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

Andrea Marks

Animal Care Supervisor

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.

Sadie Owen

Animal Care Technician

Sadie started at BTN in May 2021 as an intern and loved it so much she continued as a volunteer. “Working at BTN has been life changing. I’ve created connections with the animals, bonded with my fellow volunteers and staff, and learned so much about myself as well as wildlife rehabilitation,” said Owen. She says she loves this facility, the people that run it, and the animals that they get to work with daily. In the summer of 2022, she was offered an Animal Care Technician position with BTN. “I’m honored to be a BTN staff member.” Sadie recently graduated from UCF with a zoology degree and a theatre minor. Outside of BTN, she enjoys reading, theatre, spending time outside, and pointing out every bird she sees.

Emily Saffran

Animal Care Technician

Emily joined BTN in September 2021 and quickly fell in love with the refuge and the animals. In the summer of 2022, she was offered an Animal Care Technician position with BTN. “My time here has been wonderful — I have learned so much from everyone and I feel very lucky to be a part of the incredible BTN staff team.”  Outside of BTN, Emily enjoy writing music, reading, hiking, and spending time with close friends.

Christian Sellas

Animal Care Technician

Christian is an aspiring wildlife rehabber and member of the BTN team since early 2021. His passion for wildlife started while he lived in Colombia for 7 years. “I have worked primarily with various bird species in Florida and have a deep passion for conservation and wildlife medicine. My favorite patients at BTN are baby opossums or any rare bird.” Christian loves working with fractures and any wounds that an animal might have and eventually release them back to the wild. He says that it’s amazing to witness the progression of and development of our injured patients, and it’s all thanks to the collaboration of the BTN team and donors. Christian is currently majoring in pre-vet and zoology at UCF.

Executive Board

Radonda Dobbins


Radonda Dobbins has been a lifelong animal welfare advocate.  Her love for animals brought her to the Board of Back to Nature in 2017, though she had been involved since 2013 on the Revenue Committee. Her experience in non-profit operations and business development has been an asset. She has sat on various non-profit boards and committees for over two and a half decades. Her love for animals, respect for nature, and extensive non-profit experience have proven essential to her role on the Board.

Radonda is a business development consultant, productivity coach, and radio/TV show producer for “Voices of Courage.” With a degree in Sociology and a minor in Psychology, she’s also a founding partner at Political Strategist Network LLC, specializing in social media and SEO for candidates. Formerly a Program Director at Wyche and Associates, she collaborated on projects with the City of Orlando and GOAA. Radonda’s background includes roles as a social worker, Children’s Program Coordinator, and Child Welfare Specialist for Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, advocating for legislative changes. She designed an enduring anti-violence curriculum for local schools and attended the State of The World Forum in 2000 to address education reform.

Lori Cunniff, CEP, CHHM, COSS

Vice President

Lori Cunniff became involved with Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge in 2004 while working as the Environmental Manager for Orange County. She assisted with the relocation of BTN to the current property in Lake Nona. Lori has served in various positions on the Board for over a decade. Lori retired from Orange County (Florida) where she served as the Deputy Director for the Community,  Environmental Development Services Department and the Manager of the Environmental Protection Division for 18 years. Prior, Lori worked as the Environmental Manager at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York (Dept of Energy Facility), was the Environmental Director for Escambia County in Pensacola, Florida and has served in various positions with the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management in Miami, Florida. She has been in the environmental field for over 30 years. She is certified as a CHMM (Certified Hazardous Materials Manager), CEP (Certified Environmental Professional), and COSS (Certified Occupational Safety Specialist). Her B.S. is in Biology from the State University at New York, College at Cortland, and her M.S. in Environmental Management is from the University of Maryland.

Lane Epps


Lane is a nonprofit fundraising professional and native Floridian. She has worked in government for U.S. Senator Mel Martinez from Florida and for local nonprofits in education and the arts for nearly 20 years. She is currently the Development Manager for Beyond Plastics, a nationwide project working to end plastic pollution. Lane began volunteering at Back to Nature the summer after graduating high school in 1997. This experience sparked a lifelong interest in birds which led her to become involved in bird banding and survey projects throughout the US and Canada. She obsessively contributes her bird sightings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird.org in addition to enjoying hiking and native gardening. Lane has served as Back to Nature’s Treasurer since 2021.

Debbie Kleinberg

Board Member

Debbie has been a proud board member of Back to Nature since 2008 and has been the President of the board since 2011. Debbie’s involvement with BTN began when she was assigned as its relationship manager while she was employed by the refuge’s bank. As an animal lover, Debbie fell in love with the cause and knew she could do more to help, so she joined the board. Debbie has since moved on with her career but has stayed involved with BTN. Debbie has been in banking for 22 years and is now a credit officer for a different bank. She enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, and discovering new hobbies. She is married to her best friend, Frankie, and shares their home with their 4-legged children, Meeks and Redd. Debbie is excited about the future of BTN and can’t wait to see it grow and flourish in its new home! Fun fact: Debbie loves opossums and can identify most of Florida’s native snakes by sight!

David Jones, P.E., CEP

Board Member

David joined the executive board of Back to Nature in 2017. As the Manager of Orange County, Florida’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD), he wanted to better support EPD’s collaboration with BTN, which is located on Orange County’s Eagles Roost Green PLACE property, one of the environmentally sensitive lands managed by EPD. Prior to this position, David served as the Environmental Programs Administrator for EPD’s Petroleum, Air, Sustainability & Energy Section and played a key role in conceptualizing and executing the strategy for developing the Sustainable Orange County Plan (“Our Home for Life”), which was completed in 2014. David was also an Engineer III with EPD’s Petroleum Cleanup Program. He also served in various positions as an officer in the U.S. Army for 21 years, including as the Compliance Team Leader for the Army’s worldwide environmental compliance program in the Pentagon.

David holds an M.S. degree in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering and a B.E. degree in Chemical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, and a Master of Liberal Studies from Rollins College. David is also a registered professional engineer in Alabama and Florida and a Certified Environmental Professional.

John Sarandria, MD, MS, FAAP

Board Member

John is from Jacksonville, Florida, and has been an executive board member at Back to Nature since 2021. He is a graduate of Florida State University, and completed his pediatric residency at University of Florida in Jacksonville. He is currently a Pediatric Hospitalist at Nemours Children’s Hospital with a focus on hospital flow, quality improvement, and patient safety. He also serves as a director at GenCare Resources and as an assistant professor at UCF College of Medicine. Initially brought on as a consultant for our organization during the COVID pandemic, he stayed with us after demonstrating his alignment with our mission, a keen business acumen, and a passion for the outdoors.