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.email@example.com.
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: 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.
Position: Program Director
Joseph earned a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Recreation from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He studied Adventure Therapy at Georgia College and State University for two years. Joseph is a certified park and recreation professional and a certified environmental educator. He also serves on the Certification Advisory Board for Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia.
Joseph has over 25 years of experience developing, planning, implementing, and evaluating environmental education and adventure programs for the purpose of recreation, education, enrichment and therapy. Joseph is an experienced educator and trainer of environmental education activities such as project wet, project wild, project learning tree, and growing up wild. He is also a seasoned facilitator and trainer of adventure-based activities including kayaking, canoeing, stand-up-paddle-boarding, rock climbing, tree climbing, caving, back packing, mountain biking, and team building.
As a professional, Joseph has been recognized and awarded GRPA Distinguished Professional for Parks and Outdoor Services, GPRA Distinguished Professional Outdoor Section State of Georgia, Gem Staff Award, Most Consistent Award, and Organizational Commitment Award.
Joseph lives in Dahlonega, Georgia with his wife and two sons. While he is highly motivated to continue developing his career and focused on making his work meaningful, the two most important titles he holds are husband and father. Joseph and his family enjoy hiking, paddling, climbing, sailing, playing music, playing games, and just hanging out together.
Position: Director of Operations
Brandon’s combined passion for service and for the outdoors has been a driving force throughout his career. After graduating with a degree in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Johnson State College in Vermont, Brandon joined the Peace Corp, where he spent 2 years training young service guides in environmental education at a nature reserve in Nicaragua.
Upon his return to the U.S., Brandon spent time teaching and leading expeditions for an alternative school in New Hampshire. His passion working with young people in the outdoors led him to the mountains of Colorado, where he worked as the Program Director at San Juan Wilderness Therapy for 4 years.
In 2010, Brandon moved back to New England to be closer to family. Brandon expanded his experience serving at-risk populations by working as a Probation and Parole Officer for 5 years, followed by 2 years working at the Vermont Department of Health, where he managed State and Federal grants for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. He subsequently became the Program Director at Central Vermont Addiction Medicine, an Opioid Treatment Program serving more than 500 people. His experience working with at-risk populations, his extensive knowledge of substance abuse and recovery, and his passion for the outdoors ultimately led to his desire to return to wilderness therapy. His capacity to lead, teach, and manage both people and systems are perfectly suited to his role managing the operations of a wilderness treatment program.
On a personal level, Brandon continues to deepen his own love of outdoor experiences through rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and camping. In addition, he has a love for competitive obstacle course racing (OCR), and has competed twice in the OCR World Championships. Brandon lives in Dahlonega with his wife, 9-year-old step-son, and 2 dogs, all of whom are excitedly awaiting the arrival of a new baby in June 2021.