Meet our Team
HOPE HELMS, Program Administrator and Educator at Urban Eden Farm School
I grew up in rural Wyoming, at the base of two mountains. I spent the long days of my childhood under the canopy of trees that surrounded a creek on our property. I was free to create my own space there, and I created an elaborate kingdom. I loved spending time with the horses that we shared our acres with, and I fell asleep each evening to the howls of coyotes. What I was given as a child in that place is one of my most treasured gifts.
I was lucky to find my passion for teaching at an early age, and I have spent over fifteen years working with young children (ages 2-6). I believe in an approach that encourages security, autonomy, and competence. I believe in a child’s ability to be the initiator of their own discoveries, and I believe a natural environment is the most ideal setting for this important work. I am currently pursuing a degree in education that will allow me to achieve my ultimate goal, to advocate for quality early childhood programs that meet the needs of the whole child.
As a grown-up, I live in Spokane Valley with my husband, two daughters (6 years and 3 years,) and two cats. We love exploring together as a family and spend as much time outdoors as we can. We love to camp, hike, bike and garden.
BRAD DUPEA, Educator, Cedar Valley Forest School
I am an outgoing and loving individual motivated by helping others to reach their potential. I first began trying to do this through coaching nine-year-olds in the game of soccer, weaving in the concepts of teamwork, dependability, discipline, listening, and physical activity into one. When I graduated from Linfield College with a BA in Athletic Training, I began working at Tacoma Public Schools where I educated athletes on prevention, treatment, and recovery from injuries while overseeing their safety at sporting events. Through Liberal Arts education and my Minor in Philosophy I also became passionate about spreading love and knowledge of the natural world and instilling a spirit of individuality and respect in our future generations.
As I feel it is important to remain a student in life, I admire children’s natural ability to live in the present moment; remaining curious, seeing the beauty in everything, never afraid to say what is on their mind. This beautiful awareness combined with the natural world and hands-on play provides a fertile environment for self-discovery. I am grateful to be part of a movement dedicated to providing children with outdoor experiences capable of molding them into responsible, active, loving citizens.
My interests include soccer, camping, snowboarding, meditation, reading, and Reiki.
EMILY EPPERSON, Educator, Cedar Valley Forest School
Whenever I find myself with free time, I spend it in nature. There is a simple truth to life in the wild places of the world. Within it is a profound sense of peace, felt by synching with the pace and energy of the forest. Yet at the same time endless opportunities forcuriosity, adventure and discovery exist. Involving nature in my daily routine has provided a stable ground and effective resource that I believe everyone is capable of adding to their tool box, no matter the age. Enabling children to follow their curiosities, and find their own personal space and connection to the natural word is something I feel very passionate about.
I began my artistic journey as a child, inspired by family nature outings and stories that broadened my perspective. I went on to study Fine Arts at Cornish College of the Arts, majoring in painting and photography. During this time I also volunteered as an art instructor to grades 3 – 5, teaching creativity exercises and drawing techniques. Seeing kids take their own risks and explore the endless possibilities of their minds was amazing and rewarding. I value these forest school programs for giving children the freedom to do so.
I also enjoy studying herbalism and mycology, creating art, writing, exploring, foraging, horseback riding, and gardening.
JENNI SAMPLE, Educator, The Mason Jar Farm School
I run a small CSA *(community supported agriculture) here at the farm from June thru September and we are a walk up produce stand as well.
I began my relationship with Greenplaynw.org back in 2014 when I met Sarah Schumacher at the Maple Valley Farmers market where I used to sell produce. My dream of the Farm always has been showing children where their food comes from as well as caring for the land and animals. This has been a passion of mine for over 10 years now.
We have hosted Open Farm Fridays free to families since 2014 and to have had the school here at the farm the past 3 years is a true Blessing. Now being able to be a teacher with the children is an amazing gift, Thank you for trusting us with your children. I look forward to making this a a wonderful experience for them.
JENNY THOMPSON, Educator, The Mason Jar Farm School
I grew up in Utah, in the Salt Lake Valley. I loved to be outside climbing trees, playing in mud, and making “potions”. We camped a ton, often in deep forest in solitude. Some of my most vivid memories are from summers when I would spend weeks at a time in rural Utah: the wonder of the red rock brightening with the sunrise, jumping in flood water, climbing the tall ladder to pick fruit at the orchards with my grandma, the music of farm life, and my grandma’s joy in her garden. I love watching children play in nature and being reminded of how detailed and wonder-filled their perceptions are. Nature is nourishing on so many levels.
