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Heartwood Staff

Tess Golden-Orr
Co-Founder, Executive Director

Tess was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest where camping, hiking and fishing were important to her family and gave her a deep sense of reverence for our natural world.  Her passion for nature and travel moved her to sunnier weather.  She studied at Bodymind College in San Diego and began a career as a holistic health practitioner with a focus on bodywork.  Then on to Hawaii where she joined her husband in the photography business, and Tess continues the business to this day.   She is a proud mother of two elementary aged children.  Once a preschool teacher and a nanny, she enjoys holding nurturing space for children to play.  Tess has a love for the outdoors and is passionate about our role in caring for our ecosystem.  She is Forest School Canada Trained. She joined Camp Roots in 2015 and previously organized 100% outdoor nature programs to inspire other families to cultivate love and stewardship of our environment. She believes that fostering a relationship of enjoyment & respect for nature with kids is crucial for the health of our planet and people.


Erin Cole
Co-Founder, Program Developer, 
Thimbleberries Educator

Erin (she/her) has a Master's Degree in Teaching from Seattle University and 20 years of teaching experience in a variety of types of programs. From her first teaching job 2001 as a day camp naturalist at Discovery Park in Seattle, to Lead Teacher at Country Village Day Pre-School, to Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade teacher and reading specialist in the Kent School District and beyond, all of her work deepened and confirmed her belief that the best teaching and learning takes place outside. As a child she spent many happy summers attending outdoor and nature camps at local Seattle parks and many family vacations camping and backpacking around the PNW. 


Erin has a particular affinity for working with ages 1-3 and loves silly songs, puppets and picture books. She has two elementary aged children that she takes outside every day to roll around in the dirt and mud, which results in happy kids and lots of laundry. Erin is also a gardener and believes firmly in the therapeutic power of working outside and connecting physically with the earth.


Clare Kenney
Lead Educator, Salmonberries, Huckleberries & Wildings

Clare was raised in Portland, Maine and grew up roaming the forests, mountains, and coastlines of her home state, leading her to develop a deep-seated love of the outdoors early on in her life. In pursuit of higher education, she moved to Montreal and earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from McGill University in 2018. Shortly thereafter, her desire for new experiences brought her to the west coast, first to British Columbia and then to Seattle, where she was enchanted by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.


Clare loves working with kids and enjoys engaging with them in a variety of different activities and levels of thought. She has worked in professional childcare for close to 10 years and has worked with many families with children of all ages and backgrounds, including children with learning and developmental disabilities. She always aims to cultivate a comfortable and safe environment for those in her care and is mindful in her efforts to form loving and individualized relationships with each child. In addition to childcare, she has a background in outdoor leadership, through work as a sea kayak guide and through her experience organizing and leading hiking trips for other students during her university years.


Clare, herself, is the product of alternative, nature-based education and firmly believes in its benefits. She hopes to help children nurture a direct and respectful relationship with nature for their own wellbeing and for the betterment of planet earth. 


Christine Garward
Educator, Huckleberries & After School

Christine (Cici) was raised in Annapolis, Maryland but she has lived in so many places she doesn’t claim only one as her home.  Growing up swimming, canoeing and exploring in the Chesapeake Bay created a joy of nature and a fierce need to protect it.  She has followed that passion in all of her pursuits which eventually led to teaching kids how to love and protect the nature around them.


Cici followed her husband to Sydney, Australia where she completed her BA of Primary Education at Macquarie University in 1999.  She then focused her time on her two children (both now in their 20s) while volunteering in their schools, PTSA, local museums, etc.  She found a way to combine her love of nature and teaching by volunteering in the education department at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.  She taught classes on biology topics with an emphasis on conservation.  This led to part time jobs both at the Academy and the San Francisco Zoo, where she worked in the education department.


After moving to Seattle to bring all of her immediate family together, she has resumed her teaching career with Heartwood.  She and her husband spend most weekends exploring all the walking and biking trails in the Seattle greater area.  She is also an avid board gamer and confessed Geek with a love of tabletop role-playing games.  She can be seen at local gaming conventions finding new pieces to add to her collection of works from small-time artists.


Cici believes in the wonder of the natural world and how it can teach us how we are all both fragile and connected.  She knows that kids feel this deeply and encourages them to explore those feelings.  Cici is a big proponent of practices that preserve the environment from reducing plastic to supporting sustainable food sources.  She encourages kids to see how small choices can have big effects in both the world and themselves.


Kristin Klopfenstein
Lead Educator, Huckleberries

Kristin was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest where there was no such thing as bad weather. Hiking and outdoor sports were important to her family and living within walking distance of Saint Edward State Park made for easy daily trail access. Being outdoors brought her peace, joy, calm, healing, and grounding to weather all the storms in life through elementary school, homeschooling, college and beyond to present. Kristin attended Seattle Pacific University where she received her B.A. in Language Arts, Elementary Teaching Certification and later on a Masters in Teacher Leadership. The university offered training in Wild and Project Learning Tree on a beautiful remote island in the San Juan's. It was here that doors opened for opportunities to be part of outdoor education programs for 5th graders at several private schools and a love for teaching outdoors was born. Kristin has taught 3yr olds through 8th graders in a variety of settings for over 15 years from traditional classroom education to private tutoring to online and outdoors. She has taught preschool aged children through Tinkgarten, hike it baby, and subbed at Heartwood the past few years. Being outdoors and fostering a love for the outdoors are at the forefront of her heart. She is the proud mother of one very active outdoor loving daughter. They spend their homeschooling days outside almost daily, camping, backpacking, learning, exploring, and hiking. When they are not outdoors they enjoy cuddling up on the couch reading books with their Husky dog and cats. 


