Governing Board

 Executive Director


Avram Friedman

Avram is one of the founders and has been the Executive Director since the inception of The Canary Coalition in 2000. He has a long history of successful social and environmental activism dating to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and the anti-nuclear movement of the 70s and 80s. He holds a degree in solar energy technology and studied political science at Hunter College in the Bronx, NY.

Under his leadership, in 2004, The Canary Coalition won a Clean Air Excellence Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency. In 2008, he was personally awarded the NC Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award for Air Quality activism. He lives in Dillsboro, NC, in a house he built himself.



Larry Nestler

Larry is the current Chairman of the Board of The Canary Coalition. He has been with the organization since its inception in 2000. He is a lead attorney with Legal Aid Services of North Carolina and lives in Asheville with his wife Beth.

Mary McGlauflin

Mary McGlauflin is a retired Cooperative Extension Agent.  Originally from Jackson County, she now lives in Maggie Valley and has been very involved in the Forward Together Moral Movement, in organizing an NAACP unit in Haywood County, and in regional efforts associated with  She has strong organizational skills and a deep passion for working for social, economic and environmental justice.

Thomas Rain Crowe

Thomas is an internationally acclaimed poet and author as well as a regional and community activist. He is one of the founders of The Canary Coalition and has been active in AMUSE (Artists and Musicians United for a Safe Environment), Project to Protect Native American Sacred Sites in the Southern Appalachians, the Western North Carolina Alliance, United Neighbors of Tuckasegee, and has been on the board of the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project  and  the Environmental Leadership Council of WNC. He is a founding member of the Southern Nature Writers Group based in Athens, Georgia. He lives in the Tuckasegee community in Jackson County with his lifelong companion, Nann.

Jean Larson

Jean is a nurse who sees clean air and global warming as urgent public health issues. She has been a key community and political activist in western North Carolina, involved with a full spectrum of social, economic and environmental justice issues and organizations. She is the glue that holds important networks, alliances and individuals together in our movement. Jean has been a Board member of The Canary Coalition since 2005. She lives in Leicester, with her husband Bruce.

Ron Robinson

Ron has been a government and business consultant for 40 years. He has helped many organizations in staff development, mediation, waste reduction, building group relations, communication and in becoming more sustainable. He lives in Sylva with his wife Judy.

Betsy Swift

Betsy Swift is a local nurse-midwife and health care provider. She and her partner Barbara Manke relocated to Western North Carolina and have made Sylva their home since 1998. Betsy has participated in progressive movements and citizen groups since high school. Now semi-retired, she is happy to have more time to give to issues she feels strongly about.

Jonathan Bentley

Jonathan’s role as a cardiovascular recovery nurse has sharpened his awareness of air quality and its effects on health. As an amateur naturalist, aspiring writer, and former teacher, he has come to know and love Western North Carolina and its people. He considers clean air to be critically important, both for the health of our mountain communities and as part of the larger struggle towards social justice. Jonathan has been a Board member since 2007. He lives in Bryson City with his wife Michelle and daughter Natasha.

Nilofer Couture

Nilofer has worked at Cherokee Indian Hospital as a dietitian and certified diabetes educator for ten years. Since 2012, she has been a climate leader to help actuate the President’s agenda on climate change.  She attended former Vice-President Al Gore’s three day Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Chicago last August and a climate training in Charlotte, in March, on behalf of Organizing For Action.  Last Fall she organized a candlelight vigil in Sylva with The Canary Coalition on the first anniversary of Super storm Sandy.

Garrett Lagan

Garrett was born in DC and raised in Takoma Park Maryland.
After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland he spent five years working on organic farms in Maryland, Vermont, Alaska, and North Carolina, which overlapped with ten years of experience in the field of mental health.

He obtained a Master of Social Work degree from UNC Chapel Hill. His professional credentials include Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist, and Co-Chair of the Far West Program Unit of the the NC-National Association of Social Workers.