Our Team

Meet Amalia | Field Wellness Director

Getting to learn about Costa Rica from a local is an incredible advantage – both culturally and linguistically. Amalia brings so much value to our program including high level outdoor acumen and aptitude for therapeutic engagement with students while in adventure settings like white water rafting or repelling down a waterfall. Amalia embodies the heart of Pura Vida and students will feel that and be inspired to open up to a global perspective.

Austin Rogers
Career Achievements Badge

Amalia Gamboa, CSW

Bachelor of Ecotourism, Universidad de Costa Rica
Utah State University, Master of Social Work, CMSW

Trained in:
• Cognitive Behavior Therapy
• Narrative Therapy
• Experiential Therapy
• AEGIS Crisis De-escalation
• First Aid CPR AED
• Technical Rope Rescue

Specializes in:
Trauma / Substance Use Disorders / Family Systems / Attachment / Lack of Motivation / Risk-Taking Behaviors / Self-Esteem Issues / Depression / Anxiety / Mood Disorders / Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Pura Vida Costa Rica

Amalia’s love for playing tour guide in her home country of Costa Rica began at a young age. As a teenager, when her family hosted visitors from the U.S.A., Amalia was fascinated with the language and interactions between her and her family.

I was just a kid but I got a rush of adrenaline showing them things that were unique to my culture. I knew then I needed to follow that path.

Amalia Gamboa, CSW
Cultural Immersion is one of Rooted Life Adventures' core components. We work with local organizations to curate intentional cultural immersion activities where students can learn about diverse values, world views, skills, and life habits. Through this, students expand their worldview and enjoy a global perspective and new lens to view their lives at home. Click here to learn more.

With Costa Rica known for it’s tourism industry, Amalia pursued her bachelor’s degree in eco-tourism and began working at Outward Bound Costa Rica as an instructor. During this time, she explored her adventurous side with white water rafting, waterfall rappelling, and backpacking.

This opened the door for Amalia to work at Pure Life as a field guide and then a field director. Amalia’s responsibilities included always remaining vigilant in the oversight of the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of students, as well as ensuring policies and procedures were understood and implemented in every part of field operations. Amalia also was responsible for responding to and attending any emergency situation and providing medical care (WFR, AEGIS).

Certified Social Worker

Amalia loves showing students how to live a more simplistic lifestyle. Seeing how much the outdoors and therapy together can achieve inspired her to pursue and successfully earn a Masters in Social Work in Utah.

Rooted Life Adventures Supported Gap Year

After completing her MSW, Amalia was snapped up by pioneer of wilderness adventure therapy Aspiro Adventure Therapy. As field director, Amalia was charged with providing clinical services to students and their families, as well as leading therapeutic groups.

From adventure therapy to wilderness therapy, Amalia has worked with students from various backgrounds, particularly teens and young adults who struggle with risk-taking behaviors, defiance, and substance abuse.

In March 2023, Amalia presented on The value of multicultural group dynamics. “Opening the doors to cultural interchange: Leveraging international diversity in wilderness therapy” at the Wilderness Therapy Symposium in North Carolina.

Amalia uses a mix of different modalities tailored to the needs of both the student and family. These include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, and narrative therapy. Therapeutic coaching is available to RLA student’s on program 24/7. This is a unique offering as part of our supported gap year wellness adventures program.

I find narrative therapy can be particularly beneficial for helping students analyze and change the stories they tell themselves about the world. From my experience, I’ve seen first-hand how this type of therapy can benefit people who experience mood disorders, or learned helplessness, during their early adulthood.

Amalia Gamboa, CSW
Rooted Life Adventures Support Gap Year

Amalia finds joy in seeing students overcome their struggles and create lasting change in their lives. She is fluent in English and Spanish. Amalia is comfortable working with students in either language.

Amalia is our Field Wellness Director for our Costa Rica 10-Week Fall Program for Young Adults All Genders (ages 18-24) from September 21 – November 29, 2023.

#RLACostaRica #RLALife #TeamRLA

Our Team

Meet Sharon | Wellness Gap Year Operations Director

Sharon has 30 years of experience in building and launching therapeutic programs for adolescents and young adults; guaranteeing excellence and the highest standards in the industry. As a nationally recognised expert in residential, therapeutic, mental health, and experiential programs, Sharon is dedicated to helping students get what they need, when they need it, with the absolute best care.

Austin Rogers

Operations Powerhouse

Sharon Laney is an operations powerhouse. She’s worked with 26 programs in 11 states during her career, always staying close to her core mission of keeping students at the heart of every program; a perfect fit for our new wellness gap year model.

