Sarah Coughlin Thanked for Her Positive Impact in Charlestown

Community leaders and friends gathered on March 23 at the Christ Church in Charlestown to thank Sarah Coughlin for her  more than 15 years of community work in Charlestown.  Coughlin  has worked as the lead person at the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement. Coughlin will continue with community engagement work in Boston.  The following is her  letter to the community: “Dear Charlestown – Coming into this community as a 25-year-old green clinician assigned to Boston Police Department’s District A1-A15, I could not have imagined that I would be drafting this letter 15 years later. To say you have changed me, Charlestown, is an understatement. I am not the same person I was walking into this community. This journey is hard to put into words, but I am forever grateful for every minute of it. Beginning my Charlestown career as a clinical social worker at the A1 Boston Police Station, I was honored to learn from and work with some of the most dedicated public servants. Under the leadership of Captain O’Rourke and Sergeant Lema, and in partnership with my original dream team–Christine Vraibel, Dave Saddler, Teddy Boyle, Robert Luongo, and Michael Charbonnier–I was able to bear witness to the power of true community policing. They welcomed me into their space, took me under their wing, and inspired and challenged me in ways I will be forever grateful for. While we didn’t always agree on the same approaches, we shared the same passion and commitment towards a safer and healthier Charlestown for all. We were able to share opinions, differing perspectives, and work collaboratively with mutual respect. Having a front row seat to the criminal justice system helped pave the way for my life’s work–addressing the root causes and the systemic nature of racial and economic inequities and the many injustices of our carceral system. To the families and young people whom I’ve had the honor of working with, you’ve had the most profound impact on my life and career.  You allowed me into your homes and lives during some of the most difficult, vulnerable, and painful times, and your resilience and grace has inspired and shaped me in so many ways.   After leaving the police station, with the desire to move more upstream, I had the honor of learning from and working under the small yet fierce leader, Beth Rosenshein as the Youth Prevention Director for the CSAC at the Boys and Girl Clubs of Charlestown. Being welcomed into the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club space and witnessing the love and transformative day to day work of the dedicated staff, was and has been awe-inspiring. I have been especially moved watching the commitment and dedication of Derek Gallagher, who has always stayed grounded and maintained members as his top priority though his transition into leadership. And, of course, there has been no one like John Killoran who was somehow able to get me to belly laugh when I was dealing with some of the most difficult experiences. When Beth transitioned to get her PhD, I was provided an opportunity at Mass General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI) to take over leadership of CSAC and expand our work to address all social determinants of health as we expanded and rebranded into the Charlestown Coalition. Reflecting on what we have been able to accomplish together as a coalition brings me great pride. For over 10 years of true community engagement, Charlestown, what you taught me most of all was how to listen. You taught me how to meet community where you are, about respect for history and pain, about the power of collective action, and the unstoppable nature of what is possible when Charlestown comes together. •            In the mist of the opioid epidemic when we were losing young and vibrant residents at an alarming rate, under the leadership of one of my greatest teachers, Shannon Lundin, we were able to develop a relationship-based system of linages to continuum of care services to prevent and reduce the risks associated with substance use disorders and occurrences of overdose. The lives transformed through these services are countless. We served as the community champions for the MGH Health Center’s SUDS initiatives. In partnership with the world’s most humble and genuine leader, Dr. Jim Morrill, we were able to change systems of care and delivery in lasting ways. • Together, we were able to establish the first Recovery Court Specialty Session within the Charlestown Division of the Boston Municipal Court which at its peak developed into the largest drug specialty session in Suffolk County. • Through our grass roots engagement and regular community health needs assessments, we listened when you told us that teens and families were slipping through our social service cracks. We worked collaboratively to form the Charlestown Family Support Circle under the poised, calm, and dedicated leadership of Phenice Zawatsky, the past 9 years have truly transformed care delivery in Charlestown. • Tired of seeing too many young people cycle into the criminal system or fall prey to substance use and addiction, we were able to work with amazing youth leaders to form the Charlestown Turn It Around program–now one of the city’s most effective youth enrichment programs and an official diversion program of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. With the support and dedication of the most AMAZING young people and many leaders including Gretchen Wager, Olivia Larkin, and Ginaya Greene Murray, we have helped to transform the lives of hundreds of Charlestown teenagers. Now, to be leaving the group in the hands of one of the greatest youth leaders out there, Mswati Hanks, is something I could have only dreamed of. • With limited trauma resources from the City of Boston, we listened when you told us there were not enough resources available to support the community in the aftermath of traumatic instances of overdose and community violence. Collectively, we formed the Charlestown Trauma Response Team, and under the guidance and trainings of renowned trauma experts Courtney Grey and Dr. Robert Macy, we worked together to provide crucial support alongside some of Charlestown’s most dedicated residents, undoubtedly saving countless lives. Every member of this team has profoundly impacted my life and career in ways that are hard to put into words. • With a desire to beautify and provide a space for unity and collective healing, we were able to build and then rebuild the Charlestown Peace Park. Although the process was far from peaceful at times, the relentless commitment of so many helped us secure a $500k grant, and we are in the process of making this a sustainable area for all of Charlestown to enjoy. • Navigating a national pandemic with you all was one of the more humbling experiences of my career. The way we rallied together to provide food, addiction services, and community support collectively still gives me chills. Another reminder of what is possible when Charlestown bands together through crisis in such powerful and essential ways.   • After the public murder of George Floyd and as our country was being forced to confront the racism of our past and present, we began our monthly Race Dialogues in partnership with former City Councilor Lydia Edwards. While many other initiatives fell off as media pressure died down, Charlestown has held strong and continued the unifying discussion to address racism as we embark on our third year of these healing spaces. My sincerest thank you to our local politicians who have committed so much in the fight to secure resources and advocate for the needs of the Charlestown community—especially Rep Danny Ryan, Senator Lydia Edwards, Councilor Gabriella Coletta, Sal Lamattina, Sal DiDomenico, Jack Kelly, Chris Breen, and many others. We have lost way too many beautiful lives in this square mile during my time here, (I am not able to list them all) and I’ll hold them with me as I carry on in this work: Steven Jones, Michael Cain, Ryan Morrissey, Ashley Paquin, Fabienne Faublas, Laura Viera, Keith Cunningham, Neil Gillis, Peter Looney, Billy Boyle, Michael Charbonnier, Mimi Wrenn, Luis Rodrigues. And, finally, to my Coalition team who has become family. Thank you for being brave enough to go on this journey with me. For keeping up with my wild pace and staying on the roller coaster together for so long. I love you all and am forever grateful for each one of you. I can honestly say that I have given this community all that I have. I have created with you, cried with you, laughed with you, advocated with you, and fought with you. As I transition into a city-wide role within CCHI, I will not stop fighting for Charlestown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.