Our Team

pt reyes sunset

Our Team

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.

Alisa Rose Healy: Program Manager & Administrator

Alisa has worked closely with youth as a wilderness therapist and environmental educator for over 7 years. She has worked 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. 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.

Caitlin Davies: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor, Backpacking Manager

Caitlin believes there are few gifts greater than fostering connection to mother nature and to the greater community. She believes a large part of that connection starts with women and girls. She has been creating unique adventures and guiding small and large groups on outdoor expeditions for 8 years with National Geographic Expeditions and Backroads Active Travel in amazing World Heritage Foundation Sites from Yellowstone NP to Costa Rica before starting her own company, Mountain Sea Adventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Mountain Sea supports women feeling comfortable and connected to the earth through outdoor adventure. She facilitates nature connections in order to create belonging, connection and transformation in women. She is deeply inspired by the beauty and wisdom found in nature and creates music and art to reflect that admiration. In addition, her travels have led her to inspire women through her work with Title 9, a catalogue servicing female athletes. Caitlin is thrilled to join Gaia Girls in hopes that the program continues to grow and thrive.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kelsie Pombo: Lead 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.

Nicole Wong: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Nicole was raised in Huichin, Ohlone lands (in the Bay Area) in a large mixed race family.  She grew up without much access to nature connection, but as a young adult began to develop deep curiosity and bonds with the wild places around her when she moved to Santa Cruz. She has since had the privilege of many teachers in nature-based skills and is a graduate of the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. She has worked in the field of outdoor education for over 6 years. She is a trained facilitator of the Work That Reconnects and she currently works with Sudden Oak Life, a project to restore the health of oaks that utilizes Traditional Ecological Knowledge. She also works alongside California indigenous communities to protect the health of land and water.

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.

Sierra Buckley: Apprentice Auntie

Sierra is a free spirit devoted to heart-centered living that fosters healing and connection from the inside out. Growing up in both Idaho and California, she is grateful for the access to nature in these places, and the way it nurtured her love and reverence for nature. As a yoga student & teacher (200 RYT), her life has been greatly influenced by the gifts of the practice, such as presence and body awareness. Her degree in Child Development and Family Relations from the University of Idaho in is an extension of her deep care for human connection, healthy relationships, and supporting children in their fullest expression. She can often be found at ecstatic dance, on an outdoor adventure, or sharing song with friends. Aligned with her spiritual path and mediation practice, she is fortunate to be a staff member at Spirit Rock Meditation Center where she helps people register for silent retreats. She has worked with youth in various contexts, and is inspired to support the next generation of women to connect with their own body wisdom, each other as sisters, the natural world, and greater community. She has deep admiration for the work of Gaia Girls Passages and is grateful to join the organization.

Grace Johnson: Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Grace Johnson is an environmental educator and natural textile dyer born in Arizona. She holds a background in environmental policy and sustainability, which she weaves with her love of creative expression to advocate for harmonic interactions between our earth, ourselves, and each other. Grace is passionate about her work with children and youth on the land and is a strong believer of radical community-driven change. She loves farming flowers, dancing, and the deep stories embedded within. She can be found online at graceharis.com.

Larissa Arambula: Apprentice Auntie 

Larissa is a ceremonialist, healing arts practitioner, meditation facilitator, and womxn of prayer. She was born and raised in occupied Cahuilla territory (Riverside, CA). She is a descendant of Mexican, Dine and Irish lineages and has been working to reclaim her traditions. She has been studying and practicing various disciplines of meditation for over 8 years. Her biggest joy comes from organizing/facilitating nature-based ceremonies in honor of the cycles of the moon, changes of the seasons, and rite of passage. Larissa studied at UC Riverside, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Sustainability Studies. She currently resides and volunteers at PLACE for Sustainable Living in Oakland, CA, where she spends her time gardening, organizing ceremonies, and behind the screen as Social Media Steward. She is devoted to creating a regenerative future for the next generations and living in harmony with Mother Earth. And she is most passionate about assisting the youth on their journey to reconnecting to their ancestral lineages, their womb/hara spaces, and helping them fine-tune their intuitions.

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.

Jasmine Robinson: Teen Auntie

Jasmine Robinson is 17 years old and currently a senior Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. In addition to working with Gaia Girls in the Hoover Program, Jasmine has worked at youth programs such as Girls on the Go Summer Camp, The Mosaic Project, and MOCHA. She is very passionate about art and music and aspires to pursue graphic design in college. Jasmine loves about working with youth because they inspire her to live optimistically, and she values their compassion, empathy, and individuality.

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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Contact Information

Email: support@gaiagirlspassages.org

Phone: 510-731-0308

Address: 651 66th Street

Oakland, CA 94609

Facebook: www.facebook.com/gaiagirlspassages/

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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