Vida Verde Executive Board Members
Eric Ryan - President
Eric Ryan has dedicated his professional life to service. He began his career as a teacher with Teach for America, teaching physics and entrepreneurship in a rural region of North Carolina. His efforts earned him Teacher of the Year honors and were highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, Parade Magazine, and a book titled Electric Dreams. Eric left the classroom fourteen years ago and began working in the nonprofit sector. For the last several years he’s provided guidance to small nonprofits across the country. He now owns and operates Ryan Nonprofits, a mission-driven business that specializes in catalyzing the success of small nonprofits by helping leaders ofnonprofits create and execute strategic plans. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Eric lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wonderful wife and two children. He leads a fortunate life, rich with family, friends, and plenty of adventure.
Harn has been an entrepreneur in the music and media industry in the Bay Area for 30 years recording and producing music with artists like George Winston & Will Ackerman, marketing broadcast news production systems worldwide for Avid Technology, Internet video piracy business development for Vobile, and currently is a partner directing sales & marketing for nNovia, a video capture technology company. In the background, Harn runs Soper Farms in Iowa, implementing sustainable farming practices. Volunteering and song writing are Harn’s passions. He is former president for the Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo Foundation. Harn's latest venture is Sustainable Farm Partners, a group of private investors dedicated to investing in tangible agricultural land assets that are sustainable for the economy, environment and society.
With expertise in public interest law, foundation compliance and philanthropic services, Kia combines broad experience with deep commitment to the local and global community. Kia is the Founder of SourcePoint Philanthropy Advisors, a boutique law firm specializing in Foundation Law and charitable giving. She is also the Senior Advisor of Strategic Giving and Compliance for The Hero Group, LLC, a company dedicated to foundations, businesses, individuals and families who seek to increase the impact of their charitable giving. Prior to starting her firm in 2011, Kia was with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation where she served as Donor Engagement Officer and later joined the Leadership Team as the Senior Director of Grants, Gifts and Compliance. Kia has been responsible for the administration and compliance of over 10,000 grants, both international and domestic. She has also been the Philanthropy Manager to a large portfolio of donor advised funds and supporting organizations, assisting new and seasoned philanthropists in developing and implementing their unique charitable giving strategies. She has been on the advisory committees of NGOsource and Global Impact, and the Boards of Youth Science Institute and Santa Clara County Legal Aid Society.
Early in her career, Kia founded a law partnership in Los Gatos, CA, practicing family law and serving the needs of children and low-income families. She also managed the financial operations of a San Francisco mayor’s PAC and re-election committee, and the major donor program for a state political party. She received her J.D. and recognition as a Public Interest Law Scholar from Santa Clara University School of Law and her Bachelor's degree in Communications from University of California, San Diego.
Laura Kretschmar - Treasurer
Laura Kretschmar is the co-founder of the Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California, where she currently teaches 5th and 6th grade math and science. Laura is a dedicated and long-time teacher. Before moving to Oakland to start Lighthouse in 2003, she taught in Massachusetts at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, and before that in the New Orleans public schools as a Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member. Laura is also a part-time consultant for Math Solutions, providing professional development in math instruction to teachers around the country, and has advised and taught beginning teachers for TFA at their summer institutes. She is currently working with the Lighthouse Replication team to plan two more Lighthouse Community Schools in Oakland to serve the school's current 700 student waiting list. Lighthouse’s exceptional success, and Laura’s role in it, can be seen in the school's 95% graduation rate of their first three classes, of which all were accepted to four-year colleges and universities.
In 2011, Laura completed the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards portfolio and became a National Board Certified Teacher. In November of that year and in conjunction with this accomplishment, she accepted an invitation to speak on a Whitehouse panel about the teaching profession alongside U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In 2012 she received an Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, an award presented to TFA alumni who are “transforming students’ lives through extraordinary leadership and an unwavering belief in the potential for all children to succeed.” Laura holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Geology from Middlebury College, a Masters degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a California Single Subject Credential in Geosciences and is California HOUSSE certified in both Math and Science.
