I was not a "good student" in high school. Like many teenagers, I didn't have a sense of purpose and didn't believe in myself. Perhaps that's what drew me to teaching--wanting to provide youth with direction and experience with success. However, after teaching for three years at an urban Milwaukee high school, I still didn't have an answer to the question, "How can teenagers feel successful and gain a sense of purpose in their world?"

Then I spent a summer teaching experiential education in nature. It was here that I saw students become self-directed and aware all through the students being put in the driver's seat. Not long after, my wife and I founded Teens Grow Greens. This is what I was meant to do.

Executive Director

I am a Milwaukee native with over 20 years of experience working with youth and young adults in the community. My passions include the development of youth & adult programming that assists in facilitating holistic human development; and helping others learn how to do so, as well. After earning my bachelors degree in English Literature from Marquette University, I earned a masters degree in Administrative Leadership for Adult & Continuing Education and a PhD in Urban Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I have taught as an adjunct instructor. Drawing from my academic, community, and life experiences, I seek to take a systems thinking approach in the creation of critically sound and contextually effective programming. Being a part of the Teens Grow Greens family has allowed me to work with an awesome Team, while contributing to the positive transformation of the Milwaukee community.


Current learning interests include: practices for making programming more inclusive of individuals with neurodiversities, indigenous/ancestral cultural practices, regenerative farming, varying psychotherapy techniques, cooking with ethnic seasonings from around the world.


A university and high school teacher for over 23 years, my experiences at Marquette University, Pius XI High School, The Prairie School, and Vel R. Phillips Schoolshaped my student-centered, community-engaged ethos of transformative education.  Whether students were writing to their elected officials with proposals regarding the justice system or meditating in the woods inspired by Walden, serving homeless individuals with food they’d grown in their school garden, or writing to community stakeholders who would be resources for them upon their release from detention, their reading, writing, and thinking was tied in some way to authentic communication and problem-solving.


In addition to serving TGG, I founded ZIP MKE ( in 2016, which for three years collected over 2,000 photographs representing faces, places, and events from all 28 ZIP Codes in the city of Milwaukee.  I also organized the annual Jane’s Walk MKE ( for three years, which hosted over 40 free walks, bikes, and paddles in 2019 in honor of our namesake, urbanist activist Jane Jacobs.  Finally, I am a three-time award-winning columnist and photographer for Milwaukee Independent.

Internship Director
Southside Educator

In 2019 I graduated from St. Norbert College with a degree in Broadfield Science Education. My curiosity in regards to plants and biology guided me to the world of science. My desire to share knowledge with others led me to pursue a career in education. While at St. Norbert College, I received numerous awards from the Education Department for my teaching in elementary and middle school classrooms.


I am dedicated to my craft and continue to sharpen my skills as an educator through the study and implementation of multicultural and differential teaching approaches. In the scientific world, scientists are always in pursuit of innovation and discovery. As a science teacher, I seek out innovative and transformative ways of guiding my students on their learning journey. As a member of the Teens Grow Greens Organization, I will strive to provide a safe learning environment and sound mentorship for teens as they become healthy leaders in their community.

Northside Educator


I am a graduate of UW Oshkosh, where I earned a journalism degree. Along the way, I received several local and national student journalism awards for writing, newspaper editing and public relations. Since graduation, my career has taken me down a different path, focusing on community engagement, the importance of physical activity, and youth mentorship. As a program coordinator for Playworks Wisconsin, I worked at Siefert Elementary School building safe recess practices, coaching basketball and soccer teams, mentoring a team of Junior Coaches to be leaders in their school, and encouraging the power of play! I also have the distinction of being the first ever Youth Football Intern for the Green Bay Packers, where I assisted in the organization and implementation of youth football camps and the team’s equipment donation program, led the Project Play 60 program, and served as host and emcee to the first ever Lambeau Field Live tour. Recently, I completed a graduate certificate in Public Management from the University of Missouri, and aspire to one day pursue a master’s degree in Parks and Recreation. 


Born and raised in Milwaukee, I love the city and am excited about finding a way to help make our communities stronger. In my personal time, I am a massive sports fan, outdoor enthusiast, and lover of pizza. I am thrilled to be working with Teens Grow Greens because of our shared values of love, learning and the power of youth to inspire change!


