Summer Leaders

Our summer leadership team is made up of unique individuals who place safety first and are skilled in creating a fun, dynamic, and inclusive environment. Every staff member has completed our rigorous screening of personal interviews, reference checks, and criminal background checks, as well as our in-depth training program. Take a moment to meet some of our outstanding leaders. They are definitely worth following!

Danny Schiff

Danny grew up on the beaches of Florida, earning his degree in education from the University of Florida, and spending his weekends surfing and training for triathlons. Danny has led 23 programs over 14 summers with Westcoast Connection. When he isn’t building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Maui, surfing waves in Costa Rica or hiking Machu Picchu during the summer, he teaches math, trail runs, snowboards, speaks Italian, and leads the Global Service program at a boarding school in Switzerland. Danny finds it too difficult to choose his favorite part of a program – the family-like groups he helps to form, the life-changing service projects or the outdoor activities. He brings a special energy to every program he directs and allows each and every one of his trip members to leave with a unique appreciation for the destinations they have visited and the people they have met. Watch Danny’s Staff Spotlight Video

Nick Mouracade

Nick is a perennial traveler and student! He was born in the Middle East, raised in Montreal, and has lived in Ottawa, Vancouver, Vienna, and in Porto Alegre, Brazil where he taught high school social studies for two years. His degrees are in IT Management and Education and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies. He has travelled to 39 countries and still counting! He joined the Westcoast family in 2005, has led trips on four continents, and hasn’t looked back since! His philosophy with both his students and trip members exploring the world is to pour all his energy into ensuring that they challenge and better themselves, in a dynamic and upbeat, family-like environment. His favorite moments are the cultural discoveries, and interactions the trip members and staff have with the various communities they meet and work with. He mostly enjoys when they put on a traditional show and the trip members get right in there and dance with them! The language barrier is broken by music and dancing. Additional passions are photography, hiking and learning a new language or two! Watch Nick’s Staff Spotlight Video

Joelle Tolifero

A small town New Jersey girl, Joelle wanted to venture out and explore the world and has now called 5 different states and a major city in Greece home! She attended West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and received her Bachelor’s in Political Science with a Secondary Social Studies Certification and minor in Latin American Studies. After graduating she spent a year teaching Peace and Conflict Resolution in Los Angeles before earning her Master’s in International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Currently Joelle is working to provide access to global education for underrepresented students and development resources for professionals in international education. She has led our groups to Costa Rica, Peru, Hawaii, Ecuador, Washington, D.C., and California. Some of her favorite WCC moments include being presented with an Oscar labeled “superstar” by her Trip Members, getting her hair braided into a monstrous mess by the children at an orphanage in Peru, and those first moments when she arrived in Costa Rica as a new Trip Leader. She loves that each of her summers with WCC are filled with new experiences, everlasting memories, and friendships that continuously make summers the best ever. No surprise that she is inspired to live by the motto “I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health” – Voltaire. Watch Joelle’s Staff Spotlight Video

Adam Chaim

For more than 18 years, Adam has led our trips through the southwestern USA, the slopes of Canada, the historical sights of Europe and the beaches of Australia. Adam has lived overseas to help fulfill his passion for travel, and has walked the Great Wall of China, gone SCUBA diving with Aussie sharks, zip lined the rainforests of Costa Rica, and observed a colony of elephants in the bushes of Africa… and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Adam is a plant-based athlete, wellness advocate, athletic director, health & physical education teacher, personal trainer and podcast host. He has completed several marathons, triathlons, ultra marathons, 10km swim, Ironman Texas & Ironman Louisville. Adam is always looking forward to the summer because his personal connections with each trip member make him feel as though he is seeing each place for the first time.

Matt Danbrook

Matt joined Westcoast Connection in 2004 and has led well over 650 students in their global travels. When he is not traveling the world, he is continuing his graduate work in child psychology. He holds multiple graduate degrees in the areas of child and youth studies and psychology. It has been his experience and philosophy to learn about people and the world through travel. Matt has visited and/or lived in over 100 cities around the world, in Asia, Europe, North and South America. He is passionate about working with teenagers. He motivates people on his program to become more knowledgeable and experienced global citizens. He pours everything he has into each program he leads and he tries to make sure each and every person on the program feels respected, safe and having fun. When Matt is not leading programs, he is a company supervisor. He loves working with our staff teams. When visiting programs his ultimate goal is to help foster and develop leadership skills. Matt returns to Westcoast Connection year after year because of the people he meets and the friendships he creates all around the world. He is looking forward to meeting you and exploring our world on our next adventure!

