Skip to Content
chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up chevron-right chevron-left arrow-back star phone quote checkbox-checked search wrench info shield play connection mobile coin-dollar spoon-knife ticket pushpin location gift fire feed bubbles home heart calendar price-tag credit-card clock envelop facebook instagram twitter youtube pinterest yelp google reddit linkedin envelope bbb pinterest homeadvisor angies

Our History

First Light Wilderness Therapy in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia is New Vision Wilderness Therapy’s most recently established location and opened to students in 2020. Continuing with the innovative wilderness therapy and intervention programs that have been offered in Wisconsin since 2007 and Oregon since 2014, the team is committed to providing therapeutic options for struggling youths in hard-to-reach client populations on the east coast. Our founders have years of experience operating independent therapy programs and teamed up to offer a dynamic program that combines experiential therapy with intensive mental health intervention. The professional and affordable model has opened new opportunities for students and families to improve their lives in new ways led by our caring, certified staff.

Clinical Team

Kayla Davenport, MS

Director of Family & Alumni Services

Kayla comes to First Light with a passion for wilderness therapy and family programming. She received her BS in Psychology and MS in Community Counseling from University of North Georgia (then North Georgia College and State University). She completed her practicum and internship at an all-girls boarding school and stayed there for 3 years. For 15 years now, she has worked in education or adolescent development in some capacity from university, all-girls then an all-boys boarding school, and wilderness programs. She has a background in individual, group, and family therapies. As part of her training as a trauma responsive therapist, Kayla is phase I Brainspotting trained.

The therapeutic focus she brings to First Light is diverse. She holds family systems and teaching assertive communication as a cornerstone in any work that she does. This passion for bringing families together and bridging the gaps that develop as adolescents differentiate, struggle, and grow is essential in developing sustainability within an adolescent’s treatment.

Personally, Kayla has her hands full with two small children. This means a lot of gymnastics, basketball practice, and balancing chaos. She and her family love to dance, watch movies, and be as active as possible both indoors and out!

Mycala Cherry, MS, APC, NCC

Primary Therapist

Mycala is a nationally certified counselor who comes to First Light Wilderness with a diverse mix of clinical and wilderness experience. She earned her Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Georgia State University, and has worked in residential, wilderness, outpatient, and telehealth settings. Mycala is certified in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) certified and in Phase 1 Brainspotting.
Mycala’s passion for using the natural world as a tool for growth and healing grew in her time as a field guide in wilderness treatment programs, as well as during her time leading outdoor trips for leadership development and teambuilding during college. She has experience facilitating high ropes Challenge Course activities as well as leading expeditions with teens in Alaska, where she also focused on facilitating the development of self-awareness and outdoor education.

As a wilderness therapist, Mycala draws on the lessons of the natural world in provoking insight with her teen clients. Mycala’s clients are most often experiencing issues with depression, anxiety, trauma, family dynamics and communication, attachment, and ADHD. She enjoys sharing her passion for creative interventions, as well as using an intentional focus on improving group dynamics as a tool for mirroring how her clients can better understand their role and responsibilities in both family and peer relationships. Mycala believes that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach in her clinical work, and is deeply invested in understanding each client and family’s struggles and strengths in order to identify the best opportunities for growth and healing.

In her spare time, Mycala loves to play volleyball and coaches on a nationally competitive travel team.

Kathleen Jamila Minnifield, MS

Primary Therapist

Jamila joined the First Light Wilderness clinical team in 2021. She is primarily focused on working with our younger students, both male and female. Jamila earned her undergraduate degree at Georgia Southern University and her master’s degree in Counseling at Argosy University.

Jamila’s clinical experience is extensive, and she is well-versed in working with a a broad range of clinical and family issues, having worked in Georgia’s foster care system with complex medical and mental health diagnoses, focusing on family reunification and adoption. Jamila’s desire to increase family engagement in therapy led her to incorporate the outdoors and physical movement in order to increase impact and improve outcomes. After 8 years of clinical and case management experience, she immersed herself in wilderness treatment for 2 years, working in direct care with students, as well as facilitating family intensives.