In 2013 I graduated from UWM with a degree in Conservation and Environmental Science. During school and after graduating from UWM, I continued to find work in horticulture, and have since realized it’s the type of work I enjoy most. I’ve worked in the service industry, retail, and business, but still get the most fulfillment from growing and caring for plants.

I’m excited to work for Teens Grow Greens because I get to use my skills in ways that are even more meaningful. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, so it’s important to me that I participate in its growth. Giving teens the skills to become leaders is exactly what this city needs. I think it’s a great way to instill important values, while teaching work ethic and career skills at the same time.

Growing Director
Kaya Schwarz
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After completing the Teens Grow Greens internship in 2017, I continued working as an educator and eventually transitioned to focus on the greenhouses. I stand for equal rights, animal rights, and interpersonal effectiveness. I strive to make the world a better place with everything I do.


In the future I want to continue to further my education, open my own animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center, and continue being an advocate for the importance of adolescent mental health. Lastly, I advocate for veganism, the importance of buying local and empathy towards everybody.

Greenhouse Manager

Nate Smith

I will be a freshman at MIAD this fall and this will be my third year at Teens Grow Greens. I love Japanese manga and anime and want to go to college in Japan to study animation. Later in life, I want to work in Japan as an animator and create my own manga. I feel that this art form portrays things so perfectly: their stories always excite me, confuse me, amuse me, and further my thinking. In my personal life, I take a stand for knowledge; I am always looking for ways to further my knowledge and the versatility with which I do things. Manga and anime have helped me do this, as well as strengthen my knowledge and perspective of how I see things.


In the past few years that I have worked at Teens Grow Greens, I have grown a lot, but not just in plant knowledge: in knowledge for many things. I think Teens Grow Greens has fully crafted me into my best self. Plant knowledge-wise, though, I have learned how to identify plants, how to transplant well, and even how to grow from seed. I have also learned about other environments for growing, like compost growing, compost mixed with soil, and even hydroponics systems.

Garden Manager
Julius Gayo
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Growing up, I enjoyed exploring the outdoors, which led me to study biology at CU Boulder. While in college, I had opportunities in the summer to live and work in Milwaukee, where I fell in love with the city and enjoyed connecting communities to nature. After graduating in 2017, I moved to Milwaukee to explore my passion for working with youth. Through an opportunity to help students build school gardens, I was delighted by how gardening was at the intersection of being sustainable, connecting with communities, and learning about science and health.


Now, I am excited to work at Teens Grow Greens because I believe in the power of youth, gardens, and learning through experience to make better communities. 

Lead Agriculturist

Zaynab Baalbaki
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I am a Milwaukee southside native with over 15 years of experience working with youth. I am extremely passionate about social justice, especially in education. When I attended UW-Madison, I majored in Elementary Education and Sociology and minored in Educational Policy Studies and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies.  And during my time at UW-Madison, I was able to teach abroad in London at the University of Roehampton. Next, I started graduate school in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, but finished at Marquette University in College Student Personnel Administration. I was selected to participate in a graduate internship in the Middle East at the American University of Kuwait. 


Some of my previous positions include coordinating summer programs at Northwestern University and serving as an advisor at Escuela Verde.  I am involved with so many local organizations in Milwaukee! 


Finally, trying new restaurants and traveling are two of my favorite things to do--and my favorite plant is a snake plant - it's easy to take care of and purifies the air. 

Lead Apprenticeship Manager
Kelly Michael Anderson

I am a documentary filmmaker/photographer that grew up just outside St. Paul, MN and moved to Milwaukee in 2006 to study Film & English Literature at UWM.  From 2013 - 2020, I held the in-house videographer/photographer and social media roles for MKE-based Colectivo Coffee Roasters, which has sent me all over the world to meet and film with the men and women growing much of the specialty market’s coffee. In 2019 I wrapped production on a collaborative feature documentary that premiered at Tribeca and MKE Film Fest, Plucked. Since 2020 I have been a freelance videographer/photographer working with many orgs and individuals in MKE.


I’ve been filming with and producing media for TGG since 2019 but am excited to be in a growing role with them as they’re one of the most inspiring organizations I’ve worked with in my over 15 years in MKE. There is truly a sense of admiration and respect between teens and staff at TGG and I can’t think of a better foundation for education and introduction into the workforce. I’m honored to be given the opportunity to help tell this story with a guiding hand from the teens themselves.

Videographer & Marketing Apprentice Manager