Meet The Growing Up Wild Staff
Growing Up Wild Programs are staffed by educators experienced in providing outdoor experiential education with youth. Many are bilingual in Spanish and English in order to meet the cultural needs of the communities we serve. They are certified in first aid and meet fingerprinting requirements. We believe in providing a low counselor-to-youth ratio, and our trips to bodies of water such as rivers always include a lifeguard.
Ismael Cruz, M.Ed. Program Manager
Ismael Cruz grew up in San Jose, California, and spent his summers visiting family in rural Mexico. He is a credentialed teacher with a Master's Degree in Environmental Education. Ismael's work with youth in the outdoors began at Camp Unalayee where he led backpacking trips in the remote Trinity Alps Wilderness. He has taught in the traditional classroom as well as in the field as a naturalist at the Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School. Ismael is certified as a Wilderness First Aid Responder.
Leonardo Cruz, Program Coordinator
Born in the USA and raised in rural Mexico, Leonardo is bilingual and bicultural in Spanish and English. As a teen he spent his summers backpacking at Camp Unalayee. He currently attends Cabrillo College majoring in Environmental Engineering. He is an avid outdoors-man with a special interest in rock climbing and biking. He is also employed at the Museum of Art and History where he works towards building communities through cultural events.
Hannah Smith, Lead Counselor for Girls Paving The Way
Hannah grew up in Santa Cruz and graduated from UCSC with a major in Environmental Studies and Education. Her interest in outdoor education began when she was lucky enough to participate in a backpacking trip to Big Sur through a high school program. Since then, she has trained with the NOLS, led outdoor adventure trips for youth all over California, and coordinated the Girls Outdoor Leadership Development Program for the YMCA in San Francisco. She is president of the Every Child Outdoors Foundation, which provides funding for students in Santa Cruz County to participate in outdoor science education. Hannah is bilingual in English and Spanish and is passionate about getting young people outdoors.
Tizoc Velasco, Camp Counselor & Lifeguard
Tizoc is a Santa Cruz local, but he has spent plenty of time living abroad, including several months in Mexico. Tizoc is currently earning his science teaching credential. He has worked as a naturalist at the Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School. He is also a lifeguard instructor for the City of Santa Cruz Recreation Department.
Emmanuel Ajayku Essel, Counselor
Emmanuel was born in the central region of Ghana, West Africa in the mid 1970's, and migrated the United States in the late 1980's. He attended high school in New York and completed his college education in Ohio with a BA in communications and Ethnic Studies. He has been an educator in the public schools and worked in the Tech industry in various capacities ; the most recent as a project manager for a barcoding company. He is currently living in sustainable community in Santa Cruz California with his wife Dr. Laura Turner-Essel and four children. When he is not busy caring for his extremely energetic children, he finds time for hobbies which include song writing, soccer, jogging, and cooking.
Alexander Leon, Graphic Designer
Alexander "Jerry" Leon grew up in Mexico City. He has an educational background in theatre arts and computer science. He went through the outdoor leadership training led by Bay Area Wilderness Leadership Training (BAWT). Jerry has been using his computer skills for Growing Up Wild since 2011.