Ten Who Made a Difference: Christine Engel

Christine Engel has always tried to be that person people can talk to when they’re going through life’s struggles.

“Christine just intuitively knows what to say or maybe she says nothing, just holds their hand so they know somebody’s there,” said Monika Johannsen-Yount.

Engel, 52, organized the Gillette chapter of Asperger Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN) about 10 years ago. As a mother of a child diagnosed with autism, she found it helpful to talk to “other parents who were going through similar journeys.”

“Sometimes it felt so lonely,” she said. “Meeting with other people helped with that loneliness.”

Johannsen-Yount, a school counselor at Prairie Wind Elementary, met Christine when Engel’s children attended the school.

She said Engel’s ASPEN support group helps parents with what can be a scary situation.

“This is your child that you have had dreams for before they were even born. As you get a diagnosis, it changes a lot of things for them here, dreams change for your child,” she said.

“I think that people need to know that they are not alone in their struggles, whether it’s parenting or anything else,” Engel said.

Engel also serves on the board of the Council of Community Services and has chaired its Empty Bowl fundraiser. She also is a chaplain at the hospital and visits people who are sick or dying.

“Illness, hospitalization, death don’t seem to prevent her from wanting to try to make a difference in somebody’s life,” said Johannsen-Yount. “She always has her door open for anyone. She doesn’t even have to know who the person is. She’ll reach out to them.”

Engel’s oldest child, Emma Engel, said she’s always tried to be like her mother.

“You can tell how much she loves people and wants to just serve. That’s something that always stood out to me,” she said.

Emma said there were certain things they would do as a family, such as ringing the bell for the Salvation Army during the holidays, but for the most part Christine led by example. Her volunteerism was contagious.

“She’s just so inspiring. She gives so much, it makes you want to give as well,” Emma said.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Johannsen-Yount said. “She’s just so kind and compassionate and empathetic.”

Emma said she and her mom joke that they both aren’t the best at saying “no” to things. She also doesn’t know how her mom does all the things she does.

For Engel, it’s simple.

“Doing these activities actually gives me energy,” she said. “Serving others gives me energy.”

Engel said she’s driven by the belief that everyone deserves to be loved.

“For the most part, most people just want someone to talk to. People need to know that they are valued and worth it,” Engel said. “If I can make one person feel loved, then I can know the world might be a better place, one person at a time.”

Engel will keep doing volunteer work for as long as she can.

“I encourage everyone to give giving back a try,” she said. “It will change your life.”

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