Director, Founder, and a Lead Guide
From 2011 to June 2016, I worked full time as a lead instructor of youth programs for Ancestral Knowledge, a DC–area non-profit that offers nature, survival and primitive skills programs for all ages.
I then transitioned to working independently and serving new clients - directly with homeschool groups and with local institutions like Compass Homeschool Enrichment in Oakton, VA, and the Metaphor Academic Center for Russian Language and Culture in Falls Church, VA. I was raised in a bilingual household, and love to share my translations of favorite Russian tales at my programs.
In Fall of 2016 I started the Natural Leaders program, which transitioned to a student-run format in Fall 2017 and continues to evolve.
The kids we work with range from those who have never stepped off a trail before, to those who are very comfortable in the woods. Regardless, they have a blast, and learn about the plants, birds, trees, animals and ecology of their area, and how they can take care of themselves in nature for fun or survival.
Gone is the time when most kids spent most days running free, building forts and tree houses, splashing in the creek and getting dirty outside. Our programs help fill that void. Students follow their innate desire to experience nature, while learning valuable skills and natural-history from an expert mentor.
I've been exploring nature and field guides for about as long as I can remember - at least since Kindergarten. Until the 3rd grade, I attended the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City. In middle and high school I volunteered at the National Zoo, and was also mentored through the Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) Kamana Naturalist Training program (correspondence course).
After high school, I spent two years teaching white-water canoeing and kayaking, rock-climbing, rappelling, spelunking and other outdoor programs for the Montgomery County government in Maryland. At that time I also studied survival, tracking and primitive skills at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School and was trained in teaching this knowledge at the Wilderness Awareness School's Art of Mentoring classes.
During my college years, I taught wilderness living skills at a summer camp and in a semester-long class at a middle school. My adventures in those years also included months of living in a primitive cabin on a Potomac river island, exploring Siberian wilderness, and hunting bones in Yellowstone National Park as part of someone's PhD dissertation.
While living in Nevada after college, I collected plant and animal data as an environmental biologist in the mountains and deserts.
I received my BS in Biology from Georgetown University in 2007, and an MS in Environmental Science from University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2008. I live in Alexandria, VA with my wife May Joy, daughters Mira-Nicole and Sofia, and son Victor.
May Joy Serafica-Grenier
Assistant Facilitator and Administrator
As the founder's spouse and a homeschooling mom, May Joy has played a critical part in the creation and evolution of Natural Leaders through her support, encouragement, insights and ideas.
May Joy has worked extensively in the field alongside Nick for many years, and also alongside Trevor and Rhys at times.
May Joy grew up in Manila, Philippines, starting life in a tiny house with a dirt floor, that she shared with 4 brothers. Arguably she has the most authentic survival experience of the NL team - she remembers cooking a small bird for food, collecting firewood for cooking, and storing rain as a main water source....
Her mother moved to the U.S. when May Joy was only 4, and her living standards gradually improved thanks to her mother's earnings abroad.
Since emigrating at age 17, May Joy has come to love America, the great outdoors, and the Russian culture of her in-laws.
May Joy met Nick at a community college and served in the U.S. Air Force for 5 years.
May Joy is a great cook, mother and wife; she's a great observer of student-teacher dynamics, and an excellent mentor to those around her - of all ages.
May Joy and Victor at Carderock, MD - January 2019
I was born and raised in Monterrey, a large industrial city that lies at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental in northeastern Mexico. It is called “The City of the Mountains” because of its striking topography, famous for its warm weather and even warmer people. I loved it there, but I remember wanting to learn about other cultures and dreaming of traveling the world since very early on.
I grew up tightly involved in Scouting, which encouraged my curiosity for nature and fueled my will to explore. My weekends were spent hiking and camping in the beautiful mountains and canyons, building friendships that last to this day over campfires and forging skills that helped shape who I am today. I have been a part of this wonderful international movement for most of my life, now also having served as a Scout Master back in my home country and as a District Volunteer here in Virginia. More recently, I had the amazing chance of working at the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia as a Sub-Camp Commissioner as part of the International Service Team, an unbelievable multicultural experience where I oversaw youth from all over the globe and helped coordinate logistics.
