“Great people at LIFE CIL, enjoyed working with everyone”
Standing, from left to right:
Keith Adams, Custodian; Conan Calhoun, Disability Rights Advocate; Rickielee Benecke, Executive Director; Jasmine Gibs, Administrative Assistant; Kim Tarkowski, Vision Access Advocate; Shannon Tarkowski, Independent Living Advocate; and Andrea Kindseth, Community Reintegration Advocate.
Seated, from left to right:
Vicky Hogan, Community Living Advocate; Meri Helbig, Program Director; Brianne Anderson, Administrative Services Director; Melissa Melvin, Independent Living Advocate in Pontiac.
A BIT ABOUT OUR STAFF
Rickielee Benecke, Executive Director
Rickielee Benecke became Executive Director in April 2018, but has served on LIFE Center’s staff since 2012. 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 and has been instrumental in many individual and systems advocacy issues when she was the Advocacy and Advancement Director. Rickielee’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in Economics with a minor in Business Administration from Illinois State University.
Meri Helbig, Program Director
Meri Helbig has served on LIFE Center’s staff since 2013. Her initial position with the Center was Independent Living Advocate, and she now serves as Program Director. Her responsibilities include management, evaluation, and reporting of programs and services. She works closely with the Executive Director and Management Team to plan and implement the Center’s goals and operations. 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.
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 Program Directors. Brianne supports the Board of Directors, serves on the Community Relations Committee, and is responsible for LIFE CIL’s annual events. 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 twenty years of experience in the secretarial field.
Kim Tarkowski, Vision Access Advocate
Kim Tarkowski is LIFE Center’s Vision Access 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. She facilitates several monthly low vision support groups; one in Bloomington at Westminster Village and the other at the Dewitt County Friendship Center in Clinton. She provides low vision and assistive devices at no charge to the seniors that she serves. She also oversees the Patricia Tolan Cox Bequest, specific funding to assist consumers with vision loss of all ages that meet the eligibility requirements.
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.
Andrea Kindseth, Community Reintegration Advocate
Andrea Kindseth has served as our Community Reintegration Advocate since January 2011. Andrea’s primary responsibilities include assisting eligible individuals with disabilities with transitioning out of institutions and into less restrictive environments in the community. Andrea received her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in Therapeutic Recreation, and has experience working in both community and clinical settings. She enjoys working with others and assisting consumers with living independent lives in the community.
Shannon Tarkowski, Independent Living Advocate
Shannon Tarkowski has served on LIFE CIL’s staff since 2015 and was hired back to be LIFE CIL’s Transportation Specialist. However, in her new position as Independent Living Advocate, her primary responsibilities include assisting individuals with disabilities to achieve their goals to live independently. She assists consumers in achieving their goals through life skills training, advocacy, information and referral to other community resources, youth transition from school to adult life and some peer mentoring. 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.
Conan Calhoun, Disability Rights Advocate
Conan Calhoun has served on LIFE CIL’s staff as Disability Rights Advocate since May 2018. His primary responsibilities include individual and systems advocacy, teaching the Community Advocacy Training class, and assisting with youth transition. Conan has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and his professional experience includes 10 years as a Teacher Therapist Assistant working with children with disabilities and providing life skills, social skills, educational programming, social/emotional supports and crisis intervention. Conan also has his Direct Service Child Welfare license and is a United States Navy Veteran.
Jasmine Gibs, Administrative Assistant
Jasmine has served on LIFE CIL’s staff since June 2019. She works closely with the Administrative Services Director assisting with administrative and daily office functions. She also assists other staff by providing program support and staff accommodations. Some might remember Jasmine from when she worked at LIFE CIL through a temp agency about 4 years prior to her joining our team. After working at LIFE CIL as a temp in 2015, she has worked in veterinary care, as a transcriptionist, and as a counselor at a residential substance rehabilitation center. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership and Psychology from Maryville University. She is currently getting her Masters in Counseling. She enjoys helping others, hiking, photography and pet-sitting animals.
Melissa Melvin, Independent Living Advocate in Pontiac
Melissa Melvin has served on LIFE CIL’s staff since March 2020. Melissa is a Pontiac native and works in our Pontiac branch office. Melissa has extensive volunteer, family, and personal experience with disability. Melissa began volunteering for international mission trips serving children with disabilities in 2004, and has made nine trips to date. Melissa has also worked stateside to make churches and their programs more accessible to people with disabilities. She directed Community Vacation Bible School for 8 years and had a 3-month internship with Joni and Friends in Plano, Texas where she helped to equip churches to serve people with disabilities in all areas. She has been a catalyst to increase physical access and recommend changes to programs and curricula to be more inclusive.
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.