About Us

Bernadine Irwin - President & Founder

As a child, I grew up in a loving and nurturing environment. Life was experienced with joy and enthusiasm, with a love of nature, with service to others, and with the knowledge of a loving God. That world changed forever when I was raped by a high school teacher. The experience, while robbing me of my innocence, created in me a profound sense of compassion for other teens whose lives were also wounded physically or psychologically. Throughout my life, I have experienced God as a source of unconditional love, and that source has provided an unending font for myself and others.My education and career have embraced psychiatric/mental health nursing. An earned PhD in clinical psychology from United States International University placed emphasis on addictions and at-risk teens. Subsequently I have taught many students over a period of 38 years of service at Walla Walla University, Southern Adventist University, and Loma Linda University. During the last 25 years I have worked with probation teens. I have also served for 18 years in the California Diversion Program to help facilitate the recovery of addicted nurses.In February 2000, I received a wake-up call when 14 year-old Jessica Salazar was killed in gang violence. There has to be more help available for at-risk teens. That led to writing the book, For the Love of Jessica, and founding the Operation Jessica Program at Loma Linda University. Teens experience spiritual transformation through nature retreats with health care professional students as mentors.Now I have founded Freedom to Be: The George Irwin Foundation in memory of my dad who loved unconditionally and who was committed to the spiritual transformation of teens, one kid at a time. Join us in this adventure.

Mike Bennie - Counselor & Facilitator

Michael Bennie loves empowering kids. He gets to support 9th and 10th graders in their academic, career and personal journeys in his current gig as a school counselor in San Bernardino City USD. As a Coordinator of his school's Link Crew program, he recruits, trains and inspires some amazing 11th and 12th graders to lead all 831 freshmen through their critical transition to high school. Michael taught high school Spanish (among other things) for 11 exciting years, during which he also co-led a team of peer counselors and trained family group leaders for regional spiritual retreats. He began working as a school counselor in 2004 after earning his MA in School Counseling from La Sierra University in 2002. Michael's claim to fame is being Daddy to his three little girls, a joy that requires occasional venting on his blog, Who's Your Daddy? A Diary.

Denise Oullette - Outdoor Programming Specialist

Even as a child, I had a passion for anything to do with the outdoors, especially with water. It could be fresh water, salt water, under water, or flying on top of it. The world of water is my true home.

My career in leading wilderness trips started in high school with taking fellow classmates hiking and camping in upstate New York. I continued my outdoor adventures into college and since 1996 these trips have grown to include sea kayaking, canoeing, backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding from Baja, Mexico to Canada and around the United States. I find something incredible happens for people when they choose to spend time in the outdoors. They become self sufficient and join therhythm of Mother Nature. There is a peacefulness and sense of wonder that always fills their lives. Particularly in young people, there is an amazing transformation that occurs in their self confidence andself worth. Nature and outdoor experiences have helped give me the Freedom to Be myself. I believe that is the way for troubled young people to discover the power within themselves. Freedom to Be represents people who care and who are willing to help. It is a place where they can belong and find peace. They are free to re-create themselves. They are free to be.

Jon Henderson - Pastor

Pastor Jon Henderson began preaching at the age of fifteen. Since then he has traveled all over the world sharing the gospel message. Jon graduated from Pacific Union College, in 1998, with a degree in Theology, and now is the senior pastor at the Grand Avenue SDA Church in Oakland, California. In the past six years at "the Grand" the congregation has grown from 25 to 400 people. In 2008, Jon published his first book entitled “Worth Every Drop-A Journey into the Heart of God”."It's my belief that our Creator is relentlessly striving to unlock our true identity. He is wanting to free us from the cultural machine that constantly tells us we're not enough, and that we don't have enough. God designed each one of us with a purpose, for a mission, and with a goal. Let's realize it together."

Greg Eiseman - Mentor

Greg is a Registered Nurse and works at Loma Linda Medical Center in Peds Cardiac ICU. He's a passionate husband and amazing father, who loves his life and empowers those around him in a powerful way. He loves anything outside and his favorite pastimes are skiing, surfing and mountain biking.

Gloria Guitierrez - Mentor

I grew up as a very at-risk kid. For many years Jessica Salazar was my best friend. When she was killed at age 14 that really shook me, but I continued to be involved in dangerous coping methods. I became a teen mom. I always cared about others, but did not know what to do about that.

When a program was started for troubled teens, I chose to participate. I experienced others believing in me and supporting me in making positive choices. After considering many career options I decided I wanted to become a social worker. I have received my associate degree, and am now studying for a baccalaureate degree. I participated in the program founded in memory of my best friend, The Operation Jessica Program, and was amazed at what happened there.

I see Freedom to Be making a huge difference in empowering troubled teens in such a way that they can choose lives of love, joy and inspiration. When kids are in nature, miracles happen.

Gloria Gutierrez, A.S. Mentor, Freedom to Be

Carol Clayton - Counselor

When I was still a child, my parents demonstrated meeting the special needs of children and teens. My first job as a young nurse was in pediatrics; the staff called me the "little mother." One year later, I discovered and fell in love with psychiatric nursing. I am still excited about the possibilities of the human spirit once the roadblocks have been lifted. At a very early age, I discovered that "empowerment" is my gift to mankind. To facilitate this, I went back to school to become a therapist and specialized in the area of adults molested as children. However, it quickly became apparent that resolution of childhood abuse and neglect ideally should be resolved at a younger age. Prevention is always less costly to the individual and to society. Freedom To Be is about possibilities. It is about empowerment. It is about lifting the barriers that poverty, abuse, neglect, and hopelessness impose on our youth. It is about a mindset. It is about igniting the fire of hope. It is about mentoring that is tailored to a young person's talents and interests. It is an opportunity for challenged youth to realize the value of one's capabilities and to anticipate their positive contributions to society.

Andrew Ranjbaran - Mentor

Diversity and turmoil created the environment of Andrew’s childhood. At a young age he started the search for a source of spirituality; he was not satisfied with easy answers and explored many possibilities. Andrew learned martial arts and practices meditational yoga. Along with this, he is very health conscious and is committed to keeping his body in top form.Andrew is currently a business major in college and is committed to being a leader in his world in the realm of spirituality and transformation. He loves being there for people to reflect God as the source of unconditional love.Nature has always spoken to Andrew; “I find it magical,” he states. Andrew believes Freedom to Be is about transforming troubled teens through the spiritual realm of God and through nature. He plans to share joy, power, and love with these kids.Andrew Ranjbaran, College Student Mentor, Freedom to Be

Daniel Colon - Administrative & Financial Consultant

My parents were both nurses, and they worked full-time with employment split between Chicago and Puerto Rico. This meant moving every two years. Sometimes my dad even managed three jobs; one full-time and two part-time. It was my grandma who often babysat me and read Biblical stories. It was she who gave me the knowledge of a merciful, loving, compassionate, and powerful God.In spite of having Attention Deficit Disorder plus the factor of English as a second language, I was a good student and involved in school activities. Designing the school shield and t-shirts was fun. Community service activities were also rewarding. That sense of community service is now realized as President and CEO of hospitals in Tennessee, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Being instrumental in the delivery of health services, I have realized what a difference healthcare makes to every communityIt was Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys’ Town, who genuinely believed there is no such thing as a bad boy. Believing in young people and holding them to high standards can create transformation. I see Freedom to Be as a pathway in which troubled teens can find an alternative way to experience life. Freedom to Be provides an environment which defines them positively with breakthrough adventures in nature.Daniel Colon, MHA, MBA Administrative and Financial Advisor, Freedom to Be

Kristy Kessler - Website Manager