Fall 2014 Staff

Sebastian Kraus








Mike Chizhov 








Bryan Cahall


Bryan Cahall came to Synergia because of a song. The Weistars used one of his songs, So Go I, for the documentary Soul Migration. After living in New York for the past three years, he states that living here is, “very different than New York.” He went on to say that at Synergia, one “learns how to live in a communal environment with people you don’t know…. we learn to solve problems with other people, and learn to trust them.” Hailing from Silver Spring, Maryland, this singer-songwriter, when not making everyone laugh at his jokes and stories, can be found reading Finnegan’s Wake, playing guitar, or working on his next song.


Nicole Lecher 



Nicole Lescher comes to Finding the Good after working several wilderness trips over the spring with Synergia, helping staff Sustainability Camp in July, and years ago, going on her own eighth grade trip with Synergia.

Twenty-five, and the youngest of three sisters, Nicole has a great respect for her sisters’ ability to vision their goals and follow through with what they want. Recently graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in Psychology, she was drawn to Synergia and the shared vision that Tom and Debra have cultivated here. Nicole appreciates the effort put forth here towards better relationships between people and planet, and wants to contribute to helping people learn about themselves and their relationship to those around them.

The piece of this work that Nicole holds, and is her story to tell, is to “be alone…in loneness you will find your gift and your togetherness.” Her own experiences lend personal power to this story: uncertain of her gift, Nicole separated herself from her comfort zone, and found in the wild her path towards wilderness therapy. She is currently working on how to provide the opportunity for similar experiences to others, to get them “hyped up on loneness.”

As this year’s FtG community forms, Nicole mentions the importance of a shared vision, consistent communication, and a strong sense of individuality amongst community members as integral components of a healthy community. She believes that in many of our current cities, towns, and communities, there is a lack of connection and two-way communication between age groups. To transition to healthier relationships amongst people, Nicole hopes to offer youth the foundation to take on a prominent role in their family and community, obliterating the hierarchy of mentorship based on age alone. Nicole believes in the value of “knowledge that’s shared over the ages, shared experiences that are told by anybody to anybody.”

What’s important is listening without judgment; even the smallest bit of positive communication can have a resonating effect. The awareness that everyone deserves to be listened to will bring us to a more compassionate world.

One thing that everyone could do in this movement towards a more relational world: listen to others, regardless of where you/they are in terms of agreement. This is the first step towards acceptance, appreciation, and change.


Annabelle Ziegenhagen


Spending the majority of her adult life in Northern California, Annabelle Ziegenhagen, 24 years old, has worked as a youth ropes course instructor and guide. She values her work, giving young people the tools to be in community with others and the environment. Dedicated to the Synergia/Finding the Good community, Annabelle’s creativity is seen in all aspects of her work, sharing her skills in climbing, backpacking, and photography. Her work ethic and dedication to pursuing her own passions make her a valued member. Having volunteered and worked at Synergia Learning Ventures for many years Annabelle is now ready to take the skills that she has learned and apply them to the outside world.







Spring 2013 Staff

2013 09 05 18.36.20_Ali Stefancich

Ali is 24 years old. She was born in Queens, New York and when she was very young moved to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. As a kid she really liked playing outside and in creeks.

Ali attended the Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, and studied ecology. When she finished college she moved to Vermont and worked as a wildlife biologist. Although she liked what she was doing she missed all the wildness of the west so she moved to Nevada City, California. There she worked at Sierra Streams Institute teaching environmental education and helping with their river monitoring programs. In addition to that, for this past summer she worked with SYRCL (South Yuba River Citizens League) as a River Capitan where she encouraged visitors to be good stewards of the river.

Ali joined Finding the Good semester to share knowledge of and learn more about the local ecosystem. She is especially interested in the history the Sierra foothills, and the lasting legacy that the Gold Rush had here. She is also excited to travel and learn about Baja California Mexico.

Ali thinks that it is very important to always be happy, enjoy life, try to make the best of every situation and sometimes just be goofy. Ali is a wonderful person that shares all of her knowledge, happiness and love. She is very caring of other people, and all living things, is very passionate about the environment and how we can be and play in it without harming it.

Written by: Andres Jaimes.


