New leader is a lifetime advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, brings experience in all facets of human service organizations
Edmeston, NY, January 17, 2024 ... Karen M. Knavel of Willoughby Hills, Ohio, is the new president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder Village, announced William F. Streck, MD, the chair of the Village’s Board of Directors. Ms. Knavel, the former chief executive of New Avenues to Independence, Cleveland, has held leadership roles for over 25 years at non-profit agencies that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Pathfinder Village, a nationally recognized leader in person-centered services for those with Down syndrome and other disabilities, is a livable community that offers diverse and high-quality residential, educational, vocational, health, enrichment, and other services throughout the lifespan. Ms. Knavel, 54, is the fourth person to serve in the top executive role since Pathfinder began in 1980; she succeeds Paul C. Landers, M.Ed.
In making the announcement, Dr. Streck said, “Karen combines a passion for helping and improving the lives of those with disabilities with demonstrated excellence in executive and financial leadership. Pathfinder Village has been blessed with such leaders and we welcome her to the Village community to sustain and enhance that history.”
“I’m honored to join this community and thank the Board of Directors for having faith and confidence in me to lead Pathfinder in shaping our future,” said Ms. Knavel. “My passionate belief that everyone has unique gifts and talents to share informs my work daily and inspires me to continue creating possibilities for people with disabilities.”
Ms. Knavel was hired following a year-long national search among executive-level candidates with expertise in disabilities, healthcare, housing, staffing, and non-profit operations. She brings a wealth of strategic, operational, and hands-on experience, having served in varied roles including chief operating officer, director of community relations and housing, staff development specialist, and supported living coordinator. She will work with Mr. Landers and the Village’s Leadership Team over the coming weeks to ensure a smooth transition.
Named New Avenues’ CEO in 2016, Ms. Knavel led her agency to become a leader in the delivery of services for people with I/DD during a transformational era. Serving Northeast Ohio, New Avenues offers supervised residential facilities, residential supports and day services for individuals living in private homes, and inclusion services for adults who want to be actively engaged in their communities.
A lifetime advocate for people with disabilities, Ms. Knavel has served on the Ohio Health Care Association as I/DD Board Chair since 2021, and on the Board of Representatives of ANCOR, the national advocacy group for the I/DD community. She also served as a grant reviewer for the Ohio Department of Education and contributed to research projects for the Social Security Administration, Columbus Children’s Hospital, retired Judge Linda Rocker, and late U.S. Representative Steven LaTourette.
Ms. Knavel earned a Juris Doctor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Columbus, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History at Walsh University, North Canton. She is the mother of two adult children and enjoys nature, hiking, and reading.
Among Pathfinder’s key accomplishments during Mr. Landers’ tenure were the creation of Pathfinder Produce and the Village’s Adult Day Services initiatives to provide job training and work opportunities to adults with I/DD. The Village has also increased its service capacity with the addition of a state-of-the-art community health center, several off-campus homes, and the expansion of its West Campus. Other achievements included the start-up of Otsego Academy, a post-secondary program; Camp Pathfinder, a summer camp for adults with intellectual disabilities; and the Aging Initiative, a series of program enhancements, staff training courses, and capital improvements that support seniors with I/DD who may also have dementia and mobility impairments.
Pathfinder Village is an internationally respected livable community and services provider in upstate New York; it was founded in 1980 to provide people with Down syndrome and other disabilities an independent and fulfilling lifestyle. As it works to provide quality supports for individuals with intellectual disabilities, the Village also offers highly successful educational, day services, vocational/pre-vocational, and outreach programs. To learn more, visit https://pathfindervillage.org, or visit our social media on Facebook and Instagram.