best teachers). With a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education Administration, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Education and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, she continues to seek new insight and knowledge of nature, kids and herself, pursuing a doctoral degree at Antioch. She is a professional outdoor educator and mentor with over 25 years of experience. Her broad range of positions have included science teacher at Oak Grove High School, Education Coordinator for the International Center for Earth Concerns on the Taft property in Ojai, and instructor for programs in Maryland, Colorado, Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Illinois, Vermont, Montana and Maine. With a growing staff team of leaders, Heather hopes to solidify a sustainable organization that reflects the diversity of our communities and the urgency of our goals. This is a heartfelt profession for Heather, who is committed to fostering a playful sense of discovery and wonder that leads to a joyful curiosity and a deep sense of responsibility. Heather spends her free time gardening, learning traditional skills and traveling with her family.

Sara MacCracken

Sara has been a lover of the outdoors and nature since she can remember. From camping in Mammoth as a child to riding her horse for hours in the canyons as a teen. She has always found solace and connection in nature. Sara spent many years working with special needs children and at risk youth. She recently taught leadership and team building to students at Montessori School of Ojai. Sara holds a M.A. from Naropa University in Dance/Movement Therapy. It was here that she was introduced to wilderness therapy. Following the completion of her degree she worked with at risk youth for 5 years. During that time she developed and co-led bi-yearly backpacking trips for the youth. Later she led groups of young adults through Central America where they worked in National Parks, helped the plight of sea turtles and did other service projects. She has studied the medicinal uses of plants for the past 20 years. She is a bird watcher and has a great love for all creatures. Sara has led rites of passage programs for women and expressive arts therapy programs for pregnant women. She is very excited to support Mothers in their connection to the wilderness.Currently Sara is the mother of two energetic boys. She not only teaches cooking at the Montessori School of Ojai she also holds the position of Director of Development.  She recently completed her own 4 day vision quest in nature. She and her husband enjoy spending as much time as possible in nature with their boys.

Tessa Womack

Tessa weaves her understanding of human development, ecological systems, and the power of play to design and facilitate experiential learning opportunities in the field, garden, and classroom. She is a nurturer of nature and lover of language. Her playful approach and adaptable tools invite practices of self- and environmental-inquiry, expression, and balance in an ever-shifting world. She is a Masters student at Antioch University, and is pursuing a Certificate in Ecopsychology through Pacifica Graduate Institute. Tessa has a BA in psychology and education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has over ten years of experience working with children, teens, and families through local organizations committed to self-awareness and nature connection. Her current paths of service include: Environmental Educator with Food for Thought, Birth Doula with Kindling Connection… and Lead Field Staff with Ventura Wild! Tessa operates with a “systems mentality,” honoring all experiences as invitations to explore relationships within this interwoven reality.

Erik Clearwater

Erik was raised in Colorado & Sweden and even as a child was deeply enthralled by the natural world. He built birdhouses, raised tadpoles, and planted gardens while roaming the mountains and forests around his home. He feels privileged to have had such an idyllic childhood, one where he could find moments of self-directed solitude in nature or push himself towards a new adventure. He enjoyed the challenge of becoming an Eagle Scout and likes using the best parts of that experience to enhance his education programs.  He has a degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Marine Biology. Professionally he has worked as a naturalist, biologist, and educator for various nonprofits including The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies & the Teton Science School and the National Park Service, among others, where he has worked with thousands of participants of diverse backgrounds and interest. He has also been employed as a bird biologist, roaming the Dakotas and Wyoming, spent time working with sea turtles in Costa Rica, tracked wolves in Yellowstone, monitored mountain goats in Glacier National Park, and guided polar bear expeditions on Hudson Bay. When he isn’t trying to provide formative experiences for children and adults in nature you can find him creating wildlife art, harvesting wild edible plants, or drawing up plans for the hobbit hole he plans on living in someday.

Jenny Jacobs

Jenny grew up in west Sonoma County and spent most of her childhood outdoors, running around with chickens and sheep and adventuring in a nearby creek. She studied environmental science and music at UC Santa Cruz, and after taking an entomology class and spending the last quarter of her undergrad degree in a tropical biology course in Costa Rica, she fell in love with tropical biology and speaking Spanish. She spent many years studying tropical insects and biodiversity, obtaining her M.S. and then embarking on a doctoral program. Part-way into a PhD program, she realized that she preferred exploring nature and teaching, rather than studying nature in an academic context. Jenny recently moved back to California with her husband and young children, after living in Michigan for four years where she had the opportunity to develop a parent-child nature exploration class through Ann Arbor public schools. Upon returning to CA, she was so delighted to find Ventura Wild and is super excited to help connect more children and families to nature! She is also very passionate about bringing more nature connection and education programs to local Spanish speaking communities.