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Charlsie Hanson

A native Vermonter, Charlsie now hails from the Sunshine state. Charlsie first found the magic of camping as a six year old at an overnight camp in New England, and has since spent almost every summer of her life as a camper, a staff member, or a program director. She holds a Master of Education degree in Human Development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA. Charlsie has worked as part of our enrollment team and her passion is for leading our trip members every summer. She is currently teaching fourth grade in Palm Beach County. In her free time, she likes to be outside hiking with her dog, kayaking, swimming in the ocean, experimenting in the kitchen, or sitting on her porch with a good book. She always looks forward to the summer and to providing our travelers with incredible summer experiences.

Julie Butterworth

Julie joined Westcoast Connection team back in 2003 after many summers working at summer camps in Ontario and in Maine. She has been a camp counselor, a waterfront director and program director. She has led programs in our Active Teen Tour, Community Service and Global Adventure divisions. Whether whitewater rafting on the west coast, working at the Boys & Girls Club in Hawaii, exploring fjords in Alaska, hangin’ ten in Costa Rica, or working in a primary school in South Africa, Julie is an avid traveler, always planning her next world adventure. When not on the road, Julie is a teacher with a background in special education and early years. She has spent time working in Rwanda as a Special Education Consultant and is currently working as an Instructional Coach.

Samantha Halpern

Sam has unparalleled passion for working with teens and puts this drive and excitement into each of the programs that she leads. Sam hails from Toronto and has completed her Master’s of Teaching at the University of Toronto, after completing a Life Sciences degree at McMaster University. She grew up going to summer camp as a child, before she moved on and started to work at them! She is currently a full time guidance counsellor. While she enjoys Ultimate Frisbee and hockey, in her free time she loves long walks with her family and yoga. Sam is known for her smile, her dedication and commitment. She has run programs in California, Costa Rica, Australia and Europe. During her programs you may find her pulling out her camera and capturing the breathtaking views, practicing another favorite hobby of hers, photography.

Jason Ganz

Jason joined the team over 23 years ago and has played an integral role in building our internal Active Teen Tours. During the summer, Jason brings his many experiences leading, directing and supervising programs in Australia, Canada, Central America, Europe, and the United States. During the school year, Jason can be found teaching special education in Toronto. Jason is an avid snowboarder who can also be found biking with his kids or just reading a good book. Jason is known for his commitment to “Each & Every” and ensuring that all participants have the summer of a lifetime.

Julie Gonneau

Julie loves to learn about the world by meeting new people and travelling. She has led trips in North America, Central and South America, Europe and Africa, mostly in our Community Service division and Global Adventures programs before becoming a Company Director. Her summers working on service projects with youth and local communities have been incredibly rewarding and keep her coming back! Julie grew up on the east coast of Canada. In addition to working with young people on our programs, she has taught, mentored and coached students in high schools and universities across Canada. She holds degrees in Science from the University of New Brunswick and Education from McGill and her Master’s in Education from the University of Alberta. She spent six years in Montreal teaching high school science, and she traveled to Botswana to prepare incoming students to study in Canada. Currently she can be found teaching high school science online to local and international students. Julie enjoys camping, yoga and is always up for a good road trip!

Kara Kreisberg

Kara has degrees in Spanish with International Relations and Latin American Studies from Cornell, a Master’s in Education from UConn, and a second Master’s in Educational Leadership from Baruch College. So it’s no surprise that she loves teaching and inspiring participants on our Spanish Language programs in Spain, Costa Rica and Peru. Her passion for travel & the Spanish language was reinforced during college while living and studying at Universidad de Sevilla in Spain. During the school year, Kara is dedicated to working with inner city, low-income high school students. She organizes activities like graduation and overnight trips, and leads Student Council in fundraisers and awareness campaigns. Her favorite WCC moments include returning to places like Machu Picchu and seeing them fresh through her group members’ eyes, helping teens use their Spanish in a real world setting, translating for an impactful experience in a shantytown during service in Costa Rica, and meaningful discussions after volunteering at a school for special needs in Thailand. Part of her secret is that before becoming a teacher, Kara worked at Disney World for six years and this has played a large role in her outlook on work, play, guest service, and “magic” in everyday life!

