Who We Are

CHEJ Staff

Laura Barrett

Executive Director ext. 124

Laura Barrett became the Executive Director of CHEJ in 2015. Previously she served as the campaign director for Gamaliel, an international community organizing training network, where she headed the Transportation Equity Network. Laura worked as a field organizer for the Center for Community Change, and served as director of Housing Comes First, the Missouri Public Interest Research Group (MoPIRG), and the Campaign for Jobs and Housing. She was the campaign manager for a ballot initiative that resulted in the passage of the largest per capita housing trust fund in America, the St. Louis Housing Trust Fund. She has helped groups to win millions of dollars in public transportation funding and negotiated community benefits agreements and positive workforce development policies at the local, state and federal levels. Laura is the recipient of the Women Who Move the Nation from the Council of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Washington University.

Sharon Franklin

Chief of Operations ext. 111

Sharon has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, with previous positions as Director of Corporate Relations with an international children’s organization; Executive Director of the Links Foundation, an international African American women’s organization; and Chief Operating Officer of the Montessori Accrediting Commission for Teacher Education. Sharon’s civic service includes serving as the President of the Historic Battery Heights Condominium Association and Board Member for the City of Manassas Housing Trust Fund. She is also a member of Women in Philanthropy and the Cultural Alliance of Washington, DC.

Maria Leyva

Grantwriter ext. 124

Maria has more than 10 years experience working in the nonprofit sector in grant development, health research, training and technical assistance. A first-generation daughter of Cuban and Chilean parents who is fully bilingual in Spanish, she has served as a consulted for a non-profit agency focused on Hispanic health and was a Grants Specialist at the county health department in Phoenix, Arizona, where she resided with her family for 13 years. Maria has also served as a Project Director for the National Council of La Raza, in Washington DC, where she worked with nonprofit organizations to address health disparities among Hispanic groups. She is a member of the Arlington Aspergers Parent Network and volunteers with the Arlington Medical Reserve Corp. A Boston native, she received her Bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a Master’s degree from Boston University School of Public Health.

Lois Marie Gibbs

Leadership Training Academy ext. 130

Lois founded the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association in 1978 and CHEJ in 1981. Her vision has guided our efforts to provide critical organizing and technical assistance to communities engaged in their own environmental struggles. Lois sits on numerous Boards and Advisory Committees. She is the recipient of honorary Doctorates from SUNY at Cortland, Haverford College in May 2006, Green Mountain College 2009, Medaille College in 2010 and Tufts University in 2013. For her work over the course of her career, she has received the 1990 Goldman Environmental Prize, the 1998 Heinz Award, and the 1999 John Gardner Leadership Award from Independent Sector.

Stephen Lester

Science Director ext. 129

Stephen received his first Master’s of Science, in Toxicology, from Harvard University, and his second Master’s of Science, in Environmental Health, from New York University. He received his Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from American University. Stephen has served on numerous scientific advisory and peer review committees including those of the Natural Resource Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

Hae-Young Kang

Bookkeeper ext. 113

Hae-Young has been working for CHEJ since 1993. She is in charge of all accounting work and bank reconciliation. She produces monthly reports for financial planning meetings and prepares financial information requested by the CPA firm that conducts CHEJ’s yearly audit.

Teresa Mills

Ohio Children’s Health Organizer

For over 20 years Teresa has worked as a grassroots leader to help communities to find their voices, analyze data and develop strategic plans. She began her activism career by shutting down the Columbus Incinerator, which was polluting her neighborhood and was later defined as the largest emitter of dioxin in the country. Teresa also founded Buckeye Environmental Network, a statewide coalition of grassroots-focused groups. Today she works with CHEJ to keep schools from being built near toxic land and to protect children from other environmental health threats.

Interns & Fellows

Kaley Beins

Science and Technology Fellow

Kaley Beins has worked at CHEJ as a Science and Technical Fellow since September 2015. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Biology and a Spanish minor and spent the next year as a Fulbright Student Scholar in Panama researching environmental public health. She has presented this research to multiple audiences including at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the 2015 Dupont Summit. Kaley was recently accepted to a PhD program in Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences and plans to use her doctorate to work to improve the health of communities by reducing their exposure to toxicants. Working at CHEJ has given her a greater appreciation of how science and organizing intersect to support environmental justice work.

