Environmental Learning Center

Environmental Learning Center

Staff & Board

Meet Our Team

Girls In Water
Barbara Schlitt Ford

Barbara Schlitt Ford

Executive Director

Barbara Schlitt Ford is a 2nd generation Vero native, an accomplished attorney, educator and organization leader. She grew up appreciating this area as a true paradise. Barbara is a lifelong nature lover. An ideal day might include a swim in the ocean, a boat trip on the lagoon, or a mountain hike to a waterfall. She cares about environmental stewardship and is passionate about living in union with our Earth systems, nature preservation and on finding solutions to our water quality issues in the area.  She joined the ELC as Executive Director on April 1, 2019. She strives to maintain a mission-focused, collaborative and uplifting leadership style. She appreciates synergistic commitment and teamwork from staff, board members, volunteers and community partners. She is an optimist who believes that individually we can each make a positive impact, but working together, we can truly create a better future.

Kyle Lacey

Kyle Lacey

Finance Manager

Kyle is originally from Guntersville, Alabama, and has always enjoyed being outdoors – camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. He moved to South Florida in 2013 after graduating from Auburn University with a BS in Finance. Since then, he has spent the last decade in real estate finance, as a portfolio manager and asset manager, overseeing funds and focusing on process improvement. Combining his financial experience and enthusiasm for water conservation brought him to ELC in 2023.

He and his wife, Amanda, have three amazing children together, Watson, Malia and Gunter (woof). On his days off, you can find him with a fly rod in one hand and his family in the other, finding new fishing spots and exploring nature preserves and botanical gardens South Florida to help inspire new ideas for their backyard. 

Linda Bentlin

Linda Bentlin

Operations & Human Resources

Linda joined the ELC staff in November 2021 after relocating from the Northern Virginia area. She spent her years in Fairfax, Virginia working for a local government agency which focused on children’s school readiness and ongoing success. Her work there in the areas of grants management, contracts, strategic planning and educational programming led her to her position as Operations Manager at ELC. As an Ohio native, Linda appreciates the warm Florida climate as well as the many outdoor offerings and opportunities in her new hometown of Vero Beach.

Heidi Leone Royals

Heidi Leone Royals

Director of Philanthropy

Heidi Leone Royals has dedicated her career to working with nonprofits throughout the country across education, international philanthropy, and healthcare organizations.

Heidi spent her teens and twenties in Vero Beach and moved back in 2020 to marry the love of her life, Wally. She is passionate about animals (especially dogs), nature, flora, and fauna. Heidi is thrilled to be a part of the team at the ELC to help prioritize the preservation of the environmental heart of our community, the Indian River Lagoon. She feels strongly that all need to be educated about this incredible resource so it is not taken for granted.

Heidi enjoys boating, traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family, especially her bonus children, Micah and Hannah, and her Jack Russell Terrier, Fiona.

Elise Mahovlich

Elise Mahovlich

Database Manager

You may recognize Elise as one of our Wellness Activities instructors teaching yoga and walking meditation weekly here at the ELC. 

Cheryl

Cheryl George

Guest Services & Volunteer Coordinator

Cheryl earned her B.S. in Wildlife Management at Purdue University in 1986 and was employed by the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina as an Endangered Species Biologist monitoring red-cockaded woodpeckers. After moving with her family to South Georgia, she then spent 18 years as an Environmental Manager and Educator in the forest industry. Her next adventure lead her to spend a season monitoring red-cockaded  woodpeckers at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area before managing a team of bird removal technicians.  

 

In her free time she and her husband David love to go kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, and spending time with family.  Cheryl looks forward to the new adventure with ELC engaging with members and volunteers.

Heather Sears

Heather Sears

Marketing & Events Specialist

Heather returned to the ELC after 10 years away while she raised her son and worked from home consulting various non-profits. She most recently worked in Tourism at the Sebastian Chamber of Commerce.  Heather has been a successful manager, copywriter, graphic designer, and event coordinator for over 22 years, and along with her love of nature and positive attitude, brings her creative ideas and synergy to the organization. She holds a Bachelors degree from UCF in Interpersonal/Organizational Communications, minoring in Marketing, and certified in Conflict Management. 

In her free time, she enjoys being out on the water; fishing, boating, kayaking, boogieboarding, and beach walking. She is currently working on publishing three children’s picture books, which she wrote while working at home, and is now designing the artwork. She lives in Melbourne Beach with her husband, Matt, who designs swimming pools, her son, Clayton, a sixth grader, their rescue dog, Luna, and Ripple, their pet snake.  

Elizabeth Yerian

Liz Yerian

Education Coordinator

Elizabeth (Liz) Yerian is a seasoned naturalist with over 35 years of experience in Environmental Education, Zookeeping, and Ocean Advocacy. Liz comes to us from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Center in Key Biscayne, Florida and has worked in the Animal Care and Education Departments of Disney, Cypress Gardens, Sea World and Department of Environmental Protection Agency of Florida.

Liz is a lifelong Floridian in love with its spectacular ecosystems and wildlife. She is an avid reader and has recently published her first book in a Wildlife Warrior series for children called “Rayne’s (Wild!) Life Adventures.

