COURTNEY HAEUSLER | Executive Director
Courtney is a passionate individual who over the past 10 years has made Fernie much more than just her home. She has discovered that spending time outside with children is her biggest passion. Discovering this "spark" has been the key to cultivating a life built on outdoor experiences and skills. Following her path has inevitably lead to the creation of Outdoor Connections.
Courtney holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan and has gained certifications in Wilderness First Aid, Occupational First Aid, and Swift Water Rescue. She is a trained Forest School practitioner gaining certification from the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. Courtney has coordinated and volunteered at summer camps for children with special needs which has given her valuable experience working with diverse groups of children. She is dedicated to ensuring ALL children are able to become part of The Outdoor Connections family.
Whether working as a school teacher bringing patience and creativity to the classroom, or snapping pictures as a ski photographer, her experiences in the Elk Valley have shaped who she is today. Courtney genuinely believes that every child benefits from exploring and learning in natural environments. She would like to thank the Elk Valley Society for Community Living, Camp Easter Seal, Power to Be and Alive Outdoors for their inspiration and support.
Her diverse background, coupled with her passion for outdoor adventure, makes Courtney the perfect candidate to start an outdoor centered children's foundation!
ERICH LEIDUMS | Program Director
Erich has an out-going and positive personality. He grew up paddling and swimming in the lakes of Ontario and knew from an early age that he wanted to spend most of his days outside doing the things that he loved!
After graduating with a Business Diploma in Adventure Tourism from Algonquin College, Erich began ski patrolling in the winters while river guiding in the summer. He realized one of his biggest joys was leading youth on wilderness trips. Witnessing young people develop interpersonal skills and an appreciation for wild places reaffirmed this is where he wanted to be!
Erich's focus shifted from jobs in adventure tourism and fueled a passion for more meaningful work in Outdoor Education. Erich eventually began instructing for N.O.L.S. (the National Outdoor Leadership School) and worked as an educator for a variety of outdoor organizations. This includes trip leading for 5 seasons for Alive Outdoors eventually filling a lead facilitator role.
Having landed in Fernie five winters ago, it feels "right" for Erich to be a part of Outdoor Education in the Elk Valley. He is currently working as a paramedic with BC Ambulance and as a PCP (Primary Care Paramedic). Erich is excited to see how Outdoor Connections can impact children's lives in the Elk Valley.
SINEAD MURPHY | Associate Director
Sinead is a fun loving individual who has been working with children in different capacities since she was in high school. Sinead has been a snowboard coach, a math tutor, a kids horse camp leader, a daycare worker and most recently a kids yoga instructor. After graduating with her Bachelors of Science in Mathematics, she decided to get her Bachelors of Education at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna. Sinead then set forth to China to teach high school mathematics at a BC Offshore school in Weifang. Although this was an eye opening, character building and interesting experience for her, she couldn’t deny the strong call back home to the mountains!
Sinead moved back to Fernie in the summer of 2013 and taught grade 6 Math and Science and grade 12 Math for two years at The Fernie Academy. Sinead is now pursuing a Masters of Education through the University of Calgary and her Forest School Practitioner certificate through the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. She has recently been exploring alternative practices of education that resonate with her. She is drawn to the Waldorf, Forest, Montesorri and Reggio approach to education, all of which have a focus on addressing the whole child.
Sinead is passionate about the outdoors and has fallen in love with mountain biking, back-country camping, split-boarding, cross country skiing and hanging in the woods with her dog. Oh and lastly, she is a 300hr Yoga Certified Teacher with a focus on Hatha, Meditation and Kids yoga!
EMMA GARFORTH-BLES | Forest School Facilitator
Emma grew up in Bragg Creek, AB frolicking in the forests, building ant homes, climbing trees, and collecting tadpoles. Ever since she decided she wanted to be a teacher at the age of sixteen, she has worked with children as an outdoor camp leader for five years, a school tutor, a nanny in Corsica, an English teacher in the Dominican Republic, and a primary teacher and art therapist for post-war youth in Uganda, Africa.
Emma completed her Bachelor of Education at the University of Victoria weaving in her passions of the arts and outdoors throughout her practicums. She quickly moved back to Calgary after landing a job with Common Digs working as a Forest School & Nature Kindergarten educator. After teaching there for two years, she felt she had found a niche that combined all her passions of working with children and being in the outdoors and became very interested in the philosophies and practices of Forest School and Reggio Emilia. Her teaching methods developed to include key practices of nature stewardship, art, mindfulness, community building and story-telling. After taking the Forest School Practitioner Training alongside Courtney and Sinead, a seed of ‘living in Fernie, closer to the mountains, rivers and lakes’ and ‘fleeing the city life’ was planted in her brain and grew quickly.
Settling in Fernie in August 2017, she is thrilled to be working at the Outdoor Connections Forest School and doing what she loves most every day, all day! When Emma’s not at Forest School, you can find her on the trails with her dog, fishing and foraging, doing art, reading in the sunshine, going to yoga or planning her next travel adventure. She feels grateful that every morning she recharges with the excited energy of the students and leaves everyday feeling cheek-burning, happily exhausted.