That drive and determination grew from firsthand experience, not just in her work, but in her personal life. As an aunt, Sharon experienced watching her nephew struggle, and the transformative effects therapeutic gap year adventure programming can have.

At the beginning of my career, I ran a family court system and got tired of seeing kids getting locked up and coming out worse rather than better. I’m continually impressed with seeing the change in students that therapeutic gap year adventure programming helps to facilitate. Programming like Rooted Life Adventures is the future of our industry.

Sharon Laney

Industry Leader

Now, a nationally known industry expert who has been actively involved in all aspects of programming, Sharon’s list of past positions held speaks to her passion and knowledge she brings to the industry.

For over 20 years, Sharon was COO of a large mental health/ therapeutic company serving youth in wilderness, residential, therapeutic boarding and transitional settings. She has also demonstrated effective leadership on a national level as the Vice President and President of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).

Throughout all of her work experiences, Sharon has always kept her love for helping families – and a firm advocacy for ethical, effective treatment strategies – as priorities in her work. She received NATSAP’s Leadership Award in 2010.

What is a Wellness Gap Year?

Rooted Life Adventures is the perfect hybrid programming option for today’s student. This therapeutic gap year model has adventure, without being too “hardcore”, and therapeutic support – without being too clinical – to enable on-the-spot interventions in a timely manner. It’s an ideal program for individuals who would benefit from an adventure program with mental health support, or have completed treatment and are looking for a stepping stone with more opportunity for independence while in a supported and sober environment.

Sharon is also a trained auditor with a national accreditation organization and has conducted various trainings at national conference related to the child care/mental health industry. Previous program involvement includes Auldern Academy, Three Springs, Lakehouse Academy, and Sedona Sky Academy.  Sharon will ensure excellence and the highest standards in Rooted Life Adventures’ new therapeutic gap year programming.

From Our Founder

The NEW Gap Year Program with Mental Health Support

Our world is an intriguing place. I’ve always been fascinated by what it has to offer. From different cultures and values, to foods and languages, our global community is as expansive as it is beautiful.

Travel changes you from the inside out. It opens your eyes to different ways of doing things, thinking about things, and even how you think about yourself. I believe it is by broadening our horizons, challenging ourselves, and stepping outside of our comfort zone that we are truly inspired to grow into our most authentic selves.

Finding Purpose

In my pursuit of what the world has to offer, I myself left my hometown of Dallas, Texas and went in search of global experiences. It was in New Zealand, where my passion for outdoor experiential education found a natural fit in the international gap year community. 

Over the years, I have managed gap year programs with hundreds of U.S. students on 70-day multi-country adventures, from Nepal, Tibet, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. It was through this that I developed the greatest sense of self, of belonging, of capability, and purpose. 

I saw, firsthand, the increasing number of adolescents suffering from mental health challenges, and the growing need for increased mental health support in programs. Gen Z has demonstrated a craving for learning about emotional intelligence, social justice, identity, and empathy with an acute attention to their mental and emotional wellbeing like never before.

Addressing the “Gap” in Gap Year

After a research deep dive, it became clear that there were no programs holding the space between Gap Year and full on Adventure therapy, which can be overwhelming and with a price tag out of reach for most families. 

My mission became clear. I needed to create a therapeutic gap year program that would take the best of the gap year community, volunteer service learning, cultural immersion and adventures activities, and pair it with mental health support, psychoeducational development, and wrap around care. 

Rooted Life Adventures is that therapeutic gap year program. I have reimagined adventure, travel, and therapeutic coaching in a way that facilitates exponential growth and deep and meaningful change through the power of community and belonging.

The RLA Experience

RLA students experience what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves. They learn how responsibility, accountability, and transparency creates authentic connections. They build confidence, self-esteem, and cultivate lifelong friendships by being part of a close knit team – travelling together, learning together, and overcoming challenges as a collective.

By immersing students in other cultures, they will be able to find even more humanity. By volunteering and working shoulder-to-shoulder with locals, they’ll learn how to benefit their global community. By testing their limits in every direction – from rock climbing, hiking, surfing, canyoning, kayaking, backpacking, and white water rafting – students will reach inside themselves and realize they are capable of more than they ever imagined. And by supporting their emotional wellbeing throughout the journey, they will be empowered to understand themselves more deeply and connect with those around them more fully.

Explore the world, and yourself, through a Rooted Life Adventure.

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#RLALife #RLACostaRica #RLANewZealand