Executive Director of Amherst Survival Center takes her leaveIn April 2007, when Cheryl Zoll was hired as Executive Director of the Amherst Survival Center, the organization was struggling to meet the needs of the community, and had been operating in the basement of the former Amherst Regional Middle School for 34 years.
This June, after overseeing six years of growth and a move into a new $2.5 million headquarters, Zoll will leave her position in search of a new challenge.
Zoll, 50, a Salem native who holds a degree in biology from Harvard University and a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, was teaching as a professor of linguistics at MIT when she first became involved with the center back in 2003. That year she arrived with her husband and Amherst College professor Eric Sawyer to live in Amherst, and Zoll decided to volunteer with the Survival Center. What she found, she said, she really liked.
“I knew at that time that my focus was moving more toward non-profit type organizations,” said Zoll, who found herself attracted to the strong sense of community present in Amherst. “The community support has been so incredible all along and has really helped build the center from what it was six years ago to what it is today.”
When the executive director position opened in 2007, Zoll decided to apply. She was hired that April and hoped to transfer her skills as an educator into a successful tenure with the struggling Survival Center. The mandate: to get things at the center moving in a positive direction.
In 2009, Zoll spearheaded the initiative to raise funds for a new headquarters to get the center out of its current home in the former North Amherst School. The new building, located at 138 Sunderland Rd. in North Amherst, has twice the space, an 80-seat dining room and a free health clinic, is managed by a full-time staff member and is run on volunteer labor.
“We didn’t dare even project a move like this back in 2007,” Zoll said. “At that time, we were far too focused on strengthening our management, and getting our most important programs up to date.”
For this reason, Zoll said the center was pleasantly shocked when, two years later, they found themselves with enough resources to begin looking to move into better facilities. Plans were quickly under way, and within three years the new building was up and ready. The organization transferred to the new headquarters last December.
With nine full-time staff members — up from seven in 2007 — and between 170 and 200 volunteers at any time, the center has found itself with enough resources to update its most important programs, as well as a strengthened back office and board of directors. As a result, the Center’s outreach levels have jumped from around 20 families per week to over 200 people per day.
The Survival Center will post an opening for the new Executive Director sometime this month. According to Zoll, the best candidate for the job has not only good administrative skills, but a genuine love for people and a desire to help those in the Amherst community.
“Some may not realize, but there is actually a lot of poverty in Amherst,” Zoll said. “Our main goal is to get people the food they need, to get them basic healthcare and to supply those in need with clothing and other supporting services until they can get back on their feet.”
Unlike other non-profits, the Amherst Survival Center does not have the “typical charity angle,” according to Zoll. Instead, she feels a greater cohesion between the community and the volunteers.
“We’re all in it together here,” she said, “and if for whatever reason we can’t help someone in need as fully as they may require, we can reach out to our partners in other non-profit organizations to help with things like shelter, food stamps and whatever else the individual may need… Our mission is to create a reliable, largely volunteer-run community of people to help those in need.”
Zoll’s plans for the future are not yet fully defined, but she plans to stay in non-profit social services.
“I feel like the center is in a good place and I feel confident about leaving the organization in the hands of the people here,” Zoll said. “We’re just in such good shape, and the future of the center looks very promising.”
Conor Snell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.