Jamila is passionate about working with younger boys/girls/non-binary students, with individuals with Autism Spectrum diagnoses, learning disabilities, transracial and intercultural adoption, and both episodic and systemic trauma. Her approach is playful and creative, and she is intensively trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy and Mindfulness, as well as in non-violent crisis prevention and de-escalation techniques, parent coaching, grief/loss, complex trauma, and sexual trauma.

Jamila is also passionate about increasing BIPOC representation and promoting increased diversity in the field of wilderness therapy, and hopes to have an impact on those who might not otherwise feel represented. She actively works to address the complex issues related to trans-racial adoption and is highly proficient in teaching healthy boundaries, family conflict resolution and positive communication. In her free time, you will likely find Jamila hiking with her dogs or fly-fishing.

Steve Sawyer

Steve Sawyer

Chief Clinical Consultant

Steve Sawyer is a dually licensed Psychotherapist and Substance Abuse professional filled with knowledge surrounding the intervention and change process. His experience comes from over two decades of intervention with tough-to-reach client populations in therapy settings ranging from residential, community-based, outpatient, and wilderness therapy. Steve is trained in several unique therapeutic models including the cutting edge healing techniques of HeartMath and Brainspotting. Steve is recognized internationally as a leading Brainspotting trainer, consultant, and developer who trains outpatient therapists and treatment programs spanning the country. Steve also authored the Developmental Trauma-Focused Brainspotting model and offers the seminars regularly. Steve is also highly passionate about supporting the healing of intergenerational trauma in Native Indigenous communities and is trained in indigenous specialized therapeutic models like Generation Red Road and Wellbriety.

Through his experience, Steve Co-founded New Vision Wilderness in 2007 which pioneered the NVW Trauma Responsive wilderness therapy program model. This model challenged the wilderness industry to examine the utilization of trauma-sensitive principles in their approach. Steve continues his robust efforts to improve NVW by currently developing and providing a clinical training curriculum for both NVWs field staff and clinicians, regularly providing in-house consultations, facilitating our Parents Support Forum, and representing the NVW Model Nationwide in presentations.

Steve additionally works as a core therapeutic training development staff with the stress research-focused Institute of HeartMath. He was an author in the comprehensive HeartMath Interventions Establishing a New Baseline for Sustained Behavioral Change therapist training Module and the Resilient Heart: Trauma-Sensitive Resilience Building, with co-authors like Dan Siegel and the Gottman Institute. Both programs models pushed modern cutting-edge therapy interventions to integrate an emotional physiology approach. Through his dedication and efforts, Steve earned the esteemed Humanitarian Heart Award from HeartMath in November of 2018.

Steve’s training, seminars, and lectures are recognized nationwide for cutting-edge therapeutic techniques and inspiration. Throughout his career, Steve has worked in collaboration with the experts in the Trauma field like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Gabor Mate, Stephan Porges, David Grand, and Joe Spinazzola. In 2019 NVW completed the largest study of its kind on physiology in youth trauma treatment with the Trauma Center of Boston.

When is not traveling, working, or spending time with his family, Steve is an avid waterman either being a Spearo (Freediving Spear Fisherman) on his boat Poseidon’s Assassin or harvesting the rivers as an avid Fly Fisherman.

Leadership Team

Jeff Holloway, MSW

Executive Director

Jeff found his love for working with adolescents while tutoring under-privileged children as an undergraduate, and this experience influenced his decision to major in social work. Jeff earned his bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of South Dakota, and then his Master’s in Social Work at the University of Iowa. For the next decade, Jeff specialized in working with issues related to childhood trauma in a variety of treatment settings, including residential treatment, in-home services, foster care, and outpatient therapy. In 2002, Jeff relocated with his family from Iowa to Georgia, where he worked in administrative roles at a therapeutic boarding school, a therapeutic wilderness program and a boarding school specializing in learning disabilities. These experiences further honed his expertise in working with adolescents and with complex family systems. His desire to help families find the right treatment options for their children led him to educational and therapeutic consulting, where he helped to facilitate hundreds of therapeutic placements.

