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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.

The Founders

Steve Sawyer

Steve Sawyer

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.

Drew Hornbeck

Drew Hornbeck

Drew Hornbeck, CEO/President/Co-founder of First Light Wilderness, was born and raised in Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Drew launched a 20-year career in adventure and wilderness therapy. Drew has worked in a variety of academic and therapeutic settings across the U.S. In addition to overseeing all aspects of NVW, Drew currently serves on the Oregon Outdoor Youth Program (OYP) Advisory Council.

Drew has spoken at national conferences on topics ranging from wilderness risk management to mental health. Drew champions the strong culture at First Light, with a focus on empathy, leadership, and best in class services and practices. Drew is proud to collaborate with such an amazing team of professionals at First Light and considers it a privilege to serve children and families. When not at work, Drew enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.

Clinical Team

Vinay Hazare, MS, Clinical Support Specialist

Vinay Hazare

MS, Clinical Support Specialist

Vinay comes to First Light with a Master's in Counseling in Clinical Mental Health from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The majority of his clinical experience has been spent working with treatment-resistant adolescents struggling with co-occurring trauma and substance use disorders. He has experience leading groups, and believes in the power of the group dynamic to create an environment where peers can hold each other accountable and hold space for change. Vinay has also had experience working in inpatient settings managing and alleviating crisis situations. Coming from a person-centered background, Vinay uses an eclectic approach to meet clients where they are. He is also RYT certified as a yoga instructor and has taught primarily in incarceration facilities, using his teaching experience to bring mindfulness and equanimity to any environment.

Vinay's role as Clinical Support Specialist suits his personality, as he is naturally curious about people, processes, and relational dynamics. He has a passion for helping people and believes everyone has the capacity for change with the right amount of support and accountability. He helps not only attune to clients but also the field staff that works closely with them. He believes that growth isn't a singular journey but one where the surrounding community takes a part of, which in this case is the entire wilderness team.

Vinay is an avid yoga practitioner and spends his free time hiking trails with his husky and getting pedicures with his mother

Kayla Davenport

Kayla Davenport, MS

Family Therapist

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

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 Jamilla Minnifield

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.

Jennifer Cooper, LPC, CPCS, RPT, NCC

Clinical Director

Jennifer leads the First Light Clinical Team with a wealth of knowledge in working with adolescents, providing trauma responsive care and a passion for the healing powers of nature. She received her Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Mercer University and has specialized in child/adolescent development and the delivery of services in highly impactful and expressive modalities. Jennifer has provided therapeutic services in a variety of settings over her career, including private practice, community mental health, in- home services, school environments, outdoor settings, and in residential adolescent group home settings. In conjunction with her clinical experience, Jennifer has also held various leadership roles including Program Manager, Deputy Clinical Director and most recently, Owner of her own thriving Private Practice. She has an obvious and contagious passion for being a part of the growth journey of others in the field. In addition to being a Licensed Professional Counselor and National Certified Counselor, Jennifer is a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor.

Jennifer brings a prescriptive, proven and authentic therapeutic approach to her clinical style, and sees leadership as an opportunity to focus most strongly on the relationship as the primary agent for growth and change. You can find her meeting her clients and the clinicians she supervises where they are at, working empathetically and collaboratively to develop a plan of support. Her goal is to provide a space where one can come and be heard, feel empowered, experience playfulness, and find joy in some of life’s hardest seasons. She has had extensive training in a variety of different therapeutic modalities including EMDR, CBT, Sand Tray therapy, Play Therapy (Registered Play Therapist), Expressive Arts, TBRI, and Child Parent Relationship Therapy. It is a focus of hers to ensure she is operating from a trauma responsive lens and to be consistently supportive of others in doing the same. After spending years working on a beautiful 220-acre ranch providing therapy to adolescents in fields, next to lakes, and sitting in forts made by her young clients, she has been a first-hand witness to the healing properties the outdoors can have on adolescents and young adults in some of the hardest seasons of their lives. This passion and genuine desire to utilize the tremendous and expansive therapeutic gifts of the natural world led her to pursue her role in wilderness therapy.

Personally, Jennifer is a mom of three, marathon runner, and lover of the outdoors. She enjoys simply being in an outdoor setting practicing mindfulness and sitting in her hammock reading a good book.

Leadership Team

Dr. Ryan Patterson

Dr. Ryan Patterson

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.

Jeff Holloway

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:

Mary Jo degrandi

Mary Jo DeGrandi

Senior Director of Professional Relations

Mary Jo brings more than 20 years of experience in therapeutic settings to her role at First Light Wilderness. 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.

Nick Mann

Program Director

Nick's passion for service, for promoting mental and physical wellness, and for outdoor adventure has brought him back to his native Georgia to serve as the Program Director for First Light Wilderness. After graduating with a Political Science degree from Berry College in 2006, Nick served as an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps for 8 years, ending his active service as a Captain. 

After leaving the military, Nick's desire to focus on wellness led him to open a fitness training center in Woodbridge, Virginia. During this time, Nick also launched an after-school program for at-risk youth in his local school district, partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of America. The success of this program led to the founding of an online mental health and physical wellness platform, Advocate in Education, which partners with school districts around the world to provide proactive wellness programs for educators and students. 

