pt reyes sunset

Aunties and Care-Takers

Sarai Shapiro: Founder, Executive Director

Sarai has been a part of creating programs and serving girls in wilderness groups since 2007. She has worked as a mentor for, founded and directed girls’ groups and coming of age based programs individually and for organizations such as the ALEPH Kallah, Wilderness Torah, Wild Earth and the Vermont Wilderness School. She has trained in naturalist skills, mentoring, and cultural regeneration through the 8 shields cultural mentoring model, completed the TerraSoma Wilderness Guide Apprenticeship with Wilderness Reflections, has a certificate in clinical herbalism from the California School of Herbal Studies, trained in the Girls Leadership model, Non-Violent Communication, energy psychology, Ayurveda, and other healing modalities, all of which inform the work of Gaia Girls Passages. She has carried the question for many years of “What do girls need to grow into healthy womanhood?”  Through her education, research, and years of working with girls she has found many answers to that question that are now woven into the web of what is today Gaia Girls Passages.

Jenya Schneider: Lead Auntie and Back Country Manager

Jenya is an avid student of Nature. Whether she is foraging foods and medicines, designing and tending to permaculture gardens, or being a doula to mothers bringing new life into the world, she is devoted to remembering to read the languages of Nature and reincorporate that wisdom into every child’s life. She honed her skills at Headwaters Outdoor School in Mount Shasta, CA, and currently works as an instructor at TrackersEarth.

Alisa Rose Healy: Program Manager & Administrator

Alisa has worked closely with youth as a wilderness therapist and environmental educator for over 7 years. She recently completed a year of work with the Alameda County Office of Sustainability, where she designed curriculum and managed the marketing and outreach for the Green Child Care Program, which provides recycling and composting education to local schools. Alisa’s motivation to promote zero waste comes from her love and respect for nature. She is deeply inspired by the beauty and wisdom of the wild and is constantly creating music and poetry about the natural world. She is a singer/songwriter, harpist, and drummer and regularly performs with her band, Child of the Mountain. Alisa is thrilled to be joining Gaia Girls Passages and hopes to help the program grow and thrive.

Chiara Symens-Bucher: Lead Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Chiara grew up in Oakland, occupied territory of the Chocenyo Ohlone people, and has so much love for the East bay hills and their plants and wildlife. She deepened her connection to nature and learned valuable practices of awareness as a participant of the Weaving Earth Immersion program from 2013-2016. She now lives at Canticle Farm in Oakland, a community experimenting at the intersection of social justice-based, faith-based, and Earth-based nonviolent action. Within the last 10 years Chiara has taught in play-based and nature-based preschools and mentored in after-school programs. She loves exploring and being curious with children in the natural world, and is a outdoor educator at Early Ecology as well as Gaia Girls. She is very committed to working with girls and young women by helping them to remember that they are inherently good and belong in the world. She believes that the practices of nature connection empower us as humans to know who we are, where we come from, and what gifts we have to offer. Chiara is dedicated to supporting our young ones and the future generations.

Dezirae Pebenito: Lead Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Dezirae is a storyteller, artist, and youth educator in the bay area. Her art and stories are inspired by reflections of the interconnectedness of all things. Dezirae is passionate about providing safe spaces for young humans to explore self-love and creativity through social-emotional learning (SEL) based curriculum.  She has worked with Soul Shoppe, an SEL and empathy based non-profit, and served on the board of Oakland Youth Aspire as the curriculum director for the past 3 years. In addition to being a Gaia Girls auntie, she is a storyteller with Girl Myth at ASCEND middle school and site director for Girls on the Go. Dezirae received a degree in plant biology and botany at UC Davis. After studying Sustainable Development abroad in Leipzig, Germany, she realized that true sustainability comes from a connection to one’s self, to one’s community, and to the natural world.

