Meet Our Team
Wilderness Kids Alexandria is a young organization and already we have assembled a team of talented educators. Read more about them below. If you are interested in joining our staff or serving on our board, please contact us today for more information.
Annie Jonas (she/her) is Chair of the education department at Warren Wilson College. Annie's undergraduate courses feature experiential opportunities within local schools and non-profit organizations in the community. She worked previously as an instructor at Outward Bound, a director of a wilderness program for youth, and as a high school history teacher. Annie is an editor for the Journal of Experiential Education and in 2019 received the North Carolina Engaged Faculty Member award from NC Campus Compact. She holds and M. Ed. from Harvard University and an Ed.D. from Western Carolina University. She lives with her wife and son in Asheville, NC. In her spare time, Annie loves to trail run with friends, mountain bike and camp with her family, and skip river rocks for her dog Java.
Peak Experience & Curriculum Designer
Elise Nikolich (she/her) is a 2020 graduate of the College of Wooster and is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Education with Emphasis in Environmental Education from Prescott College. Born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, Elise currently resides in Alexandria with her partner, Luke, and their dog, Luna. Elise has led a variety of adventure based educational trips through summer camps with children ages 9 to 14, as well as college students. Elise is an avid hiker, backpacker, and SUP paddler, but will take any excuse to be outside in the fresh air!
Curriculum Designer & Educator
Elizabeth Waugh (she/her) originally hails from the U.K. but grew up mostly in Alexandria, VA. She studies environmental studies and coordinates and plans youth and family programs focusing on ecology, horticulture, natural and earth sciences, and conservation. She is especially passionate about soil and watershed health. Elizabeth travels as much as she can and previously spent her gap year in Bali, Indonesia teaching English to students from two villages. She is a lifelong environmental steward and loves to inspire her students to tackle pollution and climate change in creative and dynamic ways that encourage them to incorporate their own experiences and heritage. In her free time Elizabeth likes to play tennis, paint, tend to her plants and plan her next road trip with her boyfriend.
Gerald Holden (he/him) is a retired United States Air Force veteran with an extensive background in Information Management, Computer Support and Knowledge Operations Management. During his 20-year career, he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His military assignments included bases in Alabama, Okinawa Japan, Utah and Washington D.C., where he served as Superintendent, White House Military Office Headquarters Knowledge Operations Management. Born and raised in Elton, Louisiana, he attended and graduated from Elton High School. While on active duty, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from the University of Maryland Asian Division, Okinawa, Japan. Additionally he received an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Information Management from the United States Air Force Community College. Gerald and his family enjoy outdoor activities.
Founder, Executive Director, Board Member
Jerry Casagrande (he/him) is a 21 year resident of Alexandria. He was the Founder of 3D Life, a nationwide experiential learning organization that led teens of all backgrounds on multi-week expeditions through the Southeast and New England. Jerry has been a financial analyst at the World Bank, Assistant Field Director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a 6th grade teacher, Executive Producer and Co-Director of a feature film, and treasurer of a yoga studio. Throughout the pandemic, he was an active volunteer with the Alexandria Community Alliance, working to ensure that members of the Chirilagua Community had access to groceries, rental assistance, and mental health resources during COVID. Jerry lives in Del Ray with his wife and youngest son; his two older children have flown the coop. He is an avid hiker and backpacker; and a moderate sailer, paddler, and climber.
Joanna Bopp (she/her) has been an educator for over 30 years with experience as both teacher and an administrator. Currently, she is a reading specialist for grades K-5 and also a volunteer tutor in math. Joanna served on the board of Casa Chirilagua in Alexandria during the time Casa was growing its after school Kids Club for students to come and work on homework with volunteer tutors. She lives in Alexandria with her husband, three children, and two dogs who can can’t get enough of going for long walks. Joanna and her family also spend time in Maine where they love to hike the mountains and along the rocky coastline.
Linda Critchfield has lived in Alexandria for 34 years; 17 of which were spent combating water pollution, acid rain, and climate change while working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Senator Joe Lieberman. She was a policy analyst, communications director, and speechwriter at EPA. Since leaving EPA to raise her children, Linda has been a grant writer for Senior Services of Alexandria and the Jewish Council for Aging and a lead editor for the Federal Aviation Administration; she also started a walking to school program at George Mason Elementary. Linda’s love for the environment began very young with summers spent in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Linda also enjoys yoga, swimming, biking, and creating art.
Maya Alexander has always had a connection to nature as she has always been captivated with the natural world. She attended Salisbury University and graduated in May 2016 with a B.A. in Psychology. Over the past six years, Maya has worked to provide meaningful outdoor experiences to students throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She continues this work as the current Potomac River Program Manager/Educator with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Maya is passionate about bringing diversity and inclusivity to the environmental field as she believes everyone deserves the right to a clean environment. Through her work and related experience, she hopes to encourage people from various backgrounds and ages to build relationships with the outdoors. When she is not busy educating students, Maya can be found taking pleasure in nature photography, adventuring in the Blue Ridge mountains, and spending time with family & friends.
Melissa Rojas (she/they) is a rock climber with a passion for sharing the sport with others. As the child of Colombian immigrants, she often needed to translate or facilitate which allowed her to experience firsthand the linguistic and cultural barriers that impact newly arrived families. Additionally, she saw how these barriers along with financial hardship impact access to basic needs and make outdoor activities essentially inaccessible. Melissa believes that funding, fostering, and establishing strong culturally diverse and ability diverse groups within the climbing community is key to true accessibility within the sport. In 2021, she created ¡Escala DC!, a climbing group that seeks to make climbing linguistically and culturally accessible to Spanish-speakers in the Washington, D.C. area.
Paige Benasutti graduated from Messiah University in 2021 with a degree in Adventure Education. She was born and raised in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Paige worked at a summer camp in the Philadelphia suburbs for three summers leading adventure based activities and initiatives for children in grades K-8, and developed a passion for Adventure Based Learning and getting kids outside! Some of her hobbies include whitewater paddling, hiking, cooking, visiting new places, and spending time with family.
Paul Hunt (he/him) is a graduate of Bucknell University (1988, Bachelor of Arts, Economics) and the University of Virginia School of Law (1991, Juris Doctor). He is currently a project development and finance lawyer and partner at Latham & Watkins, LLP, a global law firm, where for almost 30 years he has been focused on domestic and international renewable energy, carbon capture and climate/sustainability projects and investment transactions. Paul has lived in Alexandria for over 25 years; he is married (Pamela) with three kids (Mae, Lily and Owen) and one dog (Bailey). Paul’s interests include hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, cycling, skiing, soccer, golf, pickleball and basketball.
Scott Taylor (he/him) has been in the learning and leadership development space for over 20 years. His clients have included Airbnb, UNICEF, Dropbox and the Native American Community Academy. He's a regular facilitator for the Gettysburg Leadership Experience and also runs retreats for men. He's held executive leadership roles at Higher Ground Education and Teach For America. In his younger days he led outdoor expeditions in North Carolina and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Slovakia. He holds a masters degree from Harvard, loves cycling trips in Europe, a smooth bourbon, the stillness of mornings and his golden retriever Weezie.