Personally, Nick enjoys spending time with his 135-pound English Mastiff, reading, and staying physically active. An outdoors enthusiast, Nick enjoys hiking, road and mountain biking, and has completed 6 ultramarathons up to the 50-mile distance. He’s currently looking for someone to train with him for a 100 miler!

TaKesha Jones James

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

Director of Operations

Christopher Jones, M.Ed brings over twenty years of experience in program design and management to his role as Operations 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.

Christy Wilson

Director of Recruitment

Christy’s passion is for people, and she has dedicated her career to serving in organizations that make a difference in the lives of others. She earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Kennesaw State University.  She is a professional with experience in all areas of Human Resources, as well as leadership roles for organizations that provide services in healthcare, senior living, foster care, substance abuse recovery, trauma counseling, youth services and advocacy.  

Christy brings over 20 years of recruiting experience to First Light. She specializes in selecting and engaging the best people to support the organization’s mission and in growing healthy workplace cultures. Her heart and passion lie in matching potential employees with the right roles, and seeing them grow and flourish. The Director of Recruitment role at First Light is a dream job for her, bringing together her love of people, her professional recruiting experience, her passion for serving youth and families, and love for the outdoors. She considers it an honor to be a gatekeeper to ensure that the right people are in place to care for those who entrust First Light Wilderness Therapy with the treatment of their children, and she seeks out individuals with whom she would entrust her own children.

Christy is married and has 2 children.  She enjoys spending time with them in nature and is always up for adventure. Fun facts about Christy are that she has encountered many bears in the wild, and had an up close experience with a jaguar in Belize.  A perfect day for her would include some hiking, music, dancing, playing in the water, watching wildlife, chasing butterflies, and watching a sunset.

Thailyn Kohler

Bio Coming Soon!

Admissions Team

Robin Jones Admissions at First Light

Robin Jones

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.

Mary Jo degrandi

Mary Jo DeGrandi

Senior Director of Professional Relations

Mary Jo brings more than 20 years of experience in therapeutic settings to her role at First Light Wilderness. 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.

Support Team

Morgan Holt

Program Assistant

Morgan is currently a student at the University of North Georgia where she is working toward earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She is a forward guard on the UNG Women’s Basketball team, and a fan of the Atlanta Hawks. Growing up in the mountains of north Georgia, Morgan has always valued the importance of nature and some of her favorite memories involve her dog, Rylee, and their spontaneous adventures to waterfalls and sunsets. Her own experiences in the wilderness inspire her to work at First Light, where she finds meaning in playing a role in providing other young people with opportunities to connect with, heal and grow in the beauty of nature.

Michelle Calkins

Michelle Calkins is currently a student at Truett-McConnell University where she is working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science. She has spent the larger portion of her career providing care, support, and compassion to underprivileged children in both Florida and North Georgia. Michelle enjoys hiking, camping, wood burning, painting, drawing, and tending to her ever-growing collection of house plants. She’s had a love for nature since childhood, spending most of her time in gardens and parks throughout Florida. She has hiked most of the trails here in North Georgia and her favorite location thus far is Preacher’s Rock. She hopes to connect to others by showing true compassion and empathy, while setting up others for success, and enriching the lives of the children of tomorrow.

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

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.

Alfredo Francis

Field Instructor

Alfredo Francis is a seasoned Field Instructor at First Light Wilderness. Alfredo graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He has a passion for climbing and is a certified mountaineer from the Mexican Alpine Club. He has more than 6 years of experience focusing on the challenge of alpine climbing and rigorous outdoor pursuits, including summitting the third highest mountain in North America three times and hiking 1200 miles of the Appalachian Trail before joining the First Light team. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of the outdoors with students, adding his passion for eastern philosophy and forms of meditation. His calm, patient demeanor and contagious sense of curiosity about the world around him contribute to his passion for working with young people in a healing capacity.

Grant Yancey

Field Instructor

Grant Yancey earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Grant was raised in Rancho Cordova, California, and has a passion for service. In his role as a Field Instructor at First Light, Grant finds that working with young people to support their journey toward building self-awareness, self-confidence and growth in their relationships with themselves and others provides an outlet for his strong desire to make a difference in the world.

Dominick Anziano

Field Instructor

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.

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.

Allen “AJ” Perrillioux

Field Instructor

Allen joined the First Light Wilderness team following his service in the Georgia Army National Guard, where he worked as a paralegal specialist. AJ is passionate about the outdoors and hiking and kayaking are among his favorite activities. With a strong desire to serve others, AJ is dedicated to helping students rediscover their sense of fun and joy, to embrace the beauty of the outdoors and to grow, reconnect with themselves and to heal from past trauma. AJ enjoys spending time reading science fiction and fantasy novels and hanging out with friends and family.

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.

Taylor Duke

Field Specialist

Bio coming soon!

Christina Campbell

Mackenzie Strong

Caroline Irons

Peter Mayer-Klepchick

Chase McMahon

Nick Pereira

Logan Roberts

Katrina Denovich

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