James River Association Staff
I was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up camping at the mountain headwaters of the James River and spending summers on the Chesapeake Bay. As a child, I remember following my father as he waded in lush underwater grass beds dipping for soft shell crabs. But by the time I came of age to dip for crabs myself, those vital grass beds were gone because pollution wiped them out. Now with two sons of my own, my personal mission is to ensure that my sons are able to enjoy healthy Virginia waters that are closer to what my father experienced growing up than the degraded ones of my own childhood.
I have been with the James River Association since 2005. It is thrilling to see the progress we have made over that time, not only in the programs we are implementing but also in the river itself. Every time I see a sturgeon breach, an eagle soar or see people swimming in the river right downtown, it fuels my fire to keep the James River comeback coming.
Prior to serving as CEO of the James River Association, I worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as well as an environmental consulting firm, Malcolm Pirnie, in Newport News, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Duke University Wetland Center, and the Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia. I am a double Hoo and a Dukie too with degrees in Commerce and Urban and Environmental Planning from Virginia and Environmental Management from Duke. I’m a James Changer!
I’m James Abbott and growing up in the Tidewater of Virginia, the James River was an incredible natural backdrop to grow up with. Many of my first outdoor experiences and actives were in the marshes along its banks or on the trails in its western mountains. I left for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington were I earned a BS in Biology and Environmental Science becoming a researcher and conservation biologist. I went on to protect and study the habitats of southeastern river systems through the research of birds. This culminated in graduate school at UNC Wilmington studying the food webs of the upper Bladen River in Belize. All of these research projects taught me that science doesn’t elicit change without dedicated education. My MS in Environmental Science concentrated in education. I joined the JRA team in Williamsburg in 2017 and I work to conserve America’s Founding River by fostering an understand and care for the natural world in students across the Lower James Watershed. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Kristen Armstrong, and I grew up on the Delaware River north of Philadelphia. From a young age, the river’s canal and park system connected me to my community and our natural world, and there I spent virtually all of my free time exploring. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my time walking and biking the trails and watching tiny tadpoles turn to frogs. Before joining James River Association, I spent ten years in the nonprofit industry working for organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank and The Breast Cancer Fundraiser in California, as well as America’s Charities in Northern Virginia. I currently live near Pony Pasture on Richmond’s south side with my family and our two dogs (who love the James just as much as I do!) I am thrilled that my role brings me back to what I love, connecting the community to the river and JRA’s great work. I am committed to ensuring that we are all able to continue to enjoying our river for generations to come. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Catherine Buchanan and I grew up in Clarke County, Virginia enjoying the outdoors riding hunter/jumpers and foxhunting with the Blue Ridge Hunt. I spent many weekends canoeing and camping along the Shenandoah River, boating and enjoying wildlife during college on the Potomac River and now living in Midlothian enjoying time and recreating on the James River. I recall bacteria levels being so high that you were warned against enjoying the river systems that brought me peace and enjoyment. After 23 years of working in a Development career with non-profits such as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, The Science Museum of Virginia and University of Richmond, I took a position with the largest global conservation group, The Nature Conservancy. There I held the Director of Development position for Virginia for close to seven years. A deeper appreciation of conservation grew from this role. I work toward raising awareness and connecting people to our nation’s founding river. I’m a James Changer!
