Get to know the people who are a part of Red Oaks and the unique skills, passions, education and experience they bring to the mission. 

 
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tina brouwer
executive director

I had this moment a few years ago that really deepened my love of nature and the outdoors. I was walking along Auxier Ridge with friends and my daughter when she ran off to feel the moss between her toes, this big cushy gorgeous green carpet, and begged me to join her. At first I said no, let's keep going, but she insisted and I reluctantly joined her. I stopped and felt the moss on my toes for the simple, pure joy of it. I understood now. I began to look at nature through a different lens, one that I stay mindful of as I deepen my connection to the world around me.  

I first fell in love with the Red River Gorge through rock climbing, which led me to the University of Kentucky where I earned my Bachelor's Degree in Natural Resource Conservation and a Master's Degree studying the behavior of Peregrine Falcons and the reintroduction of that majestic bird to the area. Working as a naturalist in OH and as a biologist for KY Fish & Wildlife gave me many opportunities to reach out to the public and work together to protect our natural resources. I have continued to care and invest in this area through stewardship, citizen science, and continuing my education by completing a Southeastern Naturalist certification, which provides needed interpretive skills for reaching our youth and community on the importance of conservation. I am excited to share these experiences and explore nature and the arts with as many people as I can. 

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Melissa rudick
director of operations

Before settling in Lexington, KY, I lived for three years in Switzerland with my husband and two daughters. My eldest daughter was able to participate in a waldspielgruppe (forest playgroup), starting at age three. We would bundle her up in all her gear and drop her off with her teacher and classmates. We’d pick her up in the afternoon, dirty and tired, but also exhilarated by the adventures and fun she had experienced in those Swiss woods. When we moved back to the US, I wanted to make sure I continued these outdoor adventures on a regular basis and luckily for me, I met Tina and we began the journey of Red Oaks in 2014.

I have a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a concentration in child mental health and development. I spent over 8 years working with children and their families as they dealt with issues of poverty, family violence, addiction, and mental illness. I was able to see first hand the resiliency of children and the importance of community in mitigating these issues. My goal is to bring some of this background to Red Oaks and to provide opportunities for children in Eastern Kentucky to tap into the healing power of nature.

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hannah harris               director of education

I grew up in a family of painters, writers and biologists, so pairing the arts and sciences has always made perfect sense to me. In college, I studied metal sculpture right alongside biology and psychology, and then went on to get a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development. I first fell in love with the mountains of Eastern Kentucky when I moved here to study the recolonizing black bears as part of my PhD research at the University of Kentucky. Since finishing my degree, I have worked as an educator and freelance author, writing articles demystifying science and technology. From art to activism, my parents raised me to believe that everyone has the ability to make a positive and meaningful impact on their world. That's an important lesson I try to share with both my own children and my students.

I know firsthand the impact kids can make; I've been involved in animal rescue and wildlife rehab since I was a teenager and helped to start a nonprofit that still exists today – more years later than I like to think about! As an adult I volunteered as a wilderness search and rescue canine handler and first responder, and I have spent the last decade coordinating with animal welfare groups to help municipal shelters in Eastern Kentucky. I have experience working with at-risk youth, including as a long-time volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and I have taught at levels ranging from early elementary to college. I am so excited to be a part of Red Oaks as we empower kids to make a difference! 

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lisa thomas
President of the board

Growing up, my exposure to wild places was limited. That changed during my last year of college, when I took a Wilderness Writing class. We backpacked, hiked, went canyoneering and caving, canoed, and stopped to reflect on and write about our experiences in nature. Those reflective pauses shifted something in me; they created space for me to sink into the feelings of awe, wonder, and possibility that the natural world awakes.

With more of life behind me now (as well as a MA in Philosophy, a MS in Counseling Psychology, and a 200-hour yoga teaching certification), I understand that such experiences of awe and wonder are at the core of human flourishing. As a homeschooling mother of three boys, I see how eagerly and readily children tap into such experiences, and I strive to nourish that by immersing my kids in the natural world. In my volunteer work as a yoga teacher to teen moms in foster care, I’ve seen how children who are deprived of these experiences crave them. Discovering Red Oaks has felt like coming home. Red Oaks brings together my greatest passions—people, nature, learning, and movement—and it aims to do so not only for my kids but also for kids who might otherwise never have those opportunities.

 

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clare dattilo
Secretary

My love of the outdoors began when I was a child hiking, camping, climbing trees, and catching toads with my family. I knew from an early age that I wanted to spend my life exploring and learning as much as I could about the world around me. During my time in Kentucky, I fell in love with the Red River Gorge as a place to relax, learn, and hang out with friends.

I have a degree in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Kentucky and worked as an Interpretive Ranger and Environmental Education Specialist for Mammoth Cave National Park until 2006 when I moved to Knoxville, TN and decided to stay home with my kids. As a family, we are very involved with Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont participating in citizen science projects, teaching visitors and continuing my education by earning my Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification. As a naturalist for Ijams Nature Center, I create and lead programs for all ages. I hope to bring some of my knowledge of environmental education and interpretation to Red Oaks and help develop meaningful experiences for the children.

 

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amy richardson
treasurer

I was born and raised Eastern KY. I grew up running through the hills of the Daniel Boone National Forest with cousins and walking barefoot through my parents’ garden, letting my imagination run wild. My love of stories led me to earn my Bachelor’s in English from Morehead State University and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I have worked for many years as a college-level English instructor, but my heart keeps pulling me back into the forest. I didn’t realize how valuable my childhood spent in the woods and creeks near my home really was until I had children of my own.

 After living in Oklahoma for several years, my husband and I moved back home to KY in 2014 to his family farm in Carter County to raise our children on the land and begin our own venture with organic farming and agroforestry. It is very important to me for my children to connect with the land and appreciate where their food comes from, and what better way than to grow up on a farm? I found Red Oaks when looking for other families who shared my love of nature and wished to inspire our future generations through time spent in creative pursuit outdoors. I have completed teacher-training programs through Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and Focus on Forests, and I am elated for the opportunity to share my passion with others and continue learning myself as I farm, forage, write, and homeschool.

Our Sponsors and Program Partners

We are so thankful for the people that have helped us along the way so far!

The Wilds Cabin Rental H&S Lumber Lowe’s

Red River Rockhouse BYPASS Rental

Kentucky Waterways Alliance University of Kentucky