Nature Program Instructors

Eliot Rhodes, Nature Program & Archery Coordinator

Eliot grew up playing in the creeks and parks of Franklin, Indiana. He studied English Literature and Philosophy/Religious Studies at Elmira College in New York and then spent the next 6 years traveling around the country (and the world) studying and teaching environmental education, including stops at High Trails Outdoor Science School in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California and Hava v’ Adam, an ecological farm in Modi’in, Israel. He believes that spending time outdoors is important, and that everyone should learn a little bit about how to grow their own food and cook it, too. His hobbies include: making music, cooking, hiking, gardening, scrabble, frisbee, watching football and just being outside.

Sophia Fox, Garden Coordinator, Nature Program Instructor

Sophia grew up in rural Oklahoma camping, fishing, and gardening with her grandparents. She studied school counseling, and has a Masters in Education. Some of her experiences include: working with the youth of the Choctaw Nation in college-prep programs and facilitating challenge/ropes courses, a 6 month permaculture internship in Hawaii, and most recently teaching and administrative positions at two outdoor science schools here in CA.

Sophia is very excited to be spending her days at the ranch playing, sharing knowledge, and letting Mama nature be the lead teacher! She believes in cultivating a love and respect for our planet by allowing children to explore, and learn from their natural curiosities. Some hobbies include: yoga, crafting, baking, snorkeling, camping, disc golf, dancing, and reading in the sunshine. 

Paul Stoutenburgh, Nature Program Instructor & 7th-8th Science Instructor

Paul is fascinated with science, with discovery, with the wonders and mysteries of life. His childhood heroes are Steve Irwin, Bill Nye, and his grandparents – nature educators who worked to preserve thousands of acres of wetlands and forests.

Paul studied Conservation Biology at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, and then went on to travel the world while working with environmental and human rights organizations. In 2012, Paul formed Earth Soul Productions, which has produced dozens of short documentary films, including several which have won festival awards and influenced positive change.

Paul is currently completing his science teaching credential at CSU East Bay. He has taught science and nature education at summer camps, private schools, and public schools. Paul enjoys camping, playing music, and making art. Paul is thrilled about working at Sienna Ranch, exploring the hills for wildlife, and investigating the mysteries of the natural world.

Jessica Groetsch, Nature Program & 5th-6th Science Instructor


Jessica is an east bay native who’s steadfast love for all things nature has led her on many adventures, the most recent landing her at Sienna Ranch.  She has her Bachelors of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz. Birds are her greatest passion, spending two field seasons in Yosemite National Park working as a bird bander, collecting data from migratory passerines during the breeding season. This experience left her with a strong knowledge of local bird species and a love for leading bird hikes. 

Working as an Education Specialist at Lindsay Wildlife Experience she found her love for teaching and working with children. Lindsay gave her the avenue to fuse her two great joys; working with animals and sharing that passion with other people. Sienna Ranch is an exciting  venture for her where she can implement her previous experiences.

Nature Program Instructors (continued)

Emily Fuentes, Woodshop Coordinator and Nature Program Instructor

Emily Fuentes is a Bay Area native, avid gardener and tinkerer. Her enthusiasm for outdoor education was nurtured while studying at UC Santa Cruz and afterwards spent over 5 years teaching in school gardens in Oakland, Ca. She got her curiosity for woodworking at a much younger age when she got her first taste of saw dust and building as a child during weekend visits to the Berkeley Marina Adventure Playground. Since then she studied furniture making at Laney College and has had a blast teaching woodworking in a variety of schools and summer camps in the Bay Area. She excited join the Sienna Ranch community and continue to learn and grow with everyone.

Carolyn, Pottery Coordinator and Nature Program Instructor

Carolyn is an educator, ceramicist, and bug-lover who earned an international relations degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. There, she took the school’s motto, “Think Outside,” seriously by exploring the natural wonders of the area through camping and kayaking. Carolyn led natural history lessons featuring hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and whiptail scorpions for children in the Bay Area, as well as classes on community gardening and ecology.

Prior to moving to the West Coast, she worked with special needs

students at an enrichment camp, and interned at Handicap International, both in the Washington, DC area.

