Meet the Staff
Benjamin Cox, President & CEO, firstname.lastname@example.org
Benjamin Cox became Friends’ first Executive Director in 2004. Benjamin graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with a degree in journalism and minors in Spanish and Environmental Studies. After working as a newspaper reporter, he served in several non-profit roles, including Director of the International Tibet Independence Movement and a Facilitator for the Peace Learning Center through AmeriCorps. But environmental defense is his real passion. As President and CEO, Benjamin addresses a range of policy issues, works to bring resources to the Forest Preserves District, advises the Board of Commissioners, advises and works for stewards, bikers, birders and other constituency groups, and more.
Zach Taylor, Conservation Director, email@example.com
Zach Taylor joined Friends in March of 2015. Zach has collaborated with FOTFP since 2010 when he managed and developed the job training program Greencorps Chicago-Calumet. He is an advocate for ecologically healthy, accessible, and safe forest preserves that are managed by a culturally diverse workforce. At Friends, Zach guides and manages ecological restoration projects within the forest preserves. The core of his work is the management and promotion of Friends’ diverse Conservation Corps programs. In 2017, Friends of the Forest Preserves offered paid positions to over 200 Conservation Corps members.
Douglas Chien, Advocates’ Network Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Douglas Chien first started collaborating with Friends in 2004 when he worked for The Sierra Club and joined Friends as a staff member in 2012. He has a undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As the Advocates’ Network Manager, he’s strengthening and expanding the community of forest preserve advocates. He’s also the co-steward of Powderhorn Prairie Nature Preserve on Chicago’s southeast side.
Ann Touhy, Office Manager, email@example.com
Ann Touhy is the Office Manager and joined the “Friends” staff in March of 2016. Ann has a degree in Business Administration – Management from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. She comes to the Friends from Saint Xavier University and before that The Center in Palos Park. In both positions, Ann held administrative, office management roles. She will work with the staff to develop and streamline office procedures and policy. Ann is still engaged in The Center’s mission and continues to volunteer there.
Ilana Federman, Outreach Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ilana became the Outreach Manager in January 2016. She developed a passion for volunteerism and advocacy at a young age, engaging with local and global organizations. Among the experiences that informed her vision of an ethical world was traveling with Volunteers for Peace, serving as a City Year corps member, sitting on the board of the Inter-Cooperative Council, working for Planned Parenthood and the Chicago Park District, as well as studying (and enjoying!) biodynamic wines. As the Outreach Manager, Ilana will work to strengthen member relations, expand digital communications, and faithfully share the mission and achievements of Friends of the Forest Preserves. (Photo by Joseph Toschlog)
Josh Coles is a field organizer for the Centennial Volunteers working on the North Branch of the Chicago River. Josh has a degree in Biological Anthropology from Kent State University, and made Chicago his home shortly after graduation. He has been passionate about nature and conservation his entire life, and spends his free time organic gardening, camping, and taking hiking trips around the Midwest.
Fatimah is a proud native of the Calumet region. She is a skillful community organizer and a passionate advocate for mental and physical health. Having experienced the healing powers of the forest preserves firsthand, Fatimah now works to bring others into the preserves to find peace, beauty and community.
Brenda Elmore, Crew Manager, email@example.com
Brenda Elmore was raised on the Southside of Chicago. Brenda was introduced to native plants and trees by taking a horticultural class which sparked her interest and eagerness to learn more. After volunteering at various FPCC sites she was offered a job with Green Corps Calumet and worked as Crew Supervisor for 2 years. Next Brenda worked for The SCA and finally moved on to FOTFP where she has been a Crew Manager for over 5 years. Many have grown to know Brenda for her love and passion for the environment, her exceptional hard work in and out of the field, conversing with numerous volunteers, and speaking on various panels. Brenda truly believes that you never know where life will lead you because life has lead Brenda to a spiritual connection with nature.
Michael Raczyla, Crew Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Raczyla was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs where he spent much of his free time enjoying nature in the forest preserves in Cook County. After a career change in 2007, Michael started teaching Environmental Education at Fox River Country Day School in Elgin while also learning about conservation and ecological restoration. Honing his restoration skills in the contractor world, he moved on to lead crews for the Natural Areas Department of the Chicago Park District while working with volunteer groups, the SCA, and Greencorps. Michael looks forward to leading and inspiring the new Fox River Conservation Corps Crew in restoring the health of our lands.
Bill Ritzenthaler, Crew Manager, email@example.com
Bill Ritzenthaler was born and raised in the west suburb of Berwyn. After graduating from Loyola University Chicago in 2014, he wanted to gain more exposure and experience in conservation and environmental restoration and joined an Americorps program, the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa. Bill spent two years with the Conservation Corp and managed a crew during his second year there gaining invaluable natural resource experience. After two years he wanted to come back to the Chicagoland area to work where he grew up and be part of the restoration of our Forest Preserves that are beautiful natural pockets in a largely urban environment. Bill is excited to manage a crew with FOTFP well into the future.
Katie Fleming, Assistant Crew Manager
Katie grew up in the western suburb of Glen Ellyn and studied Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Illinois, where she graduated in 2015. She then worked as a Restoration Intern and Co-Supervisor for the Audubon Great Lakes Restoration Program in 2016, where she enhanced her field skills and gained more knowledge in the restoration of the forest preserves. She’s excited to continue having a positive influence in the Chicagoland region and contribute to making our natural areas healthier!
Tyrone Murdo, Assistant Crew Manager
Tyrone Murdo was born and raised in Altgeld Gardens/Murray Homes on the far south side of Chicago. Tyrone graduated from the Carver Military Academy in 2004. He was introduced to ecological restoration in 2009, when he completed a 23-month training program with the Calumet Greencorps. When Tyrone met Benjamin Cox and Alice Brandon, they recruited him to join Friends of the Forest Preserves. He is now the Assistant Crew Manager for the Palos crew. Tyrone has worked for Friends for almost five years and has loved every minute of it!
