Position: 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.
Position: 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: Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Position: Program Director
The power of nature and the transformative experiences that occur there have always been evident to Nick. He started recreating outside as a child in his home state of Wisconsin and by age 14 spent his full summers working a variety of outdoor jobs. Despite his love of home, the draw of the woods and far away adventures kept Nick traveling and working at a variety of camps, trail crews, and anywhere he could breathe the fresh air and explore new forests, rivers and mountains.
After finishing his degree in Forestry and Recreation Resource Management at the University of Wisconsin Nick moved to Utah to work in wilderness therapy. Over his nearly seven years there he honed his skills in therapy, staff development and program leadership finding ways to help youth and young adults grow, first as a field staff and later as a field director.
In 2014 Nick made a switch to the non-profit world to help improve access to the outdoors for people of all abilities and socioeconomic statuses. He continued to grow as an industry leader in experiential and adventure education before his love of wilderness therapy drew him back to join the NVW team.
Position: Admissions Director
John McMillon, MS, is the Admissions Director at First Light Wilderness Therapy in Clayton, Georgia. His primary focus is developing relationships within the therapeutic community and ensuring that referral partners understand which individuals are clinically appropriate for our program.
McMillon graduated from Georgia Southwestern College and received a Master of Science in Counseling and Human Development from Troy State University. He came to First Light as a respected mental health professional and administrator. He is dedicated to being a strong contributing member of the team and to assisting families and young people as they strive to grow and heal.
As a mental health professional, McMillon enjoys being part of a strong clinical team that is dedicated to individual and generational healing. In his spare time, McMillon likes to teach college and spend time with his wife and his adult children.
Position: Field Director
Jean began her career in the outdoors when she was attending Loyola University Maryland by leading outdoor trips for incoming freshman as well as fellow students. During this time, she began volunteering with Outward Bound and working with the Police Youth Program. It was then, that she realized that she wanted to find ways to use the outdoors as a platform to discuss decision making skills, communication skills and self-worth. When she graduated in 2017, she accepted a position as an apprentice with North Carolina Outward Bound School’s Family in Need of Services (FINS) program in central and southern Florida. These courses were geared towards youth who were considered at-risk by the state of Florida and were at a fork in their lives, similar to many of our students here at First Light. During her three years at FINS she was a lead instructor, course director as well as a staff trainer. This environment and family that she was a part of facilitated the joy and excitement she has for working with our children and families. After her time at FINS Jean went on to work at SUWS of the Carolinas as a field guide as she began to dip her toes in the North Carolina Forest. In October of 2020 Jean joined our community here at First Light as our Field Director. When asked what keeps her coming back day after day for over three and a half years now she says it is two parts, first the privilege that it is to be there for a kiddos difficult moments when they are yelling or breaking down and thus be sitting right next to them when they are building themselves back up. Secondly, it is the staff that show up time after time for not only the children but also for themselves and their co-staff. Jean identifies that she has had the privilege of seeing the wilderness foster environments of growth for both children and their families and that is why she keeps coming back. During her free time Jean likes to whitewater kayak and ride her bike with her friends.
Position: Director of Professional Relations
Mary Jo DeGrandi, M.S., has more than 20 years of experience working with children and complex family systems in a variety of treatment settings, including residential, outdoor behavioral health, outpatient, therapeutic boarding schools and home/community based programs. Her roles have included line staff, program therapist, coordinator of parent programming, workshop facilitator, director and administrator, and more recently, business development, referral relations, admissions, outreach and marketing.
Her master’s degree focused on ecopsychology and child development, including the ways in which disconnection from the natural contributes to mental health issues, as well as ways in which re-connection with the natural world contributes to healing. She also focused on the ways in which society is impacted by having few meaningful and intentional rites of passage into adulthood.