Abigail Esplana

Science Intern

Abigail is a fourth-year undergraduate student at George Mason University. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Global/Community Health. Abigail is an avid traveler and has taken up interest in clean water and sanitation issues overseas. After graduation, she plans to contribute to international humanitarian aid efforts before going back to school for her MPH.

Zoe Hall

Communications Intern

Zoe is our newest addition to the communications team as an intern. Zoe will begin her third year at New York University this fall to pursue her B.A. in Mathematics and Economics. She has been involved in volunteer work with organizations and is excited to take the next step in a leadership and professional role within CHEJ. Although she has lived in a variety different cities and countries throughout her lifetime, she has always thought of St. Louis as her home and is ecstatic to get involved with the team here. 

Sharon Hartzell

Communications Intern

Sharon Hartzell has a BS in Chemistry/Environmental Science & Policy from The College of William & Mary, and is completing her MS in Environmental Science & Technology. Sharon has been involved with CHEJ as a science & communications intern since the fall of 2014. She contributes to communications efforts of CHEJ by producing written and video content, and assists CHEJ’s science team with interpreting and translating scientific results for community groups.

Amy Himebaugh

Communications Intern

Amy Himebaugh is a student originally from St. Louis, MO pursuing a B.A. in American Studies and German Language and Literature at Tufts University. She is interested in a variety of communications-based pursuits, including digital media, journalism, video production, and writing. As a communications intern with CHEJ, she contributes to social media, website development, and public relations.

Eunhie Kim

Data Management and Technology Fellow

Eunhie Kim is a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Master of Information Technology program. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2013 with a B.A. in English and spent the next three years working in public schools and education centers. With her experience advocating for education causes, she is now interested in promoting CHEJ through data management and technology.

Dylan Lenzen

Technical Intern

Dylan Lenzen currently attends Northern Arizona University with plans to graduate in May 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science. He has had a passion for the interconnection between issues of social justice and the environment since high school. This passion led him to CHEJ where his time with began in June 2015. As a technical intern, Dylan worked to interpret complex scientific and policy documents for the benefit of grassroots community organizations and continues to update the CHEJ webpage with up-to-date news stories and blogs. Dylan is also actively involved in grassroots environmental campaigns at his university and in his community.

Jacob Metz

Community Organizing Intern

Jacob Metz is a fourth year undergraduate student at Washington University currently pursuing a B.S. in Political Science and American Culture Studies. He is interested in communication strategy, public policy issues like health care, and organizing. As the community organizing intern for the CHEJ, he helps local Bridgeton residents with their advocacy around the effects of the West Lake Landfill.

Board of Directors

Pete Sessa (Chairman)

Attorney/Activist – Boston, MA

Peter Sessa has been involved in various capacities, including doing training for leaders and CHEJ groups , for 33 years. Prior to opening his law firm, he worked for 5 years in legal Services in Appalacian Ohio and Massachusetts. Peter also has done national trainings to help attorneys and community organizations work more effectively together. He practiced law for over 35 years , working on many social justice issues with local, state and national groups. He grew up in Brooklyn and is presently a professor at Northeastern School of Law in Boston.

Alonzo Spencer (Chairman Emeritus)

Grassroots leader, Save Our County – East Liverpool, OH

Alonzo Spencer (Chairman Emeritus) grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio and has been living there for the past 87 years. He is a founding member and a grassroots leader with Save Our County, Inc. in East Liverpool, an organization formed in opposition to the hazardous waste facility built in 1993. Alonzo first met Lois Gibbs over 35 years ago before CHEJ become an official organization, and joined the CHEJ Board of Directors in the mid-1990s. Alonzo is proud to be a part of CHEJ because of our work with small communities and organizations. He hopes CHEJ continues to provide assistance for organizing communities and to increase the fight against hazardous industries!

Cara McCaffrey

Cara McCaffrey is an active supporter of many social justice issues, such as reproductive rights, public education for under-represented communities, and environmental justice. She is currently a member of the Board Diversity Committee at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and a new member of the Board of Directors at CHEJ. By joining CHEJ, Cara hopes we can focus our lens even more on the issues of toxic contamination and environmental racism, and ask government officials to follow our lead. Cara grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts and now lives in New York City.

