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Who We Are

Fran Caffee - Ilana Meallem and Mohammad A. Taher

Fran Caffee

Aurora, Illinois Valley of the Fox Group Chair

When Fran Caffee moved to Aurora, on the banks of the Fox River about an hour west of Chicago, there was no Valley of the Fox Sierra Club Group. So she founded one.
“There weren’t many Club activists in Kane County at the time,” she recalls, “and there certainly wasn’t a handbook for starting a new group. It was just ‘by-gosh, by-golly.’ But I found there are a lot of like-minded people in this area; it just takes work to get them together.”

Caffee’s activism had been limited to “soft stuff” like letter-writing when she was raising a family, but when she and her husband moved briefly to Savannah, Georgia, in the late ‘80s, she found herself ready to take the next step. “So I looked up the local Sierra Club,” she says matter-of-factly.

A nearby state park along a salt marsh was threatened with development, “but we stopped it,” she says. “And that was just the first of several successes. So when I moved back to Aurora in 1990, the first thing I did was start the Valley of the Fox Group.”

The river itself has been the group’s main focus, and Caffee has been an indefatigable catalyst for community involvement. “There’s a world full of people eager to help,” she says. “As a result of our efforts there’s now a Fox River Study Group made up of citizens’ groups and representatives from sewage treatment plants and all the municipalities along the middle section of the river.”
Caffee is close to completing a longtime objective: hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. “I’ve hiked all but 200 miles,” she enthuses. “This fall I’m going to climb Mt. Katahdin to celebrate my 65th birthday!”

Ilana Meallem, Isreal, and Mohammad A. Taher, Jordan

Sierra Club Interns


Maybe it’s her irrepressible optimism. But when asked to describe the downside of her 2,000-mile, Seattle-to-San Diego hyrbrid roadtrip, Ilana Malleam can’t think of anything. On the plus side, though, there’s no shortage of memories.

“It was so wonderful to be able to meet all the different Sierra Club people in different states, to be taken into their homes, get to see what issues they were working on, and how they connected with the public,” she says.

During July, Malleam was one-third of the “I Will Evolve” road trip trio that also consisted of Mohammad A. Taher and Brendan Bell, of the Sierra Club’s global warming team. The crack team’s mission? To announce to the West Coast that hybrid cars emit far less CO2 than regular autos, and that driving them instead is one big step we can take to delay or stop the devastating effects of global warming. Their travel gear included a trunk full of hip, fun “I Will Evolve” materials, including bumperstickers and factsheets that state: “Fish need gills. Birds got wings. We need to produce energy without destroying the planet.”

If the journey wasn’t your typical roadtrip, neither were the travelers. Malleam is an Isreali Jew; Taher a Jordanian Muslim. Both are graduate students at Israel’s Arava environmental institute who joined the Sierra Club as interns this summer. By participating in the Club’s hybrid roadtip, and through the Arava institute, Malleam and Taher hope to convey that environmental problems affect everyone and must be solved by everyone, regardless of national boundaries.

Global warming, says Taher, is one environmental problem that the United States has played a big role in creating, and thus, can help to stop. “We want to show that global warming is a global problem,” says Taher. “In Jordan, we have no surface water, only underground water, and it is predicted that as the world gets hotter, we will have less water. So my message is that by driving hybrids, Americans can help people in other parts of the world.”

Given his interest in sustainable agriculture, Taher returns to the role of water in the Middle East as an example that the environment can be a force that brings people together. “While the PLO and Israel have been in conflict, water management groups on both sides continued to have a dialogue,” he says, “even when diplomatic relations broke down completely.” Taher sees the scarcity of water in the region as an unyielding fact, and believes that countries in the area will have to work together and find common ground in order to ensure a sustainable future.

The Arava Institute plays a unique role in connecting and educating young environmentalists in the Middle East. “I probably wouldn’t have met any Israelis my age if I hadn’t come to Arava,” says Taher. But despite his enthusiasm for the school, he may be forced to leave. Though nearly his entire tuition is covered by grants, his native Jordan would likely not recognize a diploma awarded in Israel.

While Taher ponders his future this fall, Malleam will head to Brown University in Rhode Island to continue work in her field: rectifying the environmental injustices suffered by the traditionally nomadic Bedouin peoples of the Middle East. Like economically disadvantaged groups in the United States, Bedouins often live with elevated levels of air and water pollution.

But wherever their pursuit of a more equitable and healthier planet takes them, they won’t likely forget the summer roadtrip of 2004. “I approached one guy driving a red mustang,” says Malleam. He looked tough—not the core hybrid demographic—but Malleam convinced him to check out out the Prius. “Once he was sitting in our car, he began to take to it, asking about the dashboard and acceleration.” One small step for evolution.

— profiles by Tom Valtin and Brian Vanneman

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