Of joining the First Light Wilderness team, Jeff stated, “Having the opportunity to join the family of New Vision Wilderness programs and to return to working directly with children and families refuels the fire that was started over 20 years ago when I discovered how powerfully healing working in nature with a group of kids could be. I am so excited to work with this incredible team of professionals to provide healing, growth and service to families at First Light. “ Jeff has lived in North Georgia since 2002 with his wife, Debi, and their three college-aged children. When not working, Jeff enjoys golfing, practicing martial arts, and driving through the mountains on his Harley.

Drew Hornbeck, co-founder and CEO of New Vision Wilderness, stated, “I couldn’t be more excited to have Jeff’s leadership at First Light Wilderness. He brings a depth of knowledge and industry experience to the team, and represents many of the core values that we hold at New Vision, particularly those of trusting relationships and evidence-based outcomes. He has a proven ability to work effectively with others, and his leadership is a critical component to ensuring the best possible experience for children and families who trust us to deliver high quality treatment.”

Jeff can be reached at:

TaKesha Jones James, M.S.

Director of Human Resources

TaKesha brings a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to her role as Director of Human Resources and Office Manager for First Light Wilderness. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Child & Family Studies with an emphasis in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies from Berea College. She went on to obtain a Master of Science in Studies in Human Behavior from Capella University.

TaKesha began and has spent the larger portion of her career providing services to children and adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities between the states of Kentucky and South Carolina, including Case Management, Residential Life and Career Skills Training. She has experience in Staffing and Recruitment as well as Service Excellence Coordination, with a focus on improving the client/patient experience while receiving services. TaKesha’s career shifted when she was presented with the opportunity to serve youth with specific needs. She worked for several years as the Executive Director in the non-profit realm with children of incarcerated adults, which gave her tremendous insight into family structure, the importance of community stakeholders, and strategies to help counter generational cycles or patterns that affect adolescent and young adult behavioral outcomes. All opportunities resulted in the development of strong partnerships with the school districts, various manufacturing vendors, civic organizations, and colleges, which TaKesha embraced and engaged with fully with a sense of passion, commitment and service.

TaKesha has a strong background in leadership, training, coaching, public speaking and resource development for service provision, team accountability and empowerment. Her motto is that “every person deserves to be invested in regardless of past actions. There are no lost causes. If you want to see something different, show someone something different.”

TaKesha is the mother of a beautiful young adult daughter. She enjoys living on purpose to include serving in ministry, traveling, cooking, gardening, dancing, teaching, and entertaining the company of those closest to her. TaKesha simply loves trying new things.

Christopher Jones, M.Ed.

Program Director

Christopher Jones, M.Ed brings over twenty years of experience in program design and management to his role as Program Director at First Light. His experience includes facilitating and teaching backcountry skills, providing guidance and direct instruction to outdoor professionals and young people, designing and fabricating custom outdoor equipment and clothing, and managing all aspects of outdoor programming and logistics. Chris has worked with a diverse population of youth, across a multitude of age ranges, in various programs including therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness therapy programs, Outward Bound programs, environmental programs, outdoor education instruction and summer camps. The depth and breadth of his knowledge and experience make him an invaluable asset in the leadership of the program.

Christopher graduated from Georgia College and State University and earned both his Bachelor’s and his Master’s degrees in Education, with a specific concentration in Outdoor Education. He is also a certified Wilderness First Responder. Chris is dedicated to the application of his background and experience to facilitate both best practices as well as top-notch execution of the both the Operations and Development of the First Light program. Additionally, Chris is dedicated to mentoring both staff and students in best practices in the use and care of the environment which he loves so deeply.

Christopher is a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps, having served and attained the rank of Sergeant. In his free time, he likes to spend time outdoors with his wife and son, and engaging in creative pursuits such as designing and fabricating the latest and greatest custom outdoor gear and clothing.

Jessica Lefiles

Operations Director

Jessica comes to First Light with 15 years of wilderness and adventure program experience, the majority of which working with neuro diverse and under served youth. Jessica earned a degree in Psychology from Georgia College and State University where she also participated in the Outdoor Education program and found a passion for the power of experiential education and its ability to provide diverse learning opportunities that meet participants needs in new and exciting ways. While working with a specialized boarding school and summer program in the mountains of Western North Carolina Jessica gained experience working with teens and adolescents with complex family systems and backgrounds who were learning life skills that would allow them to find strengths in their diagnoses. She fell in love with mentoring and further developed outdoor skills that could be shared with peers and participants. In 2023 Jessica relocated to Dahlonega Georgia with her husband and two young daughters to be nearer to family and return “home”.