Senior Environmental Educator
I grew up on Richmond’s southside, just a short walk away from the banks of the James River. As I grew up and became more independent, I began to use the James River as the backdrop for adventurous activities–running on trails, climbing at Manchester Wall and, eventually, floating and paddling on the river itself. After graduating from the University of Virginia, I returned to Richmond to begin my teaching career as an elementary school teacher. My goal as a teacher was to get outside as much as possible,in an attempt to help students love the natural spots right outside of their classroom, before asking them to advocate for it. In 2016, I left Richmond for a few years to pursue a Master’s Degree, earning an M.Ed with a concentration in Science and Environmental Education from Antioch University New England. I moved to Brooklyn, New York where I taught third grade at a Title 1 Public School for 3 years, and grew passionate about creating a more just and equitable public education system. My love for nature education, and a desire to be closer to family, pulled me back to Richmond. Now that I am back home, I have a greater perspective on my role in advocating for the river that I grew up loving. I’m so pleased to be able to share that love for the river with each and every student that experiences our education program. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Rob Campbell and I joined the James River Association in October 2013 as the Upper James Community Conservationist in the Lynchburg office. I consider myself lucky to be a native of the Lynchburg area, growing up in close proximity to the James River and have spent a considerable amount of time boating the river and its tributaries. Prior to joining the James River Association, I spent five years with the James River Float Company where I served as a head raft guide and manager. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Randolph College in 2013. I currently reside in Amherst County on my family farm adjoining the banks of the Piney River. In my free time I spend as much time as I can outdoors, canoeing or rafting many Central and Western Virginia rivers, as well as hiking, climbing and camping in the one-of-a-kind Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m a James Changer!
Hey there! My name is Justin Doyle and I’m the James River Association’s Community Conservation Manager. I pursued a career in conservation to protect precious natural resources like the James River and have been a James River Association staff member since 2013. I promote conservation and responsible stewardship of our natural resources and help communities realize the benefits of a healthy James River. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from the University of Mary Washington in 2008, a Master of Urban & Regional Planning degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, and completed the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute in 2016. My family and I reside in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, which overlooks the James River. In my spare time I enjoy gardening, traveling, hiking, bicycling, snow skiing, and exploring the James River by canoe, kayak, and stand up paddleboard. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Nat Draper, and I joined the James River Association in April 2015. Before that, I was a public school science teacher in Henrico County for 16 years, serving both JR Tucker and Deep Run High Schools and teaching Earth Science and AP Environmental Science. I am always excited to see students grow in their knowledge of environmental students and immerse themselves in hands-on learning. My interest in science sent me to Randolph Macon College where I received my degree in Environmental Studies. I then went to Virginia Commonwealth University for a Masters in Education. As the Senior Education Manager at the James River Association, I have the opportunity to present environmental education at the James River Ecology School on Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. I also work with many science specialists throughout the watershed to create Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences for their students. It is my passion to teach our next generation how to become advocates for the James River. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Amber Ellis and I grew up in Powhatan County, Virginia with the woods, creeks, and James River as my playground. Throughout my life the James has continued to bring me joy, healing, and inspiration. Outside is where I feel most at home and is why I have grown a passion for protecting it. Building diverse partnerships to restore streamside forests and tidal shorelines is at the heart of my work across the James River watershed. I serve as the convener for the Upper and Middle James Riparian Consortium and manage the James River Buffer Program. My strengths in relationship building, finding community based solutions to watershed wide challenges, and my love of the flora and fauna of the James watershed guide my work. I earned a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Virginia Tech, where I learned how to create landscapes that enrich both our human and natural communities. I am a Professional Landscape Architect in Virginia, a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional, and have a certificate in Ecotherapy through the EarthBody Institute. I am grateful that I get to lead Watershed Restoration efforts across the James River watershed and connect people to each other and the James through volunteering and James River Rx gatherings. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Katie Ferrell, a Richmond, Virginia native, whose love for the great outdoors started from an early age. With a park ranger mother, I spent endless days exploring National Parks along the East Coast and frequently fished on the James River with my father. I noticed early on that the health of the James was important as I saw first-hand how the water quality and pollution that infected our water was damaging our local ecosystem. My dedication to conserving our environment, especially our water systems, lead me to a BA in Environment Studies from Ashford University and a MS in Natural Resource Management from the University of Denver. From researching sea turtles in North Carolina to spearheading environmental education programs in Florida, I became cognizant of the impact water qualities have on communities. I’m excited to return to my Virginia roots with the charge of educating our youth on the importance of protecting our watershed, the significance of clean water, and how they can revive the environment. I’m a James Changer!
