Our Team

“This certainly isn’t a job for the faint of heart. The dedication needed to care for (sometimes) over 300 animals at a time, doesn’t end at 4pm and often occurs even on our days off. Round the clock care is required for many animals, which demands us to bring them (infant wildlife) into our homes at night, to be fed anywhere from every 2-4 hours. It’s our love for them and the desire to promote public awareness of our furry, feathered and scaly friends that keeps our team going everyday.”-Staff of BTN

Debbie Helsel

Debbie Helsel

Executive Director

Debbie, born in Pennsylvania, grew up playing in the woods across the street from her home. She always knew she wanted to work with wildlife, but wasn’t sure how to make it happen. In early 1990, she took a job working for Orange County Animal Services. During her orientation at the shelter, she was told that she might have the opportunity to work directly with Carmen Shaw (Founder of Back to Nature). She knew of Carmen’s name and her work with the wildlife. Debbie spent the next nine years volunteering most evenings after work and almost every weekend at Back to Nature. It was then in 1999, that a rare opportunity presented itself for Debbie to become a paid staff member at BTN. She left her position with the county and followed her heart to the refuge. “I have practically grown up with the animals at the refuge and they are my family, as well as the volunteers, Carmen and her family. Carmen took me under her wing all those years ago and has entrusted me with her life’s work. What a privilege and a blessing it has been! I am looking very forward to the next chapter in our book for the refuge, and it is going to be an even more amazing journey than it has already been!”

Kelly Verduin

Kelly Verduin

Assistant Director

Kelly is a UCF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She began as a volunteer at Back to Nature back in October 2002. Always having a love for animals and a desire to work in the wildlife field, Kelly found Back to Nature to be a great place to gain experience. By putting her degree to some use, she began researching ways to expand the wildlife enrichment program for the permanent residents of the refuge. In January 2006, Kelly gladly accepted an open position at the refuge, (formerly known as Assistant Curator). “Once I got to know these animals and understand their cause, I felt as if I would be turning my back on them (if I took a position elsewhere). Now, I get to be with them and help every day. I’m happy to call this place my home and my career.”



Andrea Marks

Animal Care Specialist

Andrea grew up in Florida, and spent many hours exploring the woods outside her parents’ rural home as a child. She always had a curiosity and love for animals, and began crafting her own illustrations of real and imaginary creatures at a young age. She graduated from UCF with a BA in Art and a BA in Anthropology, and eventually established her own art business. She discovered BTN through a flier on a local community board, and began volunteering at the refuge in 2017. She was ecstatic to receive a job offer in 2019, and loves every moment spent caring for our wildlife. When she is not at the refuge, she (literally) draws inspiration from the wildlife that fill her heart with joy to create whimsical animal art.

Lauren Kennedy

Animal Care Specialist/CVT

Lauren has been a veterinary technician since 2001 and has been employed with Back to Nature since 2019. She attended St. Petersburg College and graduated with honors in 2012 with an A.S. degree in veterinary technology and became a CVT in 2012. Lauren also has received a B.A. degree from UCF in Fine Arts in 2002. Lauren has worked with many species of animals such as exotics, wildlife, large and small animals. She also works part time with Boggy Creek Animal Hospital as a licensed veterinary nurse. She would tell you that her work is very fulfilling, and that she never thinks of it as a job. Her husband and her have 4 dogs, Gunner, JuJuBee, PupPup, and Donut; plus a variety of exotic pets. On her free time, she spends it creating art work from pottery, painting and jewelry making.