Jessica is an American Red Cross Lifeguard trainer and a Wilderness First Responder and enjoys helping others prevent critical situations, and react when they arise. In her free time she enjoys live music events, rafting and hiking with her family, and traveling to find new places to enjoy.

Dr. Ryan Paterson

Dr. Ryan Patterson, M.D.

Medical Director

Ryan Paterson attended the University of Vermont School of Medicine and completed his Emergency Medicine Residency and Fellowship in Wilderness/Altitude/Expedition Medicine at Denver Health Medical Center/the University of Colorado, USA. He also holds advanced certifications in Tropical Medicine from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H) and in Mountain Medicine (DiMM). He is a practicing, board-certified Emergency Physician for Kaiser Permanente at St Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado, USA, and associate professor at the University of Colorado in the Department of Emergency Medicine section of Wilderness, Environmental and Expedition Medicine.

In leisure, Ryan loves to spend time outdoors with his spouse and two children. He is an avid traveler, climber, and a former distance athlete.

Dr. Paterson is the founder and director of Emergency Medical Providers (EMP) a leader in the provision of remote medical support and expedition medical direction. Ryan is co-founder and former director for the Wilderness Medical Society Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) course. Ryan also has significant experience in large-race/event medical management. He serves as medical director for GlobalLimits and has medically-directed multiple GlobalLimits events. He is the current United States delegate to the International Society of Mountain Medicine (ISMM). Ryan founded the FLuME foundation and serves as medical director for Kolkata City Mission (KCM) working through both organizations to establish sustainable development solutions in education, health, women’s empowerment, micro-enterprise, and public-health for informal communities in and around Kolkata, India. Combining all of his training and passion, Dr. Paterson has worked in Disaster Relief efforts in both post-earthquake Nepal and with the UN in Iraq. Additionally, Dr. Paterson is an altitude researcher, expedition physician, mountain emergency medicine educator, and guide.

Admissions Team


Summer Hornbeck, MAT

Admissions Director

Summer earned her Masters of Arts in Teaching through Cardinal Stritch University and a BA from the University of Colorado in Environmental Studies. Over the past 20 years, Summer has devoted herself to helping students in both traditional and therapeutic settings embrace their ability to thrive regardless of their circumstances. Her career has led her from teaching in a public middle school to developing curriculum for an accredited wilderness therapy program to building and leading teams in maximizing their performance. Her wealth of experience and expertise highlights her ability to positively impact the lives of those around her, including helping parents of struggling young adults to become powerful mentors. Summer has also established research methods for data collection and analysis to improve the delivery of services for a diverse population of students. Summer’s motivation continues to be helping every student discover their individual passion and purpose.

Summer leads an active life with her husband, two teenage daughters, and an energetic Australian Shepard named Zeal. Originally from the midwest, Summer and her family relocated to Oregon nearly a decade ago. They spend their free time camping, biking, and skiing the Cascades. They have found that Oregon truly allows for an integrated lifestyle of work, community involvement, and space to explore the wilderness.

Mary Jo’s career has remained centered around serving children and complex family systems in a variety of treatment and community-based settings. Her outgoing nature and desire to build relationships and connect with others led her to roles in clinical outreach, admissions, and business development, with the goal of increasing awareness of and access to treatment options. Mary Jo believes strongly in engaging with others from a place of compassion and integrity, whether that be with a referral partner, a colleague or a family in need of treatment.

Mary Jo is married with 2 young children and 2 young adult stepsons. She is a passionate Italian cook who loves hiking around the woods of Vermont, traveling and exploring new places, listening to live music, getting her hands dirty in the garden, and enjoying time with family.

Robin Jones, B.S.

