About Us

Our north star is to re-awaken these attributes in people and in turn help heal the widespread disconnection and loss of culture worldwide.

Our Story

Over the past 30 years, 8 Shields has developed training pathways that support mentors and leaders to change individual lives, and entire communities, in becoming more connected. This model incorporates traditional mentoring and deep nature connection practices, fully supported through our neurological, emotional, and physical connection to the natural world.

The 8 Shields alumni network has over 300 programs worldwide that have been inspired by our model for creating a culture that connects one to self, nature and others – igniting a deep desire to care for our planet, each other and to share one’s gifts.

Jon Young – Founder, Speaker, Author

Jon Young is a nature connection mentor, naturalist, wildlife tracker, peacemaker, author, workshop leader, consultant, sought after public speaker and storyteller. As a leader in the field of nature-based community building over 30 years, Jon’s research into the impact and significance of nature on human intelligence and development has influenced tens of thousands of people worldwide.

Trained from an early age by renowned animal tracker Tom Brown Jr. , and later by Lakota elder Gilbert Walking Bull and many other indigenous leaders from around the world, Jon has delved deeply into the arts of nature awareness, holistic tracking, bird language and ancestral living skills– fundamental knowledge that shaped the formation of human neurobiology and the way our species connects and learns. He has appeared as an expert in numerous documentaries concerning nature and ecology and travels to teach widely throughout North America, Europe, Australia and southern Africa.

Jon has authored and co-authored several seminal works on nature connection and connection mentoring, including What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World (2013), and Coyote’s Guide to Connecting to Nature (2007). In 2016, he received the Champion of Environmental Education Award for his innovative work, which has inspired positive developments in the field, and fostered the growth of the nature connection movement on a global level.

As co-founder of the 8 Shields Institute and OWLink Media, Jon has established an international network of consultants and trainers working to cultivate effective nature connection mentoring programs in communities and organizations. As the originator of the 8 Shields model, a best-practices process for nature connection mentoring, Jon has implemented vital advancements in the regeneration of nature-based cultural knowledge for the benefit of current and future generations.


Meet Our Core Staff

Garret Conway – Executive Director

For over 20 years, Garret has been dedicated to the healing potential and power of nature connection experiences. He has worked extensively with a diversity of communities all over the world and has directed wilderness leadership training programs, summer camps, after school outdoor programs, university programs, and a family resource center.

With an MA in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology and Wilderness Therapy from Naropa University, Garret has taught Ecopsychology, Wilderness Therapy, and Bioregionalism and Sustainable Living and has served as a Clinical Supervisor and Therapist for struggling families.

His passion lies in learning and growing through relationship, fatherhood, healing through music and movement, and in the ways that ancient wisdom tradition’s community practices inform modern healing and global cultural transformation. Garret currently serves as the Executive Director at 8 Shields, and has a private practice in Santa Cruz, CA .

Josh Lane Josh Lane – Mentoring Specialist

Josh  brings a passion for sharing wildlife tracking and bird language skills through mentoring. He has been a longtime lead mentor for Village Talk, a weekly conversation in nature connection mentoring best practices with community leaders from around the globe.

Josh is an accomplished naturalist and tracker, and Qi Gong teacher, gifted storyteller and skilled mentor with ten years of experience as a professional mentor and product design specialist for OWLink Media. Josh is a co-author of the Backyard Bird Language and The 8 Gifts From Nature online courses, appears in the instructional DVD Bird Language with Jon Young, and contributed to developing the “How to Learn Bird Language” appendix in the book, What the Robin Knows.

Intensive Program Facilitators

Sal Gencarelle – Advanced Connection Practices Facilitator

At the age of 15 Salvatore Gencarelle was called to walk the ceremonial path of healing and renewal and became an assistant to a Native American Medicine Man from the Lakota Sioux Tribe. Through his experience, Salvatore became a cultural bridge between indigenous ceremonial traditions and the modern world. During his training he went through an intensive mentoring period for 17 years as a ceremonial guide, creator, singer, and mentor, under the direct supervision of the Native American healer. It was through this process he earned the responsibility to pass these teachings on to all people.

Beside his education in traditional healing practices, Salvatore also works in the healing applications of the modern world as a Paramedic with over 16 years of experience. He is also an artist, photographer, freelance writer, and a musician. Salvatore currently travels across the  the world teaching and helping others learn from his experience.

Visit Sal’s site to learn about his book at: http://www.manamongthehelpers.com/

Lauren Dalberth – Art of Mentoring & Bird Language Intensives

Lauren is a core facilitator, co-founder and principal designer for Weaving Earth, a Permaculture design firm specializing in Holistic Landscape Design, Nature Awareness & Permaculture Education Services, Garden Coaching and Nature Mentoring. She has been working and learning in the field for over 10 years and brings a deep commitment and strong background to her work.

