Meet the Staff

Benjamin Cox, President & CEO,

CoxBBenjamin 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,

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,

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.

Ilana FedermanOutreach Manager,

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)

Jillian DiCarlo, Administrative Manager,

Jillian DiCarlo joined Friends as Administrative Manager in June of 2017. Previously, she served as Data Manager for the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund in Naperville, a position she found while earning her bachelor’s degree at North Central College only a short walk away. She is excited to build on her experience working for an environment-focused organization, and use that knowledge to support the Friends’ mission. As Administrative Manager, Jillian helps keep the office running smoothly, so that everyone can focus on the important mission at hand.

Fatimah Al-nurridin, Centennial Volunteers Field Organizer-South,

20170505_111016Fatimah 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.

Radhika Miraglia, Centennial Volunteers Field Organizer-North,

imageRadhika has been engaging people in conservation efforts ever since she led the environmental committee at her high school. She has a master’s degree in Conservation Biology, with a focus in community-based conservation efforts, and has been working in the Chicagoland environmental community for almost 20 years. Most recently, Radhika worked as an interpretive consultant for the Forest Preserves of Cook County and Internet of Elephants. As the field organizer for five restoration sites along the North Branch of the Chicago River, Radhika gets to geek out with volunteers about local flora and fauna, as she empowers communities to care for our natural areas.

Conservation Corps

Brenda Elmore, Senior Crew Manager,

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 led Brenda to a spiritual connection with nature.

Tyrone Murdo, 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 Crew Manager for the Palos crew. Tyrone has worked for Friends for almost five years and has loved every minute of it!

Michael Raczyla, Crew Manager,

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,

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-fotfp-cropKatie 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!

Hannah KuhnsAssistant Crew Manager

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 MedelAssistant Crew Manager

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.

Ebony TaylorAssistant Crew Manager

Ebony Taylor first entered the conservation field when she volunteered at a few different forest preserves, including Kickapoo. Ebony than 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 so she joined Friends as a crew member for the Forest Preserve Trail Corps. Ebony is now Assistant Crew Manager for the Roving Crew.

Robert Abrham, Crew Member

Robert Abrham was born and raised on the south side of Chicago where he became involved in the Boy Scouts of America at a young age. Scouting exposed him to the outdoors and sparked his passion for the natural world. Robert has studied Biology and Environmental Science at Moraine Valley Community College, but did not know which direction he wanted to take his career in until he started volunteering throughout the Cook County forest preserves. Volunteering introduced Robert to the world of conservation, and he is now a proud member of the Palos crew.

Terina Cranshaw, Crew Member

In 2008 Terina became a Chicago Conservation Corp (C3) Leader and directed an open-space initiative, The Englewood Heritage Station, while studying Geography at Chicago State University. Due to successful collaborations and partnerships with numerous organizations, the project was featured in the Daniel Burnham Centennial/CMAP 20/20 plans. Terina has volunteered with Audubon, Openlands, and Fishing Buddies. The Conservation Corps Crew Member position offers Terina an opportunity to showcase her passion, lifestyle, and career goals which are centered on open space, nature, and people.

Rachel Finney, Crew Member

Rachel Finney

Originally from California, Rachel has always had a passion for the outdoors. Her educational and professional backgrounds in the life sciences have provided her with an invaluable wealth of knowledge and experiences that have in turn served to deepen her understanding of and appreciation for nature. Rachel’s sense of adventure, endless curiosity, penchant for indulging in wildlife photography, and preference for natural areas that boast a high biodiversity means that she spends most of her time in the field exploring, studying, photographing, and working to protect and conserve the public’s beloved natural environments.

Bria Foster, Crew Member

bria-fosterBria 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.

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.

Bettina Kaphingst, Crew Member

Bettina Kaphingst crop

Bettina was raised near Buffalo, New York, where she was constantly getting dirty playing outside. After getting her undergraduate degree in Biology from Case Western Reserve University she accepted an internship at Fire Island National Seashore to learn more about environmental conservation. She went on to complete her master’s degree in Environmental Biology. After relocating to Chicago she started volunteering in the forest preserves where she learned about Friends. When the opportunity to work as a Conservation Corps crew member arose, she accepted enthusiastically.

Alexandra Noé, Crew Member

Alexandra’s passion for wildlife and the environment began at a young age while watching The Crocodile Hunter and Jeff Corwin’s Experience on Animal Planet as well as being active outdoors around her native Arlington Heights. Alexandra earned a degree in animal science with a minor in biology at Illinois State University, where she conducted research and had a semester-long internship at Miller Park Zoo. After graduating in 2017, Alexandra decided to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. She is excited to be a part of the Fox River Crew where she will gain more experience and meet professionals in the field. Alexandra believes in making a difference no matter how small!

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.

Lance WilliamsCrew Member
Lance Williams is 19 years old and attends Governors State University. As a youth, Lance worked with Friends for three summers with the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps working his way to Assistant Crew Leader. Each year that he worked for CCLC Lance built his skills in trail work, invasive removal, and plant identification. He is a very hard worker and a determined leader, but feels that teamwork is the most important aspect of the job because of all the people he works with. Lance is excited to be working on an adult Conservation Corps crew and hopes to gain experience, have fun, learn new things and earn as many certificates as possible.

Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Crew 2014
Top photo: Forest Preserve Leadership Corps; Side photo: Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps