Our Team

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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.

Ursula Stoller: Program Manager, Lead Auntie

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.

Gissell Morales: Administrator and Marketing Assistant

Gissell is a Bay Area native who has a passion for connecting with others, building relationships, and connecting with herself through nature and meditation. She was raised on the big, little island of Alameda, and is the most grounded around water and sand – the beach is truly her happy place! Gissell holds a degree and a decade of experience in the business administration field. Her career lead her to Berkeley Law in 2016, and in 2019, Gissell provided volunteer work for female oriented podcasts and brands, which ultimately lead her to pursue her passion in digital media marketing and administrative project management. Gissell came to Gaia Girls Passages in 2019. Gissell is passionate about helping women owned organizations and loves providing her assistance with digital media marketing, customer service, and administrative assistance. In Gissell’s spare time, she loves to run, cook, spend time with her family, and runs her freelancing business called Girl Finds Balance.

 

Caitlin Davies: Auntie, Teen Backpacking Program 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.

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: 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.

Martha Moss: Lead Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Martha is a nature guide, forager, herbal-medicine and natural dye hobbyist, regenerative garden educator, wilderness trip leader, and certified California Naturalist. She has several years of experience in experiential outdoor education and is passionate about empowering youth and restoring the interconnectedness of human beings to their ecological communities through creative expression, deep nature connection, environmental education and stewardship. Currently, Martha facilitates school-based workshops that aim to prevent dating violence, cultivating tools for youth to maintain healthy relationships. She believes that creating resilient communities is crucial to restoring our connection to place. A lover of stories, you may find her weaving tales between plant, animal, and human ways of being, highlighting connections across the diversity of all forms of life.

Samantha Kanofsky: Lead Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Sammy is a Berkeley native with a deep love of silent connection and exuberant silliness in nature. She’s worked with children and young adults as a camp counselor, guide, coach and educator in a variety of settings, including at Sempervirens Outdoor SchoolThe Mosaic ProjectCamp 510 Oakland, the Writer Coach ConnectionOperation GroundswellJewish Disaster Response Corps, and America Scores. Sammy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Analysis from Pomona College and a Certificate in Environmental Conflict Resolution from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. She has studied a wide variety of healing modalities including reiki, mindfulness meditation, yoga, TRE (tension & trauma release) and EFT tapping—which she weaves into her work with children (and other beings) on a regular basis. She recently completed a Certificate in Ecopsychology from the Holos Institute and is excited to be offering individual and group support for eco-grief and anxiety in the form of forest bathing and nature-based-counseling. When she’s not exploring with Gaia Girls, she can often be found dancing at music festivals, writing poetry and creative nonfiction, exploring ancestry, and playing auntie to her beloved niece and nephew.

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: Auntie, ROP Apprentice

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.

Launa Sherrin: Auntie, ROP Apprentice

Launa was born and mostly raised on occupied Awaswas Ohlone land in Santa Cruz, CA. She spent her childhood freely roaming the redwood forests and creeks behind her parent’s home, befriending the creatures she found there and developing a deep connection to those lands. As she grew older, her longing for understanding of the physical world lead her to pursue an education in physics and geology before entering a career in water resources engineering. She’s worked as a hydrologist across many California watersheds, including the Tuolumne, Merced, and San Lorenzo rivers. She still works part time as an ecoengineer and finds fulfillment in restoring the natural flow to river and wetland ecosystems However, as Launa passed through her 20s, her awareness of the interconnectedness of all things grew, along with a deep desire to connect with youth, to share her knowledge and even more so to share her love of the natural world to which we all belong. So in 2018, Launa got connected with Gaia Girls Passages and started serving as a substitute Auntie for the Santa Cruz Wildflowers and she is thrilled to be working with GGP more this year! Launa believes that it is through an understanding of the oneness of existence, this interconnectivity of all life, that we can come to live in harmony with all the other beings that share this great planet with us. For her, this is the most critical lesson of the modern era and she believes that it is through the grounded expression of empowered females that we will come to see the changes our world so desperately needs.

