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Who We Are

CHEJ Staff | Board of Directors


CHEJ Staff

Laura Barrett,
Executive Director

Laura Barrett has been the Executive Director of CHEJ since August of 2015. She has been a community organizer for more than 25 years. Laura previously served as the campaign director for Gamaliel and was the head of the Transportation Equity Network, Gamaliel’s campaign arm. Laura also worked as a field organizer for the Center for Community Change, and has 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 ($5 million annually), the St. Louis Housing Trust Fund. She has helped groups to win millions in public transportation funding, and has negotiated community benefits agreements and positive workforce development policies on the state, local and federal levels. Laura is the recipient of the following awards: Women Who Move the Nation from the Council of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), the Mildred Bringewatt award from Lutheran Children and Family Services, the Open Doors Housing award from the Equal Housing Opportunity Council, and the Best Media Power Couple of the Year from the Riverfront Times newspaper. She holds a Master’s in Social Work from Washington University.

Lois Marie Gibbs,
Leadership Training Academy

In 1978, Lois founded the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association, 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 an honorary Doctorates from SUNY at Cortland, Haverford College in May 2006, Green Mountain College 2009, Medaille College in 2010 and Tufts University in 2013. Received the 1990 Goldman Environmental Prize, the 1998 Heinz Award, and the 1999 John Gardner Leadership Award from Independent Sector.

Sharon Franklin,
Finance/Administration Director

Sharon has over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Her experience includes being the 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 Teachers Education. Sharon’s civic service includes being 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.

Hae-Young Kang,

Hae-Young has been working for CHEJ since 1993. She is in charge of all accounting work – A/R, A/P, G/L, P/R 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.

Gregory Kolen II,
Graphic Designer

Gregory Kolen II was born and raised in Virginia for most of his life. Being intrigued by communication through visuals he would spend a lot of his time drawing and working with computers then found a niche. He graduated from the The Art Institute of Washington with a Bachelor of Fine Arts focused in digital media. He went on to do graphic design work for CHEJ, illustrating the book “Imagining the Impossible” by Lois Gibbs, among other projects.

Stephen Lester Headshot for Bio

Stephen Lester,
Science Director

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 at the Natural Resource Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

Nury Márquez
Donor Relations Manager

Nury has dedicated her career to serving the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining CHEJ she served as Executive Director of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia, where she provided leadership and strategic direction. Before that, Nury managed corporate giving for an electric utility where she also managed relationships with leading environmental organizations. Over the years, Nury has held leadership positions with several nonprofits and volunteered in fundraising and grant making capacities. Nury is pleased to join CHEJ and help expand support for grassroots environmental health and justice work.

Teresa Mills,
Ohio Children’s Health Organizer

For over 20 years Teresa worked as a grassroots leader to assist communities to find their voice, analysis data and develop a strategic plan. She began by shutting down the Columbus Incinerator, that was polluting her neighborhood. This incinerator was later defined as the largest emitter of dioxin in the country. Teresa also founded Buckeye Environmental Network a statewide grassroots focused groups. Today she works with CHEJ to stop schools from being built near toxic land or facilities and other environmental health threats to children.

Jose Aguayo,
Science Fellow

Jose Aguayo has a BA in Biology and an MS in Global Health from George Mason University.  Jose began his involvement with CHEJ in 2011 as an intern and became a part of CHEJ’s staff in 2012 as a Science Fellow.  Jose brings to the CHEJ team a scientific background in bio-chemistry and an expertise in epidemiology and public health on a global scale. Previously, Jose worked on projects for the Pan American Health Organization and National Children’s Hospital and currently is on the Board of Directors of the pro-education organization United for Social Justice (USJ).

Board of Directors

CHEJ is governed by a ten-member Board of Directors. Currently, our board is comprised of five community leaders and five professionals. The board sets policy, reviews and approves projects, oversees finances and projects, and supervises the executive director. Board members serve three-year staggered terms and elect new members from nominations that may, under the by-laws, be submitted by anyone. Members of the board meet twice a year; they are reimbursed for travel expenses and lodging but are not compensated for their time. We strive to make our board mirror our constituency. Our board is made up of three men and five women, which includes one African American and two Hispanic American. We are presently looking to fill two vacancies on the board.

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

Suzie Canales
Activist, Citizens for Environmental Justice, Corpus Christi, TX

Kenneth Grossinger
Experienced strategist and Chairman, CrossCurrents Foundation – Washington, DC

Luella Kenny
Grassroots leader, Love Canal Homeowners Association – Buffalo, NY

Esperanza Maya
Grassroots leader, People for Clean Air and Water – Hanford, CA

Maria Pellerano
Researcher, Environmental Research Foundation – New Brunswick, NJ

Terri Shuck
Experienced fundraiser and activist – Takoma Park, MD

Pete Sessa (Chairman)
Attorney/Activist – Boston, MA

Alonzo Spencer (Chairman Emeritus)
Grassroots leader, Save Our County – East Liverpool, OH

Janet Marsh
Grassroots Leader, BREDL – Glendale Springs, NC

Ex-Officio Members

Holly Gibson
Corporate Secretary – Richardsville, VA

Ron Simon
General Counsel – Washington, D.C.

Mike Schade is the Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental health organization. Mike has over a decade of experience working on environmental health and justice issues. For four years, he was the Western New York Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, where he coordinated community, marketplace and policy campaigns, including the Toxic-Free Legacy, Bucket Brigade and Kodak Corporate Accountability campaigns, resulting in substantial victories for environmental and public health. He also worked for the Buffalo Coalition for Economic Justice. At CHEJ, Mike has coordinated the successful national PVC and BPA Marketplace Transformation Campaigns which has convinced some of the world’s biggest companies to phase out PVC, phthalates and BPA. Ethisphere Magazine listed Mike as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics for 2007 and the PVC Campaign received the “Path to Victory” Business Ethics Network award. He is the author or co-author of numerous reports including the Wasting of Rural New York State-Factory Farms and Public Health, Volatile Vinyl-the New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell, Baby’s Toxic Bottle-BPA Leaching From Popular Baby Bottles, No Silver Lining-An Investigation Into BPA in Canned Foods, and Toxic Toys R Us. He has a BS in Environmental Studies from the State University of NY at Buffalo.