My teaching journey began after I had the awesome opportunity to tutor for a homeschooling family while living on the windward side of the breathtaking island of Oahu, in Hawaii, an experience that was in many ways a watershed for me. After that, I fully embraced my passion for teaching. I had the honor of earning my teacher certification from the University of Cambridge through the British Council, the United Kingdom’s international education organization. This launched a career I have enjoyed immensely, opening doors for me to teach Elementary and Jr. High School, along with giving Business English lessons at corporate level and developing my own ESL summer workshop for young learners.
Life brought me to Northern Virginia a few years ago, where I got married and now live with my husband and our two dogs. In this new adventure I have been growing greatly and further expanding my training, among other things, recently getting recertified by the Red Cross in Wilderness and Remote First Aid and in Youth Protection by the Boy Scouts of America.
Being a part of Natural Leaders allows me to share what I enjoy doing the most. Knowing all I’ve gained from programs like this, I fully believe in the positive impact what we do can have on our students. With this incredible team I get to help reconnect our new generations with the natural world. We play together and we learn together. We are forming confident children, helping them develop our same great sense of respect and love for the outdoors, become resourceful and self-reliant and most importantly, cultivate leadership while understanding the value and importance of teamwork.
Over the last few years I have been teaching courses at Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS), a primitive skills centered survival school based out of southern Utah, and am currently in the midst of transitioning from Apprentice to Instructor. BOSS is unique in that we offer very immersive survival courses that allow students to go into the bush for up to 28-days with little more than a knife and water bottle.
I have previous experience teaching several lessons including but not limited to:
Bow Drill, Primitive and Modern Shelter Construction (debris shelters to poncho/tarp shelters), Priorities Of Survival (Rule of 3's), Campsite Selection (5 W's), Positive Impact (very similar to Leave No Trace but more proactive), Personal Hygiene, Hooting/Group Communication, Blanket Backpacks, Thermoregulation Principles and the Human Body, Knife Safety, Use, and Maintenance, Plant-specific Lessons, Hand Fishing, Navigation, Knots & Rope Care, Weather Safety, Large Game Processing, and more.
While much of my primitive skills experience has been cultivated and developed in the Southwest, I am excited to develop my skills and find a community of fellow primitive skills enthusiasts in conjunction with the land I am native to.. the mid-Atlantic.
Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to have gained extensive dirt time when my fiance and I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2016. Throughout my hike, I used my experience in video production to shoot a documentary that I am now editing into a feature film. My hope with the film is to encourage people to pursue "alternative" lifestyles that help them rekindle their innate bond with the natural world, and therefore promote sustainable living practices.
I am certified in Wilderness First Aid through WMI/NOLS, and am scheduled to receive my Wilderness First Responder certification by Spring of 2019.
Having worked at BOSS for a few years now, I truly recognize the immense pleasure I derive from teaching people how to feel at home in the outdoors, and love that I am able to cultivate this passion back home on the East Coast.
Although my work at BOSS has been mostly with adults, I have always loved working with kids and have experience doing so as a substitute teacher (elementary to high school), swim instructor, and childcare provider. I think instilling the ideas of nature awareness and appreciation at a young age is vital to the health and well-being of both humans and the planet.
Over the course of my life I have been lucky enough to have extensive adventures in nature. I grew up through outdoor survival homeschool programs for over 10 years, through Ancestral Knowledge and other programs, sometimes with Nick Grenier as my instructor.
I am passionate about passing on the knowledge and attitudes that those programs gifted me with: especially confidence. I attribute my confident independence in many different settings to my background in wilderness skills.
For the last 6 years I've loved being a mentor and educator for a local youth mountain biking organization called Trails for Youth. I am now pursuing a degree in Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, so I can continue to following my passion for sharing nature with others.
This program has given me valuable experience and knowledge as a educator and facilitator, as well as an in-depth training and certification as a Wilderness First Responder.
Outside of survival skills I enjoy racing on my college's mountain bike team and pursuing backpacking adventures anywhere I can!
Many of my favorite childhood memories were etched in the woods around Lake Accotink and Brookfield Park - it's great to be able to help a new generation discover nature and confidence in my childhood stomping grounds!
Edward has been attending Natural Leaders programs since they began in Fall of 2016, after a year with Ancestral Knowledge. He has attended a variety of advanced overnight camps with NL and other organizations.
Edward has a remarkable passion for the wilderness, earth skills and craftsmanship. As of 2019 he is in his second year as a paid apprentice instructor for NL summer programs. He has also served as a counselor at a local sailing camp, and as a CIT with the Living Earth School in Charlottesville, VA.
As a veteran of the NL homeschool programs he has extensive experience planning out curriculum, leading and teaching.
