When Carolyn Kearns Young graduated high school and left Springfield to attend St. Olaf College in Minnesota, she took with her a vocal performance scholarship and the intention to major in music, but she left behind a piece of her heart: her hometown.
But as they often do, Kearns Young’s plans changed. She graduated from college with a degree in interdisciplinary fine arts and American studies. She spent 10 years in the field of marketing, gradually making her way back home. When Mercy Health offered her a position five years ago as a marketing manager, Kearns Young returned to Springfield.
Kearns Young now holds a Master’s degree in Catholic Healthcare Mission from the Aquinas Institute of Theology. And, now serving as of Director of Community Health for Mercy Health - Springfield, Kearns Young – who describes herself as a helper – says she feels blessed to be serving her hometown.
In her role, Kearns Young focuses on the community health needs assessment and implementation, and the health and well-being of people in Clark and Champaign counties.
“The top health needs are data-focused with input from community leaders and members about what people see and experience living in Clark and Champaign counties,” she says.
Kearns Young works closely with the health departments in both counties. She says her objectives are centered on “the CHIP (Community Health Improvement Plan),” which includes a number of community health task forces that focus on our area’s top health needs.
She is also active in community development meetings touching on the topics of housing, food access and food insecurity. And, she’s a founding member of the Clark County Local Foods Council.
“We’ve really tried to make it a collaborative experience,” Kearns Young says. “It’s not just one person’s perspective, but it’s getting as much feedback from the communities as we can to get ‘real lived’ experience of what’s happening in the two counties we serve.”
Her new position in the community allows Mercy Health to collaborate with local organizations to create new pathways and remove barriers preventing people from seeking the care they need – including physical health, economic health, housing, food insecurity or spiritual needs.
“I am encouraged by the amount of partnership and collaboration I see across the community,” says Kearns Young.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, Kearns Young says it has also brought new perspective.
“It’s exhausting for people in a multitude of ways … it presents a series of challenges,” she says. “But it’s created new opportunities for us to look at how we serve one another.”
This fall, she was able to organize a fall planting day with Keep Clark County Beautiful. More than 40 people volunteered their time and worked in small teams, socially distanced, outdoors while wearing face coverings.
“It showed how we still have the capability to do things even in the midst of a pandemic,” Kearns Young says. “Creating beautiful spaces and places for people impacts the wellness of our community beyond the day-to-day that we are all struggling with.”
Kearns Young strives to hone in on areas where meaningful change can be created.
“It’s the continued removal of obstacles through partnership,” she says. “It’s about, ‘How can we help people where they are and meet them where they are, to serve them and to help them with what they need?’”
With a heart for Springfield, Kearns Young says having the chance to serve her community and to care for people in a meaningful way is a gift.
“When you have the opportunity to use your expertise to help people every single day, and God gives you the opportunity to serve on a daily basis with the things that he’s equipped you with, has been a huge thing for me,” she says. “I’ve always felt called to Springfield … to serve this place.”