Who's Leading?

Meet Izzy Gifford

Our COnnect Community Ambassador

As Community Care Bear, Izzy Gifford is committed to supporting your journey on the COnnect platform. Welcoming newcomers and answering your questions are just a few of her delights. When she’s not facilitating events, or participating in community activities, you can reach her by email ([email protected]) or on the COnnect Facebook group.

Izzy is passionate about cultivating satisfying and sustainable community for everyone. For 10+ years she has been creating playful healing spaces that welcome the fullness of the human experience. She is fueled by fascination with emotional intelligence, communication, and group dynamics. After experiencing the healing power of community in her own life, she is convinced that it takes a whole community to raise an inner child.  

Meet Our Facilitators

Olga Shustryakova

Sara Ness

Sara Ness is the Founder and Chief Instigator of Authentic Revolution. She began teaching Authentic Relating in 2012, founding a thousands-strong learning community in Austin, Texas and going on to train over 350 leaders and help found 30+ other communities worldwide. Sara is passionate about exposing the joy of human connection and exploring our creative potential through relationship. She has facilitated at schools, companies, yoga studios, a funeral, Burning Man, and more, bringing playful social technology into the mainstream and the….non-mainstream? Sara is into suggesting ideas like push up contests in fancy restaurants and convincing other people to do them too. Hence, community leadership.

Sara works most of the time. When not doing that, she’s into acroyoga, Ecstatic Dance, cooking, and spending time with the many people she loves. She’s most lit up by creating things – projects, books, movements, systems, anything that her heart and brain can chew on at the same time.

Mark Boughton

Mark Boughton has been studying communication skills and the psychology of relationships and interpersonal dynamics for over a decade. By the time he was twenty two, he had worked, traveled or volunteered on every continent of the globe, and had discovered a deep passion for understanding people. He stumbled upon Circling eight years ago, immediately fell in love with the practice, and has been facilitating relational practice ever since. He has a love for building community and bringing people together to connect, and also works as a coach helping people vision and actualize their deepest desires. 


Garrett Rokosh

Garrett Rokosh is the Founder of Play Connect Dance which facilitates unconventional experiences that intentionally serve universal human needs for play, self-expression, authenticity, movement, touch, empathy, acceptance, belonging, emotional-safety, and community. He is passionate about authentic relating, acro yoga, climbing, meditation, and ecstatic dancing.

Barbara Samson

Barbara Samson has been Circling and going to Authentic Relating Games since 2014, and attending immersions when possible. She trained as a facilitator in 2017 at the Boston Circling Training. She has lived a diverse life, dedicating herself to science and pragmatic matters, working, travelling, getting married and giving birth. Along the way she noticed some work to be done on herself, and a growing curiosity about all things esoteric. She followed her curiosity and it led her to explore the heart connection she felt with others. She brings that curious attitude into the Circles she leads, which are usually Organic, and she always challenges herself to expand her capacity to welcome what’s true. She is not a healer or therapist, but a human being who loves to create a space for herself and others to discover connection.

Christine Kennedy

Christine Kennedy has a big heart, and a passion for kindness, connection, truth, growth, and unconditional love. She was introduced to Authentic Relating by Shay Pausa and to circling training by Sara Ness.  It was love at first site, and as a result, Christine completed ARC and T3 at the Integral Center in Boulder, CO and became a certified circling facilitator. She has hosted circling and Games Nights in her home in Phoenix, AZ for the past 4 years where she has gratefully witnessed amazing growth, healing, transformation, and connection – what she calls the magic of circling!

Christine’s professional career includes many roles in health care, hospice, ministry, mental health, teaching, consulting and public speaking.  She is mom to a 17 yo son and 19 yo daughter who she loves dearly.   When she isn’t working, spending time with family, you will likely find her hiking, reading, meditating, doing crafts, or hosting a circling or authentic relating event in her home or here on COnnect.

