About Us

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Our team brings a diverse array of skills across many disciplines and fields. Our wealth of experience helps create an ecosystem for our guests that nurtures wellness, learning, collaboration and growth.

Our Team

Ann leaning on white fence

Ann Rasmussen

Co-Founder and Executive Director

Ann’s life passion and calling is to bring healing to people suffering loss, hardship and trauma.  A Clinical Psychologist (Psy.D., Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology) Ann has worked with individuals, couples and community groups for over 30 years. She has felt deeply honored to partner in people’s healing journeys as they evolve from states of acute and disorienting distress to greater self-aligned clarity, integrity, calm, direction and empowerment.  Over the years, out of growing appreciation for the interactive power of mind-body-spirit needs, and their impact on interpersonal functioning, Ann has expanded her knowledge and skills in diverse healing modalities, drawing upon relational, neuropsychological, PTSD (EMDR), emotional, somatic, physiological and self-regulation approaches. As reflected in the Uplands’ offerings, Ann holds deep respect for the holistic healing and transformative power of community, nature, animals, creative arts, spirituality, play,  delicious food, kind self-care and love. Ann’s heart’s desire, ultimately, is to co-create with her Uplands family a sanctuary where life in all its interconnected manifestations is reverently nurtured, and where all guests are renewed, elevated and empowered by their Uplands’ experience.

Chris leaning on white fence

Chris Cerf

Co-Founder and Executive Director

Although trained as a lawyer, Chris has spent most of his career in the field of public education — as an outdoor educator, high school history teacher, School Superintendent (Newark, NJ) and State Commissioner of Education (NJ). A graduate of Amherst College and Columbia School of Law, Chris  served in the White House Counsel’s Office and as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Chris has dedicated his career to correcting the societal injustice that children born in the bottom socio-economic quartile are far less likely to graduate high school or successfully complete a post-secondary educational program. His dedication to equalizing opportunity by correcting inequities in the realm of education fuels Chris’ commitment to the Uplands Center’s work with social entrepreneurs pursuing educational reform.  Additionally, Chris brings his passion for the educational and community building power of nature, stemming from his extensive experience founding and running outdoor education programs for youth and leading multiple month-long wilderness canoeing expeditions in the Hudson’s Bay region of northern Canada.

Leah standing in grass

Leah Cerf

Co-Founder, Director of Creative Programming, Co-Director of Changemaker Programming

Leah brings an array of experience and passions to the Uplands. Before leaving the private sector to co-found the Uplands Center, she worked at Bloomberg for 5 years in various capacities, including communications, business development and sales. She has also been an advisor in the nonprofit world for over a decade, working with national social service organizations on program development, outcome evaluation, marketing, and strategic partnerships. As a co-director of Changemaker programming Leah believes in the power of social impact entrepreneurship—in both the for-profit and nonprofit realms —to transform the communities in which we live, learn and grow. She is particularly focused on nurturing groups of young changemakers from youth social service organizations, and amplifying their work in the world by equipping them with the leadership skills they need to effect meaningful change. Responsible for the Uplands’ creative programming, Leah is passionate about the power of the creative experience, especially art, to challenge people to observe, express, reimagine, and take risks. Leah graduated from Amherst College in 2013.

Thea Gelbspan

Director of Retreat Design and Outreach

Thea has worked for more than twenty years to support organizations and social movements advancing social, economic and racial justice to be effective and sustainable. Her work began with grassroots organizing efforts across the Americas and, later, managing international development programs with Oxfam America. After obtaining a Masters in Law and Diplomacy, Thea joined ESCR-Net — International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where she helped strengthen collaborations amongst activists and advocates defending human rights. Over time, as she designed and facilitated international strategy meetings, she gained an appreciation for the importance of the physical spaces where gatherings would take place. Settings that bring groups closer to nature, she learned, allow participants to attain renewed clarity and perspective. That, in turn, can strengthen their organizations by making them more sustainable and, ultimately, effective in realizing their broader goals. Thea joined The Uplands, inspired to facilitate access to spaces for collective renewal for those who are struggling for a better and more just world, and to support them to sustain their work from a place of wellness.