DAYNA HAIG | Instructor/Guide
Dayna graduated from Brock University with a Bachelors Degree in Outdoor Education and Recreation. Her adventurous spirit pulled her all the way to New Zealand to continue her education at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. Here she graduated with a Bachelors of Education focusing on Outdoor Education, Physical Education and Geography.
Dayna grew up in Ontario where she began her journey of working with children and youth in outdoor environments. Alive Outdoors, University of Toronto and 180 Degrees Trust are all lucky to have had Dayna work within their organizations. Whether it's a Lead Director role at Viamede Resort in Ontario or a back country canoe guide at Alive Outdoors, Dayna knows how to connect with young people and deliver quality outdoor programs.
Happily residing in Fernie, Dayna balances work, play and her continued studies as she pursues a Masters Degree in Counseling from the University of Calgary. She currently works as an elementary school counselor in Cranbrook, BC and enjoys all of the adventures the Elk Valley has to offer during her time off. On weekends it's not uncommon to not hear from Dayna until she's back from an overnight hike, paddle or ski!
ASHLEY TAYLOR | Instructor/Guide
This Fernie local grew up in the mountains skiing with friends and camping with family. While obtaining her degree in Biochemistry and masters in Health Sciences at The University of Lethbridge she discovered rock climbing, yoga, backcountry skiing and more.
Ashley took to a passion for whitewater kayaking and has traveled across Canada, US and Ecuador in the name of paddling adventures! She is currently interested in multi-day river trips both canoeing and kayaking. Ashley really enjoyed teaching and coaching youth as a swimming instructor, yoga instructor, soccer coach, and ski coach.
When Ashley isn't venturing herself, she can be found at Gear Hub selling sporting goods to help others get outside! Her positive attitude and superb balance make her an excellent slack-liner! We are looking forward to having Ashley be a part of Outdoor Connections for many years to come.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
GRAHAM PRESTON | Instructor/Guide
Graham continues to be amazed by what youth can accomplish when given ownership. An educator with many hats, he has met most school-aged kids in the valley through environmental education with Wildsight, youth care work with Columbia Basin Family Resource Society, and classroom teaching. Graham sees so much value in the confidence, resilience and healthy relationships that youth develop during Outdoor Connections programs.
Graham is a graduate of the Outdoor Environmental and Experiential Education program at Lakehead University. He brings a wealth of experience developing and facilitating outdoor skills courses and leadership programs. Highlights include a 50-day canoe expedition with youth in the Northwest Territories, supporting a staff as canoe trip director for Camp Wanapitei, and working with an inspirational team of instructors at Alive Outdoors. Graham misses the lakes of his homeland Ontario, but can't get enough of the community, skiing and bike trails in the Elk Valley. An Outdoor Connections instructor since 2015, Graham joined the board in 2017 and is excited to be a part of growing accessible outdoor programs in the Elk Valley.
BROOKLYN BRACONNIER | Secretary
Having grown up in Fernie, Brooklyn loves spending her days exploring wild spaces within the Kootenays. She loves the diversity of activities one can do between the changing of seasons whether it be skiing, fly-fishing, practicing yoga or hiking. She graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Education. She is currently teaching in Sparwood and she has a passion for using the outdoor environment to inspire children to develop a deep connection and appreciation for nature. By teaching them about sustainable activities, they will be empowered to protect the places we love and cherish most.
Brooklyn has experience working with environmental non-profit groups such as the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council and Wildsight. Through these experiences, it has enabled her to develop an understanding of the importance of preserving our natural environment for future generations to discover. Having volunteered with Outdoor Connections, Brooklyn decided to become a board member in December 2017. She values Outdoor Connections’ commitment to encouraging children to take safe risks in the outdoors while helping them to develop their problem solving skills. She strongly believes in the benefits of being outside for a child’s overall health and well-being.
ANNIE MACDONALD | Director
Annie MacDonald has a passion for the outdoors and getting kids outside. With a degree in Recreation Management specializing in Outdoor Recreation, and many years directing and coordinating outdoor youth programs and camps including positions with the Tim Horton Children's Foundation, the Blue Lake Forest Education Society, the YMCA, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, she has seen first hand the benefits and growth opportunities available for kids through time spent in the outdoors. Now, with three kids of her own, she is working on raising her little people to also be passionate about the outdoors. Annie can often be found on the trails or in the mountains with her family.
BRYN BURDITT | Treasurer
Bryn is a witty, charismatic guy with impressive Microsoft Office skills. He works for Teck Coal as an accountant and on weekends loves spending time with his family. Bryn grew up spending lots of time outdoors enjoying canoeing from an early age. As a father of two boys it is inspiring to see Bryn share the outdoors with his kids. Whether it’s car camping, down hill skiing, cross country skiing Bryn understands the value of getting kids outside. He is a huge asset to Outdoor Connections. We are grateful to have him help out the organization and show us that accounting doesn’t have to be confusing or difficult.