ABOUT LEAVE IT BETTER FOUNDATION

Leave it Better Foundation was founded in 2009 with the conviction that youth are the key to healing our environment. Through hands-on activities, STEAM projects, gardening, and mindfulness exercises, we purpose to fill the void in our nation’s school system where environmental education is concerned. Our programs are designed to provide students with a space where they can master the art of being mindful towards themselves, each other, their communities and the world.

OUR TEAM

ILANA LUCAS
ILANA LUCAS
BRIANA BLACK
MAKENA MUGAMBI
GRAHAM MERIWETHER
JOANNA CERVANTES

OUR BOARD

SHARLENE AQUILER

Students in Sharlene’s 2nd grade class were one of the first to benefit from the Leave it Better Regeneration Program back in 2010. She was a public school teacher for 10 years in the Bay Area and New York City, and received her M.A. in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Sharlene was a Lead Educator for LIBF before becoming an Instructor at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Since moving back to California, she has been involved with the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, Alemany Farm and Ninunong Gamot (Philippine Ancestral Medicine). Sharlene is now the Program Manager of Youth and Outreach at Garden for the Environment in San Francisco.

JANNELY ALMONTE ORTIZ

As a Bronx native who attended boarding school in New Jersey, and currently teaches Spanish at Riverdale Country School, Jannely brings a wide range of experiences as a student and educator. Jannely believes in helping young people see the world with a new set of eyes. With a B.A in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University and an M.A in Teaching of Foreign Languages from the School for International Training, she has grown to understand the transformative power of learning about other people’s stories to better tell our own.In her personal life, she enjoys gardening, running, and bringing mindfulness into all aspects of her life with her family.

SARAH HAMED

Sarah is currently a college student who shares a passion for education. She firmly believes the right education is the root to all success, and uses teaching platforms to introduce better, modern, and more colorful approaches to learning. Sarah has also found a healing connection to nature, and is inspired to introduce mindfulness into the education of others.

MONIQUE PAUL

Monique works for Miami Waterkeeper where she combats water quality issues that face Miami-Dade County and ensure that the people that live there have access to swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water. She grew up in Rockland County, New York and graduated from New York University with a Bacherlor’s in Environmental Studies and a minor in Psychology. She just recently graduated from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) with a Master’s in Marine Conservation. For her Master’s thesis, Monique developed a fertilizer ordinance focused on environmental conditions and threats to South Florida’s waterways. The ordinance regulates the use of fertilizer by any applicator. It specifies appropriate application rates, application practices, and prohibited application periods. She was recently the recipient of the RSMAS MPS Student Award for Excellence in Ocean Stewardship for her work with Miami Waterkeeper. Since high school, Monique has loved learning about marine ecology and hopes to continue working to protect water resources for people and ensure the health of marine ecosystems.

KARL ROSAEN

Karl is the Co-Founder of Real Time Farms, LLC. Mr. Rosaen previously served as Vice President of Technology at Food52, Inc. where has served as both lead project manager and lead engineer.

TOMMY SHERIDAN

Tommy is the Conservation Network Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Network, based in San Francisco, CA. Prior to WCN, Tommy worked in conservation at the Bronx Zoo, and also studied at New York University, earning a dual degree in both Environmental Science and Urban Design & Architecture. He first worked with Leave It Better as a ReGeneration Corps Member back in 2015, and joined the Board in 2018. He believes that Leave It Better's integration of environmental education, communication, and self-care is unmatched, and a program that is needed in schools across the world.

MAKINI VELAZQUEZ

Makini has taught English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) in New York City, to students with special needs, for eight years. In 2012, she has transitioned to working as an English Language Learner Coach, providing instructional support to ESL and bilingual education teachers serving students with disabilities in grades K-12.

CARY WEISS

Cary is a former member of the ReGeneration Corps, which he joined in 2010 while studying Biology and Environmental Studies at New York University. Cary is currently pursuing a joint MD/PhD degree at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, and is planning to begin his residency in Pediatrics next year, upon completion of his degrees. The practice of Pediatrics includes encouraging the establishment of healthy habits at a young age, including behaviors that support physical, mental, emotional and relational health, and promoting education—that is where Cary’s values align so closely with Leave It Better’s.

SUSAN YAO

Susan is the Middle School Head at Friends Academy. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard College and a Master’s in School Leadership from Bank Street College. She has taught in public, charter, and private schools over the last nine years. Her curricular interests include cultural competence, civic engagement, and outdoor education. As a parent, she loves bringing her children to farms and parks around the US. Her mission is to train children to be (better) stewards of the earth.

ILANA LUCAS, GRAHAM MERIWETHER, AND MAKENA MUGAMBI 

see staff bio above

OUR ADVISORY BOARD

URSULA CHANSE

Ursula is the Director of Bronx Green-Up and Community Horticulture at The New York Botanical Garden. Since 2005, she has managed Bronx Green-Up, the community gardening outreach program of The New York Botanical Garden, which provides horticulture education, training, and technical assistance to Bronx residents, community gardeners, urban farmers, local schools, and community organizations.

DAX PONCE DE LEON

Dax, LEED AP BD+C, PMP serves as the Chief Knowledge Officer at PMA Consultants, LLC. Mr. de Leon leads PMA’s Knowledge Management Program, an effort to maximize the value obtained from PMA’s collectively accrued insights, experiences, and expertise. He creates company-wide, cross-functional initiatives to grow and share knowledge for the mutual benefit of clients, employees, and the organization.

ANDREW HOYLES

Andrew hails from the Great Lake State of Michigan where his love for the natural environment blossomed. Andrew joined the Ecology Center team in 2009 as the Compost Instructor for the New York City Compost Project hosted at the Ecology Center and left in 2015 to join the Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability, rolling out organic waste collection city-wide.

MEREDITH DANBERG-FICARELLI

Meredith is a green business entrepreneur with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Virginia, and an MS in Urban Policy Analysis and Sustainability Management from the New School. In 2012 she concepted, co-founded, and managed FERN [Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients], and after returning from Beirut, she worked at the Lower East Side Ecology Center. Meredith joined Common Ground Compost in October 2015, where she now runs a Zero Waste consulting operation, in addition to a bicycle-powered compost collection program called Reclaimed Organics. A lover of cities and maker of things, Meredith builds upcycled home decor, crochets with plastic bags, and finds nothing more satisfying than seeing well-sorted waste stations.

RYAN DARTON

Ryan is a multidisciplinary environmental consultant with over seven years of combined experience as a biologist, engineer and attorney working on issues related to water quality, water treatment, hydrology, hydrodynamics, sediment and aquatic ecosystems.

DR. JAMES BOYER

James is a botanist and educator at The New York Botanical Garden. He currently holds the position of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Vice President of Education, responsible for overseeing all student, teen, teacher, and family programs at the Garden.

OUR PARTNERS

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Bronx 

Green Up!

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Garden to Café

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OUR FUNDERS

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Garden to Café

Kickstarter Donors (2010)

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