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“I came to a self-care retreat but I left with major changes to my mind/heart/lifestyle. Our hosts, Ann and Chris, were lovely, loving, comforting and completely accommodating. The cooks, Candy and Emily fed way more than our bodies! The whole weekend was wonderful, enriching and life-changing in a major way. I can’t wait to come here again!”

Lisa | Retreat Participant

Renee Hardenkamp

Environmental Director, Retreat Coordinator

Through early experiences in local parks and forests, Renee developed a curiosity for flora and fauna in her youth. This interest in nature transformed into a passion for ecology, eventually leading to a B.S. in Wildlife and Conservation Biology. The systems-based philosophy from her training in ecology has extended to her holistic approach in other areas of life: wellness, nutrition, gardening, movement, and community. Renee has been practicing yoga for over 15 years and instructing since 2015. She offers gentle, restorative yoga classes for the local community and Uplands retreats. Through her pursuits in homesteading, wildcrafting, and foraging, she has discovered countless ways that our natural environment supports us and provides for our needs – and that it is our privilege to be stewards of the land. This realization has been comforting and inspiring to Renee, and she aims to share this sense of reciprocity and gratitude with visitors at The Uplands. By offering the opportunity for meaningful and enlightening experiences on the land, she hopes to uplift the spirit in community members and visitors while instilling a sense of appreciation and care for the environment. Renee is driven by the idea that “all is one”, and she aims to reflect the values of interconnectedness through The Uplands Center’s programs. 

Sean Hardenkamp

Director of Agriculture, Grounds, and Facilities

Sean’s passion for nature began with a life-altering, extended wilderness experience with the National Outdoor Leadership School in 2013. Inspired by the freedom and simplicity of this adventure, he realized that his relationship with the natural world was worth exploring further. He went on to perform Earth stewardship through trail building and environmental education, which cemented his desire to give back to the land. Sean discovered his enthusiasm for ecological agriculture through long term work-trade in Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms in which he practiced regenerative agriculture, holistic management, and permaculture. Sean is drawn to the physical and hands-on interaction with the earth, and is interested in designing resilient food systems that promote diversity above and below ground. He is drawn to growing food because it not only satisfies the creative side of his mind, but represents reciprocity with the land and functionality in our lives. At The Uplands Center, Sean is focused on providing produce to the center’s kitchen through implementing and maintaining a productive garden. He hopes that The Uplands Center can inspire others to appreciate nature’s abundance and beauty, and to recognize humankind’s practical and rewarding role in maintaining a robust environment.

Candy chopping apples in kitchen

Candy Ricco

Director of Catering and Food Services

Candy and her daughter Emily are a formidable team, curating delectable menus and meals that challenge people to expand their conceptions about food. By cooking only with organic and sustainably cultivated ingredients, they inspire guests to experience food not only as essential sustenance, but as a path to health and wellness that nourishes mind, body, and spirit. Candy and Emily live in Harvard, New York, on sixth-generation farmland. As “scratch cooks,” they are passionate about trying new recipes, experimenting, and drawing inspiration from cultures around the world. They are old faces at the Uplands, having had a hand in the creation and maintenance of the gardens and stone walls surrounding the Center. Candy previously ran and owned several businesses, including a maple sugar and syrup operation. She also creates skin products from essential oils featuring all non-GMO, organic ingredients. Emily, her husband Warren, and their two children raise milk goats, laying hens, and turkeys. She also hand crafts natural products using beeswax from Warren’s many beehives.