Caroline Johnson

Caroline Johnson is a graduate of The Circling Institute’s Art of Circling training with Guy Sengstock.  She also completed Authentic Leadership Facilitator Training with Sara Ness and brings skills in group process and facilitation, counseling and NVC (Nonviolent Communication). 

Caroline is passionate about awareness and intention, curiosity and leading from the core self. 

When Caroline isn’t facilitating Authentic Relating Games or Circling, she is probably traveling!  She holds an MS in Rehabilitation Counseling with a particular interest in Internal Family Systems.


Kim Crowley

Kim Crowley completed Authentic Leadership Training with Sara Ness and brings additional skills in dialogue facilitation, workshop design and delivery, teaching, conflict transformation, Non-Violent Communication, music therapy, and a variety of methods for structuring conversations around issues that matter. Values infused in her life and work include curiosity, perspective-taking, social mindfulness, managing bias, co-creation, collective critical thinking, authentic spirituality, and building clarity.  Kim holds an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology as well as multiple certificates in facilitation and meeting management.

Kim organizes her life around helping people hear each other. Her heart-felt hope:  When we’re truly seen and heard, we become more able to connect deeply, get needs met together, and co-create some pretty amazing stuff. 

Whitney Waterbury

Led by endless curiosity, Whitney Waterbury has been questioning “normal” and talking with strangers since she could speak. She went on to study psychology, human development, sexuality and somatic therapy, which she uses to help people find healing and deepening aliveness through embodiment, connection and pleasure.

Whitney instigated the first Authentic Relating community in Memphis in 2018 where she continues to serve and delight in witnessing the power of connection to transform people and communities. When not facilitating events she can be found playing in the forest with her young ones, wild foraging and mushroom hunting, practicing yoga, learning to build things, traveling, Circling, dancing in public, hosting spontaneous gatherings, and cooking for the people she loves.

Scott McClellan

Scott McClelllen navigates a wide variety of different worlds, bringing this experience to life in his facilitation. He works as a software engineer, pursues a career as a professional racquetball player and referee, and incorporates authentic relating as a way to build better bridges to others. He brings to his facilitation a mind for technical complexity in a way that's welcoming, thoughtful, and insightful. Scott describes his facilitation style as gentle yet structured.

Gabe DeRita

Gabe DeRitaGabe is a personal development coach helping mission-driven humans live in alignment with their purpose. He left his tech job to travel the world by bike, and in the process found his calling in coaching.

His approach to personal growth is rooted in neuroscience-based coaching techniques and Authentic Relating, with a heaping spoonful of Japanese philosophy on top.

Gabe was born in Philadelphia and currently lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He's passionate about cycling, foraging wild mushrooms, social/climate justice, and the transformative power of psychedelics. You can learn more about Gabe's work, his story, and connect with him at his site: www.effectiveconnection.com

Damian Gallagher

Damian Gallagher has a passion for people and exploring what is available in every moment. He loves the simplicity of living a life in connection with self and others. Damian considers one of his greatest relational strengths to be revealing his inner world when he’s feeling awkward or vulnerable (and he feels awkward writing this Bio). He thrives when working with others and enjoys facilitating Circling, AR games and Relational work. Damian also facilitates one on one Personal growth and Transformational work, as well as Men’s work exploring accountability, shadow, and presence. He finds pleasure in movement and embodiment and also delights in finding moments of slowness and stillness. Damian lives in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife and son.

Olga Shustryakova

Olga Shustryakova is the leader of Authentic Relating Moscow. She first met with Authentic Relating in 2018, and immediately fell in love with the practices. Since then, she has been leading ARG Nights for various Moscow communities, including Burning Man Russia and more.
Besides that, Olga is a professional translator and transcreator, localizing global ideas for Russian people.  She’s into psychology, meditation, literature, and digging in the depth with her loved ones.

