About

Betsy Taylor

Executive Director

Betsy Taylor is LiKEN founding director and a cultural anthropologist.  Over the past 25 years, she has worked for community-driven development in Appalachia and South Asia to integrate issues of health, agriculture, forestry, culture and environmental stewardship.  In popular and scholarly venues, she writes about environmental and social justice movements, democratic planning and participatory research, women’s issues, the commons, democratic reclamation of academe / professions.  She co-authored, with Herbert Reid, the book, Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2010). At the University of Kentucky, she served as Co‐Director of Environmental Studies, Research Director for the Appalachian Center and on the faculty of the Social Theory program, and during her years at Virginia Tech, she was a research faculty member in the Appalachian Studies program.  She served on the steering committee of the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative from 2013-2017. She served as chair of the Human Rights / Social Justice Committee of the Society for Applied Anthropology from 2015-2017.  Many of her writings can be found on her website.

Betsy Taylor’s CV is available here.


Simona Perry

Communications and Impact Coordinator

Simona Perry is an applied scientist with a passion for community dialogues, appreciative inquiry, local foods and life-ways, wild places and creatures, writing and teaching, and working alongside others to imagine and create beloved community.  Trained as an ecologist and ethnographer, Dr. Perry has worked in rural and urban places across the US to document and raise awareness of the interconnections between ecology, psychology, politics, and culture. Her diverse professional expertise includes interpretive policy analysis, human-ecological risk assessment, marine conservation biology, river restoration ecology, participatory ethnographic methods, GIS, real estate law and transactional practices, endangered species policy, alternative conflict resolution, investigative journalism, and dialogic practice.  She has published articles, book chapters, and blogs on a wide range of topics related to ocean and endangered species conservation and policy, the psychological and socio-cultural consequences of extractive industries in rural communities, the human rights aspects of fossil fuel developments and climate change, transforming safety culture in the oil and gas industry, and actions for racial equity, justice, and reparations in the southeast U.S.  In 2012 she founded c.a.s.e. Consulting Services, a roots-based consultancy with a mission to provide asset-based services to individuals and communities directly impacted by rapid social and environmental change or conflict, and in 2013 she began working with the national safety advocacy organization, Pipeline Safety Coalition. Dr. Perry received her PhD from UMASS-Amherst in the human dimensions of natural resources, was awarded a Mellon Foundation GIS Post-Doctoral Scholar appointment with Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 2009, and became an NSF Research Scientist with RPI’s Science and Technology Studies Program in 2011. Prior to obtaining her doctorate, Dr. Perry worked as a Senior Editor at Truthout, directed a non-profit international education organization in Washington, DC, and worked as a field biologist, environmental regulator, and policy analyst with NOAA Fisheries in Massachusetts, Seattle, California, and Maryland from 1994 through 2005. In 2015, she returned to her childhood home in southeast Georgia where she lives with her husband and two dogs. 


Julie Maldonado

Associate Director

Julie Maldonado is a cultural anthropologist and serves as LiKEN’s Associate Director. As part of this role, she is Co-Director of the Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences program, in joint partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research/National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR/NCAR), and is the lead for the LiKEN-produced PROTECT film, in partnership with Paper Rocket Productions. She also works with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals to facilitate and support the development of tribes’ climate change adaptation planning and vulnerability assessments. Julie is a lecturer in the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Program and for Future Generations University. She is also a founding member of the Culture and Disaster Action Network (CADAN). 

As a public anthropologist, Dr. Maldonado has consulted for the UN Development Programme and World Bank on resettlement, post-disaster needs assessments, and climate change. She worked for the US Global Change Research Program and is an author on the 3rd and 4th US National Climate Assessments. Her doctorate in anthropology focused on the social and cultural impacts of environmental change and habitual disasters in coastal Louisiana, and she has served as an expert presenter to Congressional committees and staff . She was the lead editor for a special issue for the journal Climatic Change entitled, Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Impacts, Experiences and Actions, which was published in 2013. Her book, Seeking Justice in an Energy Sacrifice Zone: Standing on Vanishing Land in Coastal Louisiana, and co-edited volume, Challenging the Prevailing Paradigm of Displacement and Resettlement: Risks, Impoverishment, Legacies, Solutions, were both released in 2018. As part of LiKEN, she organized and is executive producer of the Paper Rocket Productions film, PROTECT, to be released.


