Taproot’s Co-Founders

Taproot’s Co-Founders

Zac moved a lot as a kid, living in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas, and West Virginia. In each new spot he would first seek out the neighborhood nature places—alleys, overgrown lots, and wooded playground edges—and then would set about making new friends. Zac credits this wide-ranging, ever-changing childhood experience for his adaptability, open mind, ability to relate to people, and most of all, his deep love of nature.

As a young adult, Zac kept moving: Stints of college in Missouri and Iowa, a couple seasons at an Alaska fishing lodge, a summer of exploring in Guatemala, and a month of backpacking in the wild highlands of Tasmania. He settled in Iowa City in 1998, later earning a degree in Elementary Social Studies Education and in 2001 accepted the role of Middle Group Teacher at Willowwind School, where he taught for seven years.

Although born in Australia, Elesa grew up on what was then the edge of West Des Moines. In her free time she could be found in one of her favorite places, the pool, or not found in another favorite place, exploring the seemingly vast woods just outside her back door. She went off to high school in Connecticut, where long runs through the Appalachian Mountains and moonlit skating on a frozen pond strengthened her connection to nature and solitude.

Elesa also took a circuitous route through young adulthood, via the Naval Academy and University of Maryland, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, opening a snowboard shop in Park City, Utah, and finally to Iowa City where she earned Masters degrees in Secondary English Education and Healthcare Administration.

Zac and Elesa joined up in 2004 and began to build their life together. Zac grew increasingly restless as a classroom teacher, and they brainstormed ways he could pursue meaningful work that utilized his strengths. In late August, 2007, they bought a van and offered the first session of the Taproot After-School Nature Enrichment Program. The community response was immediate and enthusiastic, and the Taproot ethos and programming have branched out and evolved steadily ever since.

For 15 years, Elesa dedicated immeasurable time and energy to nurturing and sustaining Taproot, largely behind the scenes, while also working at one or more other jobs as a research scientist, English teacher, and digital product manager. Last fall she made the momentous decision to realize a longtime desire to work and teach full-time for Taproot. It has been wonderful.

Over the years, Elesa and Zac have continued to learn about the power and critical need for nature, at all ages and in all domains our our human lives. In addition, they have realized the crucial importance of providing children a space of freedom, self-direction, and Unconditional Positive Regard, where they can discover and express their true selves and know other people will be nice. Every day Elesa and Zac are grateful that providing this space is their work.

Elesa and Zac have three teenage children Iris, Ani, and Gavin. The kids have grown up in Taproot and keep a strong foundation in nature even as they pursue other interests. Besides teaching and thinking about Taproot, Zac and Elesa love to cheer on their children, dig in the garden, make good food, go for long runs and hikes, travel, and connect with nature at every opportunity. Over the years the family has been graced with a long lineage of wonderful and hilarious dogs, cats, goats, pigs, birds, and other animals. Currently they share their space with four snuggly cats, two chickens, and a giant fluffy dog, Ozzie.