Kelly Decker, Executive Director of The Children’s Nature Institute, is originally from New Jersey and has been working in the field of informal education since 1995, having been an informal educator in Washington D.C, Japan and Los Angeles. Since 2007, she has worked with The Children’s Nature Institute making full use of her diverse professional background in teaching, education, science, zoology, program direction, corporate philanthropy, marketing and fundraising. A strong believer in the power of nature, she works tirelessly to ensure that all children in Los Angeles, no matter the neighborhood they live in, have access and experiences with nature that promote healthy brain development, nurturing and attachment and the highest quality educational learning for our youngest children and their families.
In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors hiking and camping and volunteers regularly in civic and non-profit organizations. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in both Japanese and Anthropology, as well as certificates in Non-profit Management and Zoology from UCLA’s Extension program.
Program Operations Director
Lina has worked at CNI since January 2012. She loves her job because it combines many things she likes, including teaching and developing curricula, working with kids and animals, and being outside. Lina has a BA from UCLA in Philosophy, which she earned while also working as an outdoor guide. She also holds a Master’s Degree from Harvard in Education, which she focused on making learning whole and effective; directing all her assignments on hands-on education and using nature to teach. Lina’s love of learning, joy at being outside, and understanding of community development come together at CNI. Lina has also worked as a camp counselor, an after school program leader and a garden teacher throughout the country. When not at work, Lina rides her bike, hikes, camps, does Capoeira, and plays with her cat, Mario.
Lead Environmental Educator
Yessica is the Lead Environmental Educator at The Children’s Nature Institute. In this role, Yessica coordinates with teachers, facilitates our programs and looks after the well-being of CNI’s live animal collection. Yessica’s love for nature (especially animals) started at a young age: in 2012 she graduated from North Hollywood’s High School Zoo Magnet. After graduating she concentrated on her career and has now worked for 13 years for a diverse range of organizations, including The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens and Kidspace Children’s Museum. Yessica’s varied background in animals, nature, and teaching provides the perfect foundation for facilitating environmental science programming to children and their families. Yessica still finds time to volunteer with animal organizations and continues to increase her knowledge of nature.
Controller Joyce Ireland volunteered with CNI for years before being hired to keep its books in the mid 2000s. Hooked from the very first Nursery Nature Walk she and her older daughter took in Sullivan Canyon back in December 1990, she trained as a docent and lead family and outreach walks for more than a decade. She joined the board of directors in 1991 and has served on the board continuously since then. When CNI needed help with payroll and financial recordkeeping, Joyce called on her knowledge from a community college bookkeeping course and experience as the payables treasurer at her daughters’ preschool to transition from the trail to an office desk. After joining the staff, to better serve CNI, she enrolled in an accounting certificate program at West LA College in 2008 and earned her certificate in June 2010. In addition to working part-time at CNI, Joyce is also bookkeeper for B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. Over the past couple of decades, she’s spent countless hours volunteering at her daughters’ schools and currently serves as treasurer of Gondolier Booster Club, supporting Venice High School.
Jessie Nault is a recent transplant to Los Angeles, originally hailing from the Midwest. Though she loves the constant sunshine, she still misses the freshwater of the Great Lakes! She received her Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University in Environmental Studies and Agriscience with a minor in Environmental Policy. She was the recipient of Jon F. Bartholic Award for Excellence in Creativity in the Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences in 2011, as well as a volunteer for the city’s Project Pride recycling program and the Red Cedar River Clean-Up. Though Jessie has always been passionate about the environment and her community, a summer study abroad trip to Kenya pushed her to pursue her passions full time. While there, she worked in partnership with Kenyan Orphaned Rural Development Program (KORDP), providing education and agricultural aid across Western Rural Kenya with vulnerable and orphaned children to HIV/AIDS in early childhood care centers. Since then, Jessie has sought to work with children and the natural world, so is thrilled to be part of the CNI team. She believes teaching children to understand and care about the environment from an early age will make the world a better place!
Betty Villalta is a believer of hands-on and inquiry based learning. She received a B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal from CSU Channel Islands and is currently working as an Educator at The Children’s Nature Institute and The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden. She has 6 years of experience working in formal and informal educational settings. Prior to joining The Children’s Nature Institute, Betty was a Camp Counselor at The Santa Barbara Zoo and a Teacher’s Assistant for the Conejo Valley Unified School District. Betty hopes to inspire future generations to have an appreciation for the natural world and all of its inhabitants. Her work as an Environmental Educator provides her with this wonderful opportunity.