I live in Maple Valley with my sons Will (age 7) and Nick (age 5). My boys both attended Lake Wilderness Forest School, and I deeply treasure that time. They still have fond memories and beautiful awareness of that space. I hold a BA in Psychology from Western Washington University, spent 10 years with REI, and was most recently at Edward Jones. In my distant past, I worked as a teaching assistant for 1st and 6th graders and cherished all the one-on-one time. I find my greatest joy when mountain biking. I also love hiking, cross-country skiing, painting, reading, and just generally being silly.
JOANN O’MEARA, Mentor Educator and Educator at Osceola Art Studio and Garden School
I was lucky to grow up spending time in two beautiful countries. In Ireland, some of my favorite childhood memories included climbing – either to the top of a very tall hill or a small mountain – I loved seeing how things looked from above! In France, I would spend my days on the beach drawing pictures in the sand, constructing shelters, and swimming until my hands were as wrinkly as prunes.
Since graduating from the National College of Art and Design with a BA in Fine Art, I have had the pleasure of teaching children from all over the world. Locally, I’ve worked at both the Bellevue Arts Museum as a summer art instructor and the Tahoma Children’s Museum as an art docent and teacher. What amazes me about the young students I have worked with is there ability to bring me, as their teacher, back to the moments where I saw the world for the first time. They find and notice infinite beauty in the smallest parts of nature. I want to protect that ability and inspire creativity for all children from their earliest beginnings.
MEGAN PYLE, Nature Beginnings Educator and Substitute Educator
I absolutely love Washington and was lucky enough to grow up in Maple Valley. My childhood was spent riding horses, wading in ponds, and exploring the beautiful forests of the Pacific Northwest. I believe that discovering a connection with the Earth helps build connections to each other and to ourselves.
I graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a BA in Psychology and an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy. Since 2003, I have had the privilege of working as an early childhood educator for Educare, in Seattle, WA. My favorite part of being a teacher is experiencing the wonder and magic that children can bring to an ordinary day.
I live in my hometown of Maple Valley with my husband Chris, our daughter Charley (age 5), and our dogs and cats – two of each. In my spare time I love reading, photography, going to the beach, and playing games.
ERICA WITTGOW, Substitute Educator
Growing up in Puget Sound provided me a love of water and the outdoors. My family spent countless days on our boat, exploring our favorite marinas or discovering new coves. The freedom of wandering beaches, net in hand, set me on a lifelong path of enjoying both the quiet and adventurous moments nature offers us. Now that I am a mother, I seek to find ways to provide this open exploring to our son, Cooper (age 7.)
I hold a degree in Early Childhood Special Education and continue to advocate on behalf of children of all abilities. In my work, I hope to support all children in finding joy and connection to nature and each other.
I was born and raised in central California, spending my days between the fragrant redwood forests,
peaceful mountain lakes and warm sandy beaches. As a child (and to this day), I enjoyed riding horses,
swimming, catching tadpoles, making rock collections and knitting together daisy chains. For all my life,
I have loved a good challenge. I often find myself diving into new hobbies and appreciate activities that
allow me to be creative – sewing, hand embroidery, watercolor painting, ceramics and making natural
dyes from foraged materials.
I hold a BS in Nursing and spent the first nine years of my career as a Pediatric RN. That is where I began
to recognize and admire the resilience of children despite their difficult diagnoses. After years of lengthy
shifts behind hospital doors, I longed for time spent adventuring outside. I shifted my RN role to one that allowed me to breath in some fresh air and quickly rediscovered my passion for the outdoors. Now with children of my own, I find joy in discovering new ways to cultivate their relationship with nature as they challenge and encourage me to do the same. The lens in which they imagine, create and explore never cease to surprise and inspire me.
I live in Covington, WA with my husband, bio daughter (age 4), two foster daughters (ages 10 & 18) and
one sweet dog. A few of my favorite things include fishing, thrifting, warm summer nights, being around
a campfire, traveling and spending time with friends.
MAYA WEST, Educator, Urban Eden Farm School
I spent countless hours playing outside in the dry countryside of Southern California growing up. Old oak trees and orchards were my castles. My closest companions were our family horses, dogs, cats, sheep, and rabbits as well as the native wildlife like lizards, roadrunners, snakes, and mice. I didn’t always appreciate a rural life growing up but after living in very urban centers like Seattle and Spokane I’ve realized how much my childhood spent in nature formed me. Nature is where I always return to find calm and peace. I want my own children to richly experience all that the natural and outdoor world can reveal to them. That desire has strongly influenced how we spend our time each day, the lifestyle choices that we make to sustain our natural environment, and the educational paths we are choose.
I hold a BS in Food and Nutrition Science and I have worked as an educator and advocate for families, parents, and young children for the past several years. I live in Spokane with my husband, Ryan, and three children – Jack (7 years), Anne (5 years) and Lucy (3 years). My interests include hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, camping, wild foraging, cooking, and singing.