Our Team


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.


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’s dedication to equalizing opportunity by correcting inequities in the realm of education fuels his commitment to the Uplands Center’s work with social entrepreneurs.  Chris also brings a passion for the educational and community building power of nature, stemming from his experience leading multiple month-long wilderness canoeing expeditions in the Hudson’s Bay region of northern Canada.

Leah Cerf


Leah brings an array of experience and passions to the Uplands Center from the realms of mental health, social services, and business. As a licensed mental health clinician, Leah cultivates a healing environment that takes an integrative, holistic approach to well-being. Through this work, Leah has seen firsthand that there is a deep need for the Uplands Center’s mission to support individuals in the caring professions whose service to others can be personally depleting. Leah has over a decade of experience working to empower some of society’s most vulnerable populations, working with national social service organizations on program development, outcome evaluation, marketing, and strategic partnerships.  These experiences, paired with Leah’s five-year stint in the corporate world, have informed her belief 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. Leah graduated from Amherst College in 2013 and the Columbia School of Social Work in 2022 and is licensed in Mind Body Phenomenology.


Renee Hardenkamp

Director of Retreat Operations and Environmental Programming

Renee developed a curiosity for flora and fauna through early experiences in Ohio parks and forests. Her interest in nature transformed into a passion for ecology, eventually leading to a degree Wildlife and Conservation Biology. Renee came to The Uplands having worked in the fields of environmental education, eco-recreation, field biology, small business management, and permaculture farming. The systems-based philosophy from her studies in ecology has inspired a holistic approach to her life, including organizing The Uplands’ functioning behind-the-scenes. Uplands guests will find Renee supporting the flow of retreats, leading nature walks, wandering in the garden, and instructing yoga classes. In addition to overseeing administrative operations, she conducts conservation land management, engages with the local community, and curates nature-based experiences for guests. Renee lives on-site with her husband Sean, their daughter Robin, and their many furry and feathery companions.

Thea Gelbspan

Director of Retreat Design and Outreach

Thea has worked for more than twenty years supporting 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. After obtaining a Masters in Law and Diplomacy, Thea worked for almost a decade to strengthen collaboration amongst activists and advocates defending human rights. From designing and facilitating several international strategy meetings, she gained an appreciation for the importance of the physical spaces where groups would gather in making their work 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.

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.

Hoss Banaja

Booking Coordinator

Hoss studied engineering and business at school, but has always had an appreciation and love for the outdoors, which led him to Oregon in 2006 to do trail work and environmental education with AmeriCorps. Hoss eventually headed indoors and spent the next 15 years working in operations and risk management in NYC, but he took every chance he got to find a little nature to hike, bike, and garden. He moved to Walton in 2020 to spend more time outside, and has loved putting down roots in the community. When he’s not digging up rocks in his garden, he’s tinkering with his machines, going to pottery class, and volunteering on the library’s board of trustees. As The Uplands’ Booking Coordinator, Hoss hopes to create a seamless experience for groups ahead of their visits, so they can focus on designing restorative and impactful retreats.

Candy chopping apples in kitchen

Candy Ricco

Director of Catering and Food Services

Candy and her formidable team curate delectable menus and meals that challenge people to expand their conceptions about food. By cooking 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 lives in Harvard, New York, on sixth-generation farmland. As “scratch cooks,” the kitchen team is 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 and her family hand-crafts natural products using beeswax from their many beehives.

Josh Evans

Garden, Grounds, & Facilities Crew Member

A gardener, a naturalist, and strong advocate for “leave it better than you found it,” Josh has spent his time near lively watersheds and thick forests in Appalachia his whole life. It did not take long for a love of all things outdoors to be the guiding force in a young man’s life. His time pursuing his passions has led downstream to regenerative agriculture, food justice, educating, foraging, woodworking, an affinity for working in the sunlight, and a love for gathering around a dinner table. It has led him to The Uplands where he feels the vital pull of healing and transformation tug him forward. And it is at The Uplands where he is blessed to work co-creatively with the land, with his hands, and with a passionate team in ways that promote an ecology flourishing with life. You can catch Josh in the garden, or the kitchen, or deep in the woods of The Uplands.

Claudia Sabino

Retreat Co-Facilitator

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 months Tibetan 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 to create art. Claudia brings her passion for the arts, education, psychology and philosophy to her work at The Uplands Center.

Sarah Williford

Retreat Co-Facilitator

Sarah radiates gratitude for life’s blessings and shares her loving presence with others. A practitioner of inner work and spirituality, she enjoys guiding individuals on their unique life journeys, empowering them to thrive. At The Uplands, she contributes her friendly essence to meaningful group endeavors, combining her creativity, intuition, and enthusiasm for facilitation, coordination, and compassionate communication. Her creative talents flourished with a degree in fine arts from SUNY New Paltz. Post-college, her passion for healthy food & sustainable living led her to explore permaculture farming and ecologically friendly practices globally. Over 20 years, she founded three regenerative agriculture farms, including an intentional community. Skilled in holistic management, she empowers farmers and agriculture service providers to create their desired lives and farms. She enjoys cold dipping, meditation, and swimming in natural bodies of water. Based in Franklin, NY, she thrives alongside her husband and three stepchildren in the embrace of nature.


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