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Meet the CAT Team

Chicago Adventure Therapy Staff

Andrea Knepper (she/her)

Executive Director

Version 2Andrea Knepper, LCSW, founded Chicago Adventure Therapy in 2006 and has been the director since then.  She has a broad range of clinical expertise, as well as sea kayaking and wilderness guiding experience. Andrea earned her BA from Oberlin College in 1995 and has been in social services since then.  She earned her M.S.W. from Loyola University in 2002. During her career, she has worked closely with teens and their families at Turning Point Community Mental Health Center as both a case manager and therapist, at Volunteers of America as a therapist, and at Open Door Shelter, where she helped coordinate daily operations.

From 1998 until 2008 Andrea also provided sea kayak instruction and lead numerous adventure travel IMG_9482trips for Northwest Passage Adventure Travel Company. In October of 2015 she eared her 5 Star Sea Leader Award, becoming one of 7 women in the country to hold the award.   In August of 2016 she became the second American to earn the UKCC Level 3 Coach Award. She also holds a 3 Star in Open Canoe and in Whitewater Kayak, and her ACA L3 Instructor Certification. In 2019, Andrea paddled the length of the US Pacific Coast!  Read about her adventure!

Laura Statesir (she/her)

Director of Operations

Laura StatesirLaura is a seasoned outdoor program manager and instructor with experience directing international wilderness schools as well as guiding in both mountain and coastal settings. She is driven by a desire to create lasting connections between people, the outdoors, and their communities.

Laura earned a BS in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences with an Outdoor Education Specialist certificate. Since then she has logged eighteen years of guiding adventure activities in six countries. As an instructor for the DYS Wilderness Challenge Program, she led youth involved with the court system on 31-day wilderness expeditions. Then she began her love affair with Latin America as the Program Director for Exposure Adventure Program in the Dominican Republic. She also spent two years as the Program Director for Costa Rica Outward Bound. Recently Laura was a part of the REI Chicago Outdoor School team.

Laura is a certified Wilderness First Responder, SCUBA Diver, Level 2 UKCC Paddlesports Coach, and holds a British Canoeing Three Star Award in Sea Kayak, Canoe, and Whitewater Kayak. She is also an American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Instructor and Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor. Outside of CAT, you can find Laura running, playing soccer, and trying to find ways to make the Chicago weather warmer.

Zorbari Nwidor (she/her)

Senior Program Staff, Coastal Management Team Leader

Zorbari Nwidor

Zorbari started her involvement with CAT as a former participant in 2009. Since then she completed an internship with CAT, became a part of our Program Staff, and then moved up to our Senior Staff Team.

Zorbari holds a British Canoeing Three Star Award and in 2012 became the youngest Level 1 UKCC Paddlesports Coach in North America. Zorbari graduated from Howard University in May 2017.

Vicky Koch (she/her)

Senior Program Staff

Vicky volunteered with CAT in 2019 and is excited about joining the team in a larger role. Her outdoor experience includes 5 years of guiding/instructing on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan for Kayak Chicago, and has an ACA Level 2 kayaking instructor certification. She is a Wilderness First Responder, PADI Open Water Diver, and has a BA in psychology from DePaul University (the first in her family). In addition to working with CAT, she is a Spanish speaking teacher’s assistant at Spark Montessori, which has an outdoor education program .

As a second-generation Mexican American breaking cultural norm, the outdoors has helped Vicky instill a greater sense of independence, community, and continues to help her grow. In 2017 she hiked 1,400 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, has done adventure travel in over 10 countries, lived in a van in 2018 while visiting U.S. National Parks, gone on multi-day kayak expeditions, and more.

Tiara Coats (she/her)

Program Staff

CAT Youth Intern Tiara Coats

Tiara began as a youth participant with CAT during the summer of 2015. Despite hating kayaking the first day and swearing she would never do it again, Tiara went on to earn her British Canoeing Two Star Award and in 2016 took the title of North America’s youngest Level 1 UKCC Paddlesports Coach from Zorbari (see above). Tiara was a Youth Intern with CAT in the summer of 2017 and is now a part of our program staff. She is currently attending her dream college, Clark Atlanta University.

Rox Pelagio (they/them)

Program Staff [former IDNR Coastal Management Project Coordinator]

Hi, I’m Rox. I’ve been with Chicago Adventure Therapy since September 2018. I’ve obtained a 1 Star Award from British Canoeing, and I’m looking forward to obtaining a 3 Star Award soon. I have experience working on a boat and working at a swimming pool. Those jobs made me realize that I enjoy being by water, because of that one of my goals is to move out of state to keep working in the water sports field.
*After serving as a Project Coordinator in 2020-2021, Rox became a member of our year-round program team.

Anthony Montoya (he/him)

IDNR Coastal Management Project Coordinator (2020 – 2021)

Hello my name is Anthony Montoya. I am 20 years old and have been kayaking for 4 years. I’m a first generation college student pursuing my political science degree in order to transition into law school. I work as a career coach helping youth who have been incarcerated with their career plans, while being part of Chicago Adventure Therapy, helping to bring opportunities for minorities at all levels. I want to expand more on-the-water activities to communities who haven’t had the exposure. I firmly believe that we can make kayaking a more diverse sport by exposing more people of color to it.