Elysia Sims
Educator, Huckleberries & After School

Elysia is the oldest of 6 and being the eldest sister has helped her grow as a leader and connect with many different age groups. She aims to be a role model for her younger siblings and holds family very closely to her heart.


Elysia was born in Denver, Colorado but has lived quite a nomadic life which has made her the free spirit she is today. She has lived in California, Florida, and now Washington State, constantly bouncing between those states. Due to constant change of scenery, she values community, meeting new people, and learning about the different cultures in our world, and adopting many new hobbies. Her life has given her the values she has today which are being an advocate for saving our natural world, developing a community mindset, promoting spiritual and physical wellbeing for herself and others, and being open to new experiences. Traveling often she fell in love with many different natural landscapes, and it opened her mind and heart out to the world.

Currently, Elysia is working towards her bachelors in Sustainability at Cascadia College. Her program is what inspired her to join Heartwood. She believes nature is truly our mentor and our friend. Having the experience to share that with others and seeing the children’s joy and excitement about our natural world is what makes her role at Heartwood extremely rewarding. Apart from Heartwood, she is also a certified yoga instructor. Teaching yoga has helped Elysia is so many areas of her own life and she is eager to give that gift to others. She believes in holistic health, practicing mindfulness, and being an active participant in her own growth as well as supporting others in theirs. Elysia holds the belief that we are all connected, this includes our natural world, which is why we should respect nature and ourselves.


Rita Bartlett
Lead Educator, Huckleberries 

Bio pending


Noelle Ames
Lead Educator, Salmonberries & After School

Noelle (she/her) grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. She always loved to be outside, running around the neighborhood and climbing trees. She spent most summers at Girl Scout Camp as a camper and a staff member, which further deepened her love of nature and working with children. She pursued her passion for the outdoors by getting her bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Looking for a change of pace and scenery, she moved to the Seattle area in 2014. Since moving here, she has discovered a love of learning about native plants and tidepooling around the Puget Sound.


Over the years, Noelle has worked with children of all ages in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. Her desire to work with children in nature led her to complete the IslandWood Graduate Program on Bainbridge Island and get her Master of Education from the University of Washington in 2018. In joining Heartwood, Noelle hopes to foster in her students a love of nature. In her free time, Noelle enjoys knitting and cross-stitch, video games, and reading.

Noelle Ames.jpg

Sydney Mitchell
Educator, Salmonberries & Huckleberries

Sydney (she/her) grew up in Baltimore, Maryland where she fell in love with nature going camping and hiking along the ATP around the Northeast. She joined a Girl Scout troop & that’s where her love for stewardship and community stems. She graduated from Towson University in 2019 with a Bachelors in International Business and Spanish Language. Unfortunately right after graduation, the pandemic made it super hard to find a job so she started nannying a group of kids on a farm.. and boy did she love it.


Having almost 10 years of experience working with children, Sydney decided to switch paths and find a way to merge her passions of nature and teaching kids together. She moved to Washington in 2022 and became a youth apprentice at the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, WA. There she learned the ins & outs of Coyote mentoring and outdoor learning. She is excited to be with Heartwood this year, spending time with the students in the outdoor spaces! She hopes to encourage a deeper relationship with the Earth and connect students to their wild & authentic selves.


Susan Collins
Educator, Huckleberries

Susan Collins' work experience has been in the education industry - coaching young adults in communications, soft skills, and healthcare training. Susan has lived in various states and countries, learning the importance of empathy and appreciating different cultural perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes. Growing up on farms, riding horses in the mountains of Utah, and as a member of 4H gave her a sense of freedom, self-confidence, a love of animals, and trust in the processes of nature. A mother, grandmother, and yoga instructor. Enjoys hiking, biking, kayaking, travel, and Qigong.


Sydney Meade
Educator, Field Trips and Wildlings

Sydney was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where she developed a deep love of the outdoors, in both rain and shine. 

Being a product of environmental education from a young age, she brought her love of the outdoors into her higher education and studied Environmental Science and Political Science at Portland State University. With 10 years of experience working in childcare, including working at multiple outdoor camps including planning and leading countless multi-night human-powered boat (canoe, kayak, sailboat & rowboat) expeditions Heartwood felt like a natural extension of her love of working with children in the outdoors. Sydney believes firmly in imparting the value of stewardship from a young age, being integral to the health of our planet.

When not working, Sydney loves to play guitar and sing, play trivia, go camping and spend lots of time on the water.


Emma Joy Unger
Huckleberries Volunteer, Summer Camp Junior 

Emma Joy is a senior running start student at Bothell High School, where she is currently serving as the yearbook editor in chief. She loves the outdoors, especially the time of year when the leaves change colors, and the temperature becomes colder. Emma spent much of her childhood playing and exploring outside, and she is excited to be working with so many children that are passionate about nature. Emma Joy started at Heartwood as a Summer Camp Counselor in Training in 2021 and was promoted to a Summer Camp Junior Counselor in 2022. This year she is working as a volunteer in the Thursdays Huckleberries class.

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