TRUE NORTH YOUTH PROGRAM
navigating opportunities for teens
~ True North youth have earned over $3.5 million in college scholarships & financial aid since 2014 ~
Voted Telluride Middle High School's 2022 "Friend of Education"
Staff & Board
Vivian Russell, Executive Director and Co-Founder
A fourth generation Coloradan and Denver native, Vivian graduated with honors from Colorado College in 2001 with a BA in English. She then lived in San Francisco for four years and worked and volunteered with several nonprofits including: Project Open Hand, San Francisco School Volunteers, James S. Brady Therapeutic Riding Program, Junior League, and Arts in Action. In 2005, Vivian was hired as the Development Associate for Save Our Youth Mentoring Project in Denver, an agency serving over 500 urban youth per year. After moving to Telluride in 2007, Vivian served for five years as the Executive Director of One to One San Miguel Mentoring Program, where she created the annual Top Chef fundraiser, multi-day summer camping trip, and grew the organization to serve more youth than ever before. In 2009 she was awarded a scholarship from the El Pomar Foundation and Telluride Foundation to participate in the Colorado Community Resource Center's Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program, of which she is a graduate. In 2014, after recognizing a need in the region for a teen-specific mentoring program, Vivian co-founded True North along with Lanier Nelson and Betsy Walker. The three all worked as unpaid staff for four years to build the organization on a grass-roots model. Vivian is passionate about education and loves helping students find a pathway to college. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking for family and friends as well as exploring and photographing river canyons and other wilderness places.
Zita Surprenant, Program Coordinator
Zita loves any opportunity she can get to be a small part of the big community machine that helps our youth discover all the joy, courage, and confidence possible. What an honor to be involved in the care of such a deeply special place! Originally from sunny, seasonless Southern California, Zita attended college in New York City, graduating from Columbia University with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Public Health. Desperate for the comfort of a small town and beauty of a wild place, Zita moved to Colorado for a job with Telluride Academy. After falling in love (obviously!) with the spirit of this corner of Colorado and the adults, children, and animals that share it, Zita moved to Norwood and accepted a job with the San Miguel Resource Center. Working as a Prevention Educator, Zita teaches a monthly social-emotional curriculum with K-12ers from Telluride to Paradox. She knows she is so lucky to get to hang out with these incredible students even more. When she is not working, Zita loves to write, learn local history through books and big adventures, make art, forage, cook, and meet new friends who like to do the same.
Elizabeth Forsythe, Program Staff
Elizabeth has lived in Telluride for 15 years and has a degree in Drama Education from the University of Montana. Before coming to work for True North, she worked at Telluride High School first as a para-professional and then as a Special Education Teacher. She enjoys writing music, singing, playing ukulele and flute, and spending time with her son. Elizabeth is very excited to be working with True North, as she will still get the opportunity to build positive relationships with students and families.
Erin Squires, Friday HangOut Coordinator
I grew up in Boulder and then spent 20 years in the South. I'm happy to be back in my home state getting to rediscover all the amazing things Colorado has to offer. From building my little farm to exploring the mountains, there is so much to do and see and I love sharing it with others.
Samantha Lee, Apprentice
Samantha is a native of Bedrock, Colorado. She has participated in True North Youth Program since her freshman year of high school. She enjoyed all of the activities and adventures she went on as a True North student. Samantha graduated from Nucla High School in May 2022 and is excited to work with True North as a part-time staff member going forward. Samantha loves spending time out in the wilderness, she enjoys backpacking and river rafting along with camping.
Bianca Schillaci, Telluride High School Student Ambassador
Previously a summer 2022 intern
My name is Bianca Schillaci, and I am True North's summer 2022 intern! I am currently going into my junior year of high school in Telluride. I am bi-lingual and bi-cultural. My mother is Peruvian and my father is an American. I hold dual citizenship. Spanish is the primary language spoken in my home, but I was also raised as a native English speaker. I have always lived in Telluride, Colorado. Having said that, living in Telluride has made me fond of the outdoors, adventure, and community engagement. I am very interested in how nonprofits are run and would consider running my own nonprofit one day.
Board of Directors
Rose Gutfeld, PRESIDENT, (Telluride, CO) Retired journalist
Rose specializes as a True North College & Career Readiness volunteer. She works with True North staff every with in the Telluride High School AVID class and volunteers regularly as a tutor for After School Base Camp.
David Ziegler, TREASURER, (Telluride, CO) Rentals Manager, Telluride Sports
Dave specializes in True North's outdoor programs and has lent his time and talent as a chaperone and yoga instructor for our group activities.
Suse Connolly, Esq., SECRETARY, (Mountain Village, CO)
Suse is a real-estate lawyer and specializes in editing internal documents, sourcing new scholarship opportunities for students, as well as editing student essays and applications for jobs, scholarships, and college.