Mary Hufford

Associate Director

Folklorist Mary Hufford who grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Allegheny foothills, has worked over the past three decades in government, academic, and local community settings. As folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (1982‐2002) she led regional team fieldwork projects in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the southern West Virginia coalfields. From 2002‐2012, she served on the graduate faculty of folklore and folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, directing the Center for Folklore and Ethnography from 2002 to 2008. As adjunct faculty with the Master’s Programs in Cultural Sustainability and Environmental Studies, she offers a summer seminar in Environmental Justice.   Her seminars and field practica engage students in exploring how folk arts and humanities, grounded in ordinary settings and daily lives of Central Appalachian communities, and neighborhoods of Philadelphia and East Baltimore, are crucial to the work of environmental justice.  A Guggenheim Fellow, she has published dozens of articles and reviews in both public and academic venues, including Orion Magazine, Gastronomica, the Journal of American Folklore, Southern Quarterly, Cahiers de Litterature Orale, Cornbread Nation, Social Identities, Western Folklore, the Journal of Appalachian Studies, and the Proceedings of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. For a more complete list of her downloadable publications go to her website.

Mary Hufford’s CV is available here.


Rachel Eppley

Administrative Coordinator

Rachel Eppley brings deep values of service and community to the work of KEF and LiKEN.  While she was a chaplain at the Nashville Rescue Mission in TN in the early 2000s, she assisted homeless women with a variety of needs including counseling, housing, and social security. In recent years, she developed a unique ability to integrate care-work with practical problem-solving while home-schooling her children and working in a family business. She received her B.A. and M.A. from Lipscomb University in TN where she specialized in theology. Her family has deep, multi-generational roots in eastern Kentucky. Rachel coordinates core systems in the day-to-day functioning of LiKEN and supports the administrative work of the Executive Director.  She ensures the smooth running of the office and help to improve company procedures and day-to-day operation. She oversees central office functions, supplies, equipment, and maintenance.  She schedules meetings and manages accommodations for lodgers and visitors while they are in the LiKEN House in Lexington, Kentucky. She handles our weekly news bulletins and blogs. Her empathic gifts are helping us to listen to, and to communicate, the diversity of unique and rich stories emerging from our projects.


Ruby Daniels

Community Engagement Coordinator

Ruby Daniels is an herbalist, farmer, herbal product manufacturer, and partner in the West Virginia Forest Farming Initiative.  Ruby was born in Maryland and spent her formative years growing up in Columbia, MD.  Ruby’s families have been residents in Virginia which is currently West Virginia since the 1700s.  Her summers were spent in Southern West Virginia, and played a big part in the development of her career. Ruby Daniels also teaches workshops that focus on her Afrolachian heritage and educates the community of her African American heritage that has influenced her about the work she does with field grown herbs and forest botanicals.   Ruby Daniels received her Bachelors of Science in Theater Design at Towson University, and later received her Masters of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.  Ruby spent fifteen years working as a Massage Therapist, during which time she increased the healing and assessment skills which she applies to her herbal business.  Currently, Ruby travels around West Virginia completing site visits and reports to help current and future forest farmers make the most of the woodland resources, and building a network for herbalist and forest farmers to help develop an herbal industry in the state of West Virginia.


Patrick Freeland

Project Director

Knowledge Sharing Network: Climate Education Centering Indigenous Knowledge Systems 

Honor, Pride, and Respect. These values serve as the foundation to a worldview of knowledge in plural – transdisciplinary understanding and holistic experience – in order to promote proactive change through community-based collaboration. Patrick Austin Freeland, Hvtvltvlke Mvskoke (Wind Clan, Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma) is a graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University and Purdue University, learning of the interrelations of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Indigenous Peoples’ adaptation to climate change and preservation of tribal and cultural sovereignty. Through commitment-to-action, Patrick centers his work ethic and civic engagement through intergenerational knowledge-sharing and through the utilization of interdisciplinary sciences, arts, and engineering, as a means to improve human and environmental health, social advancement, and intercultural understanding through reconciliation. Patrick’s research and professional development have centered on climate change adaptation and mitigation, noncognitive development in education, and advancement of plural knowledge and conscientiousness. Patrick, a lifelong learner, continues to develop skills in organizational development, program management, social knowledge systems, and intergovernmental policy, as well as strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation. Ultimately in practice, Patrick incorporates an adaptive management style supported by collaboration with an interpersonal focus on healing and peace-making. 


Burney, Chris

Chris Burney

Project Director of LiKEN’s Agroforestry Project

Chris Burney is a grower and graduate student earning a PhD at West Virginia University with dissertation work investigating the development of agroforestry states for ecological site descriptions. After apprenticing under farmers and nurserymen, Chris designed a multi-species, multi-story agroforestry system for the small farm he was the head grower for, creating a long-term ecologically and economically sustainable production model. As project director for the Sharing Successes in Forest Farming across Central Appalachia project Chris will be able to share experiences from farming, nursery work, and public and private sector growing as well as training in agroforestry practices and soil science while learning new techniques and stories from community partners. 