I’ve been fortunate to spend my entire life in towns and cities that feature beautiful areas of water. Growing up in Wisconsin, my summers and winters (let’s be honest, there are only two seasons in Wisconsin) revolved around the neighborhood pond where I spent countless days swimming, picking wild raspberries, and conquering my fear of bees. My early love of the outdoors ignited a lifelong passion for conserving and respecting natural resources, which only grew every place I moved, whether receiving my Communications Arts degree at UW-Madison’s lake-sandwiched campus, living close to Lake Michigan in Chicago, or immersing myself near the Puget Sound in Seattle. When I moved to Richmond in 2018, I was immediately struck by the city’s fierce love for our beautiful James River. After my first visit to Belle Isle, I felt immense gratitude that such a unique and special resource was so accessible to the public. I am thrilled to be working for an organization that holds such a pivotal role in protecting and improving our streams, creeks, rivers, and the surrounding ecosystems. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Emily Hinson and I grew up in Washington, DC wading and playing in the small creeks and tributaries feeding into the Potomac River. Family ties brought me to the Hampton Roads region often, and I grew up learning about the maritime history of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. It wasn’t until I began as a student at the College of William & Mary that I started spending more time out on the river. As a biology and environmental science student, I got to experience the outdoor classrooms of the James River tidal marshes. As a rower, I spent hours every week on the James and its tributaries. My time on the river in college inspired me to begin my career on the Patuxent River in Maryland, teaching outdoor and environmental education. I had the opportunity to return to the James in 2017 to work in JRA’s Williamsburg office. My job here at JRA allows me to connect folks to our river and work on projects that improve the water quality of the James. I’m a James Changer!
Hi everyone! I am Casey Johnson, born and raised in Morris County, New Jersey. I had a late start with developing my love for the environment. This love did not develop until my senior year of high school when I took my first environmental science class. From then on, I knew I wanted to spend my life educating others about the importance of protecting the environment. I went to James Madison University for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in Integrated Science and Technology with a concentration in the environment. I then moved to Richmond to attend graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University. I immediately fell in love with Richmond and the James River. At VCU I received a graduate degree in Environmental Studies and a certification in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I have worked at environmental nonprofit organizations throughout undergraduate and graduate school, and I am very excited to continue with my passion for this work at JRA. I’m a James Changer!
I spent much of my youth exploring the habitats, history, and communities that make up the Chesapeake Bay. I remember early mornings on the beach watching tall ships sail in, muggy middle school canoe trips to measure Bay grasses, and chilly evenings camping and laughing along the James River. My love for the region took me to William and Mary Law School, where I joined the Virginia Coastal Policy Center, working on sea level rise and stormwater management. Selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 as one of ten fellows to work on Capitol Hill, I went on to serve as legislative counsel for Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland, supporting his work as co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus. Now, I’m back to my roots, sharing my enthusiasm for clean water and pushing for smart policies that can change the James for the better! I’m a James Changer!
I’m Sophia Mourtaza, a Northern Virginia native and I grew up with the Potomac River in my backyard. From an early age, I was fascinated by the outdoors; my fondest childhood memories are exploring the Potomac’s riparian forests and learning about local wildlife. I started visiting Richmond frequently when my siblings attended VCU. Whenever I’d visit I looked forward to spending time by the James. The river, as well as concern for water issues in general, inspired me to pursue a career in the outdoor sector and protect natural resources for our community and future generations. I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 and earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Resources Management. During my time in college, I had the opportunity to travel to Kabul, Afghanistan and work with the country’s National Environmental Protection Agency to organize trash cleanups and educate civilians about environmental conservation. I have been with JRA since 2022 and I am excited to be part of an organization that advocates for protection of the James River and its resources. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Melissa O’Neill, and after having lived in Bloomington, Indiana for 9 years I am excited to have relocated to Richmond, VA in 2021. Having traveled and lived in numerous biomes, I am delighted to be in an area where there is year-round sunshine, a river, and a longer growing season. I love plants and can be found year-round putting plants in the ground, for myself and others. I received my Bachelors degree in Sociology from James Madison University and went on to get a Masters degree in Public Affairs from the O’Neill School at Indiana University which focused on environmental policy and natural resource management. I am excited to be keeping JRA staff on track with their programs as well as doing my part to help protect the health of our beautiful river. I’m a James Changer!
