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Amherst Survival Center director set to leave in June

BULLETIN FILE PHOTO
Cheryl Zoll

BULLETIN FILE PHOTO Cheryl Zoll Purchase photo reprints »

Cheryl Zoll, 50, will leave her position in June after serving at the nonprofit for just over six years. Zoll didn’t give a reason for her departure, other than saying she is looking forward to new challenges.

“The organization is, I feel, in such a strong position and we’re settled into the new building,” Zoll said. “This is the perfect moment to attract new leadership for the next decade.”

“It is a truly bittersweet moment,” Jan Eidelson, president of the board, said in a statement. “The Survival Center would not have achieved all that it has without Cheryl’s leadership.”

Zoll said she came in April 2007 with the objective of strengthening the survival center and its services at a time when the organization was in crisis. Zoll compared the center at that time to a capsized ship.

“It needed someone who could recognize the strengths and build on the weaknesses. I was very excited to be the person to lead that,” Zoll said.

Zoll’s predecessor, Evangeline Westcott, retired after 29 years at the helm following complaints about operations and a report by the former human rights director that staff members were hostile toward guests and ineffective.

Zoll praised the current staff, which includes program director Tracey Levy, seven-part time employees, 170 volunteers and the survival center board for ensuring the 4,000 people who come to the center each year are served.

The center operates on a $400,000 annual budget, but demand for services has been growing, as illustrated by the fact that 1,000 lunches were served in January 2012 while 1,500 were served in January 2013.

Zoll is credited with expanding the center’s food, clothing and health care services.

“I feel like in terms of leadership I’ve tried to create a culture here that’s very open,” Zoll said.

She said she wanted it to be a place where those less fortunate could come and have many needs met.

During her tenure, she expanded and improved partnerships with Health Care for the Homeless, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Elliot Homeless Services.

She also oversaw the capital campaign that raised the $2.5 million needed to build the new center at 138 Sunderland Road. She also helped create new fundraising initiatives, the annual Empty Bowls dinner and last year’s Cider Doughnut Run.

The board has begun planning how to fill the post, with hopes of having a new executive director in place before Zoll leaves.

A former professor who taught at the Massachusetts Institute Technology and Amherst and Hampshire colleges, Zoll said she isn’t sure what’s next for her, though she expects to remain in Amherst, as her husband, Eric Sawyer, teaches at Amherst College.

“I’m definitely looking for new challenges,” said Zoll, who has a degree in biology from Harvard University and a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley. “I’m fortunate I’m able to leave with the organization in such a strong state.”

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