McKay Belk, (Norwood, CO)
McKay and his wife Nina raised five children in Colorado and have opened up their home and farm in Norwood for True North activities and programs. True North participants have enjoyed many fond memories at the Valentine Farm and Jubilee Stables including equine activities, the annual Valentine Has Heart Valentines Day celebration, the summer retreat for the Rising Stars, and helping out at the fireman's fundraiser. McKay also lends his longtime business expertise to our organization.
Matt Lewis, (Mountain Village, CO) Matt Lewis Design
Matt is an avid skier, mentor and volunteer! If he's not maintaining properties or out skiing, he can be found at any one of our programs. He especially enjoys getting outdoors and working with our youth to build new skills!
Tanya Morlang, (Redvale, CO)
Tanya Morlang was born and raised in the Norwood area. After high school, she left the area for a short time to attend college. Her love for this area drew her back to start her business, Total Image Salon, in 2001. Her and her husband Mike, knew that this was where they wanted to raise their children. Tanya’s true passion is her family. She has three kids, her oldest Saige attends CSU, Brenna attends Norwood High School, and Cooper attends Norwood Elementary School. In her free-time, Tanya enjoys outdoor activities with her family and can be found exploring off-road trails, snowmobiling, and boating.
Lanier Nelson, Co-Founder, (Kerville, TX)
While growing up in the south, Lanier was exposed to volunteer work early on with his mother who would bring him and his brother along to deliver meals to the elderly. In high school Lanier was involved in sports to keep him occupied and out of trouble, which proved to be effective. His volunteer spirit was again fed in college by becoming a volunteer tutor with Western Youth Network. In the summers he was a camp counselor at a camp for adopted children. To this day Lanier still speaks to one of his campers twice a month.In his time as an adult Lanier wasted little time at pouring himself into mentoring. He started mentoring shortly after his arrival in Telluride, CO. He is still in contact with his original mentee. Lanier taught him how to drive a manual transmission, be respectful of others, give a firm handshake and to give more than he takes. Lanier coached Telluride High School soccer, was a One-to-One Mentor, and a Young Life leader in Telluride, before co-founding True North Youth Program in 2014. He now lives in Texas with his wife Denee and their son, Benjamin True Nelson. He graduated with his Master's in Social Work In October of 2019 to broaden his impact on the world. Lanier is currently working at a mental health authority on the crisis outreach team. He and his family often make the trip to Telluride for graduation.
Jody Miller, (Telluride, CO)
Jody is passionate about her three kids and dog, education and learning, personal growth, self-awareness and authenticity, neurodiversity, reading, writing, music, truth, honesty, spending time outdoors, exercising, eating healthy food (especially all kinds of vegetables), and getting to know quirky and curious people of all ages. She is the founder of 2e Blossom Through Strengths, a strengths based assessment program to help students and parents in educational discoveries.
Our Advisory Board is invaluable as they have each been involved in True North programming and provide incredible direction through their expertise and know-how. Thank you to all who have given of their talents to True North.
Betsy Walker, (Sawpit, CO) Co-Founder of True North Youth Program, Betsy served on the board for 8 years. Betsy helped develop the five core programs and served as a tutor and college preparedness Navigator. Betsy has volunteered with youth programs for more than twenty years.
Ashley Coady Smith, (Telluride, CO) Founder of Sage Advice Telluride (a capacity building and project management business for nonprofits in Telluride, CO), has worked in outdoor education, nonprofit management and sales/marketing for over 11 years.
Alex Jones, (Sawpit, CO) Telluride High School Guidance Counselor.
John Mansfield, (Norwood, CO) Founder of One to One San Miguel Mentoring Program, former director of San Miguel County Juvenile Diversion and professor of fine art. John is also a former True North Board member and founder of the Tom Hale Memorial Scholarship.
Ashley Williamson, (Ophir, CO) Telluride Intermediate School Teacher, English Language Learner specialist, Director of 2018 Rising Stars Summer Bridge Program, True North Founding Board Member.
Susan Oupadia, MD, (Telluride, CO) Board of Telluride Museum, Telluride Women's Network, former leader of adolescent girls program for Peace Corps in Albania.
Cheryl Carstens Miller, (Telluride, CO) Former School Board Director, AVID sponsor, Just for Kids Board Member.
Erik Fallenius, (Telluride, CO) Just for Kids Foundation founder, Director of Mountains to Desert ride, owner of Nevasca Realty.
Ross Williams, (Ridgeway, CO) Former Co-Executive Director, Founder of Ouray Ice Festival and Ice Climbing adventure, Norwood High School Civics teacher.
Jenna Hagen, (Telluride, CO) ESL Teacher, TIS.
Don Mitchell, (San Bernardo) Founding True North Board Member, Educator, former One Telluride Executive Director.
Nancy Hild, (Telluride, CO) Founding True North Board of Directors, business owner, raised three sons in Telluride.
David Almaraz, (Boulder, CO) True North alumni currently studying Business at CU Boulder.
Brenda Gutierrez, (Durango, CO) True North alumni currently studying Education at Fort Lewis College.