Accounting & Office Administrator
Allegheny, Anacostia, Corsica, East, Hudson, James, Monongahela, Ohio, Potomac, Patapsco, Tred Avon. Rivers have defined every place I’ve lived and my life has been enriched by my interaction with each. Whether a sunrise walk to orient my day, an afternoon spent exploring with my family, or a peaceful cruise to dockside ice cream, my water experiences are the ones I treasure and rely on for relaxation and renewal. Through my work with education and non-profit organizations, my life has intersected with protecting and supporting the environment around us, all leading back to the watersheds and waterways that are so special to us. I am delighted to be part of the JRA team protecting the James River and connecting people to it. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Shawn Ralston and I grew up in both the piedmont and coast of North Carolina. As a child, I lived on the banks of a lake that provided drinking water for our town, and from there became interested at a very young age with how my daily actions affected the water that my family depended on. During my childhood and into college, I was an avid swimmer who spent hours a day immersed in water. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington, I worked for the Department of Environmental Protection in Charlotte, NC conducting water quality monitoring on streams, lakes and rivers. From there, I returned to school and received my Master of Marine Affairs and Juris Doctor from the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams School of Law respectively. After spending 8 years in Wilmington, NC leading environmental programs and managing planning for New Hanover County, I relocated to Richmond. My hope is that my children are able to experience and interact with the James as so many others have for generations. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Erin Reilly, the James River Association’s Staff Scientist. I’m a native Virginian, and though I’ve left many times, I can’t help coming back. I’ve spent the last 13 years working on coastal and estuary issues; working with oysters, snails and clams at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, tracking migratory fish, helping towns prepare for coastal flooding and monitoring natural and restored marshes with the Barnegat Bay Partnership in New Jersey, and most recently at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory working on water quality, restoration monitoring, and urban biodiversity research. I love sharing my enthusiasm for science and the habitats I study with the community, whether through community science initiatives or talking to people about my research at the dock. I’m a James Changer!
Anne Marie Roberts
I grew up in Michigan surrounded by the Great Lakes and swimming in them as a child began my love of water. I have called Virginia home since 2003 when I graduated from Sweet Briar College with a degree in Environmental Science. Prior to joining JRA I worked for the Robert E. Lee Soil & Water Conservation District coordinating the Amherst Watershed Protection Program since 2004. I developed and managed the Amherst Tree Buffer Program for over 10 years, earning the Chesapeake Bay’s Forest Champion Award in 2016. I enjoy connecting with a wide range of landowners across the Middle James River Watershed and assisting them with improving their land and water, mainly through the installation of forested riparian buffers. I assist landowners with finding natural resource protection solutions and encourage stewardship of their land. I’m a James Changer!
Gail Richmond Robinson, CPA
Among my favorite childhood memories are those of going out on my grandfather’s pontoon boat and fishing off the dock behind his Florida home. More recently, when travelling I always make it a priority to hop on a river or lake cruise when I arrive in a new city to orient myself to it and help me understand how that city finds its center and its heart in the body of water it proudly calls its own. Like most people I am drawn to water and find tranquility by connecting with it. Before joining the James River Association in January 2020 I had no idea the James was the source of water for nearly 3 million Virginians. I moved to the Richmond area 30 years ago and have loved calling RVA home. I grew up in New York and Florida and graduated from Lafayette College with a BA in Economics and Business. After working at a “big eight” accounting firm I lead the accounting and HR functions at a small Virginia state authority, then served as Director of Finance & Administration at the Richmond Symphony for ten years, where I learned of the true passion with which nonprofits operate as they strive to do good work and better their communities. I am deeply concerned about the climate and recognize the great importance of our natural resources. I am thrilled to be a member of the JRA staff and do my part to help protect the health of our beautiful river. I’m a James changer!