Nicole Tolentino (she/her)

Summer Clinical Staff

Nicole has worked for CAT for several summers. More information coming soon!

Ella Petersen (they/them)

Year-round Program Intern
Ella is thrilled to be able to join CAT this year. They are currently completing their MSW at Erikson Institute and hope to continue connecting with youth in the outdoors following graduation. They completed their B.A. in psychology in 2016, and worked for an adventure-based boarding school and a few different Wilderness Therapy programs, as a field instructor, following graduation. They have led various expeditions with teens involving backpacking, canoeing, rock-climbing, and camping. They really enjoy spending time in nature with young people, confronting challenges, and trying new things. Ella finds the outdoors to be a transformative and healing place. They enjoy rock-climbing, hiking, swimming, sleeping in a tent, building fires, and basking in the sunshine. They love building strong connections with young people and supporting them through new and challenging experiences outside. Nature is their favorite playground!

Jennifer Velazquez (she/her)

Summer Program Intern

Jennifer is looking forward to interning with CAT this summer. She will graduate in December with a Bachelors in Psychology, a concentration in Forensics, and a minor in Criminal Justice. Jennifer has always had a passion for helping others in whatever way she can. Currently she volunteers with the Crisis Text Line assisting individuals in crisis to feel empowered to manage their emotions in the moment and work to equip them with coping mechanisms for the future.

Jennifer enjoys being active, whether it’s hiking, basketball or being in the water, you can count her in! Since a young age Jennifer has loved sports and outdoor activities. Some of her favorites include rollerblading, basketball, soccer and swimming. She is excited to get active with CAT this summer!

Chicago Adventure Therapy Board of Directors

Christopher Moore (he/him)

Board Member

Christopher brings a unique combination of skills to CAT. He has a passion for the outdoors, an understanding of how outdoor experiences can be transformative, experience leading and creating outdoor programs, and a degree in Park and Recreation Administration. Christopher’s outdoor background and experience is matched, even surpassed, by his deep and varied experience and leadership in the field of youth development, working as front-line staff, supervisor and program manager in a variety of settings including transitional living programs, residential treatment, alternative education and youth centers. Currently Christopher works as a Site Director at Lawrence Hall Youth Services. His favorite outdoor sport is swimming.

Maggie Byrne (she/her)

Board Member

Maggie first got involved with Chicago Adventure Therapy through her participation in the CAT Paddling Community.  Because of her love of sea kayaking, and her love of teaching and coaching sea kayaking skills, she joined the group to spend as much time as she could on the water, but then stuck around to be a part of this awesome community of youth and adults.

Having joined the Board of Directors in 2016, Maggie is excited to have the opportunity to work with the amazing staff of CAT, and other Directors on the Board, to strengthen and build the organization and support the realization of its mission. She has extensive experience working for and partnering with non-profit organizations, and is a past Board Member of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association.  Maggie is currently a Grants Specialist for The Nature Conservancy.  She’s happiest when she is doing anything outdoors, and particularly loves finding ways to appreciate “bad” weather days.

Chris Von Briesen (he/him)

Board Member

Chris first met CAT at a GLSKS event when he was teaching a rescue course (see Tiara, above). After volunteering with CAT for several years, he was asked to join the board.

Chris has been an avid paddler and wilderness camper for over 35 years. His passion for coaching is based on the reward of challenging others with new skills or experiences and exposing and engaging individuals to the natural and physical sciences.

A Camp Manito-wish alumni, he was a participant on an Expeditionary Canuck: a 50 day, 700 mile canoe journey from Saskatchewan to Hudson Bay.  Chris took his bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Psychology and leveraged his interest in pre-hospital care (as former EMT) into a professional career in clinical research.  He has worked for private industry and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Chris is a member of an advisory group for the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee.  He brings years of experience working with youth of various ages, backgrounds, and capabilities from his involvement with the Urban Ecology Center, Camp Manito-wish, SherriKayaks high school programs, and CAT.

He is excited to support CAT in this new role and brings a solid background in project planning/management, training/education, data analysis, and community outreach.

Summer 2019 – Andrea’s sabbatical and West Coast Expedition

“Summer 2019 is going to be a different summer. Laura and I will be running Chicago Adventure Therapy while Andrea will be on sabbatical. I’m excited, slightly nervous, but mostly looking forward to this opportunity to take on a larger role in CAT. I look forward to working with our partner agencies and supporters. I know that with our combined experience and passion we will make this summer one full of quality programs, and great experiences.” ~ Zorbari

“After 10 plus years planning, building and leading Chicago Adventure Therapy, I will be taking a sabbatical this summer. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have staff that I know will not only take very good care of CAT, but will improve the organization while I’m paddling the West Coast.” ~ Andrea

Laura: “I am thrilled to work for CAT for another year. I will do my best to fill Andrea’s {paddling} shoes.”

For anyone who might wonder, Laura’s best is really, really good. Tiara will be joining our summer staff for the 3rd year and will provide additional institutional knowledge, a good understanding of youth participants, and the ability to get it done when several young people have jumped in the water and need rescuing. Two clinical staff from 2017 and 2018 will be returning as well, so CAT is in very good hands while Andrea is away. Look for new projects and infrastructure to build for the future when Andrea returns in the fall.

PS – you can follow along with Andrea’s West Coast Adventure on the Expedition Facebook page.