Ursula Stoller: Lead Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Ursula is most at home in the water. She was born and raised in the beautiful land of the Bay Area, Ohlone Territory, and loves to wander the wild lands surrounding the city. She has been teaching mindfulness and nature connection to youth in the bay area for many years with organizations including the Mindful Life Project and Wilderness Torah. She loves singing, plants, and sharing stories with her puppets. She is passionate about rites of passage for all ages, and now is a doula as well as an educator. She was lucky to study nature connection at the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington state, which deepened her connection to place and passion for teaching and mentoring youth outdoors. In this time she also got to experience moving through her own rite of passage held by the community there, and is grateful to be able to steward this journey for youth at Gaia Girls.

Ashley Newton: Lead Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Ashley is a vibrant and dedicated childhood educator. She has been working with children for almost twenty years! Her formal educations in child development, mental health, and somatic education have informed her practice. Over the last five years her work has focused increasingly on nature connection as her own connection to nature grew. She has a big desire to support this generation of children to grow up in ways that encourage deep connection to nature, self, and one another. She aims to be with children in ways that reflect their inner goodness and passion. She is currently director and lead teacher of a small nature based school, Connected Kids.

Lauren Brown: Auntie for Gaia HIVE Teen Program

Lauren Brown, MFT is a storytelling, fire loving, music making, seed tending earth loving wild child who offers mindfulness education, long term mentorship, and embodied therapy to youth throughout the bay area. She practices body-oriented therapeutic practices and supports youth in fostering their connection to the natural world. Lauren is passionate and wildly committed to empowering all beings in finding their voice & creativity. Emphasizing skills they were born with and teaching new ones, Lauren helps youth walk courageously across the golden bridge of adolescence through breath and body awareness, fire tending, music, & most importantly play. She is a licensed psychotherapist working with Seeds of Awareness and Stepping Stone Project while maintaining a private practice in Sonoma County.  Lauren is all abuzz to be joining the Gaia Hive. To read more about her work in the world visit

Maya Elson: Lead Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Maya is a teacher, naturalist, grassroots organizer and lover of the wild. Maya lives her life seeking to heighten her awareness of the natural world and finding her place within her ecosystem. Maya has a background in field biology, and continues to connect with her ecosystem by teaching Ecology, edible and medicinal plants, mushroom identification, tracking, bird language, fishing, nature games, storytelling, making fire, shelter building, and sensory awareness. Having spent most of the last 13 years working with several outdoor schools, summer camps, and other environmental education programs, she’s seen seen first-hand the importance and power of initiation for young women. Maya started the Santa Cruz branch of the Wild Child Freeschool, and worked as Guide and Program Coordinator for 5 years. Maya’s other passions include grassroots Environmental Justice organizing, and Applied Mycology. She is the Executive Director CoRenewal, a nonprofit that seeks to clean up oil pollution with Fungi and Bacteria.

Kelsie Pombo: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Kelsie is a warm, creative guide with passion for song, story, and deep nature connection. She grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin River Delta, climbing trees, catching frogs, and tending to sheep and goat babes. She studied biology at Stanford University, where she had the opportunity to live and study in the Peruvian Amazon, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Monterey Bay. After college, Kelsie served in the Peace Corps in a rural community in Panama, where she supported environmental education, youth and women’s empowerment, leadership development, and health education. Later, Kelsie worked for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and started theMEANDER field studies program and local SLEWS program. She is a certified Permaculture Designer, California naturalist, and graduate of the Weaving Earth Immersion program for relational education. Kelsie is also an instructor for Vilda nature connection programs and Forest Friends preschool program. When she’s not roaming forests and farms with children, you may find her dancing, singing to trees, and swimming in wild waters.

Nina Gordon Kirsch: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Nina grew up in Berkeley and loved her family’s annual camping trips to Point Reyes and Hendy Woods, and weekend hikes with her dad in Tilden Park. In college she volunteered to take fellow students in the outdoors – introducing them to sunrises, constellations, and gratitude for what nature has to offer. After graduate school, Nina decided to take up outdoor education full time, and in addition to Gaia Girls, currently works for GirlVentures, Outward Bound, and REI’s Outdoor School. Through her work in experiential education, Nina has witnessed how capable young people are when they are trusted and believed in by adults. She is excited to be an Auntie for Gaia Girls, knowing she will learn just as much from the girls as they will from her.