Edward has added to our collection of teaching videos with his tutorial on weaving a crayfish trap here (and more topics on the way...).
Over the last few years Edward also spearheaded the development of our Wilderness Survival Immersion program, which we held this past Spring (2019), and was a great success!
Now a wilderness first responder, Edward's other interests include kendo, cello, the tin whistle, historical re-enactment on horseback: he is a lieutenant and safety officer of the 1st regiment light dragoons!
Edward at our inaugural WSI program he helped us create. Note that his buckskin shirt, pack basket, quiver and arrows, and overcoat are all his own creations. He even wove the wool fabric of his coat!
I grew up in Clifton, Virginia walking through the trees and streams near my house to get to school. Through scouting, I took an Outward Bound backpacking trip in high school that solidified my love of the outdoors.
I attended James Madison University and spent all my summers during college as a camp counselor. I progressed from pizza bagels to chicken carbonara and cake in a can as I improved my campfire cooking skills. A few parts of being a camp counselor I valued were helping kids build their self-esteem by overcoming challenges, teaching new skills, and helping campers orient themselves in a new environment. I also learned the joys of type II fun. This type of fun happens when it starts pouring rain over your fire or someone has lost the tent poles, but when you look back, the things that went wrong made the best memories.
After college, I spent a few years working in Madison, Wisconsin and spending my weekends on the Ice Age Trail. Then I headed back to the warm weather of Virginia.
I have taught outdoor skills including leave no trace ethics and fire building with flint and matches. I have led activities including a multiday biking trip, observing horseshoe crabs, bat watching, and a multiday camping trip in the Boston Harbor Islands.
Wilderness Medical Associates certified me as a Wilderness First Responder. I am prepared to handle a wide variety of medical emergencies.
I love backpacking, hiking, biking, and water activities. I am very excited to be joining Natural Leaders teaching outdoor survival skills!
As a Virginia native, sharing my love of the outdoors has always been a priority of mine. While I was a student at the University of Virginia, I worked as a hiking guide for the Outdoors Club and spent every weekend possible in the Shenandoahs and beyond.
After graduating I joined the Peace Corps and served as a health educator and middle school English teacher in Cameroon. It was there that I learned many valuable skills like backcountry water purification and campfire cooking, but also the value of patience and discipline, the ability to listen and reach common understandings, how to communicate with people unwilling to cooperate, how to make projects fun and interesting (and make people want to participate), how to cultivate support networks, and how to be a compassionate person without sacrificing objectives.
I absolutely love working with kids, and I have the energy and positivity to stay engaged and in control. I'm also a certified Emergency Medical Technician and Wilderness First Responder, so rest assured your kids are in good hands!
I'm so excited to both teach, learn from, and grow with your kids as we explore together!
Joseph "Joey" O'Reilly
Joey is a Maryland native, born and raised in Montgomery County, MD. His grandfather introduced him to the outdoors and inspired his love of nature that holds to this day.
He spent 8 years living in Upstate NY pursuing a formal education. He got his B.S. in Environmental Science at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY and his M.S. in Lake Management at SUNY Oneonta in Oneonta, NY.
While his formal education is in the sciences, Joey has spent his free time learning and refining his outdoor recreation skills in a variety of disciplines such as caving, climbing, and canoeing.
He has been leading day trips and extended overnight trips for the last 7 years as well and enjoys training others in new skills.
Joey’s favorite outdoor activity is caving. Exploring underground and reaching new depths is an adventure like no other. He is trained and certified by the National Cave Rescue Commission. He's seen his fair share of caves, exploring everywhere from the tight and muddy NY caves to giant vertical pits in Tennessee, but most of all loves introducing others to the underground sport.
He is excited to be back in Maryland pursuing what he loves and being able to share it with others through Natural Leaders programs
Teaching kids in nature is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I learned this in my first job after college, as a wilderness trip leader. I graduated art school in 2012, and began outdoor leadership training for Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing, an adventure center in the Appalachian Mountains.
For two years I led backpacking trips and instructed many adventure sports, like mountain biking and kayaking. Since then I've worked with groups on trail, in classrooms as substitute teacher, and at youth centers for the Navy's Morale Welfare and Recreation program.
One of my passions is white water kayaking, once taking a swift-water rescue course as a birthday present to myself. I've also taken Wilderness First Aid, and Red Cross CPR/First Aid.