Kyla Sokoll-Ward

Kyla Sokoll-Ward is a speaker, facilitator, and professional community builder who speaks about loneliness in the millennial generation and how millennials can use their emotional experiences as tools for connection. She has shared her message internationally, on multiple TEDx stages, and has facilitated millennial-focused programming around the world for thousands of young adults. Through keynotes, workshops, and 1:1 mentorship, she aims to disrupt the status quo of connection and challenge others to connect more intentionally, vulnerably, and empathically with those around them in order to build more effective communities for young adults. She’s a firm believer that we’re only one good question away from connecting with the entire world.

Jorge Moreira

Jorge Moreira has been immersed in the Authentic Relating community in Toronto since 2017. He studied Circling Facilitation and Master Circle (Surrendered Leadership) through Authentic Relating Toronto where he has led T-Group, and Circling nights, as well as occasionally co-facilitated Connection Lab (AR Games). He has also taken the Authentic Relating Training Level 1 through Authentic Relating Training in Boulder, Rifle, and Toronto.
Involved in the Toronto improv scene for over 15 years as a performer, instructor and host,  Jorge revels in adapting his present-focused improv skills to help others foster awareness. He enjoys creating and leading workshops designed to cultivate self-awareness through connection that lead to authenticity and genuine connection. Along with some colleagues, he is currently looking to bring Authentic Relating into prisons in Canada, as well as other underserved communities.

Jack Peterson

Jack Peterson is a heart-centered introvert on a mission to usher in a new paradigm of business leadership and conscious relationship.

After starting his dream business with his wife 6 years ago, Jack was experiencing external success, yet on the inside he was struggling with depression and adrenal fatigue. It wasn’t until the day when his business AND marriage was on the brink of falling apart that he committed to designing a business and life he loves and is energized by.

Jack and his wife lead a YouTube channel that has 3 million views worldwide, and enjoy living a global lifestyle with their 5-month old daughter in Bali, Australia, and California.

Pauline Drewfs

Pauline Drewfs is deeply curious about how humans communicate with each other, especially through tough conversations. She welcomes conflict as her ally and a potent mirror, providing infinite opportunity for growth and connection. This curiosity has led her to become a mediator and ultimately brought her to Authentic Relating. She now guides organizations and individuals through times of transformation, dedicated to facilitate meaningful and lasting change. Pauline is a graduate of ART International's Authentic Relating Leadership Training and a course leader for The ART of Being Human Level 1. She lives, loves and dances in Berlin, Germany.

Shane Orton

Shane Orton has been facilitating Authentic Relating Games and Circling since early 2017.  He lives in the Austin, TX area where he has been doing Circling and AR Games almost every day since 2016.  Shane also highly values meditation and has done at least an hour a day since 2013.  His vision is to build an ability to drop into more intimacy with anyone regardless of whether they know these connection modalities or not.

Cameron Grayson

Cameron Grayson was living at the Omega institute when she was introduced to Authentic Relating. These practices were so impactful for her because they served as a grounded way to deepen all of her connections within the community. These tools completely shifted her relationship with herself and the world around her. She quickly realized how perfectly AR and Circling intertwined with other tools she practiced such as Internal Family Systems, Life Coaching, and Conscious Communication. When she moved back in with her parents she joined the online platform as a participant. Having a daily reminder of pure connection supported her in moving through relationships that felt disconnected. Her practice on COnnect started to shift those disconnected relationships with her family to feel more open, grounded, and clear. Seeing this impact, she signed up for the ALT where she learned what it meant to truly feel like herself. She now uses Authentic Relating and circling in her work as a container to help facilitate meaningful connection and develop a deeper understanding of self. Having an accessible way to impact the world through facilitating on COnnect supports her passion of being in deep connection with others while witnessing the present moment unfold.

A. J. Bond

A.J. Bond is a Toronto-based writer, filmmaker, and shame educator currently completing his certification with the Center for Healing Shame in Berkeley.