Molly James: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Molly is an artist and youth educator based in the SF Bay Area. Molly is passionate about building a world where empathy and justice define our human story. She’s been creating and leading experiential curriculum for kids and adults since 2012. Programs she’s designed have focused on diverse topics ranging from nature connection to vulnerability in leadership to songwriting and design thinking. Across each facilitated experience what remains constant is a commitment to creating safety for expression, empowering participants to own their learning and building community. For the past 2 years she’s worked with Oakland based non profit, Soul Shoppe, delivering social and emotional learning to elementary school students.

Caroline Wong: Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Caroline is passionate about helping girls and young women remember their inner beauty and their connection with the natural world. She grew up in Vancouver BC, where she spent her early years enchanted by nature, wandering among Douglas Fir trees and welcoming the salmon return. She started teaching children music when she was 14, and in recent years she started to share her wonder for the natural world through music with others. As a musician, dancer, and designer, she loves carrying and singing earth-based songs, exploring body awareness through improvisational dance, and using design to help organizations solve problems. Caroline is also a student of insight meditation (Vipassana) and herbal medicine, and is dedicated to the cultivation of healthy relationships among all beings.

Jen Myzel: Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Jen is a passionate singer-songwriter, elementary school music teacher, and nature-based mentor.  She always had a special connection with animals, and began to fully come home to the Earth during college in 2009. After studying abroad at Findhorn Ecovillage, she co-founded and directed a free-of-charge Urban Farm Camp for inner-city youth in St. Louis, MO called Camp Kumquat. She has since studied various healing modalities including herbal medicine, nutrition, and energy medicine, and she is also a passionate student of Bay Area elder and activist, Joanna Macy and facilitator of the Work that Reconnects, practices to help us stay awake during turbulent times. She has utilized music for healing and activism over the last nine years.  To listen to her music, visit

Elizabeth Gould: Auntie, Menstrual Education

Elizabeth Gould is the Executive Director of the Red Web Foundation, an organization dedicated to menstrual education for girls and women.  She is also involved with a community of women initiating girls into their young womanhood in New Zealand.  She is the  mother of two teenage girls and does moon-education with our girls and co-facilitates some of the mama bear circles.

Meghan Walla-Murphey: Auntie, Consultant, Tracking and Nature Conservation

Megan is a conservationist, teacher, and expert animal tracker.  She runs a conference each year in Sonoma county that creates a culture for women to re-learn the ancient art of animal tracking and deepen their knowledge of place.  She has joined the girls for camp and is an ongoing consultant and supporter.

Erika Gagnon: Auntie, Ceremonial Arts

Erika is a Ceremonial Leader and visual artist. She leads sweat lodges and sacred pipe ceremonies with our moms and older girls and holds a deep understanding of  initiation, ceremony and various healing modalities from her own participation and education over the last 20 years.

In Loving Memory of April Cotte: Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

April began working with girls and women in 1992 in the Connecting with Courage program at Outward Bound in Boston, which was informed by the work of the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development. She was the first Program Director at Girl Ventures in SF. She was exposed to permaculture and nature connected community practices during 18 winters in Indigenous communities in the Chihuhuan Desert, where she facilitated Outward Bound courses. She explored spiritual connection through female cycles in Reclaiming the Red Web network and Kami McBride’s Women’s Wisdom and Medicine Woman Within trainings. She began learning 8 Shields model in 2008 and is grateful to have worked with Gaia Girls while raising her 6 year old son. She is now a Gaia Girls ancestor, and continues to inspire our work.

Gaia Girls has established the April Cotte Memorial Fund to provide scholarships to allow low income girls and teens to participate in Gaia Girls Programs.



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Phone: 510-508-7107


Most photography by Erika Gagnon


Gaia Girls Passages is a project of Gaia Passages, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) organization. Tax ID # is 82-1688828 

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