Richard Coffey, Program Director at 180 Degrees, has had a career that spans many fields. He recounts the highlights: motivational speaker, a father, an ex-Timberwolf and Gopher, and an U.S. Army Airborne Paratrooper Veteran.
Richard's journey began in Aurora, North Carolina. Shortly after graduating from high school, his dad encouraged him to either join the military or go to college; he promptly joined the 82nd Airborne Battalion and, after three years of service, went to school at the University of Minnesota. Though he achieved fame in collegiate and professional basketball, Richard's sports career would come to an end in 1998. He parlayed professional connections into a sales career, providing for his family.
It was during his sales career that the question his mother always asked him started to bother him. "Who did you help today?"
His mom would end each conversation over the phone with that statement. It did not stick at first, but over time it bothered him. So much so that he switched career paths in 2013; he went back to school in Administration. He even worked as a Dean for a few years.
Now as Program Manager for 180 Degrees, Richard leads our shelter and supportive services programs, and a staff of 70 people. These Program Managers and direct care workers support people who struggle with the effects of poverty, racism, incarceration, and trauma.
180 Degrees has blossomed because of Richard's supportive and assertive style, much like how a basketball coach would strategically switch out players on the court. He uses his experiences to connect with those around him. He gives people chances to shine. Those who work closely with Richard during the day at 180 Degrees can all agree that his presence has a huge, positive impact.
Leading the program team, Richard is a force for advocacy and change while providing hands-on mentorship. As I was talking with 180 Degrees staff, the collective response was, “Richard has been a true force of positivity... he is an inspirational leader and pushes you to be the best. He gives you chances to get your job right. If you are hitting a roadblock, he asks you questions about how you think you can improve yourself while giving positive feedback.” A Program Manager shares, “Richard has helped me realize that I have a voice in my community and it’s up to me to be an advocate for myself and those around me. I shouldn’t be a bystander and that motivates me to be my best.”
Richard's guiding philosophy is centered on finding the inner courage to learn, even at the risk of failure. He believes more people should hold these words in their hearts: "The best leader is one who is able to surround himself or herself with people who are experts in their field.”
It is a sobering reminder that we are students in our professions. People are constantly learning and adapting to changes -- when we can overcome the anxiety and fear, we make ourselves confident and powerful. That confidence can change lives and impact everyone -- through advocacy, support, or investment in people around us.
So, I ask you this: Who did you help today?