JP Swaminathan

JP grew up in Brampton, Ontario, Canada and attended Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tennessee on a soccer scholarship to study Special Education with a Modified and Comprehensive concentration. He is a specialist in Special Education and Physical Education with Principal Qualifications. He enjoys coaching and developing ways to integrate students and families into community organizations. He played soccer in the 2011 AMF World Cup on Colombia representing Canada. JP has done so much with Westcoast from hiking the Canyons on North American Teen Tours, supervising Community Service programs in Costa Rica, to leading European and Custom trips. With his love for the teens and trips, his years with Westcoast will only keep going!

Laura Ambrose

Laura grew up in Michigan and studied at the University of Montana where she got her Bachelor’s degrees majoring in Elementary Education with a minor in Outdoor Recreation. She attended the University of Georgia to obtain her Master’s in Secondary Social Studies Education and her specialist degree in Educational Leadership. Laura taught high school social studies and coached soccer for seven years in Hawaii and Georgia, and now works at the district office as a curriculum director for social studies in Athens, Georgia. Laura is a seasoned traveler and has been through Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and Europe. She plays USTA tennis matches twice a week. Laura loves to bake (and sample the pastries of different cultures) and won first place in a baking contest for her Dutch apple pie! She started going to camp when she was six and eventually became Program Director. She is also the creator of Camp Read, a reading intervention program for struggling readers in a fun, camp setting. Laura’s favorite WCC experiences are when her groups have gotten past the first day jitters and really bond – that’s when the inside jokes form and they’re laughing so hard their stomachs hurt!

Natasha Fernandez

Natasha grew up in Brampton, Ontario and attended George Brown College in Toronto for her certificate in Teaching and Training, and University of Guelph for her degree in International Development Studies. During her semester abroad at the University of Havana, Natasha took every Spanish class she could and fell in love with the culture and language. She has spent 7 summers with our groups, twice of which in Spain, taught ESL at summer camps there and has spent countless more weeks exploring the country from top to bottom. Natasha has also lived and worked in Ecuador with student volunteers eager to do well and learn Spanish. She has lived in Montevideo, Uruguay for the last 2 and a half years and is currently a study abroad coordinator, helping students plan their study abroad dreams around the world. Community service plays a huge role in her life and she has been volunteering since she was ten and has clocked thousands of volunteer hours in Canada and Ecuador. She loves working closely with new communities, getting her hands dirty and learning something new! She is proud to say she often earns her 10,000 steps a day exploring new cities by foot.

Catherine Montera

Catherine grew up in Brooklyn, NY and attended Manhattanville College where she earned her degree in English Education and then received her Master’s in Special Education at CUNY City College. Cat (as her group members call her) now teaches Middle and High School English. She embraced her love of cooking and traveling, exploring new cities, and perfecting her Italian language skills during her semester studying Art History & Language in Italy. She is involved in Student Council, is the coordinator of student activities at school and acts as a Big Sister through Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. One of her favorite moments on her WCC trips is watching trip members surf for the first time… when they finally get up on the board and catch their first wave, she loves sharing in their excitement! Cat’s most memorable experience comes from talking with her group members about real life experiences and connecting with them on a deeper level. She maintains a positive outlook on life that is contagious to her groups!

Monica Vaughn-Flam

Monica has always lived for summer and was actually a trip member before giving back as a staff. After being a participant for 2 summers she knew she had to work for Westcoast Connection! She has led programs for over 6 summers and has traveled with students all over the United States and Europe. Monica is from Connecticut and earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut (Go Huskies!). From there she taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in Baltimore and earned her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Elementary Education. She now lives in New Orleans and manages the ESL program for 11 schools in the Big Easy. Monica loves to travel and has been to 33 states and 33 countries and can’t wait to cross another destination off her list. To Monica, summers hold a lot of meaning and she works hard to have her trips hold a family feel where trip members are able to form lifelong friendships while exploring new parts of the world!

Ronen Shay

Originally from Toronto, Ronen has lived in 5 countries on 3 continents, most recently in Providence, Rhode Island. Since joining WCC in 2006, Ronen has directed programs in our Teen Tours, Global Adventures, and Pre-College Enrichment divisions in Europe and North America. Away from WCC, Ronen is a professor in downtown Boston (a mere 5 minutes away from Fenway). He teaches classes on communication, advertising, and media management. He is an active researcher with numerous articles and book chapters to his name. No matter what he’s doing during the school year, Ronen is always looking forward to spending his summers exploring unforgettable destinations with WCC.