Our Most recent Vibrant Person is Natasha Kauffman!!
Natasha grew up in Clifton, IL where she graduated with a high school class of 94 students. Her work of public service began early in her high school years. That’s when she developed a safe-driving program during in response to the tragically high number of student deaths.
She attended Goshen College (unexpectedly, by her own admission) where she majored in marketing. She found that Goshen College made peace-making central to their identity and that translated into the student body as a focus on self-care and care for the community. She graduated in 2014 and felt the pressure to move to a big city but realized that she had great opportunities in Elkhart County from the networks and relationships she had developed during her undergraduate years. She is currently Redevelopment Program Coordinator at the Elkhart County Department of Planning and Development.
For Natasha, the key has always been relationship-building in as many and varied ways as possible. She says that while it may be attractive to create a flashy program or some initiative that will make a big splash, it is the slow work of community-building and personal connection that creates lasting and impactful change. In fact, it’s right in her email tagline that she has had since her senior year: “working to create responsible, sustainable, & compassionate communities.” She works every day in her job to build and maintain relationships across Elkhart and the entire state to support the community and its people.
But those relationships also include a personal touch that goes back to her work with as a Seed-to-Feed Coordinator. As part of the Seed-to-Feed program, groups of students from elementary to high school visit year to year to learn about sustainability and the importance of fresh, local produce. For Natasha, the goal was always to make sure the students felt personally empowered and encouraged to succeed in their goals.
Relationship-building that informs all of Natasha’s work – if you go too fast in working toward change, then people feel excluded and left behind. And that is the work she is most interested in for Elkhart now – building slow and lasting change through the networks of people who care and support each other. That means things moved slowly, but it also means that projects have greater impact and that people feel valued. As she said at the end of our discussion, “If you aren’t working to improve your community, what are you working for?”