Chris has been working on his PhD at the WVU Davis College of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Design and has worked as a research assistant for the Institute of Water Security and Science and Jim Thompson’s Soils Lab, as well as teaching both freshman labs and senior capstone experiments in ecology. Chris received his M.S. in natural resources with a specialization in agroforestry through the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and a B.A. in Comparative Studies with emphasis in Folklore and Linguistics from the Center for Folklore Studies at the Ohio State University. 


Carson Benn

Program Director

Carson Benn is a historian with strong interests in Appalachia, education, media, moonshine, civic engagement, local economies, grassroots organizing, and community arts. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he supports a number of projects at LiKEN, including community engagement partnerships between the mothership and Martin County (Ky.) Concerned Citizens and other Water Collaboratory partners, as well as the Heirs’ Property initiative. Prior to joining LiKEN, Dr. Benn was involved in a variety of organizations during his graduate program at the University of Kentucky, including teaching with the UK Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies program, and also public research and editorial work with the Kentucky Historical Society and the Hopewell Museum in Paris, Kentucky. His dissertation, titled “Appalachia on the Airwaves: A History of Public and Educational Television in the Southern Mountains,” focuses on distance education and learning media initiatives in several Appalachian states and in the region as a whole. Carson is the Membership Chair for the Appalachian Studies Association’s Steering Committee, and also the Book Review Editor for the Association’s peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Appalachian Studies. He serves on statewide and local chapter committees with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and lives in Lexington with his dog, Rollie Fingers.


Craig Williams

Kentucky Environmental Foundation

Program Director

Craig is a founding member of the grassroots community group Common Ground and of KEF, and served as Director of KEF until January 2008.

He is a charter member of the Kentucky Governor’s Chemical Material Demilitarization Citizen’s Advisory Commission, and currently serves as co-chair of the Kentucky Chemical Destruction Advisory Board.

Craig also has extensive community organizing experience related to veterans’ programs. He is the co-founder and secretary of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize). He has received several tributes in the U.S. Congress and was presented the John O‘Connor Citizens Achievement Award in 2003.

In addition, Craig is a board member of Blue Grass Tomorrow, a consultant for the Blue Grass Area Development District, a member of the PRISM Editorial Board for Eastern Kentucky University, and recently retired from coaching soccer in several schools and county leagues for over 25 years.

In April 2006 Craig was North American recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Craig received a BA in Philosophy from Eastern Kentucky University, and in May 2008 was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree in Humanities from the University. Craig lives in Berea, Kentucky with his wife and near his two children and two grandchildren.


Daisy Ahlstone

Visual Storytelling Editor

Daisy Ahlstone studies environmental storytelling through the lens of folklore, eco-criticism, posthumanism, and science & technology studies. They explore legend, thylacines, extinction, material culture, metaphor, discourse analysis, digital communication, and more! In addition to working with LiKEN, Daisy also collaborates on folklore and community-centered projects with the Western States Folklore Society (http://www.westernfolklore.org/), and a Youtube and Twitch streaming channel called Folkwise, which brings the discipline of folklore to the next gen through digital platforms (https://www.twitch.tv/folkwise). They have a B.A. in Folklore from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in English / Folklore from Utah State University, and brings expertise in the anthropocene, new materialism, civic professionalism, public work and collaboration, and videography. Daisy is a current PhD student of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, pursuing dissertation research on the impact of extinction in local communities. At LiKEN, they work with our programs, constituents, and collaborators to develop our capacity to tell our stories visually–weaving film, photos, and images together with the spoken and written word.


Sarah Chayes

Senior Fellow

Sarah Chayes is the first recipient of LiKEN’s Appalachian Mother Forest Fellowship, a new program to fund writing about the waters and forests of Appalachia. Sarah joins LiKEN as Senior Fellow in order to work on a book with the working title, The Potomac: An Invitation to Change Course, which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf. Sarah Chayes’s remarkable trajectory has led her from reporting from Paris for National Public Radio and covering the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan to running a soap factory in downtown Kandahar in the midst of a reigniting insurgency. She went on to advise the topmost levels of the U.S. military, serving as special adviser to two commanders of the international forces in Kabul and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. She left the Pentagon for a five-year stint at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she extracted the broadly relevant core from those experiences. Internationally recognized for her innovative thinking on corruption and its implications, she has uncovered the unrecognized reality that severe and structured corruption can prompt international crises, such as revolutions and other uprisings, violent insurgency, and environmental devastation. Corruption of this sort is the operating system of sophisticated networks, which weave together government officials, business magnates and private charities, and out and out criminals, and represents, in Sarah’s view, the primary threat to democracy in our lifetimes.  Author of the prize-winning Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, she has just finished On Corruption In America — And What Is at Stake. For more, see https://www.sarahchayes.org