2013 09 05 18.26.06_Alicia Ralero 

Alicia loves to meet new people and is greatly intrigued by the story of their lives. I have been lucky enough to hear parts of hers. Alicia Ralero was born in Escondido, California and grew up in the bustling city of Veracruz, Mexico where she had a personalized education. While on a Rotary International exchange program in Brazil, Alicia spent a week in the heart of the Amazon. There she realized that the outdoors was the place for her and decided to pursue an education in alternative tourism.  After graduating from the Universidad de Quintana Roo she got a job as a zipline guide in Costa Rica. When she wasn’t flying through the jungle she enjoyed spending time reading the descriptive works of García Marquez and pursuing her passion for dance.  Alicia speaks English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. She has traveled many places around the world from Costa Rica to Sweden but her favorite place to be is by the sea. Like the sea Alicia is strong, determined and graceful. She strives to live a peaceful, productive life and is eager to find the good in the world. Even though she is a teaching fellow she has come here more eager to learn then ever.


Written by Sierra Berry


Spring 2012 Staff

Chrissie Bodznick, Teaching Fellow

This is Christina Bodznick—but we all call her Chrissie—a teaching fellow this semester at Finding the Good. Growing up, she spent her summers in Cape Cod where she was a student at the Children’s School of Science. This experience gave her a connection with nature and the outdoors. While in public high school she also went to an arts magnet school for theater. Because she loved these unique school experiences, she was inspired to pursue alternative education in her career. After high school she went to Brown University where there was no core curriculum. Having this freedom gave Chrissie the ability to take charge of her own education. In doing so, she gained knowledge about many different topics, including puppetry, comic books, and environmental studies. Whilst pursuing the latter she built upon her childhood enthusiasm for the outdoors. Her journeys since then have led her to Finding the Good, where she is excited to continue her travels with a new community. And if you want to know what kind of candy is her favorite, it’s gummy candy.

Interviewed and written by Max Tejeda


Michael Chizhov, Teaching Fellow

When I first met Mike my initial thoughts were: wow, he is really tall; he has so much that he is eager to share; and he is very warm. From his awareness of nature and his Russian accent, I would not have guessed that out of the 23 years of his life, he lived in Brooklyn, New York for 8 years after moving from the Ukraine at the age of six.

Mike lives a motivated and compassionate life. He reaches into the world to help people understand what he can offer, through his abilities and skills, but even more so through his friendship. He also strives to obtain an organic sense of teaching and learning. I really appreciate how playful he is: dancing with the dog, joking around, and filling the room with his kind laughter. That being said, when there is a job to do I know that he will put his whole self into completing the task. When asked what his favorite thing about himself was, after a moment he said in a confident sure voice: persistence. Even after knowing him for less than two weeks, I would trust Mike with my life. That is the type of guy he is—persistent and strong (both in mind and body), and loving in his character.

Interviewed and written by Kiera McNicholas


Sarah Robinson, Teaching Fellow

Sarah’s main passion is cooking, and she loves to pass on knowledge of the culinary arts to other people. From a young age, Sarah has prepared meals for her family and large groups, and has been requisitioned to cook for quite a few public events. She is very passionate about how food is grown, and uses only organic ingredients in her cooking. She mainly works with vegetables; however she will teach people how to prepare meat while removing herself from the room.

Sarah was born in California, but moved to Colorado where she grew up. She traveled extensively between Colorado and California, and has stated that she has “loyalty to both states.” She has lived in 7 different states in the past four years, including Oregon, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.

After bouncing around different states, she returned to Colorado and intended to stay there, however she then saw a posting for Finding the Good. She was pleasantly surprised that the group gets along so well. She is also excited to be part of the lively, but small community. Over all, Sarah is a very caring person who is concerned greatly about the environment, and the quality of the food that she eats and feeds others. Community is always important to her, and now she is part of the family.

Interviewed and written by Connor Oliver


Debra Weistar, Program Director

I was inspired by the way Debra explained what she does for a living. There was no mention of money. Even though money plays a big part in our society, she stands strong and does not allow it to control her life. Rumi’s question, “How are you going to pay the rent of the space you are taking up?” is something that she thinks about every single day. Restlessness, fear, and unrest were part of why she chose the life she is living. She aspires to figure out how we can all live together on this beautiful planet. “I want to be able to do my part,” Debra says, “I don’t want to just take up space.” She gives so much and is incredibly dedicated to her passions. Debra strives to get a deeper understanding of what needs to be learned and taught. In doing this, she knows that she will not find the answer this semester but is confident that she will endlessly be expanding her understanding of education.

Through her actions and words, she really lives by the saying of “practice what you preach,” and she does this without limiting herself. I can comfortably say that if Debra has an idea or dream that she feels strongly about and it is something that will make the world a better place, she will work with full gusto to make it happen.