Senior Education Manager
As the child of a Navy officer, I grew up traveling the world. My perspective on outdoor experiences changed with a school hiking expedition to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in 9th grade. Since then, I take every chance I get to be outdoors, exploring our world! My early outdoor experience led me to rowing on high school, college, and local teams on the James River and its tributaries. I studied Geology at the College of William and Mary to learn even more about this amazing planet. I love living in Richmond, where I can be in an urban wilderness on the river in just a 5-minute walk from my house. To share my love of the outdoors, I earned a Master of Arts in Secondary Education and taught Earth Science and Oceanography at Freeman High School for 7 years. Armed with cameras, drones, and field sampling tools, I brought pieces of my field expeditions back to my classroom! Using innovative educational technologies like GIS and Augmented Reality, I recreated my trips as in-classroom experiences. Now with the James River Association, I can take education back outside and encourage young people to explore their environments like I did in school. I’m a James Changer.
Riparian Stewardship Coordinator
I was born in Richmond and grew up In Chesterfield County. I spent my weekends camping, fishing, and paddling the James River with Boy Scouts, and as a teen spent many summer days at Pony Pasture and Belle Isle. I graduated from Longwood University with a degree in History, and spent five years working for Virginia State Parks. During my time working for parks, I had the opportunity to work with many excellent volunteers on enhancing the health and quality of the James River. I am excited to be a part of the James River Association and continuing my career of working to better the environment and teaching others how to do the same. I’m a James Changer!
I’m Caron Sterling, as a child growing-up in Gloucester County I was fortunate to have many opportunities to appreciate and connect with the Chesapeake Bay, and its vast tributaries. Most weekends were spent on the water sailing, crabbing, fishing and swimming. After college I spent a year helping with a private aquaculture-based oyster growing project in Mathews County, which hit home for me the importance of a healthy ecosystem and how our actions have a negative or positive affect on water quality. Having lived in Richmond for over 25 years, the James River is now the source of many on the water recreation opportunities for my family from jumping rocks at Brown’s Island to tubing through the beautiful rural countryside in the Scottsville area. Working with the James River Association I recognize how the James River is key to improving and enhancing our community, and how every action on land, on water or in the air affects the quality of the James River. I’m a James Changer
I’m Ryan Walsh and I grew up in Southern Pines, North Carolina. I’ve spent much of my life exploring the outdoors, and have long been passionate about vital riverine and marine habitats. I cultivated my enthusiasm by exploring barrier islands and salt marshes, becoming intimately familiar with the plants and animals that call them home. I went to school in Wilmington, North Carolina, earning a BS in Marine Biology from UNC Wilmington and an AAS in Marine Technology from Cape Fear Community College. Since recently coming to Virginia, I have simply fallen in love with the James River, and want to see it returned to a healthy natural state, and am thrilled about the Great Return of breeding Atlantic sturgeon. To this end, I work to conserve America’s Founding River by actively fighting sea level rise and protecting the tidal communities of the Lower James. I’m a James Changer.
I’m Angie Williams and growing up in Mechanicsville, VA, I spent the majority of my time outdoors; chasing chickens, riding horses and building forts in the woods. My love of horses took me to Virginia Intermont College, where I received a degree in Equine Studies and Business. I began working with the James River Association in 2007 and despite all my time spent outside, I had never been to the James River. I was unaware of the river’s degraded health history or importance the river has to recreation and drinking water. Honestly, I was afraid to even get in! Working with the James River Association staff over the past 15 years has provided me with a new found love of the James. I now keep my friends up-to-date on river issues and encourage them to volunteer and make their own behavior changes to improve the health of the river. The best part of my position here at JRA, is my work to connect others to the James through social media and our website, and to see how others come to love and appreciate the river as I have! I’m a James Changer.
It takes a team approach
We protect what we love!
Staff holiday clean-up, December 2021
Like our mission? Join our team!
If you are interested in working at the James River Association, check the employment page for job openings or send us a note. We are always looking for passionate river advocates!