All Nature Connect staff are trained in First Aid & CPR.

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Brinkley Hutchings

Founder & Director

Program Facilitator

Brinkley spent most of her childhood exploring and playing in the outdoors. She started Nature Connect because she is inspired by children's sense of wonder, curiosity, and play and loves to share her enthusiasm for the natural world. Brinkley graduated from UNC Wilmington with a degree in Environmental Science. She has worked and studied extensively at multiple outdoor schools across the country and is now a certified coach and consultant for other nature schools. In 2017, Brinkley moved home to coastal Alabama to be with her family and start Nature Connect Alabama. Brinkley is the director for both our Alabama and North Carolina chapters and teaches our classes in Alabama.

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Kathryn Waple

Director of Homeschool & Internship Programs 

Nature Explorers Program Facilitator

Kathryn has always been at home outdoors.  Some of her earliest memories are of spending time in the woods with her Grandfather and Dad, exploring the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. When she is not roaming the woods, she can be found in her garden or at the beach. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher and has been working with people, plants and the Earth for the last ten years. She has taken 8 Shields Art of Mentoring training and has facilitated the youth program for the Vermont Wilderness School's Art of Mentoring Program.  She has also worked with Earth Path Education's Growing Goddess/Moon Mystics Rites of Passage Camps. 

 

She has a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Herbalism from Appalachian School of Holistic Herbalism, and has apprenticed with Corinna Wood of Red Moon Herbs. She graduated from UNC Wilmington in 2007 with a degree in English Literature and a minor is Parks and Recreation. She earned her Teaching Certificate in High School Education from UNCW in 2010. Kathryn is the owner of Gray Cat Botanicals, a local herbal extracts business that focuses on the use of fresh, home-grown, food-like plants for making herbal extracts.

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Alison Gordon 

Director of Farm School & Family Programs

Farm School Program Facilitator

Marketing & Fundraising 

Alison was born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina and attended UNC-Wilmington where she received a degree in Environmental Science. Her connection with nature began early, growing up on her family's farmland, hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains and exploring the shoreline of the coastal Carolinas.

After working for over 10 years in the education department at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida as an educator, grant coordinator and department manager, Alison is firm in her belief that caring for wildlife and wilderness begins with our youngest minds. She’s also worked as a development associate for Wildlands Network and naturalist for the Environmental Learning Center. Her passion for conservation education and stewardship is the foundation for cultivating strong community relations. Alison is a certified FL master naturalist and owner of Seahorse Stables, a farm and equestrian center in Wilmington, NC where she lives with her husband and 3 daughters.

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Britt Carpenter

Farm School Program Facilitator

Britt is a Wilmington native who grew up exploring and falling in love with the woods and marshes near her home. She has been working with Nature Connect since 2016 as a facilitator for the preschool, homeschool enrichment, and family programs. She is eager to pass along her love of nature to future generations, especially since welcoming her daughter to the world in 2018. In her free time she enjoys cooking, playing guitar, singing, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. She is also a facilitator for the Wilmington chapter of Turning The Wheel.

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Oana Duma

Farm School Program Facilitator

Oana was born in Romania and moved to the United States in 2013. She spent most of her childhood playing outside, and often attended summer camps in the mountains. She fell in love with the outdoors immediately and has continued to further her connection with nature ever since. Her favorite activities include hiking, camping, playing in the rain and cooking. Her favorite memories are long hikes with friends followed by camping on top of the mountains and playing the guitar by the fire. Oana believes that nature is a never ending source of wonder, love and energy. As a mother of two young boys, she truly thinks that every child should be able to benefit from the emotional intelligence that nature builds and all the joy the outdoor education brings!

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Christy Porter 

Nature Explorers Program Facilitator

Christy is a fourth generation Wilmington native who grew up fishing, digging up clam patches with barefeet in the salt marshes, exploring the barrier islands, and playing in the woods. Being a mother herself, she believes in the importance of exposing kids to the wonders of nature and all the emotional and mental growth that it fosters and is passionate about raising children's environmental awareness.

She has almost two years experience working with kids in nature and has completed the training In Bloom in Asheville: Promising Practice in Nature Based Early Childhood Education. She graduated in 2002 as a practicing LMBT and earned certifications in Aromatherapy, Ethics, and Nuat Boran/Thai Bodywork.

 

 

Erin Gross

Farm School Program Facilitator

Erin has always had a love for the outdoors, and feels most at ease while exploring our natural world. This started when she was a child, growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA with her family. She spent a lot of time in her backyard, wading through the creek looking for crayfish and playing amongst the trees. She enjoys fueling children’s curiosity by exploring the outdoors with them. During her free time she enjoys hiking, biking, kayaking, crafting, and listening to music.