Dayana Huerta

Dayana was born and raised in the Southern California. In between Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest. The memory that began her love for nature is when her parents took her out to the nearest creeks while her dad fished and her mom collected black berries and cleaned them with a spaghetti strainer in the creek. While studying Environmental Science and Resource Management at Cal State Channel Island she has been able to travel with her class to New Orleans and do tree surveys and go to the Santa Rosa Research station to conduct research with my GIS class. During the summers she typically takes on trail maintenance jobs at national parks and national forest. She has done work at Sequoia National park and Siskiyou Mountain range in Oregon. This past summer she had the honor to work at the Santa Barbara zoo as an educator and interpreter. During her free time she love visiting national parks, camping, backpacking and hiking with her friends and loved ones. She would also like to recognize and say that we are able to play and teach the kiddos on Chumash land.

Joanna Wheeler

Jo’s most precious childhood memories are of the long days spent idly observing insects, mixing potions, building forts, and forging creeks in the forests of the Midwest. The unstructured immersion into the cycles of the natural world fostered empathy and awareness, and later motivated Jo to study Sustainable Global Development at the University of Dayton and Forced Migration from American University of Cairo. Studying resource conflicts, and working with displaced populations in the Middle East presented Jo with the dire human costs of the climate crisis. After having her own family, and moving back to the US, Jo chose to contribute to a culture of compassion and conservation by focusing her energy on mentoring the next generation’s leaders. For the last six years, she has been working at Montessori and Reggio preschools, while instructing her own children in a nature immersive, homeschool pod. When she is not planning project-based curriculum, or digging in the garden, Jo spends her time planning ever-more daunting family trips!

Andrew Wolfe

Andrew grew up in Altadena, CA at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. He has loved the outdoors since he was a toddler at his family’s Montessori School where he could most often be found outdoors looking at insects, gardening, or just messing around. Andrew was fortunate to have grown up with his grandparents who were naturalists at Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

Andrew began assisting in Montessori classrooms, helping his grandmother out and discovered his joy of teaching. He decided to become a teacher at age 10 and when he discovered Nature Education, he realized he could combine two passions into a career.  Andrew is currently enrolled in Child Development Classes and is working on his degree. When he’s not in nature or school, he can be found working on his music as a singer-songwriter, or hanging out with his dog Oliver.

Melissa Ruiz

Melissa was born in Oxnard, CA, raised by her Mexican immigrant parents.  Her wonder for the outdoors grew when she joined the Green Club at her High School, where she would go on her first hike; immersing herself in the rich diversity of the Santa Monica Mountains. Melissa set in motion her stewardship of public lands when she began volunteering with various organizations aimed to rehabilitate habitats, and clean degraded trails.  She also spent time supporting her local community in environmental justice matters. Fast forward, Melissa is in her final year of undergraduate, where she will earn her B.S. in Environmental Science and Resource Management at Cal State Channel Islands. Melissa’s relationship with the surrounding land deepened in this program, gaining an understanding of the human dimensions of our environment. She believes that positive exposure from a young age will instill an intrinsic value of nature. In her free time, Melissa likes to run, slackline, hike, and read climate fiction novels

Andrea Manning

Andrea has been a Rites of Passage guide and Life Coach for over 10 years helping Families and Women discover their power and wholeness by intentionally slowing down to honor all life transitions.  Whether she is holding space for Women’s Circles, Grief Rituals, Childhood and Adolescent Rites of Passage, or Croning Ceremonies, she believes in the power of simple ceremony and nature connections to honor endings as a way of making space for what is to come.  Living in New England for 20 years she fell in love exploring the forests, rivers, and lakes with her 3 children and husband.  She is now discovering the abundant natural gifts of Southern California each and every day and is grateful to be in beautiful Ojai.

