BLOOMINGTON - The homeless know Karen Zangerle. So do the chronically mentally ill. But a middle class couple with a depressed child or an elderly parent trying to sort through the Medicare drug plan might not. But they should. The executive director of PATH (Providing Access to Help) stepped up to lead the organization in 2005, with the unanimous approval of the board of directors.
One of her goals is for the 24-hour agency to become the state's pilot for the nationwide 211 hot-line for crisis information and referral.
What that means is McLean, Livingston and Dewitt County residents would only have to remember one number, 211, for help with marriage or job stress, addictions or parenting issues.
Making life simpler for others is part of Zangerle's mission, said Angie Baker, who's worked with her at PATH for four years.
"She just loves what she does. She's really is in it to improve the community and life where she can."
Overseeing staff and volunteers who handle more than 52,000 calls a year could easily lead to burnout, but that hasn't happened with Zangerle, said Cheryl Gaines, a PATH board member who's worked with her more than 20 years and helped plan her 50th birthday party this year.
She describes Zangerle, the oldest of seven children, as someone with a keen sense of humor who finds a nice balance between her personal and work life.
She shares stories about her nieces and nephews and shares a batch of blueberry pancakes and scones.
She knows how to make things happen, said Gaines, chief executive officer of Collaborative Solutions Institute.
"People come along with her because things actually get done. She's not the type who sits around and talks about something for five years."
Zangerle's plans include working to expand the services of the Compassion Center and making the community more aware of elder abuse and neglect.
Doug Poag, executive director of Recycling for Families, is inspired by her strength and self-sacrificing nature.
"Whenever I have been in a situation where I needed advice or help, I have sought her out," he said.
When he recently walked into her office, struggling with the survival of his organization, she told him how to raise money. He asked if she'd consider a letter of endorsement.
"While I'm standing there, she does it," he said.
"Karen Zangerle is a person whom I came early on to respect because I saw her as being brilliant but even more importantly, I saw a person who was living her life for the poor and the homeless and the marginalized. That was her life. That is her life."