Carolyn studied ceramics at Clay by the Bay Studios in San Francisco, the Mendocino Art Center, and at Eckerd. She is passionate about exploring issues such as team-building, self-esteem, and appreciation for nature with children in her pottery lessons. In addition, she loves

teaching through gardening, hiking, and all types of outdoor exploration. 

Anna, Nature Program Instructor

Biography coming soon!

David Nyquist, Substitute Nature Instructor

David is an artist, educator, spiritual director and community builder.  When not at Sienna Ranch, he might be found in the garden or kitchen, on a hike or practicing yoga. David and his wife, Amy, live in Alameda with their two boys and 5 chickens. They dream of one day owning several acres of their own to offer retreat for others to experience a life more deeply rooted in nature. A perfect day for David would include an early morning hike, a good book, building something with his kids, and a date with his beautiful wife. 

Riding and Horsemanship School

Lauren Matters, Horse Riding Instructor & Animal Care / Apprentice Coordinator

Lauren combines her background in psychology, philosophy, and acrobatics in her yoga practice and teaching to create a mindful, yet lighthearted and playfully unique instruction. Play is a major aspect of her life, and that comes through in her teaching. With a foundation of over twenty years training and teaching in dressage, eventing, and natural horsemanship, Lauren empowers students to problem solve from a place of mindfulness when on and around horses. She draws from a variety of experiences from exercising racehorses to intercollegiate competition. While the competitive equestrian lifestyle was exciting, she yearned to share the deep connection she found with horses and transitioned to equine therapy and equine body work after college. Lauren has training through the Natural LIfemanship model of equine therapy, where the focus is the relationship with the horse. We improve our relationship with ourselves and others by entering into partnership with horses. Lauren is trained in the Masterson Method body work, which helps horses release tension patterns through techniques that allow internal releases. Both therapies remind her how instrumental horses have been in her personal development and growth as they are the perfect examples of quiet strength and grounding. 

Amity, SRRHS Instructor

Amity grew up roaming the hills of Lafayette with her older brother in search of lizards, snakes and any other wildlife that could be caught, inspected and released.  She was often seen on the back of her horse, Freckles, with a gopher snake wrapped around her wrist.

After discovering Sienna Ranch, Amity says, “Everything I know and love is all within this one place.  To learn respect for animals and the world around them is something that many kids are missing out on today.”  The ranch is offering all this for kids to discover.

Alison Niedbalski, Horse Riding Instructor

Alison was born of a horse trainer onto a horse farm in the Midwestern US. She has shown competitively for as long as memory serves in American Quarter Horse Association events, excelling in Equitation, Horsemanship, Trail and Showmanship, and started showing Hunter Jumpers of all breeds as a pre-teen around the Third Coast. 

Following her Youth show career, she took a break from horses to focus on her academic career, where she specializes in Philosophy & Cognitive Science, and which afforded her the opportunity to travel and lecture around the globe from the Australian National University to UC Berkeley, eventually settling in the place she calls home, Oakland, CA. 

Alison is excited for the opportunity to return to her roots as a horse person in becoming a part of the Sienna Ranch team. 

Iris Moore, Horse Riding Instructor, Animal Care

Biography coming soon!

Special Events Staff

Maureen Isaacs, Special Events Instructor

Maureen grew up right here in Lafayette, tromping through the creek in her backyard and scaling her neighbor’s trees. She has always had a passion for animals, and has worked with shelter pets, horses, and dairy goats in particular. During her time at UCSB, she focused on environment-human interaction, taking as many ecology classes and field trips as time would allow. She spent a large part of her time doing restoration ecology research and interning for environmental science outreach programs, and has since always found a way to keep one foot rooted solidly in nature. In her free time, Maureen loves to read, hike, work-trade her way around the world, and share good food and conversation with friends.


Ariel Aaronson-Eves, Special Events Instructor

Biography coming soon!