Deborah Thompson

— On Sabbatical —

Senior Social Scientist

Deborah Thompson is a creative educator, networker, musician, and dancer promoting participatory arts and sustainable development, particularly focused on the Appalachian region and its people. Finding a home and passion in Appalachia both for personal and scholarly pursuits has meant that all of her university degrees were based in Appalachian Studies, including her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Kentucky. She currently coordinates Country Dance Programs at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, also teaching Appalachian Studies and General Studies. While working on her dissertation from 2006-2009, she served as programming director of the Appalachian Center, where one of her special projects was coordinating the Celebration of Traditional Music.

As director of the Appalachian Semester and assistant professor of Appalachian Studies at Union College in Barbourville, KY from 1991-2001, Deborah loved bringing Appalachia alive for  undergraduate students, especially bringing them together with community folks through travel and internships. At this time, she also was a founding member of Just Connections, a community-faculty partnership whose ultimate goal is to help achieve social justice in the Appalachian Region through service-learning projects and community-based research.

Deborah collaborated and published in two cooperative projects, A Handbook to Appalachia and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Other writing relates to her dissertation, Performing Communities: The Place of Music, Race and Gender in Producing Appalachian Space and is documented on her curriculum vitae. She learned to play banjo, guitar, and dulcimer during the folk revival of the 1970s and has repertoire from living and playing in Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and New England. Since 1976, she has performed both solo and with various groups, currently with the old time and Americana band, Skipjack. She has taught classes and workshops in Appalachian music and dance for all ages since 1984. Other meaningful work Deborah has enjoyed includes executive director of a local arts council, principal investigator for historic architecture surveys, and resident director for the National Collegiate Honors Council’s cultural study program in Appalachia, Mexico, and the Texas-Mexico border. She and her husband have spent two decades together living on 85 wooded acres in eastern Kentucky, raising animals and a garden and pursuing a more sustainable living.


Aaron Guest

Research Director

M. Aaron Guest plays a key role in designing and developing LiKEN’s data and analytic infrastructures.  He listens to LiKEN’s project teams to develop good research systems to serve diverse needs. He handles project management software, and supports project directors as they design and implement work plans (digital tools for timelines, monitoring benchmarks, forms and platforms for reporting and data management). He in our in-house specialist in statistical and social network methods.  Aaron is Assistant Professor of aging with the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging at Arizona State University. He received his PhD Candidate in Gerontology from the University of Kentucky in August 2019. He obtained a Master of Public Health and a Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina. The emphasis throughout his career been on translational community-engaged participatory health equity research. His research specializes in aging among rural marginalized populations, health equity, environmental gerontology, and social network/placed based community-engaged mixed method research. Specifically, his research centers on how marginalized older adults’ social networks affect their health and quality of life.  He focuses on the interrelationship between identity, place, networks, and health. He applies his interdisciplinary background as a community-based scholar to address health inequities, improve health equity, and improve health outcomes through decreasing disparities. Aaron lives in Phoenix AZ with his three cats: Miss Kitty, Pemberton, and Momo.


Wayne Coombs

Community Development Coordinator

Wayne Coombs is a native of West Virginia and was trained as a psychologist at West Virginia University. He has been in the mental health field for over 35 years. He has worked as an individual and group therapist in addictions and developed an addiction specialty for the Master’s Counseling Program at West Virginia Graduate College (later merged with Marshall University.) He founded and built the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center which contractually ran the substance abuse prevention system for the State of West Virginia. Wayne established and secured funding for the Applied Community Evaluation Program as well as the Prevention As Community Development Masters’ Degree Program through Marshall University Graduate College. He was a Founding Board Member of the Coalition on Appalachian Substance Abuse Policy and the principal author of “The Governor’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan to Address Substance Abuse in West Virginia” – (November, 2009.) He is the author of “The Pharmaceutical Colonization of Appalachia“, published in February 2018, in the Daily Yonder and Why We Can’t Solve the Opioid Problemin the Journal of Appalachian Health. He currently lives in Johnson City, Tennessee and has an Adjunct Faculty appointment at East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health.