Suzie Canales

Activist, Citizens for Environmental Justice, Corpus Christi, TX

Suzie Canales’ environmental activism started in 1999 when her sister, Diana, died from breast cancer at the age of 42 in Corpus Christi, Texas. After learning about other cancer deaths and sicknesses in the community, she co-founded Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ) and launched an informal health survey which showed the community contaminated by oil and gas production. Canales has been a watchdog on refinery row calling attention and legal action against Citgo and the Koch refineries of Valero. Canales has testified at the hearing on National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for Petroleum Refineries in Houston. She also received the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Justice.

Kenneth Grossinger

Experienced strategist and Chairman, CrossCurrents Foundation – Washington, DC

Ken Grossinger has been a leader in the social and economic justice movement for more than 25 years. He is a Principal in Democracy Partners through which he works with funders, advocate organizations and unions to maximize the strategic use of their resources to advance policy and program priorities. Ken is also co-founder and Chair of the CrossCurrents Foundation (CCF). Ken was leading strategist in the labor movement for 20 years. He represented public and private sector workers in the Service Employees International Union for ten years, and in the next decade he directed legislative field operations for the AFL-CIO. Ken is active on numerous boards.

Luella Kenny

Grassroots leader, Love Canal Homeowners Association – Buffalo, NY

Luella Kenny, grassroots environmental activist from Love Canal, works with environmental groups and students educating them about the consequences of exposure to toxic substances. Luella worked closely with Lois Gibbs at Love Canal and has been involved with CHEJ since its inception. She is a retired research scientist and served as a member of Public Employees Federation, Health and Safety Labor Management Statewide Committee from 1987-1998.

Dave Beckwith

Capacity Builder/Trainer, Retired Director of The Needmor Fund – Toledo, OH

Dave Beckwith is a consultant whose work focuses on organizational development, strategic planning and community organizing, working with social justice nonprofits and philanthropy. He is the Principal of the Great Lakes Institute, based in Toledo, Ohio. Until January 2013, he was the Executive Director of The Needmor Fund, a national foundation based in Toledo, Ohio. He was formerly a Field Consultant for the Washington, DC-based Center for Community Change. Dave met Lois Gibbs in 1979 and says “I knew when I heard her story that this is somebody who’s really going places. I want to go along!” He has supported CHEJ as a consultant, friend and Board member ever since.

Maria Pellerano

Researcher, Environmental Research Foundation – New Brunswick, NJ

Maria Pellerano is the faculty coordinator for the practice management curriculum for the Rutgers Family Medicine Residency at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Her research and teaching focuses on effective interventions in the community and primary care practices that improve community health outcomes. She also facilitates the Alliance for a Healthier New Brunswick and coordinates a shared data evaluation project for the Alliance. Prior to joining the medical school, Maria worked in environmental and community health.  She serves on the medical school’s Distinction in Service to the Community advisory committee, volunteers in the greater New Brunswick community, and is a member of the CHEJ Board of Directors.

Terri Shuck

Experienced fundraiser and activist – Takoma Park, MD

Terri Shuck helped launch and develop the Education Funder Strategy Group in 2009. She has over 30 years of experience in organizational development for non-profit and public interest organizations, including senior leadership roles with the Institute for America’s Future, League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the LCV Education Fund, People For the American Way, the Government Accountability Project, and the Forum Institute. In her early career, Terri held staff positions with the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the ACTION Agency/VISTA volunteer program, and The Youth Project, which encouraged the participation of young people in public interest advocacy and community organizing.

Janet Marsh

Grassroots Leader, BREDL – Glendale Springs, NC

Janet Marsh served as Executive Director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) in Glendale Springs, North Carolina for 28 years, from its inception in March of 1984 until July of 2012. Since July 2012, Janet has served as a consultant to the BREDL Board Executive Committee.

Phil Radford

Phil Radford is an American clean energy, environmental, and democracy activist who serves as the President of Membership Drive and as a board member of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, Green Corps, and CHEJ.
Prior to launching Membership Drive, served as the youngest CEO of Greenpeace USA, the CEO of Power Shift, co-founded the Democracy Initiative,
Phil joined CHEJ’s board because he deeply believes in the power of grassroots community leaders who act collectively and courageously in the fight for the people and places they love.

Ex-Officio Members

Holly Gibson

Corporate Secretary – Richardsville, VA

Ron Simon

General Counsel – Washington, D.C.