David Garrison

David Garrison has been facilitating Authentic Relating Games since early 2018.  He lives in Austin, TX.  David is a part-time life coach and seeks to help people live more intentionally and aligned with their life's purpose.  He loves putting on workshop experiences that encourage connection, personal awareness, and relational skill development.  Some of the experiential workshops he's led or is working on include "Leading From Within", "Be a Relationship Architect", "Austin Energetic Connection Games", "Transcending Porn: Mastering Your Sexuality", "Self Expression Support Community", and "Connected Celebrations". 

Laurie Ellington

Laurie Ellington is a Relationship and Intimacy Coach with over 20 years of experience in the Healing Arts.  She has been practicing Authentic Relating and Circling since 2013 and completed the Authentic Leadership Training in 2016.  Laurie uses mindfulness, meditation, and movement to help people deepen their sense of presence and connection.  Her playful curiosity, vulnerable expression, and sincere desire to “be with what’s here” allows people see what needs to be seen, dive deep within their experience, ask tough questions, and trust themselves in service to feeling more pleasure in their bodies and more intimacy in their lives.  Through this way of being, Laurie has discovered her true freedom of expression in all of her relationships, most importantly with herself.  Her mission is to help others do the same. 

Whitney Allen

Whitney Allen is a Transformational and Relational Coach who discovered Authentic Relating and Circling in Boulder, CO.  She has recently traveled through her own Dark Night of the Soul, unleashing an aliveness and freedom she had never imagined possible and inspiring others to do the same.

She is currently writing a book about how Authentic Relating changed her deeply, transformed and saved her relationship, and simultaneously, dissolved her 20-year marriage in a caring, courageous way.

She lives in Golden, is bilingual in Spanish, passionate about traveling, reads voraciously as a self-proclaimed personal growth junkie, dedicates herself to a daily chi-gong practice and is the mother of two amazing, open, aware teenagers.

Whitney is most excited about leveraging AR skills with students.  She has facilitated leadership programs with international teams as well as marketing and event planning in Latin America for both for-profit and non-profit entities.

David Reed

A lifelong student of philosophy, world religion, and mythology, David Reed discovered Authentic Relating in 2017 and has been facilitating ever since.  David approaches relational mindfulness as a pathway for deepening human affinity, and his events have been affectionately referred to as "Love Soup.”

David is a Certified Professional Coach, a Laughter Yoga Instructor, and a partner with the Corporation for Positive Change, a global organization that uses Appreciative Inquiry as a tool for unleashing human potential.  David's passions include mountaineering and doing nothing.

Jeremy Gildman

Jeremy Gildman is a counselor specializing in working with men and dads. He uses a balance of the two wings of awakening: truth and love to help people gain confidence in themselves, cultivate resilience in the face of obstacles, and lead joyful, fulfilling lives.

Jeremy describes finding Authentic Relating as coming home, a community of people that connected on the level he had always longed for. Jeremy has been involved in Tgroup, Circling and Authentic Relating communities since 2014. He completed the Authentic Leadership Training and the Emergence Leadership Training. Jeremy is a graduate of Naropa University studying transpersonal mindfulness based counseling psychology.

Jeremy now lives in Boulder, CO with his partner and son that was born in January 2020. Jeremy’s hobbies are wire wrapping, computers, and deep connection. Jeremy is the co-founder of the authentic relating men’s community Whole Heart Brotherhood. To find out more about Jeremy visit his site at: www.truthandlovecounseling.com

Axios Papaflessas

Axios Papaflessas has been learning, practicing and exploring the healing and relational arts for 15+ years.  He's facilitated connection events in a prison, a medical lab, retreats, theaters, basements, and the world wide web! He also co-founded Austin Improv Connection in 2015, leading and organizing over 300+ free improv events for the Austin community.

As a trained Authentic Relating and Circling facilitator on COnnect and Authentic Communities, Axios is passionate about guiding and inspiring group relational experiences. His superpowers include navigating open relationships, supporting and informing community leaders, and inviting presence, depth and intimacy into connection.