Meet the Staff Team of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary

Cara Gibson

Cara Gibson

Executive Director

Cara has a BSc (Biology, Honours, Univ. of Toronto) and a Master’s and PhD (Entomology, Univ. of Arizona). She taught in higher education for over 20 years and her background spans biodiversity monitoring, science research and management, instructional design, fundraising, community organizing and scientific illustration. Cara joined the Nature Sanctuary as a Board member in 2019 and stepped into the Executive Director role in 2020. She is honoured to be helping to protect the Nature Sanctuary's rare and threatened species, steward and restore its ecosystems, and grow its communities of practice and education.

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Joelene Clarke

Administrative Assistant

Joelene comes to us with a BA in Geography and Environmental Studies from UVic, which followed courses in the Environmental Technology program at Camosun College. Field-based coursework in both programs allowed for visits to various sites throughout the South Island and created a great understanding and appreciation of the region’s ecology. A certificate in Sustainable Business Leadership certificate was later acquired from BCIT. 

Joelene has worked at Goldstream Provincial Park, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve as well as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan in visitor-facing roles. 

Hailing from Saskatoon, she has called the coast of the Salish Sea home for many years now. When everything aligns, she enjoys finding a body of water to swim in.  

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Kirsten Grove-White

Office Manager

Kirsten’s background is in customer relations and retail management. She grew up just a short walk away from the Nature Sanctuary, and has many fond memories with her family on its grounds. After two years working in the Nature Sanctuary office administration, Kirsten started as Officer Manager in spring 2023.

Away from work, she enjoys creating art with preserved flowers and experimenting in the kitchen with locally-foraged botanicals.

Jay Rastogi

Jay Rastogi

Site Director

Jay studied Natural Resources Management and Environmental Studies at the University of Guelph and worked at the University Arboretum. After graduation, he mentored in sustainable forestry practices with renowned ecoforester Merv Wilkinson. Over the past 15 years he has shared these teachings and principles with thousands of students and adults during tours and workshops.

His family background includes farming and forestry, in Ontario, and wandering the foothills of the Himalayas, where he lived until he was 12 years old.

His interests include nature observation, studying landscape ecology and promoting sustainable land stewardship and self-sufficiency.  He is especially fond of growing food and foraging for wild plants and mushrooms.

Ben Milligan

Ben Milligan

Nature Sanctuary Maintenance Worker

Ben is a graduate of the Camosun College Environmental Technology Program and has training and work experience in the trades. His goal in doing site work at the Sanctuary is to help preserve and restore habitat for the many rare and amazing plant and animal species that inhabit our region. He began working for the Sanctuary in June 2019 as a summer student, and has been working here full time since December of that year.

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Wren Shaman

Community Relations Assistant

Wren’s background is in History and Indigenous Studies, with a focus on decolonial learning opportunities. Over the past years she has had the pleasure to work across the heritage sector, and is excited to be joining the Swan Lake and Christmas Hill team. Outside of work they love working with various grassroots organizations to create caring, connected, and nourished (physically and beyond) communities. Wren enjoys connecting with folks and connecting folks to one another! She/they think communications and outreach positions are so important in that work, and is excited to bring those skills to the team!

When not working or volunteering you can find them knitting, needle felting, reading, backpacking, looking at tidepools, or bikepacking!

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Tara Todesco

Manager of Volunteer Programs

Tara has a master’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Victoria, with a specialization in environmental education and community-engaged research and learning.  She has extensive experience in developing, coordinating and evaluating environmental and community education programs throughout Greater Victoria.

A recent project includes her work at Islands Trust, where she coordinated a resident stewardship education initiative that engaged homeowners in land-based, freshwater and shoreline stewardship opportunities. Tara also managed the Land Conservancy of British Columbia’s Volunteer Development Program, where she grew her love of working with and supporting volunteers and community-led stewardship.

In her free time, Tara loves to garden, especially with native plants, and to cook, hike and bike with her family.

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Andie Mazer

Community Educator

Andie has a BSc in Environmental Biology and a Biological Research Certificate from the University of Saskatchewan. Her previous experiences include field work related to migratory bird and wetland research and conducting ecological monitoring for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Andie feels most at home when she is surrounded by nature and is passionate about forming community connections. She is elated to be in a role where she can help facilitate connections between people and nature.

In her spare time, Andie enjoys biking, camping, yoga, being creative through knitting and painting, and learning about the natural world.

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Stephanie Chong

Education Program Lead

For over 15 years, environmental educator Stephanie Chong has managed learning and education opportunities at museums and science centres in Canada and the United States. She believes strongly in encouraging curiosity, a joy of being outdoors, and a communal understanding of environmental responsibility. In her spare time, you’ll likely find her wandering around looking for wiggly creatures.

Stephanie is originally from the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (“Vancouver”) and has been fortunate to call the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples her home for two years. She has a B.Sc.(honours) in Environmental Science & Geography and a Masters in Museum Education. She is also a certified Volunteer Manager.