Right as I was beginning to wind down our interview Debra turned to me with a sparkle in her eye and asked, “Don’t you want to know what my favorite type of candy is?” What came next was short, enthusiastic, and playful, “Licorice! I love licorice!”

Interviewed and written by Kiera McNicholas


Tom Weistar, Executive Director

Tom Weistar is one of the co-directors of Finding the Good.  He was inspired to start this program as a way to provide an opportunity for young people to learn about sustainability, the environment and self-reliance.  The day after he finished high school he packed his climbing gear and headed to Yosemite, where he learned firsthand about outdoor survival and practical learning.  Tom is the type of guy, that if you are standing on a cable strung between two trees fifty feet off the ground, you want him to be your belay.

When Tom was young his father worked as a chemical engineer for the oil industry.  This brought his family from the mid-West to the San Francisco Bay Area, the hotbed of late ‘60s counterculture, where Tom could explore alternative approaches to what is important in life.  Intrinsic motivation to do the right thing is very important to him, as well as helping transformation in others.  Being part of Finding the Good is a great opportunity for Tom to work with young people and observe their growth and he is very happy with the crew this semester and where it’s going.

Interviewed and written by Sarah Robinson










Spring 2011 Staff

Britney Schultz, Intern

From Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and the Gold Coast, Australia, somehow Britney found her way to the San Juan Ridge and Finding the Good. Britney cares deeply for the world and is committed to living a life of meaning and purpose. Although she had not worked extensively with youth before coming here, her honest and forthright way of being meets the students without pretense. There is no task that she won’t attempt and she won’t rest until all the work is done. As we head into post-production and film creation, where the work literally never ends, she may need more coffee than before! As much as she loved traveling, she can’t wait to turn raw material into finished product that will help others to see the world through the eyes of Finding the Good.


Annabelle Ziegenhagen, Intern


Annabelle returns to FtG 2011 as an intern this semester, and she is learning that while the differences may be subtle, they are significant. She is staff photographer, as well as photography teacher, cook, friend, writer, assistant, and “elder” to three students who are only a few years her junior. Together with Britney, she walks the fine line between “staff” and “peer” without a guidebook (there isn’t one) and takes her duties so seriously it sometimes keeps her up at night. Her artistry through the lens inspires the students to see the world, and themselves, in beauty and light – not always an easy thing to do. Perhaps it is because she sees the world like a child – wide-eyed and wondering, transfixed by the mystery and the beauty around her.


Tom Weistar, Co-Director

There are problems to solve and solutions to find, and some people are just born problem-solvers. Tom is one of those people. From little things like a broken trailer axle in the Baja desert, to big things like a Final Cut edit that won’t take, Tom can figure out and fix just about anything…..including what to do about a terribly antiquated and broken educational system. He founded Finding the Good with his wife, Debra, so that high school students would have an opportunity to learn in new ways while seeking sustainable solutions to the world’s problems. Tom likes nothing better than to solve two problems at once! He firmly believes that education should be relevant to young people’s lives, involve them directly with the world in which they live, and give them the opportunity to participate in the creation of a just and sustainable future.

–Profiles written by Debra Weistar

Spring 2010 Staff

Megan Putnam, Outreach Coordinator

“I drove out here with my dog in my ’68 Beetle in the middle of February…and so began the great California adventure,” explains Megan Putnam.

Putnam, 25, left the powdery snow of Colorado one year ago to join the Synergia staff in preparations for the current Finding the Good semester.  She earned a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado in Boulder, but yearned for a solution and lifestyle that could cater to the myriad of problems her studies presented.  Megan was able to find that, and be an instrumental part of the shift towards a solution in the Sierra Nevada foothills on the San Juan Ridge – the Synergia home base. “The air here is different.  There is a space and simplicity to it,” replies Putnam. Megan is an inquisitive soul, and is as equally passionate about the land as she is the people living there.  Nature is a constant source of wonder for her, and you can count on the beauty of the day coming up in conversation.  She particularly appreciates color. “Green is sort of my standby.  It is calm and vibrant at the same time.  Orange looks like energy and possibility,” she explains. For Megan, one of life’s most riveting experiences was experiencing the stars, wrapped in a sleeping bag on the floor of the Grand Canyon with her family. “I’ll dance by myself for sure, but I like to dance with other people,” she says.  And thus the adventure continues, with fellow instructors and peers, amongst trees and enthusiasm at Finding the Good.