Lizzie Murphy

Director of Art Programming and Guest Experience

In 2016, Lizzie was invited by Ann to visit The Uplands Center and learned about its mission to offer replenishing and growth-promoting experiences to caregivers and social change-makers. She instantly fell in love with the land, the founders, and their vision, and she has been an integral part of the team ever since. Lizzie’s role in the development and creation of The Uplands Center has been wide-ranging. She is honored to contribute in creating this “emotional heartland – an environment that touches the soul.” Lizzie’s focus for the Uplands has been to design a framework that supports inner harmony and prioritizes wellbeing. Her aim has been to create a richly textured, natured inspired environment, with beautiful imperfection, that truly liberates the senses – a space to restore harmony and peace to the mind, body, and spirit. The goal is that every person who passes through the center will emerge refreshed, inspired and rejuvenated.

Born and raised in England, Lizzie grew up drawing, painting, and creating. She went on to study graphic design at Kingston University, Surrey, which launched her into a creative career in packaging design, branding, illustration, and, more recently, interior design. She now lives in Montclair, NJ, where she runs her own interior design business. Lizzie is fascinated with what drives us, what brings us together and what makes us ‘feel’ alive. She is also an abstract fine artist and a certified JourneyDance guide and looks forward to facilitating creative workshops at the Uplands.

Claudia Sabino

Retreat Co-Facilitator and Consultant

Born and raised in Brazil, Cláudia Sabino holds a doctoral degree in Psychology from Santa Ursula University, Rio de Janeiro. and speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish. She studied Kum Nye (9 monthsTibetan Yoga program) and worked at Nyngma Institute’s Sacred Art in Berkeley California. As an artist and arts educator for the past 20 years Claudia has created and delivered expressive arts programs in the nonprofit, corporate, educational, social service and mental health sectors. She excels at facilitating a spontaneous flow of creativity into unexplored realms of possibilities with individuals of all ages and  backgrounds. Tapping into her psychological insights and intuitive knack for blending appealing materials in accessible ways, Claudia creates a supportive, relaxing and inspiring environment that invites everyone to explore and engage in the creative process of making art. Claudia brings her passion for the arts, education, psychology and philosophy to her work at The Uplands Center.

Heather holding greens

Heather Forest

Project Consultant

Heather is a storytelling artist and vegetable farmer who enjoys being immersed in the creative process whether she is designing vegetable gardens, growing seedlings, or crafting musical retellings of traditional multicultural tales. She is a founder and co-director of the Long Island Community Agriculture Network (LICAN) which developed the award-winning Gateway Community Garden in Huntington Station, NY. Expressing her artistry through agriculture, she established and managed the Fox Hollow Farm CSA with her husband, Larry Foglia, to grow produce for one hundred local families and offered community workshops on homesteading, organic gardening, and food equity service gardening.

With a PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, Heather is founder and executive director of Story Arts, an educational, cultural arts organization. She is an award-winning storyteller and children’s book author who has performed her repertoire of world folktales at storytelling festivals and theaters nationally and internationally and has received the Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Network.

Heather brings her creativity, attention to detail, writing skills, and love of gardening to The Uplands Center where she collaborates with her husband to support the organization’s seeds of growth.

Larry in garden

Lawrence (Larry) Foglia

Project Consultant

An environmental educator, farmer, builder, and land manager, Larry brings a mosaic of passions and experiences to The Uplands Center community. For the past fifty years, Larry has directed his small family farm on Long Island where he lives in a house that he and his wife designed and built. Larry has nurtured the biology of the farm’s soil to support a wide range of horticultural and agricultural enterprises over the years. He holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education and Natural Resources from The Ohio State University. As a respected farmer and land conservationist working with local land trusts, he has helped to preserve farming, farmland, and natural areas across Long Island. He created and, for twenty years, supervised the Nature, Ecology and Design Program at Usdan, Long Island’s premier Summer Camp for the Arts. A founder of the Long Island Community Agriculture Network (LICAN), Larry has constructed award-winning school and community gardens, presented garden education programs in under-served communities, and advocated for Nature Explore Play Areas for young children. Larry’s nature experience includes decades of leading extended canoe trips for teens in wilderness areas of Maine and Canada.

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