Staff & Board

Thomas F. Sweets
Executive Director

Tom Sweets started as a Rescue Technician and Aviary Volunteer in 2009 at the Key West Wildlife Center. Tom was initially hired part-time to become Aviary Manager in 2010. In 2011, he was appointed Executive Director on a full-time basis.

Tom holds our Sea Turtle Hatchling Permit and is a member of the Florida Shorebird Alliance. He has worked with FWC to raise awareness and post resources regarding wildlife issues, especially concerning the illegal feeding of Brown Pelicans.

Tom promotes the partnering with other non-profits, law enforcement and the military to rescue and help raise awareness regarding wildlife.

Peggy Coontz
Animal Care Director

People often say they have been doing this their entire life.

Peggy has genuinely been providing care to wildlife her entire life. She started around eight years of age. Her father built homes from the ground up. He would not allow any wildlife to be harmed during the construction projects and would bring any that were displaced to their house for care and eventual release back to the wild. Peggy happily became the full time care giver to all of these critters.

Peggy went on to pursue university studies in Wildlife Biology, Parasitology, and Molecular Genetics.

She has worked professionally as a wildlife biologist conducting research and rehabilitation at many exciting locations and now enjoys doing so at the Key West Wildlife Center.

Samantha Plencner
Program Director

Samantha first joined the Key West Wildlife Center over 10 years ago as a Wildlife Rehab Intern and returned seasonally until becoming Program Director in 2021.

As Program Director she is thrilled to apply her scientific background and past work experiences as a veterinary technician and wildlife re-searcher to daily operations. Samantha holds both training and certifications endorsed by the National Animal Care and Control Association, International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and International Avian Trainers Certification Board.

Samantha enjoys opportunities to educate and pass on enthusiasm for wildlife through research and volunteer programs. Samantha is currently a graduate student researching zoonotic disease and human/wildlife conflict. Her favorite island past time is petting every dog who walks by.

Sarah Goodwin
Rescuer and Rehabilitator

Sarah Goodwin has served several roles at the Center since she moved to Key West in 2005, ranging from part-time cage cleaner to full-time Operations Manager to serving on the Board of Directors. These days she's delighted to be a part-time rescuer/wildlife rehabilitator. She's also the creator of BeachBunny's Original Tours of Key West and an eco-tour guide for Blue Planet Kayak.  

Jennifer Lopes
President

Jennifer arrived in Key West in 2002 after a career in International Marketing Research based out of New York and Singapore.

Her first year in Key West was spent living and exploring on a sailboat, which instilled a love and appreciation for the beautiful water and diverse wildlife above and below the surf. When Key West became home, she started volunteering with MARC, The Tropic Cinema and Key West Sea Turtle Club.

In 2010, volunteering at Key West Wildlife Center began in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the call for volunteers to be ready if oil reached our shores and wildlife. The oil never arrived but helping rehabilitate native birds was transformational and shifted her volunteer efforts to the Center. Over time her involvement grew with serving on the Board and starting the It’s For the Birds fundraising event.

She is so proud to share her passion for wildlife and business and academic skills through supporting the amazing staff and volunteers and helping to guide our important work into the future.

Jacqueline Hewett
Vice President

A resident of Maine for 30 years, Jackie moved to Key West in 2015.

A lifelong birder, Jackie has both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in environmental studies and has worked in land use planning and environmental conservation for three decades. Jackie began her association with the Wildlife Center as a clinic volunteer, helping to clean cages and feed recovering patients. Her amazement at the dedication and professionalism of the staff and leaders at the center led to further involvement with the organization.

Jackie joined the board in 2020 and is currently leading the Center’s effort to replace its aging clinic structure and renovate its wild bird aviary; a task very close to her heart.

Kathleen Bratton
Secretary

Kathleen Bratton was raised on the Maryland Eastern Shore. She graduated from Radcliffe College and the University of Chicago Law School.

As a lawyer, she was admitted to practice in New York and Maryland, specializing in corporate law, securities regulation and registered investment companies. She and her husband, Brian Wruble, purchased their home in Key West in 2003 and made it their permanent residence in 2010. They have one daughter, Zane.

In Key West, Kathleen has served on the board of the Friends of the Key West Library and as its President. In addition to reading, she enjoys quilting and music -- currently singing with the choir at St. Paul’s and with Keys Choral Arts.

Ellen Westbrook
Board Member

A Key West resident since 1976, Ellen is a retired critical care nurse, mother of two sons, and a world-traveler. Much of that travel has been as a volunteer with Earthwatch, Biosphere Expeditions, and Global Volunteers.

Here at home, Ellen is a long-term board member of Florida Keys Audubon Society. She also volunteers with the county monitoring the health of the nearshore waters and with FWC monitoring shorebird populations nesting on rooftops.

She has been volunteering at KWWC for a dozen years. "I love the mission of the Wildlife Center: returning the birds to the wild whenever possible."

Debra Babich
Board Member

Debra was born and raised in southern Illinois and moved to Key West in 1993 after visiting the island.

She has been involved in wildlife rehab since 1994, when she became a volunteer with the original Wildlife Rescue of the Florida Keys. In 1998 she obtained her wildlife rehabilitator's license and permits to take over the daily operations of the center after it's founder and director relocated.

Over the years Debra has served as board president and secretary, volunteer coordinator and staff member. She is currently a clinic and rescue volunteer and owns and operates a boat cleaning business.

Diane McNeil
Board Member

Diane served for many years as Vice President of Lafayette Bank and Trust, when it was the largest independent commercial bank in Connecticut, and Operations Manager for Blacklite Corporation.

She has devoted much of her adult life to supporting nonprofits including Lyme Academy of Fine Arts where Diane was instrumental in helping raise funds for a new studio for student artists. Because of her intense love of all creatures, Diane also created Pet Connection, a nonprofit for abandoned and abused animals based in Connecticut.

She has drawn on this passion by volunteering and supporting the important efforts of Key West Wildlife Center.

Frances and Steve Porter
Board Members

Steve retired after 30 years in Law Enforcement in North Carolina. He and his wife, Frances, bought property in Key West in 2003 and moved to Key West full-time in 2015.

They called the Key West Wildlife Center late one evening about a bird in dis-tress. Peggy with the KWWC came out and rescued the bird. They were so impressed with her professionalism that they asked about volunteering at the Center.

In addition to Steve and Frances serving on the Board, they have also been helped as greeters at the Center educating and sharing our mission and work to visitors.

Jane Gardner
Board Member

Jane realized a lifelong dream and moved to Key West in 2014. So thrilled to not be a tourist, she dug her heels into the sand (better than the snow of Chicago) and brought her interior design business to Key West by opening an office and a showroom with furniture, decorative accessories and gifts.

All of her spare time has been spent in organizations that have personal meaning, such as The Red Barn Theatre Board and by raising awareness and money for the Key West Police Department Mounted Unit. Jane’s passion for animals and our native birds led her to Peggy at the KWWC where she brought items from her store to support and enhance the annual “It’s for the Birds” auction fundraiser. Her connection and appreciation of the Center’s mission led to her becoming a member of the Board.