“Great people at LIFE CIL, enjoyed working with everyone”
Gail Kear, Executive Director
Gail Kear has served as Executive Director since 1996. Her responsibilities include planning and direction of the Center, personnel management, budgeting and fiscal management, and representing the Center to the public and to its funders. She also does systems change advocacy at the statewide level. Her education includes a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree plus doctoral coursework in Rehabilitation from Southern Illinois University. Gail has worked for self-sufficiency and independence of persons with disabilities since 1975. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living and the Board of Directors of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois.
Meri Helbig, Program Director
Meri Helbig has served on LIFE CIL’s staff since 2013. Her responsibilities include teaching independent living skills, individual advocacy, peer mentoring, and providing information and referral. She is a member of the Mclean County Human Services Council, and McLean Chapter of Illinois Imagines. Meri holds a certificate as a school counselor, and as a special education teacher. She earned both her BS in Special Education and her MS in School Counseling at Illinois State University. She worked for many years serving individuals with disabilities in various roles including life skills training, vocational training, career counseling, and community access coordination. She also has experience as an English as a Second Language/Citizenship Instructor.
Rickielee Benecke, Advocacy and Advancement Director
Rickielee Benecke has served on LIFE Center’s staff since 2012. Her responsibilities include individual and systems advocacy, as well as being co-instructor of the Legislative Intern Program. She is a member of the Mclean County Human Services Council and is involved in the Ability in Aktion Group through the local Kiwanis. Rickielee’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in Economics with a minor in Business Administration from Illinois State University.
Brianne Anderson, Administrative Services Director
Brianne Anderson has served on LIFE Center’s staff since 2007. She is responsible for the administrative and daily functions of the Bloomington office and works closely with and provides support to the Executive and Associate Directors. Brianne supports the Board of Directors, serves on the Community Relations Committee, and is responsible for LIFE CIL’s annual events, including the annual fund raiser in the spring and annual meeting in the fall. Her responsibilities also include overseeing the volunteer program, LIFE Center’s insurance matters, records management, and minimal financial or accounting responsibilities. Brianne has a bachelor’s degree in Insurance and has more than ten years of experience in the secretarial field.
Kim Tarkowski, Vision Access and Education Advocate
Kim Tarkowski is LIFE Center’s Vision Access and Education Advocate. Kim has been with the Center since 2000 and has held a variety of positions. Kim provides information and referral, independent living training, peer mentoring and advocacy assistance to seniors over 55 with low vision. Kim also assists parents of children with disabilities to understand and advocate for special education rights. In addition to serving on the Livingston and McLean County Transition Planning Committees, she was Governor appointed to serve on the Illinois Blind Services Planning Council and is a member of the Older Blind Teaching Committee for the Bureau of Blind Services.
Vicky Hogan, Community Living Advocate
Vicky Hogan has served on LIFE Center’s staff since 2005. With a background in nursing, property management and real estate, she has held several positions and currently is the Community Living Advocate. She oversees the Personal Assistant Program with both personal assistants and consumers, assists with the Reintegration Program in helping those in nursing homes 59 years of age and younger move back into the community. Vicky is the current secretary for the INCIL Personal Assistants Coordinators.
Andrea Kindseth, Community Reintegration Advocate
Andrea Kindseth has served as Community Reintegration Advocate since January 2011. Andrea’s responsibilities include assisting eligible individuals with disabilities move out of nursing homes and into their own homes within the community. Andrea received her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in Therapeutic Recreation and is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, (CTRS). She has experience working with individuals who have disabilities within both community and clinical settings.
Georgene “GeGe” Chissell, Independent Living Advocate
Georgene “GeGe” Chissell has served as Independent Living Advocate since 2016. Her responsibilities include teaching independent living skills, individual advocacy, peer mentoring and providing information and referral.
Shannon Tarkowski, Transportation Specialist
Shannon Tarkowski has served on LIFE CIL’s staff as the Transportation Specialist since 2015. Her primary responsibilities are performing ADA Paratransit Eligibility Certifications, holding Transit Orientation classes for people who want to learn more about Bloomington-Normal’s public transportation options, and providing Travel Training to people with disabilities who want to learn to ride fixed-route buses. Shannon grew up riding the buses in Bloomington-Normal. After college she spent 10 years in Chicago and New York where she became well-versed in their train and bus systems and gained experience in teaching and training adults. Shannon has worked for LIFE CIL previously as In-Person Counselor (2014), and Secretary (2004). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication and Psychology from Augustana College.
Norma Espino, Secretary
Norma Espino has served as Secretary on LIFE CIL’s staff since November 2016. Her primary responsibilities include answering phones, assisting with our equipment loan program, providing staff accommodations and administrative support to the rest of the staff.
Keith Adams, Custodian
Keith Adams has served on LIFE Center’s staff since April 2017. His responsibilities are the janitorial and light maintenance duties in the Bloomington office. He comes to us with a lot of experience and does a great job keeping our office in great shape.