Shawn Sears - Vida Verde's Executive Director
Shawn grew up in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He attended The Colorado College for a degree in psychology. He then moved to the Mississippi Delta to teach 4th grade for two years (1999-2001) in underfunded public schools. Since then he’s been working with V.V. and living in the country near Half Moon Bay, CA.
Shawn loves athletics, adventure in the outdoors, good food, working hard, thinking and learning, and sharing all of this with friends, family and his wife Laura. He also enjoys music with most things, even if it’s just singing the only line of a song that he knows, over and over again.
In Vida Verde Shawn has found a perfect fit. It’s a job that suits him well, and is therefore the dream job. There’s always plenty of work, and the tasks are varied and challenging (from the business side: planning, troubleshooting, budgeting, raising money, working with donors and running an office; to the program side: working with and exploring with children, hiring managing and learning with the staff team; to the physical and maintenance side: building projects, maintaining the vehicles, landscaping, working with farm animals, etc.) Finally, and perhaps most importantly Shawn finds meaning in it, in that it’s exactly what he feels is the best way that he can use his skills to help the world be a better place.
Vida Verde Advisory Board
Scott credits his interest in agriculture and sustainability to his upbringing in Montana and experiences at the Mountain School of Milton Academy in Vermont. Scott is COO of Imagine H2O, a nonprofit organization that inspires and empowers people to turn water challenges into opportunities. Prior to Imagine H2O, Scott worked in finance at Royal Bank of Canada and Piper Jaffray. He has a B.A. in Economics from the Colorado College and resides in San Francisco.
Emma is an educator who passionate about experiential, hands-on learning for children and a focus on whole child development. Emma loves Vida Verde and wishes all children had access to such an incredible program!
Upon graduating from Stanford University with a degree is Psychology, Emma began her career at Bing Nursery School, Stanford University's Child Development Research Lab. During her time at Bing, Emma served in several different roles, working as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, college instructor, parent educator, research support, and participating in the development and implementation of best practices in early childhood education. Emma pursued her Ed.M. at Harvard's Graduate School of Education in Risk and Prevention in Childhood. Throughout her graduate program, Emma worked as a school counselor for Boston Children's Hospital, serving the city's urban youth population. When not parenting her own young children, Emma currently works as a consultant and child development specialist for educational start-ups, schools, organizations, and parents. Emma finds the work of Vida Verde incredibly inspiring and is honored to witness and support the work of such an amazing group of leaders, staff, and learners.
Andrew Usher, a native Oregonian and lifelong outdoor enthusiast, is a Financial Representative at the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. He has been a long time friend of the founders Shawn & Laura Sears. In his undergrad at Colorado College, he was involved with Shawn in an after school sports mentorship program for underserved youth. He became involved with Vida Verde during its inception and even had the opportunity to teach programs in those early days. Andrew’sbackground in community service, event production, and real estate bring a diversity of expertise to the board.
Preston Smith co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose with John Danner in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Smith was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Smith began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps (TFA) member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named "Teacher of the Year" at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from San Jose State University and is an Aspen New Schools Fellow.
Nicole Ardoin is a faculty member at Stanford University, where she has a joint appointment with the Graduate School of Education and the Woods Institute for the Environment. Nicole’s research focuses on human/nature interactions, with an emphasis on how environmental learning and place connections motivate environmental and sustainability-related behaviors at a range of scales. She has active research studies examining the use of nature-based tourism as a motivator for environmental behavior; informal institutions as hubs of environmental learning in the Bay Area; and the links among sense of place and place-protective behavior. Nicole has worked in the fields of environmental education, conservation, and program evaluation—in urban and rural areas, and in a range of organizational types—for nearly 20 years. Nicole is inspired by Vida Verde’s commitment to educational equity through environmental learning.