The path of learning never ends! Survival skills, leadership, and nature observation is our program, but I'll support kids in every positive way I can. During class we will build respect, communication, work ethic, and a positive attitude.
In 2016 I became a dad, and have a family of my own. I will try to build our community the best I can, and encourage these kids to become well-rounded individuals. Kids learn and grow so fast, and respectfully understanding the natural world is priceless. I'm honored to help in this way.
My adult adventures started in my neighborhood creeks and parks, much like Natural Leaders students will be exploring. As a young person I was involved in sports, drama camps, scouting, and family camping trips, just to name a few. At age 10 I hosted a birthday party which included a creek cleanup competition that removed a pile of litter and even a car axle, local news wrote about it, and the city council recognized our efforts. I have been encouraging others to explore and protect nature for a long time, and if your little person is just getting started in the outdoors, then I am happy to have the opportunity to facilitate them becoming Natural Leaders.
I grew up attending public and private schools, both coed and not, around the DC metro area which exposed me to a variety of learning environments. Some of my favorite learning environments though have been outdoors, especially the Chesapeake Bay, Monongahela NF, Shenandoah NP, and the White Mountain NF, where my adventures, as well as my life in the DC region, have aided me time and time again to persevere through adversity. Sometimes life gets complicated, and the simple reminders of a life lived outdoors can be invaluable prompts for recognizing the hazards, resources, and attitudes to be aware of, now more than ever, while we mature ourselves and our relationships with others and the world around us.
Over the years I have picked up outdoor skills in mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, conservation, snow sports, orienteering, camping, ropes courses, shooting sports, and many other nuggets from those that I encounter along the journey. Professionally a lot of my experience has been in technical problem solving, with some customer service, outfitting, and Instructing. In college I studied automotive science and elected to take First Responder for the Professional Rescuer course as my health credit; I found the problem-solving skills of medical diagnostics very complimentary to the rest of my endeavors and have continued to seek additional learning opportunities in emergency preparedness.
Among other awards and honors, I was selected for recognition as a distinguished honor cadet (top 3%) in the 1st Region AJROTC . I also achieved my personal multi-year goal of being able to lead the school’s rifle team by my senior year, a goal that I had written into my application to the school. After high school one of my first jobs was to work for the NCAC of the Boy Scouts of America and attended the National Camping School. I instructed scouts and staff in several skill areas which ultimately included rifle, shotgun, muzzle loading firearms (think early 1800’s), and staffing the COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) ropes courses. I wrote a short story in college based on how some of these students expressed memorable connections to what they were learning. Some students overcame fears, some gained knowledge, all progressed in understanding their own abilities when faced with challenges.
Administrative Assistant and Guide
I was born and raised on a ranch in South Texas. I spent most of my days growing up out exploring the beautiful nature around me with my brothers. We had a variety of plants and animals at our fingertips to observe, which was the best environment for me.
I attended Texas A&M University where I received a degree in Communication. In college I found my passion for teaching children while I was an assistant preschool teacher. Watching children progress in something was the most rewarding thing!
After college I was eager to work with children again and was ecstatic when I received the opportunity to work for Natural Leaders. Although I am comfortable being outdoors and getting a little dirty, I too am learning along with the kids the survival skills of this program. My favorite skill to work on is carving and making tools out of wood!
Master of Visual Communications
My journey in content creation and outdoor photography started in late 2017. I grew up in Houston, Texas my entire life. I’ve had a heart for nature ever since I was a kid; hiking with my brothers, going biking on trails, and other small random adventures. Even though Houston doesn’t have the same outdoor experiences as say, Seattle or Colorado, I managed with what my city had to give me. I began surrounding myself with other like-minded creatives and started my photography journey right after Highschool. From this I grew passionate in what I can do with a creative mind and a camera.
Since 2017, I’ve been traveling and adventuring around the United States. Spending my time camping in dense forests, backpacking up massive mountains and catching some amazing views. Once starting in July of 2020, being a part of the Natural Leaders team has taught me so much on outdoor survival. Not only do I provide my own photography skills, but I have the opportunity to apply that with the skills Natural Leaders has given me. With that I can capture the essence of what this organization has to offer its students, from fun games to plant and animal knowledge.
With nature photography, the way you see things change. You start to see things in a different perspective, at a different angle, and with more focus. You begin to notice the small details and take in the beauty of the outdoors more than you usually would, and that is something I noticed at a young age, and think that this is something our students should learn too.