Sara Piotter

Sara Piotter

Senior Environmental Educator

Sara’s relationship with the ELC goes back to 2006. From 2006-2008 Sara helped teach our school programs as a part-time naturalist. In the spring of 2008 she left the ELC to work as a field biologist. She’s worked for The Nature Conservancy, The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the United States Geological Survey on research projects related to restoration ecology, water quality, and foraging and reproduction studies of passerines and water birds. Sara grew up exploring green spaces around Indian River County, as she was raised right here in Vero Beach. Although Sara connected with the natural world from a very early age, her passion for conservation and natural resource management was ignited during her studies at the University of Florida. In 2004, she earned her B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from UF. Additionally, Sara’s received training from the National Geographic Society in Watershed Education. Sara originally joined the education team as a full-time Naturalist. She’s thrilled to expand her relationship with the communities ELC serves and strives to promote a life-long, positive, mutually-rewarding relationship with nature. In her free time she enjoys all things nature, cooking, traveling, live music, crafting natural products, aromatherapy, and spending time with her family. 

Shanen Cox

Shanen Cox

Guest Services & Environmental Educator

Shanen’s passion and love for the marine world began when she was a child in Davie, Florida. She obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Biology from Hawaii Pacific University and had worked at Sea Life Park, Hawaii for the entire 6 years she lived on Oahu. After 14 years as a marine mammal trainer, she transitioned to a role studying marine mammal hormones at the marine mammal endocrine laboratory with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

In 2021, Shanen, her husband and their four-legged son, Darwin, moved to Florida, where Shanen was able to work at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as a part of the marine mammal stranding and population assessment team. Shanen’s passion has only grown with the incredible experiences she has had, and her goal is to educate and inspire as many members of future generations as possible to care for and protect the marine world she so deeply loves. 

Amy Zelt

Amy Zelt

Environmental Educator

Amy Zelt has lived in Indian River County since 2018 though her roots come from Michigan and Texas. Having had the opportunity to travel extensively across the US, Europe, Asia, and Central America, she experienced firsthand the global challenges of environmental change and is deeply committed to environmental advocacy, artistry, and adventure, with a passion for sustainable living education. She has been supporting eco-focused businesses in enhancing their online presence through social media marketing and graphic design, and spent five transformative years living and working in an off-grid eco village, where she learned valuable lessons about sustainable living practices and the importance of living in connection with nature. 

Amy joined the ELC team as an Environmental Educator and is enjoying the opportunity to share the natural beauty of the Indian River Lagoon with visitors and students. She is currently pursuing further education at Indian River State College, studying Sociology and Psychology, seeking to deepen her understanding of individual and societal dynamics, and their interconnection to the environment.

In her spare time, she can be found out in nature with her partner, Soo Se, hiking, kayaking, and gardening.

Mayssa Shalhoub

Mayssa Shalhoub

Environmental Educator

Mayssa was raised in Vero Beach and has always fostered a deep fascination for the natural world. In May 2023, Mayssa graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Sustainability Studies and Arabic Language and Literature. She aims to continue her graduate studies in Urban Planning and Policy in the coming year. Mayssa has served in a variety of environmental organizations throughout her career— including the Food Recovery Network and #UNLITTER. Her predominant areas of interest include biomimicry, wildlife ecology, sustainable urbanism, and historic preservation. When she’s not working you can likely find her
painting, reading (but never finishing) several books, or at the beach.

As a Vero Beach native, Mayssa vividly remembers her school field trips to the ELC. She hopes to cultivate the same sense of wonder and excitement in the future generation of scientists and environmental stewards!

Gian Cetrulo

Gian Cetrulo

Part-Time Environmental Educator

Gian (pronounced John) has lived in Vero Beach since 2006. He taught middle school science at Sebastian Charter Junior High and St. Helen Catholic School, as well as oceanography at Indian River State College. Prior to moving to Florida, Gian was first the education coordinator and then the director of a public aquarium called the SEA Lab located in Redondo Beach, California. He has a Masters degree in Marine Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and two Bachelor degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. All of his favorite things to do involve water- whether it be fishing with his son in the Indian River Lagoon, fossil hunting with his daughter in Peace River, snorkeling with his wife in the Florida Keys and even running on the beach with his water-loving pooch. Gian helps lead Lagoon Academy, a weekly program that is part of a monthly thematic module for homeschool students. 

Sharon Tyson

Sharon Tyson

Part-Time Environmental Educator

Sharon moved to Brevard County, Florida in 1984 and earned a B.S. in Biology from UCF. She was employed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and operated an environmental consulting business. Prior to retirement, she spent several years working for the Army Corps of Engineers in Planning and Policy on Everglades and Kissimmee River Restoration, Okeechobee Waterway recreation, manatee protection systems, sustainability and regulatory compliance. During her career, she was fortunate to conduct research on manatees, birds, horned lizards and turtles, on renewable energy development, sustainability, and as the Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve Manager.