Paul and Steph Pfluke
Stephanie Jennings and Paul Pfluke are currently the co-owners and co-founders of Green Oaks Creek Farm, which is an organic, educational farm and retreat center that has been in operation for 10 years. The farm offers a subscription program, an apprenticeship program, farm tours, and Slow Food dinners. The retreat center offers rental facilities for families, groups, and weddings. Prior to starting Green Oaks, Stephanie and Paul earned Masters degrees in Plant and Soil Science. In the five years between college and graduate school, Stephanie and Paul taught environmental education and worked as wildlife biology field technicians. Paul also taught biology in the classroom for a year in Jamaica. In college, Stephanie earned a B.S. in Biology/Geology and Paul earned a B.S. in chemistry. Stephanie also taught environmental education throughout high school and college.
Laura grew up in rural western Kentucky and graduated from The Colorado College with a degree in Geology in 1999. She joined Teach For America in ’99, and was a high school special education teacher for two years. In 2001 she moved to California and co-founded Vida Verde with Shawn Sears. She’s been working at Vida Verde ever since, and has worn a variety of hats, from visioning and curriculum planner, to naturalist instructor, to her current position of Development Director.
Laura developed a deep appreciation for the importance of camp for kids, and also a lifelong love of the outdoors, as a camper and later counselor (for 10 years of her childhood) at Camp Kanuga in North Carolina. She feels privileged to now give lots of children opportunities similar to those that changed her own life for the better.
Laura is a runner, cyclist, soccer player, and all around lover of competitive sports. She’s a voracious reader and knitter, and enjoys cooking, spending time with friends, and finding good music to listen to.
Jerry is “semi-retired” now, but is still a principle in Guardian Equity Growth, a Private Placement firm which focused on commercial real estate investments in the Western United States. Guardian specializes in helping passive investors achieve the highest cash returns possible in commercial real estate by “pooling” either cash or equity from 1031 Tax Deferred Exchanges and using the combined equity to purchase Institutional Grade commercial real estate. The total value of this portfolio is currently ± $1 billion.
Jerry Moison earned his real estate license in 1970 and began investing in commercial real estate as a Limited Partner in 1972. After selling his share of Adapt Inc., a computer time sharing company in San Francisco he co-founded in 1973, he began his full time career in commercial real estate with Coldwell Banker in 1978 as a leasing agent for both office and R&D in Silicon Valley. In 1987 Jerry left Coldwell Banker and joined his twin brother, William, in order to form Moison Investment Company (MIC) to specialize in commercial real estate investments. Prior to retiring, MIC did sales in excess of $10billion in the western United States.
Aside from commercial real estate, Jerry remains committed to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate as well as residents in his own community of Los Altos. He serves or has served on several non-profit Boards, including City Team Ministries, Los Altos United Methodist Church, Housing Industry Foundation (HIF), and the Los Altos Rotary Club.
Melissa grew up in Fremont, California and attended California State University East Bay where she studied Biological Anthropology with a concentration in Archaeology. She loves the Bay Area and all of the diversity that it has to offer from varied cultures to small pockets of emerald gems scattered throughout the Bay’s cities. Throughout college Melissa worked for the East Bay Regional Park District developing a love for interpretation and environmental education. When she finished college Melissa found herself on The Coastside near Pescadero teaching environmental education at Vida Verde. Melissa is currently working as a teaching assistant and mental health counselor at Seneca, and finding some overlap between her current students and those she worked with at V.V.
Melissa has committed her life and her career to these especially deserving students who are in need. The work is not easy, but she believes strongly in giving all students the chance to wonder, sparking an interest in the outdoors and in their own education and success for students who otherwise wouldn't have the chance.
Karen Harwell is Director of Exploring a Sense of Place—which is “a project, a course, and a guidebook” to help people reconnect to the natural world where they live. Following scientific studies resulting in a B.S. degree, she did graduate study in philosophy, cosmology and consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, completed a six-week Earth Literacy program at Genesis Farm in New Jersey, and became certified in the study of permaculture at Occidental Arts and Ecology in Northern California. Through these programs, she became interested in bioregionalism and wanted to create the opportunity for people to experience their lives as part of an Earth community.