Sophia Lopez: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Sophia is a community herbalist and mixed medicine healing artist raised by elder plant people, wise wild waters, mighty granite rocks, storytellers, and a big beautiful family on occupied Huichin homeland of the Chochenyo Ohlone people, also known to many as the Albany, Berkeley border.  Her healing art practice extends into her interdisciplinary performance and visual art making which are acts of healing and honoring the beloved connection between people-plants-and place, the human and beyond human ancestors across landscapes, the Latinx Diaspora, and the very own blood flowing through her veins.  She is proud of her diverse ancestral lineages of Mexican, Mediterranean, Irish, Scottish, English, Choctaw, and only the blood knows where else stories no longer linger.  With gratitude, she identifies strongly as the oldest sister of 4 and has always been a fire keeper for the many children of her block and neighborhood community.  More recently, in the fresh Spring of 2017, she founded the Wild Roots Wellness Collective through Bard College in the NY Hudson Valley, where she recently graduated with a BA in Studio Arts and Latin American and Iberian Studies.  Wild Roots is a community of young adults and youth collectively cultivating space for earth based education, sharing the wisdom of plant medicine, place based honoring, ancestral remembrance, and collective community healing.  As a final gift to the Wild Roots community and those they serve, she prayerfully designed and ritually built a round healing hut out of native sugar maple saplings she harvested and wet felted wool paneling from scrap sheep wool discarded by a local fiber mill.  She is devoted to continue this practice of weaving community earth circles back in her homelands and beyond as the mystery and land dream through her.

Danielle Ambrosino: ROP Apprentice

Daniella (SHE/HER) loves witnessing the wonders of nature, where curiosity and presence inspire a deep connection to herself and the world around her. As a child, she found that the quiet moments exploring and wandering in nature fueled her imagination and filled her senses.  She was often found digging in the dirt, collecting rocks, creating nature art, rolling In the grass and developing friendships with the plants and critters she met along the way. She intimately knows the healing potential of nature, as time amongst the trees has been her grounding place to sit with and move through emotions. When she lost her mother at age 25,  she emerged with a renewed passion for supporting and nourishing others through the essential transitions in life.  She is grateful to now be a part of guiding young beings to move across thresholds with intention through ceremony, play and wilderness exploration.  Daniella loves children and feels a natural connection to them. She has 15 years of experience and has worked with children of all ages in a variety of ways- as a big sister, a creative movement and dance teacher, a camp counselor, volunteer and nanny. She is passionate about creating safe spaces for young beings to express freely and share vulnerably. Currently,  Daniella is a postpartum doula, supporting families pre- and postnatal through a holistic prism of care that honors the journey of parenthood as a sacred rite of passage deserving of deep care and nourishment.

Amy Tam: Auntie, Nature-Based Mentor

Amy is passionate about working with youth, specifically in nature connection and environmental science. She was born and raised in Oakland in a mixed ethnicity- Chinese, Vietnamese and SE Asian- household. Her connection to nature and the wilderness happened as a senior in high school and ever since then she has been ignited from the beauty of the world to pursue opportunities to open up people’s hearts through gratitude for the land and all beings. As a graduate of UC Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies, she has woven the interdisciplinary subject of social and environmental justice lens to all forms of education and mentorship. Not only does she love to spend her time working outdoors with youth but also in most of her free time-adventuring through a curiosity lens, hiking, climbing, practicing yoga, gardening, painting, and dancing. She is always looking to grow and learn from her communities of elders, peers, and youths. Amy loves her title as a proud Auntie, not just with Gaia Girls Passages, but to a 5 year old niece, and a 3 year old nephew

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.

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.

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.

Our staff are all certified in First Aid/CPR. We recommend Safety Training Seminars for CPR, First-aid, BLS, ACLS, and PALS classes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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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