Passionista Carolyn Koppel Is On a Mission to Help Caregivers One Cup of Coffee at a Time
Courtesy of Carolyn Koppel
If you're lucky, you can look back at your life and recall a few people who did you a favor that completely changed your trajectory. In my case, one of the people is Carolyn Koppel. As a new college graduate eager to get into the world of television production, I rushed to Hollywood looking for my big break. Having made a few friends the summer before during my Television Academy Foundation internship, I had dinner one night with Carolyn and Amy Toomin, who would go on to be my roommate for the next eight years. Carolyn was working at Viacom and knew that two of the producers were looking for a Post Production Assistant. This was NOT what I wanted to do for a living but I figured that as I was waiting to get my big break as a TV writer, this would help pay the bills. Plus a very wise professor had told me not to be too committed to what I thought I wanted to be when I grew up and to leave myself open to possibilities. Working with Carolyn on Matlock, turned out to be a dream come true. I had the greatest bosses, who took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. And Carolyn served as a great guide to the ins and outs of the job and the Universal lot. I can still picture walking to the commissary with her on my first day of work. After two years, I left my Matlock home but was eternally grateful that it had started me on my path to becoming a Post Production and Visual Effects Executive. That job helped me tap into a passion I didn't realize I had. Carolyn and I lost touch over the years. But after recently interviewing our former Matlock boss, Dean Hargrove, I found her on Facebook. I wasn't surprised to find that she is as strong, compassionate and brilliant as she was all those years ago. What I didn't expect was to hear about Carolyn's life over the last 14 years. Soon after the birth of her second son, Aaron Kobb, he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Dihydropyrimidine Dehydrogenase Deficiency. Aaron is non-ambulatory, non-verbal and prone to severe seizures. Carolyn's journey includes long stints in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Hospital in Chicago. On one especially difficult night in the facility, she was desperate for a good cup of coffee but unable to leave Aaron's side even for the few minutes it would take to run down to the cafeteria. The moment led Carolyn to the idea of offering free coffee to the friends and families like her, her husband, Ari, and her son, Eli, who find themselves in similar situations. After a long and complicated battle to cut through a lot of red tape, Carolyn got a Keurig Coffee Maker installed at the PICU and Aaron's Coffee Corner was born. Here's a bit of Carolyn's interview where she tells us why she fought so hard to pursue this passion. Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about? Carolyn: I feel that of course, right now I'm passionate about this project and getting coffee to people that really could use it, but I think in general, as I look back on my adult life, I've tried to work with organizations and people that do good, which I didn't really think about, but it turns out that it's a running theme in my life and I'm pretty proud of it. Passionistas: Why do you think you're drawn to projects that help other people? Carolyn: I think it's just my upbringing. I think I grew up pretty happily and my parents were always very kind to people and I think that my family has nurtured that. And as I went through middle school and high school and college, it's something that I carried with me. I think it's just my upbringing. I'll give that credit to my parents. Passionistas: How does that translate into what you do in your day to day life? Carolyn: Well, right now my day to day life is nothing that I thought it would be like 14 years ago when my child Aaron was born. So over the last few years I've thought about what can I do? Should I get a job? How can I get a job? Because there's a lot of medical appointments and there's a lot of time off if parent gets sick, how do I tell people that I need a really flexible job that can allow me to care for my globally delayed and medically fragile child? So it's been a journey to try and find something that I can do. And along the way I've volunteered on a parent board, for a local organization here called North suburban special education district, which my son is a part of and has been a part of. And I slowly got back into the idea of filling my time, trying to help somebody else because after you're in a situation like I am, it takes a long time to kind of settle into your life. And I think that just over the last few years we've had a little more regularity so you can kind of look outside of what your craziness is and say, Oh, other people have it worse than me. And I think that when I started going to the hospital, I think that played a big role in how I was going to handle life with Aaron. And that I always looked around when I was in the pediatric intensive care unit and thought, Oh my God, look at these people. They have it so much worse than we do. And I think that always rang true that no matter how frustrating and how difficult and how ludicrous you feel your life is, somebody has always got it worse. So it took a long time to kind of get to the point where I'm like, okay, well it's always going to be like this. Let's see how we can help other people because now I have things a little under control and let's open it up and see what we can do for others. And that started to happen about four or five years ago, but I couldn't really find what I needed until I was so frustrated in the middle of the night in a hospital room that I couldn't find some coffee. And that's really how we got here. Hear Carolyn’s complete interview here.