Gloria Orozco, Assistant Crew Manager
Gloria Orozco first began to volunteer in the forest preserves when she was a sophomore in high school in 2009. She was immediately amazed by restoration work and its impact on the community. In 2011, she became a member of the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps. For the summers of 2012 and 2013, she returned to the program and became a Crew Leader Apprentice. She’s passionate about working outdoors and restoring the forest preserves one tree at a time. She was a crew member with the Forest Preserve Leadership Corps before being promoted to Assistant Crew Leader in the summer of 2015. Gloria plans on continuing her work with the forest preserves well into the future. (Photo by Joseph Toschlog)
Bria Foster, Crew Member
Bria Foster started working in the conservation field at the young age of 7 as a member of the Fishin Buddies youth organization. After falling in love with the conservation movement she continued working with many other organizations such as: The Student Conservation Association, Youth Outdoor ambassadors, Forest Preserves of Cook County, and others. She is continuing her work with the Friends of the Forest Preserves and is eager to continues her advocacy for the forest preserves.
Ladejanae Goode, Crew Member
Ladejanae has been involved with the Forest Preserves of Cook County doing restoration and conservation at numerous sites including Dan Ryan Woods, Thatcher Woods, and Busse Woods. The work has included brush pile burns, restoration work and removal of invasive plants. Entering the conservation world, she was totally unaware of what lay ahead, but staying open-minded and active throughout this field has enticed her and changed her career path. Ladejanae gains new knowledge and experience every day and hopes to leave a positive mark on nature!
Henry “Riko” Harris, Advanced Crew Member
Henry “Riko” Harris first joined Friends in the summer of 2014, when he participated in the Youth Sustainability Corps. The YSC internship was a partnership between Friends and Central States Ser, training young adults in ecological restoration. Now Riko is an Advanced Crew Member of the Conservation Corps Roving Crew and enjoys learning about wildlife and nature. He hopes to continue working in restoration and loves all the great friends he works with every day.
Hannah Kuhns, Crew Member
Hannah Kuhns was born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania where she spent the majority of her childhood and young adult life out of doors. After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 2015 with a degree in Environmental Science, she worked as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate program Semester in Environmental Science at the Marine Biological Laboratory. There she assisted students in learning about biogeochemistry and ecological processes in a variety of ecosystems. Hannah then joined an AmeriCorps program, American Conservation Experience, and volunteered on a conservation crew in Sequoia National Park. During her time at Sequoia National Park, she gained hands-on experience in the field of restoration and is excited to transfer and build upon those skills with Friends of the Forest Preserves.
Adam Medel, Crew Member
Adam Medel began as a volunteer in the forest preserves in the Spring of 2015. This experience inspired him, and he found the work to be enjoyable and rewarding. The doors have been open for Adam in this field, and he has become very dedicated to expanding his knowledge on conservation and the natural world. During the Summer of 2015, Adam was Apprentice Crew Leader for the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps program where he really began to learn about ecological restoration. At the end of the summer Adam joined Friends of the Forest Preserves. He was a crew member on the Forest Preserve Leadership Corps until August 2016. Adam is now on the Palos Crew and has a passion to protect nature and make a positive impact in the world.
Tyler Polanski, Crew Member
Tyler Polanski was born in the western suburb of North Riverside, and studied Environmental Science at Benedictine University where he graduated from in 2015. While at Benedictine, he worked at the Jurica Suchy Nature Museum and fell in love with the biodiversity of our ecosystems. In the summer of 2016, he worked as a restoration intern and co-supervisor for the Audubon Great Lakes Restoration Program, where he was exposed to various restoration techniques used in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Tyler joined the the Friends of the Forest Preserves Roving Crew in January 2017 and can’t wait to get more involved in restoration and conservation work. He hopes that one day he will be a leader of his own crew.
Zachary Provine, Crew Member
Zachary was introduced to the conservation field in the summer of 2012 in a high school program with the Student Conservation Association. The following summer, Zach graduated from Bolingbrook High School. Shortly after moving to the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago in October of 2015, Zach found his way back to restoration and joined Friends of the Forest Preserves. Although he embraces his work and time out in the forest preserves, he hopes to go back to school for radio broadcasting and to study physical sciences.
Ebony Taylor, Crew Member
Ebony Taylor first entered the conservation field when she volunteered at a few forest preserves like Kickapoo. This past summer, Ebony worked with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) as a crew leader at the Sandridge Nature Center for high school interns. After working with SCA, Ebony wanted to learn more about conservation and is now a crew member on the Forest Preserve Trail Corps with Friends of the Forest Preserves.
Phoebe Thatcher, Crew Member
Phoebe graduated from Denison University with a degree in Biology and Creative Writing in 2016. She’s studied and worked in conservation biology in her native Chicago and as well as abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand. As a member of the new Fox River Crew, Phoebe is excited to restore and maintain some of Illinois’ most biodiverse sites, and to improve community engagement with forest preserves across the county. When she isn’t out with the crew, Phoebe is an Outreach Intern with the Field Museum’s Keller Science Action Center. She also enjoys cooking, drawing, and live comedy.
Tim Yoo, Crew Member
Tim was introduced to the Friends of the Forest Preserves in the winter of 2017, while volunteering for a restoration project at Deer Grove West in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. While he has spent his free time at the forest preserves since high school, Tim’s passion for protecting nature came to him after he returned home from a hiking trip in Montana with his close friends. Tim is now on the Fox River crew and is looking forward to making a positive impact within the forest community. He hopes to join a Hotshot crew in the future.