Meet Hannah Harris, Tina Brouwer, and Melissa Rudick

Hannah, Tina, and Melissa make up the team that has created the Red Oaks Forest School in Stanton, KY. Red Oaks Forest School is a place where exploration and education meet to foster a deep and lasting connection to nature. These three have seen how time in nature promotes wonder and exploration and roots us in community and compassion. Most importantly though, Red Oaks Forest School is for youth who show up ready to get dirty, play hard, and leave renewed and ready to face life's challenges!



Meet Tina:

What do you think about when you are alone?

I am a big picture person. I am almost always thinking in terms of the long game. So when I am alone, I am often thinking about the big picture whether it is for my life, my career, or my relationships. I am thinking about where I want to go or end up and I start working backwards from there. On my really deep days, I get lost in thoughts of our connection to everyone and everything. So most of my alone time is spent planning, dreaming and wondering.

What is your favorite quote?

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry. Every time I read it, I think, “Yes, you nailed it Wendell!” (Hopefully he doesn’t mind me calling him by his first name in my head!)

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What do you hate?

I despise leaf blowers. It might be the only thing I really hate. There are multiple levels of this hatred including, but not limited to, environmental costs and the noise. If I could go back in time to where no leaf blowers existed, I would. I am extremely slow to anger, but those who have seen me around leaf blowers have seen me whip my head around and stare down the disruptor of the peaceful sound of nature and its inhabitants. To that end, using them IN NATURE is the most egregious offense to me. I do not need a leaf free path to stroll along when I come to walk in your piece of nature.

What gets you through a rough day?

Time spent in nature, rain or shine, hot or cold, is without fail, my recovery. If it is only a kind of hard day, then any time with anyone outside is good, but for those really rough ones, I have to stay longer and go alone to really get back to center.

What’s your craziest idea?

My craziest, biggest, most optimistic idea to date is to throw caution to the wind, set aside a strong and stable career, and start a non-profit Forest School with this amazing team. I believe in our values, our mission and our goals with all my heart and soul. I know this is a healing path for a lot of pain we struggle with in our modern world. I have seen first hand how it has impacted my life and many around me. Sometimes it takes stepping outside, away from all the distractions constantly pulling at us, to really feel and hear and see. It is sensational.


Meet Melissa:

What do you know for sure?

I know that time spent in nature is restorative and is never wasted. I know that giving kids the space and time for child-led exploration and play is vital to creating healthy and happy humans. I know that connection and our relationships with others is what makes our time spent on this earth worthwhile.

What is your favorite place to travel to?

All of my favorite trips include camping and our National Parks. From Yellowstone to Big Bend to Acadia, there’s some amazing places to see in this country! We’ve got a family goal to see as many as we can- right now we’ve done 28. We’ve got many more awesome trips in our future.

If we came over for dinner what would you prepare for us?

If you came over for dinner I’d make you pot roast tacos with homemade guac and fresh salsa. It’s a beef shoulder braised in the oven with crushed tomatoes and Mexican spices for HOURS till it completely falls apart. It’s basically the best thing I make.

What do you geek out about?

I homeschool my two daughters and the thing I geek out the most about is children’s books. I love picture books, chapter books, nonfiction, field guides, etc. Our collection is out of control! In fact, I’m pretty sure a big reason I homeschool is because it’s the only way I can get all my favorites read with them! Our current read aloud is Harriet the Spy.

What gets you through a rough day?

Different rough days call for different tactics. Some days it’s stopping everything to read a book on my porch. Other days call for a dance party in the kitchen with my girls. Sometimes we have to stop everything and find a creek for swimming. If all else fails, a glass of wine helps!


Meet Hannah:

What inspires you?

These days, I'm often deeply weighed down by worry over the state of the world and concerns about where we're heading. My brain moves from ruminating on the past to fretting about the future. However, when I walk into Acorn Woods to lead a preschool program or come onto our site to a workshop, it all falls away. Young children live in the present – they are all about the now – and being led by them allows me to simply be in a way that meditation and other mindfulness practices never quite have. For those hours, I too, am fully present in the forest and in my body, feeling, smelling, and laughing. When I leave, I'm exhausted but restored; inspired by their joy as I go forward with more peace and more hope.

What do you believe?

I believe life is short and precious, and we're all part of something bigger. I believe we have both the responsibility and the honor of caring for the earth and all its inhabitants.

What do you hate?

I hate culturally sanctioned self-centeredness. I'm not a fan of selfishness in general, but the type that is celebrated feels somehow worse. It manifests in a variety of ways, but two that particularly bother me are the idea that it's natural and normal to consume without care or concern for those impacts, and the deeply embedded idea that children are somehow lesser beings whose thoughts and feelings don't matter. When a child wants agency or independence, we call it "defiance;” when a child deeply grieves a loss we don't share, we disregard or even mock them, but children are...people! And all people want to feel like they're in control of their own bodies and destinies, just as all people experience unhappiness sometimes. Those feelings are real and valid and have consequences, regardless of the size or age of the person having them.

What do you geek out about?

Beauty in nature! It's a collision of everything I love about both art and science. I went to a driftwood beach once and (much to the amusement of my friends) I was literally hopping up and down with excitement. The sculptural quality of the limbs against the sunset just slayed me. I did field work in Yellowstone and spent some of the happiest days of my life hiking around in the backcountry – my teeth would literally dry out because I couldn't stop smiling. The world is an achingly beautiful place.

What’s your craziest idea?

Tough call. I have so many! I tend to believe that I can and should Do-All-The-Things. My battle cry is “How hard can it be?" which is typically followed by “well... it seemed like a good idea at the time." I usually pull off my crazy schemes but the process can be intense – for both me and any bystanders!


Want more? Of course you do! FIRST, might I suggest a donation to their current fundraising campaign? Next, visit their website and read all about it, follow them on Facebook, and Instagram.