Profile written by Kristen Houser


Andrew Payton, Media Educator/Life Skills Coordinator

Andrew Payton is an inspired, passionate person who started his life in suburban D.C., where he was brought up in a conservative family with not much environmental context. After traveling for some time in his life, including in parts of Europe, and spending some time on an organic farm, he was exposed to new ways of living. It was in these places that he realized that we as humans could open our eyes to the destruction of consumption. Andrew, now 23, feels that nature will find a way to balance itself and he is excited about being a part of the shift that will bring everyone closer to earth. He feels that the most practical knowledge in life can be gained through travel and experience and that the best way to make change is to be positive. Andrew has realized that we have to stay positive and realize that with the right mindset and will we can change the world. He also talks about how media, especially independent sources, show people something different, and will bring understanding that will help the current effort to change people’s ways of life. Andrew has a dual Bachelors degree in Film and English, and is serving as a life skills coordinator and media educator with the Finding the Good traveling semester program.

Profile written by Alex Depavloff

Jon Manrow, Infrastructure Coordinator

“Now what?” was the question for Jon Manrow at his job as an engineer right out of college. He had acquired his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and was making a fair amount of money; but is a decent job with decent pay all there is to a happy American life? For a select few, the answer may be “yes,” but for Jon, it was a definite “no.” Finding something to make life worthwhile took a few trips. First, a road trip from his home in Ohio; then, a trip to Guatemala. Travel gave him a sense of freedom that inspired him to search for new truths. He found them in Eastern philosophies and religions that he explored in Guatemala, leading to practices of yoga and meditation. He found that making one’s self happy and doing something you love can help others in return. Different connections brought him to Synergia, and now he is here for our traveling semester to do what he loves and do good for others.

Profile written by Nick Lee

Kristen Houser, Media Educator

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky by way of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kristen is close to home at heart and a drifter by nature and necessity. She brings a host of skills and a splendid sense of humor to the Finding the Good community this semester. At 21, Kristen is an accomplished photographer and a budding documentary filmmaker with a passion for people and the stories of their lives. Her desire to impart her photo journalistic knowledge to her peers at Finding the Good stems from a fascination and profound respect for the inevitable sadness and suffering of the global human condition. Through sharing those stories in a beautiful way, Kristen hopes to shed light on such human realities while inspiring hope for moving toward a better world. While she’s not pondering the greater complexities of life, you are likely to find Kristen drawing inspiration from simpler sources like water, whales, not buying stuff, and kitty cats.

Profile written by Megan Putnam

Jeanie Wallace, Education Specialist/Mind-Body Coordinator

Jeanie is a glowing 24-year-old food enthusiast and yoga teacher. She seems to love everything to do with food, but she especially adores fresh produce. “I love running my hands over fruits and vegetables,” she says with a grin. For Jeanie, there is a huge connection between people and food. It’s an expression, she explains, as well as an integral component of culture. At U.C. Berkeley, where Jeanie earned her degree in Anthropology, she also enjoyed extra course work in forestry and mycology. Although her studies reinforced her love for both people and forests, she concludes that ideally, there should be more trees than people in her surroundings. Jeanie came to Finding the Good with a background in alternative education; before she entered Berkeley, she was home schooled for most of her life. In an unstructured learning environment, she explains, you learn because you want to learn. Her quest here at FtG is to reconcile structured education with the joyful pursuit of knowledge. Her avid interest in sustainable food systems has led Jeanie to start her own Aquaponics business, where she hopes to bring locally grown fresh produce and fish to urban environments.

Written by Annabelle Ziegenhagen

Tom Weistar, Program Director

The program director of Finding the Good, Tom Weistar, is a man that has been trying to find the good for some time now. He grew up in the Bay Area where he spent a lot of time outside and truly discovered what it meant to learn. He started to see at a young age how important it is to establish a homestead for yourself and for the people you love. He saw himself surrounded by talented people with the passion to make a better world, but no way to make it happen. He sought to create a place where people could get together and express their talents, their creativities, and their fervor to save the planet. With these goals in mind he envisioned the Finding the Good program. These days Tom looks towards the future and is excited to make a place where kids have a place to find solutions and change their lives for the better. He believes everything is tied together and is always exploring for something greater, as well as different ways of approaching the problems in our modern world. He thinks the world is on the brink of becoming radically different and he is set on delivering good news and positive direction to our chaotic structure.

Written by Alex Depavloff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *