Meet Our Apprentices

Cliff Ballena

Cliff is an experienced apprentice who has always had a passion for animals when he was growing up. After graduating college, he got a job in Animal Control and would respond to many wildlife calls involving orphaned wildlife. He soon fell in love with squirrels and started to learn more about them from a nearby rehabber.  Cliff was amazed that he could send her little newborn “pinkies” to her and she would care for them until they were released back into the wild.  He started out his apprenticeship learning about rehabbing squirrels.  He is now learning about rehabbing bunnies and opossums.  As part of AERO, he is fulfilling his dream of helping these little babies by them a second chance.

Liza Mae (L’Mae) Carlin

L’Mae is an experienced apprentice with A.E.R.O. and lives in Upperville, Fauquier Country. Her love of working with wildlife began while she lived in New York. She found an injured pigeon and became involved with the city’s wildlife rehab clinic, the Wild Bird Fund (WBF). She worked with a large variety of birds and became a NY state licensed rehabber as well as a board member of WBF. After relocating to Virginia in 2020, she introduced herself to local licensed rehabilitators. The next year, she found A.E.R.O. where she became a licensed apprentice. She points out that the wildlife in Virginia face many different challenges than those of the city which has given her the opportunity to learn whole new sets of skills.

Tanya Finch

Tanya started Tanya’s Turtle Project (TTP) in March of 2021 to raise awareness and actively rescue/save box turtles that get trapped within the black plastic silt fencing in construction sites.  TTP has connected with Van Metre Homes, W.A.Hazel, and S.W. Rodgers companies to remind them to keep an eye out for turtles.  Through a common purpose of saving these and other wildlife, A.E.R.O. and Tanya connected through Facebook to help each other with parallel goals.  Tanya received her wildlife rehabilitator permit earlier this year and looks forward to hands-on learning. In April of 2022, Tanya graduated from the Virginia Master Naturalist program and is the chair of the Outreach Committee & its Speakers Bureau for VMN’s Banshee Reeks chapter.  She loves cutting and removing non-native invasive plants, being in nature with her two boxers (dogs), and is enjoying the journey of first time horse ownership.

Tessa Schwartz

Tessa has been interested in caring for animals most of her life. Even as a young kid, she would bring injured wildlife into a wildlife center with her parents. Originally from Illinois, she moved to Virginia in 2015 and started working as a licensed vet tech (LVT) in Alexandria where she was given the opportunity to have hands-on experience with caring for injured and orphaned wildlife. She decided to start her apprenticeship after finding a baby squirrel in her backyard.  Since she was living in Stafford County, her area’s resources, education and response were very minimal.  Fortunately, she was able to find out about A.E.R.O. through her work and decided take on this role to help the animals and her community.  Her favorite animals to care for include squirrels and opossums.

Laura Villa

Laura Villa lives in Manassas, Prince William County. She is also an A.E.R.O. transporter and a member of our wildlife release team, licensed to assist with rabies vector species (RVS), and is a member of the Mangy Fox Program team.

Nicole Dimond

Nicole lives in Reston, Fairfax Country.

Jessica Christian

Jessica lives in Gainesville, Prince William Country.

Christian Schwartz

Christian lives with his wife, Tessa, in Stafford County.

Taryn Meeks

Taryn lives in Broad Run, Prince William County.

Clare Thorp

Clare lives in Fairfax Station, Fairfax County.