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Meet our President, Christine

Christine Lagattolla has always been happiest outside.

The story goes that as an infant, her 10-year old sister discovered Christine was more content outside (after being forgotten out on the front step) and her life path was set from that day on.

As a kid, she loved being outside from sunrise to bedtime, often sleeping in the backyard too, living on hose water, an abundance of cherries, apples, and plums from the orchard of her suburban backyard. Lined with grapes, currant bushes, and a salad garden, it was a paradise. With immigrant parents, it wasn't the luxury of family adventures, but simply "time outside" that connected Christine with nature. From playing street games and ghost in the graveyard, to bike rides to the wave pool, creek, and parks, summer days were endless fun with neighborhood friends.

As opportunities arose, she choose adventure. In elementary school going camping for the first time in platform tents at Girl Scout camp and canoeing and climbing for the first time at Devil's Lake. In high school, she went into the wilderness backpacking in Isle Royale and canoeing in Sylvania Wilderness through Upward Bound summer class trips.

After 4 years in NJROTC, she graduated early and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at 17 years old. Christine served with 11th Marines in Camp Pendleton and during Operation Iraqi Freedom and served overseas in Okinawa, Japan where she fell in love with scuba diving and became a Divemaster.

Returning to Illinois for college, she chose NIU hoping for an 'outdoor' education at Lorado Taft. Luckily she found NIU Outdoor Adventures and became a trip leader and student manager then a graduate assistant while completing a masters degree in Educational Psychology before becoming the Assistant Director.

Leading the outdoor program for 13 years, she developed countless initiatives and connections and lead a team of NIU's finest students who served the campus and community tirelessly. Memorable events included Clean the Kish, Camp on Campus, Winter Wonderland, and all the leader trainings and epic group trips through the wilderness of Alaska, Yosemite, Utah, Grand Canyon, Smoky Mountains, and Boundary Waters to name a few.

In 2021, she completed another masters in Digital Marketing bringing Kish Kids Outside to life in her capstone project. The initiative began a few years before when Christine and her colleague Amy Doll shared their passion for children and nature connection and the rest is history.

Christine has been living her dharma focusing on the future possibilities of connecting community with nature. She loves the relationships with all those who serve and support our mission including the board, affiliates, and families she meets.

She loves getting outside everyday, exploring natural spaces with her supportive life partner, Mike and handsome Golden Retriever, (Ernie) Banks. She is an alumni of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) as well as Western Illinois University's Environmental Conservation Outdoor Education Expedition (ECOEE), a Master Naturalist, certified physical education teacher, yoga teacher, Wilderness Education Association outdoor leader, and Leave No Trace Trainer as well as a veteran volunteer leader for the American Hiking Society and wilderness medicine instructor. She is passionate about health and the creative arts, stewardship, and conservation.

Want to connect? Reach out to Christine at

What inspired you to start Kish Kids Outside?

I read Richard Louv's book during undergrad and remember doing research on John Dewey to write a paper for Education as an Agent for Change (my favorite class!), I solidified my love for outdoor experiences in my work at NIU and supported countless youth programs and purchased child-size gear for the rental center. Partnering with Amy Doll when she directed the DeKalb Park District brought to reality that others in the community were just as passionate and the idea to grow beyond NIU and into a wider and stronger community vision. We attended the same webinar Cities Connecting Children to Nature hosted by Children and Nature Network in 2017 and we got to work, hosting meetings and creating our local alliance.

Can you share a favorite outdoor memory from your own childhood or recent experiences?

One favorite outdoor memory was in the Tatry Mountains in Poland while visiting my family. My uncle was a forester and took me on overnight high-mountain trek. At night, he woke me up in the forest cabin and without saying a word motioned me to put my boots on. We stepped outside and he pointed up. I couldn't believe my eyes, above me was a white wash sky of the Milky Way. It was an ingraining picture but only a moment of bliss, just as he pulled me inside, a bear was nearby. As I looked out the window, I realized that I had witnessed the purest of nature's beauty.

In what ways do you hope Kish Kids Outside will evolve and grow in the future?

I am so grateful for the progress and partnerships we have made, it has been a gradual growing snowball and I feel the more opportunities will come in time. I plan to continue to strengthen partnerships and inspire collaborative events. I dream about programs such as junior master naturalist, nature passport, and summer camp programming incorporating youth leadership. I'd love to build a nature center with a library, climbing wall, ropes course, and outdoor pavilion and fire pit to host regular community gatherings. I see us starting this year with a mobile trailer lab and developing a strategic plan to achieve these goals. I have also applied to start the NIU Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program this fall and hope to focus on educational reform to support outdoor and well-being opportunities in public schools.

What is a memorable moment with Kish Kids Outside?

Each Family Club event is full of great memories. But my friend shared one moment that truly made me feel the effort matters. She shared that when she asked her son about signing up for a sport, he said, "but Mom, I am a Kish Kid," meaning he preferred outdoor activities. I believe all of our community is a Kish Kid and I want to help make it easy for families to choose time outside.


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