RSDP Happenings - Spotlight: Kelly Coughlin
Past Central RSDP board member Kelly Coughlin.
by Elizabeth Braatz
“Alicia” had a family of four, and she had never cooked a homemade dish. She simply didn’t have the experience. However, after she enrolled in the Choose Health Program and took a cooking class taught by a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educator with the University of Minnesota Extension, Alicia’s life – and her family’s lives – changed for good. Alicia started cooking homemade food, feeding her family more fruit and vegetables, and even saving money on groceries.
It was an inspiring transformation, and it may not have been possible without the hard work behind the scenes by Kelly Coughlin, recent co-chair of the Board of Directors for the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships’ (RSDP) Central Region and former Certified Diabetes Educator at Lakewood Health System in Staples. Alicia’s story captures how Coughlin has devoted her life to helping others through her career and community involvement.
Giving to the community
Coughlin’s service to the community didn’t go unnoticed, and the Central RSDP reached out to her. Coughlin joined the Central RSDP’s food systems work group. During her six years on the board – fulfilling two three-year terms which concluded in June 2016 – Coughlin helped promote Central RSDP farmers' market projects by starting a farmers' market right outside of Lakewood Health System.
Coughlin and her Lakewood teammates were also integral in building a coalition between Lakewood Health System, the Region Five Development Commission, Sprout, Hunger-Free Minnesota, Todd County Health and Human Services, Prairie Bay, EnSearch, Inc., Central RSDP, and the University of Minnesota Extension to create the Choose Health program. Choose Health is a unique community health initiative in Central Minnesota which provides access to locally grown foods to families who self-identified as being food-insecure. Participating families receive a free Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership. Every other Thursday during the growing season, families pick up their produce and recipes at the farmers' market held at the main campus of Lakewood Health System. Families also participate in health screenings, cooking classes, and other educational opportunities.
It was through this program that Coughlin’s patient Alicia began to turn her and her family’s health around. “Seeing a person make positive changes in behavior can be very energizing,” Coughlin said.
Needless to say, the Choose Health program was a huge success. Lakewood Health System won the Bush Foundation Prize for Community Innovation in 2015, and the project is being replicated in Little Falls, Long Prairie, and Pine River. Although Coughlin worked extremely hard throughout the organizing and volunteering stages, she emphasized that group effort above everything made it possible. “It shows the importance of partnerships. You can’t do it alone – especially when working with community health and wellness.”
Besides creating wonderful projects with Lakewood Health System and the Central RSDP, Coughlin also found that the RSDP connection expanded her own knowledge and connections. Through RSDP Coughlin had the opportunity to participate in the U-Lead Advisory Academy (ULAA), a leadership program helping friends of Extension strengthen their ability to provide community leadership. Coughlin’s cohort focused on healthy, livable communities. Through RSDP, Coughlin also went on a one-week trip across the state along with other Central RSDP leaders to meet people with similar goals in the field.
“We are so fortunate to have so many people doing good work in our state. I may not have had these opportunities if I was not asked to be part of RSDP. For this I am grateful,” Coughlin said.
Kelly Coughlin (middle row, far right) and fellow U-Lead Academy graduates.
Coughlin also emphasized the personal impact of her relationship with Central RSDP Executive Director Molly Zins, who she considers a mentor. “We are so fortunate to have Molly in the Central region. Her communication and knowledge base is exceptional.”
Letting the community give back
With as much as Coughlin has given to Minnesota, it’s fitting that she enjoys every part of living here as well. Coughlin said she enjoys oodles of different events in Minnesota, from the Minnehaha dog park to various farmers' markets.
Of course, such activities are especially enjoyable with family. In addition to living with her husband, Coughlin is fortunate to be near both of her adult children. This spring Coughlin went on a delightful road trip with her parents to the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois – a place she thinks all should take the time to visit. Coughlin and her husband, a high school teacher and mountain biking coach, love taking time to canoe in the Boundary Waters and mountain bike on regional trails, especially the Cuyuna Lakes Trail. “I’m very fortunate,” Coughlin said.
A new start
Coughlin recently started a new position with People’s Center Health Services, a federally funded health clinic in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. “It was hard to leave Lakewood and the Central region, but I’m so excited for this new opportunity,” Coughlin said. “There is a lot of good work going on here as well.”
As reflected in her work with the Central RSDP, her leadership with the Choose Health program, her bike rides with her husband, and her trips with family, Coughlin brings joy and enthusiasm to everything she does.
Elizabeth Braatz is a student in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) majoring in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management. She works with RSDP as a Student Writer/Communications Assistant.