SIRIS Volunteer Profile -- Suzanne Gorrell

Jul 10, 2013

Southern California native and long-time southern Illinois resident Suzanne Gorrell knows how to put people at ease with her easy laugh, well-honed sense of irony, and witty observations about life. She also knows what it's like to face unexpected physical challenges and the feelings of isolation that often follow such experiences.
Born in Park Ridge, Ill., Gorrell, her parents, and sister lived briefly in New York before moving to Simi Valley, Calif., where her father worked as a salesman. Gorrell spent most of her formative years in California, getting involved as a young teen in the Junior Air Force ROTC and the Civil Air Patrol, in which she was a cadet and her father a commander. When Gorrell was a junior in high school, her father passed away suddenly, prompting a move to live with family in Pinckneyville, Ill.
Gorrell graduated from Pinckneyville High School and went on to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where she earned her certification as a surgical assistant in 1982. While taking lessons towards a private pilot's license, Gorrell was diagnosed with a brain tumor called an astrocytoma. The tumor was removed, but its location made surgery difficult and Gorrell was left with permanent physical disabilities.
Over the next 11 years, Gorrell worked to regain a level of independence that would allow her to live on her own. She also returned to college, although she admits, "I had to develop a different way of studying and took full advantage of the resources available for students with disabilities." She graduated from John A. Logan College in 1997 with an Associate's degree in psychology and went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Rehabilitation Services from SIU Carbondale in 2001. She also completed an internship at the Center for Comprehensive Services, working as a peer counselor for people who have suffered severe brain injuries.
Although Gorrell's physical disabilities have affected her work options, she has stayed engaged in the community by serving on committees and as a volunteer. "I served as president of the committee, Partnership for Disabilities in Carbondale, working on accessibility and safety issues for disabled persons," she says. "I've also volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club and been involved in charitable work through my church."
First introduced to SIRIS by a friend, Gorrell has been both a user of the service and a board member for seven years. "I appreciate the opportunity to help shape policy to assist SIRIS users," she says. "SIRIS is important because it gives people with disabilities a greater sense of normalcy and connection to their community, and it improves their quality of life."
Gorrell says she'll miss outgoing SIRIS director, Vickie Devenport, who recently retired. "Vickie has been a great leader – very willing to listen, hardworking, and well-organized," she says. "She has made a big difference in helping SIRIS to grow."
When Gorrell isn't busy volunteering and hanging out with her friends and her helper dog, Holly, she likes doing research projects online, listening to student-produced music programs on WSIU Radio, and making travel plans. "I'd like to visit family around the country first," she says, "but a trip to Europe is definitely high on my bucket list!"