Sharon joined the ELC staff in 2021. She is grateful for opportunities to engage the community in stewardship activities benefitting the Indian River Lagoon and its diverse wildlife. Sharon enjoys spending time on art projects with her husband, boating, watersports and just being outdoors in Indian River County.

Brent Rupnik

Brent Rupnik

Senior Aquarist​

Brent is a graduate of Ohio University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. While there, he was selected for an internship with the National Aquarium in Baltimore and began his career in saltwater aquariums. He spent five years at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, Texas, starting as an aquarist, and then transitioning to a marine mammal trainer.  He then started his own aquarium maintenance company specializing in coral reef aquarium design and care. More recently, he has been working in aquaculture, where he has been raising numerous varieties of exotic and local fish species. In his spare time, Brent enjoys fishing, swimming, volleyball, and spending time with family. Brent is looking forward to sharing his love of our local eco-systems with ELC visitors and works hard to ensure that our aquaria are top-notch. 

Marc Spiess

Marc Spiess

Campus Manager

Marc has been a member of the ELC since 2018 and joined the team in 2021. He studied philosophy at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, where he also worked in customer service and administration at the Stuttgart Ballet for seven years. From a very young age he was active with various environmental organizations and their efforts to protect and preserve wild spaces. Upon moving to Florida he developed an avid interest in Florida native plants and landscaping for wildlife, which led to him working in native plant cultivation, landscape design, and habitat restoration.

Marc takes care of the entire campus and is in charge of ELC’s Native Plant Nursery as well as our paddle excursions. He often leads native plant walks and paddling excursions and is a wealth of knowledge on all things involving our local ecosystems. 

Whenever Marc is not at the ELC campus, you can most likely find him hiking through conservation areas with his family and climbing trees with his son.

Ray Weatherdon

Ray Weatherdon

Part-Time Facilities Consultant

Ray was born in South Africa and lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and worked as an electrician until he moved to the US in 1980 with his wife. Ray continued working as an electrician until 2005 when he started his own business, Ray’s Home Improvements, where he remodeled kitchens and bathrooms. After retiring in 2015, Ray moved to Florida and volunteered with numerous organizations including ELC where he helped in the maintenance department and became an employee shortly after. 

Phil Chieco

Phil Chieco

Boat Captain & Facilities Assistant

Phil joined the ELC in September of 2018.  Phil was born and raised in New York City. He left the northeast for Florida in 1989 when his snow shovel broke.  Phil is a life long fisherman and boater. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100 Ton Master License. In his previous career, he was a 41 year veteran of the auto repair industry and felt it was time for a change that would bring him closer to nature and the water. When not at the ELC, he likes spending time with family, fishing, boating, traveling and building custom fishing rods. Phil is our ELC lead boat captain and assists with Facilities when not our on the water. 

David Richter

David Richter

Part-Time Boat Captain

Dave was born in Brooklyn, NY and grew up on Long Island in NY.  Dave retired in 2018 and moved to Vero Beach to enjoy the sun and boating all year.  On Long Island, Dave owned many different boats, some as large as 40 feet and always enjoyed boating.  

Starting his career as a computer programmer, Dave used to fly on and off US Navy aircraft carriers to work on their computer systems as a civilian.  Dave has been around boats and always loved the water.  After 37 years of large computer system design work, Dave retired and took up tennis, golf, fishing, boating and enjoying Florida.  

After he retired, he looked for something else he could do and decided to pursue his USCG 100ton Master Captain’s license.  After achieving that goal, Dave sought work and found it in his own backyard.  Dave totally enjoys his role as a part-time Captain at the ELC and loves to see the smiling faces of the people when they exit his boat.  

Marty Black

Marty Black

Part-Time Boat Captain

Bio coming soon. 

Corinne Mcclanahan

Corinne McClanahan

Part-Time Boat Captain

Bio coming soon. 

Martin

Martin Coar

Part-Time Boat Captain

Bio coming soon. 

Aaron Zimmer

Aaron Zimmer

Part-Time Boat Captain

A military brat, Aaron was born in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. He grew up in Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio before embarking on a 33-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard where he performed Search and Rescue and Law Enforcement duties. He holds a 200-ton Master’s credential from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) National Maritime Center (NMC).

He now lives in Sebastian with his family and enjoys swimming, scuba diving, bicycling, learning new things, staying current on global affairs, and flying drones.

ELC Board of Directors

Chairperson
Richard Brennan

Vice Chairperson
John Daniels

Secretary
Tyler G. Puttick

Treasurer
Tarik Kawi​ 

Members

Carla Friedman
David Griffis
Carol Lincoln
Shirley Nichols
Megan Osteen
Susan van der Stricht

Executive Director
Barbara Schlitt Ford

ELC Foundation Board

Chairperson
Todd Fennell

Vice Chairperson
Donald E. Barr

Treasurer
John L. Daniels

Secretary
David Griffis

 

Members
Richard Brennan
Haydn Cole
Tarik Kawi
Barbara Schlitt Ford, Ex Officio

INVESTMENT COMMITTEE
Richard Brennan
Haydn Cole
Todd Fennell
David Griffis
Tarik Kawi