 

Erin graduated from UNCW in 2012 with a degree in Marine Biology. She was an educator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher for 7 years, where she discovered just how important a connection to nature is for children’s physical and emotional development. She has a passion for inclusion and working with individuals with disabilities as well, and is currently working towards her Master’s in Recreation Therapy.

 

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Kevina Casaletto

Nature Explorers Program Facilitator

Kevina was born in Austin, Texas and moved to three other states before settling in North Carolina in 1990. She has always loved exploring new places and is on a constant quest to learn all she can about our local ecosystems! A collector of hobbies, Kevina enjoys hand embroidery with an ecological focus. She uses her embroidery hoops to support organizations working in longleaf restoration and conservation. She loves spending time outdoors and spends her free time camping, hiking, and biking with her husband and two children. 

 

Kevina graduated with a degree in elementary education from UNCW in 2006. After working as a teacher’s assistant and teacher in Wilmington, she served in the Peace Corps with her husband in southern Belize from 2009-2011. She continues to volunteer and be active in her community. She believes feeling the connections between the earth, ourselves, and our community helps ensure we all become stewards for a healthy environment where we all can thrive. Her experiences have taught her that when you learn about something, you appreciate it more. She is dedicated to spreading knowledge and appreciation for our native plants and animals to ensure their protection.

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Denise Priest

Nature Explorers Program Facilitator

Denise’s appreciation for Mother Nature is a gift from her children, the first of whom joined Nature Connect in its pilot program. While she considered herself an “inside girl” before becoming a mother, she soon learned the benefits of nature, specifically for children, and was delighted to experience the outdoors through their eyes. Very soon Denise found great healing when she was able to venture into the outdoors alone. She has 2 daughters and 1 son. 

 

Denise has been working with families in the Cape Fear area in various capacities over the past 13 years. She’s the founder of Cut the Crap Parenting Parent Coaching Services and supports families in living healthier, more peaceful lives through clean food, clear boundaries, respectful communication, and less stuff. She provides one-on-one coaching, workshops, and corporate support for family outreach.

 

Denise is excited be a part of the Nature Connect homeschool team where she excitedly anticipates all she will learn while fostering children’s natural curiosities.

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Roxy Wiegand

Education Consultant

Roxy graduated from UNCW with a degree and licensure in Early Childhood Education in 2013 and then made the outer banks her home, where she met her husband and started her family. She has taught in a variety of settings including Montessori, charter and public schools as well as surf lessons. All of these experiences taught her that the greatest teacher is the environment and by creating a natural organic setting where children can thrive at their own pace is the secret to creating successful lifelong learners.

 

While most of her teaching environments were by the sea she has really enjoyed the change of pace and connecting to the land and using natural materials to spark creativity and imagination. By providing an open-ended classroom and materials children are allowed to make choices and seek different outcomes that in turn build confidence and let them fall in love naturally with learning. Once this is accomplished the possibilities are endless because they have an intrinsic value for learning and find power in knowledge.         

Meet Our Staff

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Ava-Grace Mahoney

Nature Explorers Program Assistant

Hello my name is Ava-Grace and I am a North Carolina native. I'm 14 years old and a current homeschool student. I have three siblings, two guinea pigs and a dog. I found a love for nature while attending Nature Connect as a student. I love working with Nature Connect because I am very eager to learn and grow my skills for nature. In my free time I love to take hikes, go camping and go to the beach. I am excited to be part of the Nature Connect team.

Staff Mentors & Inspirational Teachers

 

We are incredibly grateful to our teachers and mentors in this work. There are many people that we would like to acknowledge, and this list in no way encompasses them all. Nevertheless, we want to thank these mentors whose teachings we carry with us in our work with Nature Connect.

Tom Hutchings, father of Brinkley Hutchings (Nature Connect's founder) 

Wendolyn Bird, Tender Tracks Nature Preschool

Lauren Hage, Dave Hage, and Will Scott at Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education

Catherine and Jesse Wiens, Play in the Wild!

Maria Nemeth, Academy for Coaching Excellence

Jon Young, Tom Brown and 8 Shields community, including the authors of Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods

Lorene Wapotich, founder of Feet on the Earth

Mia Ander, Vilda Foundation

Keith Winsten, Executive Director of Brevard Zoo

Chris DeLorey "Dr. Dino", Educational Biofacts Inc

Beth Armstrong, Field Conservationist and Author of Voices from the Ape House

Dr. Martha Monroe, Professor & Associate Director, School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, University of Florida

Miriam Fulton, mother of Alison Gordon, Elementary Education Teacher, Union County Public Schools