Admissions Counselor

Robin brings a wide range of skills, talents and abilities to the First Light Wilderness team. She spent twenty years in the corporate banking world in operations, project management, and information security. Having spent time in the US Air Force as a linguist, Robin effectively leverages those communication skills to tune in and connect with people on every level.
Desiring to be the change she wished to see in the world, Robin began questioning her time in the corporate world and started seeking other opportunities to help the greater good. This quest led her to work at several therapeutic programs for students aged 14 to 18. She found her heart song in mentoring teens and young adults to persevere on their journey of healing and growth.
This new found passion of facilitating change for others drove Robin back to school to get a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services. She hopes to begin a Master’s in Clinical Counseling as soon as she launches her last child from the nest.
Robin has three human children ranging in ages from 32 to 16 and three dog children ages 7 to 12. She enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, traveling, gardening, and improving her Spanish.

Morgan Steward

Admissions Counselor

Morgan received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from University, then immediately began her career in various residential treatment centers. After several years of working as a direct care provider she made the transition to admissions work in 2015 where she has since served in roles such as Coordinator, Associate Director, and Director. She joined the NVW admission team in early 2022.

Outside of work, Morgan enjoys reading and spending time with her husband and family. You can often find her outdoors usually with her two dogs Dottie and Kit in tow. Ultimately, her passion is coaching gymnastics, which she does part-time with a local competitive team. Morgan dreams of one day co-owning a gymnastics studio and growing athletes’ character.

Emily Fritz MS, CTRS

Admissions and Marketing Associate

Emily is an Iowa native that now calls the Northwoods of Wisconsin home. As an undergraduate, Emily double majored in Exercise Science and Human Performance and Fitness, then went on to pursue her Masters in Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation. Emily fell in love with working outside during graduate school while managing a challenge course and climbing tower at Horn Field Campus. Emily’s graduate course work also led her on a variety of other adventures including backpacking a section of the Ozark Trail in Missouri and sea kayaking in the Apostle Islands. After working as a Recreation Therapist in the inpatient psychiatric unit, Emily knew she needed to get back outside. Wilderness Therapy was the perfect fit combining the population of students she loved serving and being outside. Emily is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and is passionate about incorporating this skill set into her time with students in the woods and educating students through experiential activities. In her free time, Emily enjoys reading, paddling, traveling and spending time with family, friends and her dog Diesel.

Outreach Team

Mary Jo DeGrandi, M.S.

Senior Director of Clinical Partnerships

Mary Jo brings more than 20 years of experience in therapeutic settings to her role. She began her career as a child advocate, working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in native Alaskan communities, where she discovered how impactful it could be to provide therapeutic treatment in outdoor settings. She went on to earn her master’s degree in Ecopsychology and Child Development from Antioch New England University, and subsequent roles included facilitating growth-focused young adult expeditions abroad, working as a wilderness therapist and as a clinician in therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment.

Mary Jo’s career has remained centered around serving children and complex family systems in a variety of treatment and community-based settings. Her outgoing nature and desire to build relationships and connect with others led her to roles in clinical outreach, admissions, and business development, with the goal of increasing awareness of and access to treatment options. Mary Jo believes strongly in engaging with others from a place of compassion and integrity, whether that be with a referral partner, a colleague or a family in need of treatment.

Mary Jo is married with 2 young children and 2 young adult stepsons. She is a passionate Italian cook who loves hiking around the woods of Vermont, traveling and exploring new places, listening to live music, getting her hands dirty in the garden, and enjoying time with family.

Barbara Lang

Director of Clinical Partnerships

Barbara comes to this role with a wealth of experience in the digital entertainment marketing space, where she worked for nationally recognized brands including SPIN, Billboard, and the Hollywood Reporter. It was in those roles that she developed a deep understanding of building trusting relationships and creative marketing strategies.

Barbara’s introduction to wilderness therapy was the result of a personal family journey and she brings with her a commitment to serve families who are struggling with a variety of challenges. Barbara committed to making an intentional career shift to a role that was service-oriented and mission-based. Her warm, compassionate, empathetic nature and dedication to building awareness and access to wilderness therapy as a treatment option have led her to this role.