Kaitlyn Newett

Kaitlyn was born in the Los Angeles area and moved to Ventura when she was young, trading the heat and congestion of city life for sandy beaches and smog free skies. Her love of the natural world began when she was a child, spending her days on the beaches of Ventura and Oxnard, swimming in the sea and exploring vast tide pools while her dad surfed nearby. Her fondest memories are of their frequent camping trips all along the California coast, sleeping in their pop top VW Van, exploring beach caves, climbing shale cliffs, trying to surf, stargazing, and watching birds in the estuaries. Because of these formative experiences, Kaitlyn feels truly at home out in nature and lives her life in harmony with the seasonal rhythms of the year. Her passion for nature and education came together when she had her own children and once again got to experience that pure childhood wonder about the world around us through their eyes. This sparked a desire to combine the two in her professional life and so she founded a forest school group for young children. She also decided to go back to school and holds both Child Development and Associate Teacher Certificates, is a birth doula, and spent time in Interpretation at Channel Islands National Park. She is continuing her education while also being a mother to two sweet children. In her spare time she likes to skateboard, camp, go to the beach, hike, garden, and read the Dune series.

David Parziale

David was raised in Ojai as the middle of 5 children where family vacations often involved camping at national parks and backpacking trips throughout the Los Padres National Forest. In high school he became interested in plant identification and exploring the surrounding mountains and rivers with friends. This led him to attend the University of Oregon where he majored in Environmental Studies and had an internship leading school field trips with Nearby Nature. While in Eugene, he learned urban farming and has spent much of the last decade as an organic farmer. He studied abroad in South Africa in college, spent time in Central America and has traveled throughout the US. David also works at a local charter school, where he has helped plant a mini native forest as part of the restoration class.

Gina Gerard

Gina was raised in a small town in the Santa Monica Mountains and spent her weekends camping, hiking, and boogie boarding with her dad at the beach. She has always felt most at peace when she’s listening to the rustling leaves of an oak tree or the steady crash of waves against the sand.

Gina enjoyed helping raise her young niece and nephews and knew she wanted to study Early Childhood Education in high school after having the opportunity to assist in a second grade class. After the birth of her first child in 2015, she trained to become a birth doula and fell in love with supporting parents and babies. Shortly after, she began facilitating parent-child playgroups at Secure Beginnings where she gained experience with the RIE approach, which centers around a deep respect for infants and children.

Gina is currently working toward a degree in Child Development while raising her family in Ojai. Together they spend as much time as possible exploring the climbing trees in the meadow, swimming in the river, and playing tag at the park. She is a lifelong learner dedicated to the exploration of tuning in, being intentional, and recognizing our responsibility to each other and to our planet.

Sidney York

Sidney grew up in Ojai and Ventura where her love for nature blossomed. She has lived by the ocean her entire life and it has always intrigued her. Her parents helped unearth her passion for being outdoors, taking her and her brothers on countless camping trips in Los Padres and along the California coast. Sidney loves to hike, practice yoga, garden, and enjoys crafts like dried floral art. She is extremely passionate about the ocean and that’s where she found her love for surfing. Sidney has taught surf lessons and lifeguarded and loves sharing her passion with others. She received a BA in Anthropology Climate Change and Human Solutions at UC San Diego. Sidney believes a connection with nature is conducive to healthy, happy living so she is thrilled to be a part of the Ventura Wild team, sharing her love and knowledge of our home with the local youth.

Past Staff & Other Important People


  • Jodi Chin
  • Anne Wang
  • Luc Pelletier
  • Camila Guzman
  • Jamie Block
  • Ruby Lacques
  • Rachael Gula
  • Monica James
  • Katie Gialketsis
  • Jenny Alvarado
  • Jonathan Twena
  • Bennett Collings
  • Jael Burkhalter
  • Serafina McClain – intern
  • Connor Greene – youth intern
  • Joaquin Pearce – youth intern
  • Carly Leandro – youth intern
  • Charlie Cook – youth volunteer
  • Stuart Niebel – volunteer
  • Misha Morris – volunteer
  • Charlie Campbell Coursey
  • Pamela Fetter
  • Tawnya Love
  • Declan Blassini
  • CJ Cintas
  • Casey Murphy
  • Andrew Daigle
  • Alex Richardson – youth intern
  • Riley – youth intern
  • Anna Berezovska – youth intern
  • (Belle)  Annabella Nemo Page – youth intern
  • Trevor Cox
  • Jennifer Savage
  • Susan Lynn
  • Shawn Berry
  • Katie Gilman
  • Monika Rolstocki
  • David White
  • Jeff Otterbien
  • Jessica Lindley
  • Anna Minsky
  • Venica Ftacek
  • Nash Rightmer – volunteer
  • Brittany Cullen – volunteer
  • Bridgit Banyai – volunteer
  • Kirby Slavin
  • Camille Carlson
  • Suzen Harvey
  • Rita Maes (2009 – 2011)  CO-FOUNDER
  • Alison Bradley (2009 – present) CO-FOUNDER
  • Sara Brooke Benjamin (2009) CO-FOUNDER