As an Educator and Permaculture designer, Lauren’s intention is to revive and foster the vital relationship that humans play in the creation and regeneration of healthy ecosystems, both on the land and in the community. Her work in the world is a call to humanity to once again step into our role as caretakers of the earth and do our part to create fertile, abundant and regenerative ecosystems for the future generations to enjoy. Her in- depth work facilitating the Art of Mentoring and Cultural Mentoring models are a strong seed toward that vision. Lauren’s deep curiosity and love of life keep her learning new things in each moment! (www.weavingearth.com)

Dan Fontaine – 
California Bird Language Intensive

Dan is a regular lead facilitator and keynote at our annual Bird Language weeklong workshop. Dan is the executive director of the Wilderness Youth Project – a nature connection mentoring non-profit organization in Santa Barbara, California and an affiliate of the 8 Shields Institute. His background includes avian field work with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other organizations. Dan is also a graduate of the Kamana Naturalist Training Program.

Dan Gardoqui – Bird Language Leaders

Dan Gardoqui has served as Science Faculty at Granite State College for over a decade. He was awarded the 2012 Distinguished Faculty Award for his dynamic courses in natural history and field ecology. Dan holds an M.S. in Environmental Conservation from the University of New Hampshire and has contributed to a range of wildlife studies – from flying squirrels to Canada Lnyx.

Dan is a co-founder and executive director of White Pine Programs, where he’s been blending his passion for science and academia with his wilderness roots in wildlife tracking, hunting, natural history and bird language through a diverse offerings of nature-connection programs for all ages since 1999. His certifications include: Registered Maine Guide, Wilderness First Responder, and Certified Wildlife Tracker.

Dan has served as a bird language consultant for the National Audubon Society, Boston Museum of Science, is science and audio editor for “What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World,” and has led workshops, field expeditions, and intensives throughout North America on wildlife tracking and bird language for over two decades.

Dave Hage – Art of Mentoring & Bird Language Intensives

Since discovering Permaculture and tracking as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay in 2000, Dave has continued, both personally and professionally, down a path of exploration in the realm of Regenerative Community Design. In 2005 he was a part of the pioneering class of the Regenerative Design & Nature Awareness program (RDNA), the first intensive of its kind to blend the fields of Permaculture and Nature Connection into one program. Currently Dave is co-founder and core staff at Weaving Earth in Northern California.

Dave is also a trained Wilderness Rites of Passage guide, and has been facilitating Vision Quests for the past 7 years. He strongly believes that returning rights of passage to our culture is a critical element of regenerative design. His passion and enthusiasm for working with people of all ages, helping them connect to nature, and to their true, powerful selves, make Dave a potent teacher and an effective mentor.

Mark Morey – Art of Mentoring

Mark is a creative artist, visionary educator, cultural engineer, and consultant who designs regenerative holistic communities with timeless native principles. He founded or co-founded three transformational organizations in the last 15 years: Deep Wilds, Vermont Wilderness School, and the Institute for Natural Learning, sparking a nature and community awareness movement in the Northeast impacting 5,000 adults and children today.

Mark has facilitated wilderness survival and spiritual passages for teens and adults since 1997, including over 40 week-long Art of Mentoring programs for adults, and 7 years of Sacred Fire rites of passage for teen boys. Mark feels inspired by the hero’s journey model and the oral history of his ancestors and native people around the world. Mark’s passion for environmental healing and consciousness has gained him wide recognition as a leader in earth centered learning.

Will Scott ~ Art of Mentoring, Bird Language Intensive

Will is a teacher, naturalist, wilderness guide, facilitator and longtime student of the human-nature relationship. He is a co-founder and core facilitator at the Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education in Sonoma County, CA. Will received his masters in holistic and experiential education from Prescott college, where he focused his studies on the essential components of an “education for our times.” He is also a wilderness-based rites of passage guide and trainer working with the School of Lost Borders in Big Pine, CA.

As a whole-systems thinker and designer, Will has focused on the human relationship with the natural world as the key element to be addressed and healed in these times. His passion is to discover, facilitate and participate in the journey from a paradigm of separation and disconnection towards one of regenerative interconnection and wholeness.

Caitlin Williams ~ Art of Mentoring & Intensives

Caitlin C. Williams is a fun-loving, 20-year veteran of wilderness and nature leadership. She specializes in wildlife tracking and the human experience of relationship with nature; Caitlin holds a Track and Sign Level III and a Tracker Level II from Cyber Tracker International and has worked and volunteered for many wildlife studies, where her tracking expertise helped with conservation efforts of key species and habitats. She also has founded and co-founded two organizations for the preservation of and engagement with nature, Connectivity for Wildlife and Knowing Wild. Caitlin is also a published poet, songwriter and musician.

Caitlin has honored her own Cherokee lineage by tending close relationships with many indigenous people of the United States. She integrates traditional native teachings and practices into her style of tracking, teaching and coaching. She has run many initiatory experiences for adults and children including 30 Adult Art of Mentoring experiences and countless camps, yearlong immersions, school programs, deep wilderness adventures and home school nature experiences. Caitlin has put herself through intensive coaching and mentoring in business, tracking and nature and she brings the knowledge she collected from those experiences as well as her own highly developed sense of fun and play to all her programs. Caitlin is also a proud nanny having given loving care to seven infants the oldest of whom is now 19. She continues to be auntie and family friend to all seven of her charges.