Barbara is married with a young adult son and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is passionate about exercise and is a member of a local boxing gym. Music is integral to her life and she enjoys listening to a wide range of genres and discovering new artists. Despite her urban setting she loves to spend time outdoors exploring the local parks and beaches as well as the cultural offerings of her native NYC.

Field Team

The Field Team includes outdoor experts with an array of professional and personal experience. Our field guides are at the heart of our caregiving team and bring expertise in safety and risk management, as well as compassion for struggling youth, enthusiasm for utilizing the outdoors as a catalyst for positive change, and a sense of pride in their ability to build rapport and relationship. They frequently bring creative use of natural resources to individualized interventions and a curiosity and passion for learning how to draw out a young person’s strengths as well as to support them in facing their challenges.

Kristy Armstrong, B.S.

Field Director

Kristy Armstrong is a 20 year retired veteran of the US Army. Kristy earned her Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Park University, and is passionate about empowering young people through structure, guidance and building in them a sense that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve through hard work and persistence. In her free time, Kristy enjoys spending time with her family and doing volunteer work.

John Beckworth

Field Specialist

John is excited to serve as a Field Instructor with First Light Wilderness Therapy. John is a combat veteran with over 20 years of outdoor experience; enlisting in the Army National Guard in his mid-twenties afforded him the honor and opportunity to serve his state and nation. Prior to joining the military, his early years were spent kayaking, hiking, rock climbing and working with youth in adventure settings. Upon leaving the military, John worked as a consultant to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. While working abroad as a civilian, John’s focus was on providing aid and serving others in culturally diverse environments, and he thrived on being curious, intentional in his interactions, and expanding his worldview. In his free time, John loves spending time with his family, especially with his daughter and exploring the mountains of Northern Georgia.

Dominick Anziano, B.A.

Program Assistant

Dominick earned dual bachelor’s degrees in History and the German language, and is a self-proclaimed nerd as well as an enthusiastic adventurer. Dominick has a warm, caring demeanor and his role at First Light supports his passion for making a difference in the world. As an intellectual and someone with boundless curiosity, Dominick also enjoys supporting students in embracing their uniqueness as strengths. His role helps him furthering his understanding of complex human thought and education, and he particularly appreciates helping students learn how they learn about the world around them. Dominick collects and plays both board and card games, and enjoys spending his free time in good company around a table laden with food and cards.


Chris Biggers

Field Instructor

Chris is a Los Angeles native who moved to Dahlonega, Ga as a young teenager. Growing up in a family that was coping with alcoholism and generational trauma was difficult, and Chris struggled with his own self-destructive behavior. He was fortunate to participate in treatment at the age of 20, and understands first-hand the power of treatment in growth, healing for both individuals and families.

After completing his education, Chris became passionate about the mental health/recovery field in many capacities. Chris has been leading and facilitating summer youth programs and working in rehabilitation programs for over four years. Chris is passionate about teaching life skills to help students build sustainable change, and to invest in the healing of future generations.

In his spare time you can find Chris by a river guitar in hand, or exploring for sweet Mom and Pop places and hole in the walls for great southern grub.

Chase McMahon

Program Assistant

James McLendon, B.A.

Field Instructor

James McLendon is a field instructor for First Light Wilderness Therapy. He grew up in Alabama and started working with wilderness camps and programs after high school. Introducing people to the joys of the outdoors through backpacking, climbing, and paddling, has been a passion for the last twenty years.

He spent years running camps and programs for diverse populations including foster children, the deaf and blind, and the developmentally disabled. He has worked to train outdoor recreation leaders in South America and served on the first board of directors for an elementary school in Uganda.

He is a graduate of Belmont University with a degree in Philosophy, a wilderness first responder, and swiftwater rescuer.

James likes to spend his free time with his wife, kids, and friends, preferably in canoes or kayaks.

Kim Williams

Field Instructor

Kim Williams is a retired 25 year law enforcement veteran who has worked patrol, courts, mental health
resource court and as a school resource deputy. She developed an interest in mental health after
embarking on her own journey to recovery from depression. During her time with the Walton County
Mental Health Resource Court she saw the impact mental health has on people’s lives and their families
and was able to help participants develop positive habits to allow them gain control over their lives for a
better future.
Kim has also trained wilderness search and rescue with K-9s and feels at home in the woods. During her
off time, she enjoys camping, kayaking and geocaching as well as spending time with her daughter who
is a psychology major at Columbus State University. She brings with her a wealth of life experiences and
is looking forward to helping students overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.

