About Us

Our intention is to re-awaken these attributes in people, and in turn, help heal the widespread disconnection with nature and loss of connective cultures 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.

 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.


Kathleen Lockyer- Bird Language and Art of Mentoring

Kathleen is an licensed and registered occupational therapist (OT), and a self described “research junkie.” Kathleen‘s life and career have guided her to trail blaze new paradigms of therapeutic intervention. She has spent more than twenty five years gathering the most valid and important scientific research relating to what is best for children, families, and the future of our world. Continually integrating all that she learns, she developed a Nature-Led Approach©. This approach brings together developmental, bio-physical, social-emotional, cognitive-behavioral, and neurological sciences for a wholistic and connective learning experience that just makes sense. This “whole systems, nature-led©” approach capitalizes on everyday experience in a realistic format for modern families. Kathleen is deeply invested in long term change, not short term band-aids. Kathleen is excited to be on the leadership team for Bird-Language as she knows it to be one powerful tool that builds stronger bodies, clearer minds, and just makes life better.  







Dr. Deborah Benham –  Village Builders

Deborah is part of the 8 Shields global team; co-founder of 8 Shields UK and coordinator of the online Village Builders programme. She has been a student of Jon Young’s for several years, teaches regularly at Schumacher College in the UK with Jon and is now part of the 8 Shields strategic and design team. Deborah has a PhD in wildlife conservation, environmental education, stakeholder collaboration and the people/nature interface. After 15 years working in this field she moved into broader areas of regenerative culture and design for sustainability; with a particular interest in social sustainability, peacemaking, culture repair and social enterprise. She was until recently Managing Director of the Newbold Trust, a retreat and education centre focusing on sustainable living and wellbeing. She is now freelance, working closely with 8 Shields, plus teaching, providing facilitation, consultancy, trainings and workshops in regenerative culture, governance, positive leadership, sustainability, nature connection and youth empowerment. She is an experienced facilitator, and dedicated ‘Hopemonger’ who loves to create connective, uplifting and transformative programmes in support of healthy communities and ecosystems.

Amy Hyatt – Village Talk and Art of Mentoring Leadership

In 1998, Amy was gifted a stone by a Maori friend and was told “the name of this stone is Piki Te Ora.  It means ‘Arise to Life.’”  That stone clarified and nurtured a mission in Amy to find ways for each of us to find our way into deep, full relationship with ourselves and nature and living in community that support that deep, full living – a journey that she has found involves a lot of healing and transformative learning.  When she attended the Art of Mentoring Workshop for the first time in 2001, she experienced a basket weaving together many of the practices she had found useful over the years.   Amy is a facilitator and trainer for the Vermont Art of Mentoring Workshop where she works with a team of facilitators evolving and growing the workshop in response to our collective learning in regenerative community design.  She is a veteran instructor for Vermont Wilderness School where she currently directs several children’s and adult programs.  She is the 8 Shields Institute Village Talk Program Coordinator and a Host on the 4PM (EAST) Village Talk call.  She is a Kamana Naturalist Program graduate, a Level 2 graduate of the White Pine Programs’ Tracking Apprenticeship, a Shodan in Aikido and a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance reflecting her diverse and inter-related passions.  







Dr. Nicole Apelian- Origins Project

Dr. Nicole Apelian is a scientist, mother, educator, researcher, expeditionary leader, safari guide, herbalist and traditional skills instructor. A leader in the field of transformative nature education, Nicole is excited to share her knowledge and expertise of nature connection, indigenous knowledge, natural wellness and survival skills with the world. Growing up in Massachusetts, Nicole connected with nature at an early age. Her stepfather was an enormous influence, offering constant support, teaching her to play guitar, and mentoring her through outdoor activities Nicole’s first exposure to true wilderness living began while working as a field biologist in Botswana. Following a job as a game warden with the US Peace Corps, she began tracking and researching lions in southern Africa. Nicole immediately fell in love with the African landscapes and the San Bushmen’s way of life, and later, while working with the San Bushmen, Nicole completed her doctorate, focused in Cultural Anthropology within the field of Sustainability Education. Years of visiting the San Bushmen and developing strong relationships within the tribe allowed Nicole to learn many of the primitive skills and ways she practices and teaches today. A passionate educator for many years, Nicole has worked as an adjunct professor at Prescott College, an adult educator for the Audubon Society of Portland, and as an instructor at various schools, universities and leading conservation education programs. Nicole was also a challenger on the second season of History Channel’s TV series “Alone”. She thrived in the wilderness totally solo for 57 days with little more than her knife and her wits! Learn about Nicole’s experience on the show here.