"Melanie Trexler has always believed in helping people. As a child, she heard the tale of Joan of Arc, about a young French girl who bravely led her people to victory against England in the Hundred Years’ War. This girl had strong faith and became a martyr when people executed her for her beliefs. It amazed Trexler that someone could act so selflessly. What amazed her more was how the young girl stood up for what she believed was right. That story was Trexler’s greatest inspiration.
"Trexler grew up in Oswego, N.Y. with her parents and three siblings. Throughout her childhood, she would go visit her relatives in New York City. There, she witnessed the staggering number of homeless people who lived on the streets. Their clothes were often raggedy and their faces laden with dirt. They lived on park benches, under bridges and in tunnels. Seeing them stirred some passion inside of her that she says has always existed.
""I think it’s something you’re born with. I’ve just always wanted to help people," Trexler said. She added that certain people have a natural desire to make a difference. Other people don’t understand that desire.
""Some people, it just blows me away, they don’t see it," Trexler said.
"Trexler is currently the Executive Director of the United Way of Greater Oswego County. The organization helps raise funds that benefit local programs in the community aimed at helping people, according to their website. Trexler is in charge of overseeing operations and organizing fundraisers for the program. She ensures that the programs have the funding they need to operate and help the community, she said.
"Trexler has not spent her whole life in Oswego, though. When she graduated from high school, she became a flight attendant. In 1981, she married Neal Kahanovitz, a spinal surgeon. Though the two are now divorced, they met through mutual friends. Together, the two traveled the world.
""I had a very glamorous life, you could say," Trexler said. Despite her glamorous life, she never lost track of her drive to help others.
"In 1988, an earthquake shook Armenia killing thousands of people, Trexler said. She wanted to be there. Along with her husband, she got involved with a group called AmeriCares, which aims to provide disaster relief, according to their website. Trexler said that what she saw there has always stayed with her. The buildings were run-down and the streets were dirty, she said. The atmosphere was tense and full of fear. Resources lacked. Adults were scared. Children were hurt.
"Trexler said that the place looked like it had been through a lot.
""Historically, they’ve survived famine and war. It was just very dreary," she said.
"One lady was in the middle of giving labor when the earthquake happened, Trexler recalled. The child survived, but the mother lost her arms and legs.
""She never got the chance to hold her baby," Trexler said, shaking her head.
"The leaders of AmeriCares told Trexler that they were only allowed to bring 10 people back to the United States with them. Seeing the devastation, however, Trexler decided that the decision of whom to take was impossible to make. Instead, she helped set up a hospital in Armenia. She had supplies sent in from the U.S., including penicillin.
"When she returned home, however, she still felt as though she hadn’t done enough. She tried starting a clothing drive for the orphans of Armenia in her hometown of Greenwich, Conn. The people there did not seem interested in helping. Many people just can not see when others need help, Trexler said.
""Human nature is, if you live in a bubble, you think everyone lives in a bubble," Trexler said.
"The executive director of Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., Diane Cooper-Currier, said that getting people to donate money, supplies or time is often difficult.
""It’s hard to get a few pennies out of people," Cooper-Currier said. "The way to do that is to build relationships with donors and [Trexler] really does that."
"Trexler wasn’t going to take the failure of her clothing drive sitting down. She decided it was time to return to Oswego where she sought help from Mayor Randolph Bateman. Here, she found success. Overall, she gathered more than four tons of clothing to send overseas. The people in this community were willing to help.
""When you’re in a community like this, you know what it’s like to go without," Trexler said. "We’ve had donors here who have become recipients."
"Trexler said that Oswego is a small town that is greatly affected by the economy. Sabine Ingerson, the Director of the Oswego County branch of ARISE, a wheelchair assistance program, said that Trexler has been very successful as executive director of the local United Way. She has helped to raise the necessary funds needed for essential programs, Ingerson added.
""With the economic downturn, she’s really been able to raise the money for the United Way and I think that’s great," Ingerson said. "I think we’re just very fortunate to have her in Oswego County."
"Trexler started volunteering at the United Way shortly after she moved back to Oswego. For a while, she was on the Foundation Board for Oswego State and got involved in the Oswego County Rotary Club, Ingerson said. She eventually climbed her way to executive director for the United Way. Now, she puts her heart and soul into her work.
""You have to be the best person you can be," Trexler said. "Life is a process. School is a process. And it just unfolds."