Laura Krick, B.S.

Field Instructor

Laura has personal experience in group homes and the foster care community. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biology with understudies in Psychology and Neuroscience. She has years of experience working in behavioral therapy with Autistic and Neurodiverse populations. Her hobbies and interests include outdoor sports that increase her awareness and personal growth such as sky diving, whitewater, kayaking, scuba diving, BASE jumping, and rock climbing. She transitioned to Wilderness Therapy because she truly believes in the benefits of removing everyday life stressors while providing a healing space in nature to deeply work on and develop the core of the self.

Brandon Pledger

Field Instructor

Coming soon!

Nick Pereira

Field Instructor

Coming soon!

Haley Kimberly, M.S., Clinical Psychology

Field Instructor

Hayley Kimberly hails from Northeast Alabama. She is dynamic, compassionate, and skilled in working with adolescents. After completing her undergraduate degree at Jacksonville State University in Psychology, she expanded her education at Augusta State University graduating with an M.S., in Clinical Counseling. Hayley is excited that she can combine her passions of being an outdoor educator and a trauma therapist here at First Light. In her downtime, she likes gaming, thrifting, and visiting National Parks.

Destiny Preece

Field Instructor

Justin Hurt

Field Instructor

Brielle Fuller, B.S.

Field Instructor

Izzy Brown, B.A. & B.S.

Field Instructor

Kayla McKenzie

Field Instructor

Nick Albanese, B.F.A.

Field Instructor

Joanne Walker, B.A.

Field Instructor

Joanne Walker is a field instructor for First Light Wilderness. She graduated from Georgia Southern University with a Bachelor of Arts in Geology with a minor in French in December of 2022. She is certified in Wilderness First Aid, Mental Health First Aid, and is also a certified Leave No Trace (LNT) course instructor. She has always enjoyed being outside and working with the youth of today.

With her degree in geology, Ms. Walker continues to offer knowledge of the rich geologic history behind the Blue Ridge mountains. She enjoys helping the students at First Light Wilderness identify rocks and points out pieces of the historical geologic puzzle in outcrops.

In her spare time, she enjoys being outside, going to the gym, and spending time with her family. She brings a sense of optimism to whatever group she works in and loves seeing people smile.

Canine Team


Hello, hello, hello!! My name is Rush, and I’m an amber colored Golden Retriever who works with our girls’ groups. As a K9 field guide, I stay in the woods 24/7 to care for our adolescent students. I am named Rush after the first US Gold Rush which took place in Dahlonega, Georgia, home to our First Light Wilderness offices. However, I also find myself "Rush"ing around to care for everyone in the group, which is what I’m here for! Emotionally dysregulated? I'm there to get your attention and remind you to use a coping skill! Need to reconnect with your sense of silliness and joy? I love games so let's play! In fact, I love playing fetch... endlessly. There are other times when we all need to calm down and find peace, so I will sit with you and give cuddles while you pet my soft fur. I follow commands really well and truly love my job. I even have my own tent and I enjoy hiking and exploring the beautiful north Georgia wilderness. I am incredibly outgoing and social, and I love everyone. I look forward to meeting you!


Hello! My name is Springer, and I’m a blonde colored Golden Retriever who works with our boys’ groups. As a K9 field guide, I stay in the woods 24/7 to care for our adolescents. I am named Springer after Springer Mountain, which is in our field area and is the beginning to the famous Appalachian Trail. However, I also find myself "Springing" into action to care for everyone in the group. Emotionally dysregulated? Me too! Let's calm down together. I may have a little doggie ADHD so it's easy for many students to relate to me and my energy, but they also gain the perspective of their parents while trying to care for me. When I don't listen, they get to feel frustrated and work through not being able to control others. I’m working on learning to obey commands and respond really well to consistency and structure, which I find helps our students too! I even have my own tent and I enjoy as much attention as you can give me. I look forward to meeting you!

Contact First Light Wilderness Therapy Today