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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 Office of Sustainability at Alameda County, where she designed curriculum and managed the marketing and outreach for the Green Child Care Program, which provides recycling and composting education to preschool staff and students. 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 loves the natural world and opportunities to explore and connect outdoors with children. She is a graduate of the Weaving Earth Immersion Program and has spent the last 4 years deeply engaged in the nature-connection community in Sonoma County. Chiara taught in play-based and nature-based preschools and mentored in afterschool programs. 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 lives at Canticle Farm in Oakland, a community experimenting at the intersection of social justice-based, faith-based, and Earth-based nonviolent activism.

Katherine Piedra: Lead Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Katherine has worked with children in many capacities from doula support to caregiving to adventure trips in the woods. In 2013, she participated in an apprenticeship in village building and naturalist skills with the Wilderness Awareness School in the Pacific Northwest. Her education at WAS has inspired the way she engages with young people and their natural curiosity for interacting with the cycles of the earth. She believes in asking deeper questions alongside youth, active listening, and leaving room for mystery. Katherine is an Aztec danzante and is committed to remembering/reclaiming her indigenous traditions in this socio-political landscape of colonialism and erasure. Katherine is also a student of the plants and herbal medicine and always carries a song in her heart.

Natasha Lowery: Auntie, Nature-based Mentor

Natasha is passionate about reconnecting with nature and in empowering girls and young women to engage with the natural world. She has worked with children in natural spaces and carries her mothers’ artistic legacy through the medium of field journaling and sketching. She is learning to see the wild through the lens of medicinal and edible plants, and hopes to discover more about her Filipina heritage.

Dezirae Pebenito: Auntie

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.

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.

Sandra Corzantes: Intern Auntie

Sandra is passionate about outdoor adventure, exploration, and connection. She has volunteered with youth in many capacities, from physical rehabilitation to leading field trips, through it all, it has been with a heart of service. The Gaia Girls mission is close to her heart as being empowered through knowledge and self-acceptance is very important to anyone, but especially in times of great change and transition for a young woman’s life. She is the Program Coordinator for Latino Outdoors in the South Bay which focuses on providing supportive spaces for families to learn about the wild and beautiful parks in their neighborhoods. These events are always coupled with educational programs to ensure participants are well equipped to continue pursuing their passions of outdoors activities as individuals and as a community. Sandra looks forward to spending time enriching her knowledge of the world and creating safe spaces for individuals to grow!

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.

Maria Yraceburu: Auntie, Native American Ceremonialist

Maria Yraceburu is a co-founder of Yraceburu EarthWisdom and trained as a Native American ceremonialist, idealist and time charter. She has perpetuated the earth tradition ways of evolution since 1964. She shares an intricate system of earth wisdom and cross cultural teaching of her extended family system in an equilateral and respectful manner. Her book Prophetic Voices of the Sisters of Honua is proof of her purpose. Other books include: Essays on Identity, Words of Power, Prayers and Meditations of the Quero Apache, and Legends and Prophecies of the Quero Apache.


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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Most photography by Erika Gagnon

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