Hometown Hero – Be The Change

Kari Coates, recreation coordinator at the Marion Oaks Community Center, is our Healthy Living November Hometown Hero.                     

The way Kari Coates sees it, you get out of life what you put into it. If you want to see things change for the better, you have to work for that change.

“That’s the way I was raised. If you want your community to be better, you have to take steps to make it better,” says Kari.

Most of her extended family has called Ocala home for the past 50 years. She herself moved here from Ohio in 1999. 

“I’m proud to live in Marion County,” says Kari, who works for Marion County as a recreation coordinator for MSTU Marion Oaks Recreation developing activities for the community.

Kari has made a world of difference at the Marion Oaks Community Center. Her first efforts were volunteering to run the Mommy and Me program, helping young mothers and their children. After being hired to assist the existing recreation coordinator and later becoming recreation coordinator for MSTU Marion Oaks Recreation, Kari made it her goal to enrich the Marion Oaks community with programs to benefit everyone, from kids to seniors.

Among the various health and wellness programs, fundraisers, community events, school outreach and recreation programs, Kari has helped make programs available for the residents of Marion Oaks. And amazingly, she’s done it all while battling breast cancer.

After a mammogram and subsequent biopsy in October 2015 revealed she had triple-negative breast cancer, Kari faced multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy the following year, and aggressive treatment with both chemotherapy and radiation.

“I had really great doctors and nurses at both Ocala Oncology and Robert Boissoneault Oncology Institute, including Dr. Robert Gallinaro, and the support I received from the community and my family and friends was unbelievable. To this day, it still makes me cry to think about it,” says Kari with a catch in her voice. “I don’t know where my husband, Monte, and I would be without them. I have great parents who have always been there for me. The community held numerous fundraisers for us. There wasn’t a week that there wasn’t an envelope in my mailbox. This community will always be family to us.” 

Since her treatments concluded, Kari has had what she hopes is the last of her surgeries. Doctors continue to monitor her closely.

“I’m staying positive that I’m going to see my kids graduate,” says Kari, the mother of Mason, 12, and Evan, 10, and stepsons Austin, Jacob and Christian.

“If you don’t think positive, that can be your downfall. You can’t let yourself fall into wallowing and let it take over your life,” she observes. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people standing by me. One of my doctors, Dr. Chandranath L. Das, gave me the best advice: ‘It is what it is. You can either deal with it and move forward or shut down.’ I’m so grateful for that advice.”

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