Lindsay Shannon, Special Events and Wellspring Enrichment Instructor

Lindsay grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts. What was supposed to be a temporary move to the Bay Area turned into a 25 plus year love of California. She graduated from Hayward State University with a degree in Social Services and Psychology. She enjoys hiking, reading, sewing, riding horses, walking her dogs and hanging out with her two daughters. Lindsay worked as a ABA Behavioral therapist and behavioral consultant for over 15 years and her love of working with children with autism, as well as other special needs, has been a long lasting passion that continues to grow. Lindsay started working at Sienna Ranch in the summer of 2016 as part of the Special Events staff and now has a group during the week. Her love of nature, animals, children and Art has given her the opportunity to continue to nurture these skills with the wonderful staff and amazing kids at Sienna Ranch. 

Mel Hill, Special Events Instructor & Pony Ride Staff

Howdy! Mel is a transplant from Houston, Texas, where they grew up on a cattle ranch. Mel has been working with horses for most of their life, with 25 years Western riding experience and 5 years learning natural horsemanship training.

When they’re not doing that, Mel can be found tramping through the woods, backpacking, and climbing trees. They’re a decent archer, and they enjoy dabbling in many outdoor skills, from basketry, firestarting, and whittling, to leatherworking and edible plant identification. Self-sufficiency is fun!

Mel is a graduate from Rice University and is an accredited public school teacher. Their most favoritest thing to do in the whole world is share the wonder of nature with city kids who don’t ordinarily get to experience it.

Animal Care,  Facilities & Administration

Mike Jennings, Facilities Coordinator

Born and raised in the east Bay Area, Michael enjoyed hiking, camping and gardening throughout his childhood. He studied horticulture in Santa Cruz and the Sierra Foothills before attending Prescott College in Arizona, where he received a degree in agroecology and permaculture design.  He has 14 years of experience in horticulture and has also worked as a botanist for the National Forest Service–in Sonora and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

A member of the Sienna Ranch family since May 2012, he is thrilled to put to use his expertise in sustainable land stewardship. He enjoys using his plumbing and carpentry skills to maintain and improve amenities at the ranch.  He is also excited for his daughters, Lillian and Alice, to attend Sienna Ranch once they are old enough.

In his spare time, he enjoys plant propagation, especially edibles, succulents, and native plants. His garden in Lafayette is a yearly stop on the East Bay “Bringing Back the Natives” garden tour, where his passion for drought-tolerant, sustainable gardening is on display.  A self-taught musician, he loves to sing and play the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and piano. 

Amy Roth, Business Manager and Special Events Director

Amy earned a degree from Westminster College in Elementary Education and a Pennsylvania teaching certificate for grades K-6.  Student teaching at the McKeever Environmental Education Center in Slippery Rock, PA, led Amy to her first job at the Newfound Harbor Marine Institute, where she taught marine science in the Florida Keys.  Next, she moved to the mountains of Southern California to teach and direct at High Trails Outdoor Science School outside of Big Bear for six years taking on the roles of Medical Director, Program Director and Site Director for 50 staff and 10,000 public school visitors each year!

Amy enjoys riding her bike over the hills from Oakland when she is not returning emails and phone calls. She strives to spend weekends camping as often as possible.  Amy is grateful for her family’s love and support as she travels and works far from home.  Stop by and see the new shipping container office Mike and the facilities team renovated for her and Chris next to the green yurt!


Chris Lauf, Director

Chris grew up in Australia where he spent most of his childhood weekends in the shed, building go-carts, toys and tree forts, doing science experiments, or backpacking in the mountains around his hometown of Canberra. As he grew up, the urge to build things, experiment and explore the world never left him.


While studying Biology and Jazz at UC Santa Cruz, Chris began teaching basic bicycle mechanics to developmentally disabled adults, sharing the feeling of empowerment which comes from the building process. He also studied education theory and philosophy which led him to complete a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication at the Australian National University. 2008 he co-founded the Cycling Scientists, a 100% bicycle-mobile educational organization which ran hands-on science and technology workshops for remote Indigenous schools in the Australian Outback. In 2009 Chris lived and worked in Jakarta, developing and delivering a wide range of programs with the Indonesian National Science and Technology Centre.

Chris began working at Sienna Ranch in 2010.