She may be small in stature, but while Michela Coffaro is a fan of Minnie Mouse, her tireless work, even into her late 70s, makes her more like Mighty Mouse.
Coffaro said she likes to visit Disney World three times a year; she even packs a set of mouse ears for the plane ride. But trips to the Mouse House are a small facet of Coffaro’s life.
Since she arrived in Milton in 2005, Coffaro has joined or supported the Milton Theatre, Milton Garden Club, Women’s Club of Milton, Milton Economic Development Committee and Milton Sustainability Committee, which she helped found and chaired for its first years of existence.
Coffaro likes to describe herself as a cowgirl, and she is particularly inspired by a quote she once saw in a restaurant, attributed to that famous TV cowgirl, Dale Evans: “Cowgirl is an attitude, really. A pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear.”
Coffaro has had to be a cowgirl since she was very young. Her father died at the end of her seventh birthday party, leaving her mother devastated. Coffaro said she spent much of her youth managing her mother. She graduated from Mundelein College in Chicago, an all-girls Catholic school, with a degree in education and sociology. She went on to get her master’s from Loyola University and a doctorate in psychology from Florida Institute of Psychology.
She said she has always had a calling to serve and spent 17 years working with Catholic Charities in Chicago, mostly in adult care services. She moved around to jobs in the Chicago area, usually as a mental health practitioner or in management.
In 2002, she took a job as the executive director of RCM in Washington, D.C, an organization that provides support services to people with intellectual disabilities.
Coffaro discovered Milton by accident. She said she was living in Virginia at the time and was vacationing in the Cape Region. Looking around the area, she thought maybe coastal Delaware was somewhere she would like to live. At this point in her life, Coffaro’s two daughters were grown and living on their own, and she was looking to leave the rat race of D.C.
Coffaro sought out real estate, and when she came across a house on Union Street with a statue of St. Joseph out front and a “For Sale” sign in the yard, the Catholic in her took over, and she knew the house was the place for her.
She still works in the field of psychotherapy, working with four nursing homes, and serves as a member of the state’s Nursing Home Residents Quality Assurance Commission, a committee appointed by the governor to review policies and laws to improve the lives of Delawareans in nursing homes.
Coffaro is a member of three churches. As to how she manages to do so many things, Coffaro cites a favorite book, “Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting,” by the late Lynn Grabhorn.
In Milton, her biggest work has been with the sustainability committee. Coffaro said she credits Mayor Ted Kanakos with having the vision to go forward with the committee, which examines issues important to maintaining the character of Milton.
That work includes looking at issues such as sea level rise, energy efficiency, recycling and flood prevention. Coffaro said the effects of the committee’s work are slowly but surely being felt, citing the town’s restaurants as leaders in making changes. Among those changes, she said, is The Backyard, Gilligan’s and Po’ Boys using paper straws, and Cantina Ultima, Miltonian and Happy Cow using paper instead of plastic bags.
One of the committee’s biggest projects has been pursuing the creation of a sustainability action plan for the whole town. The committee will host a workshop at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, May 18, at Milton library. The workshop seeks public input to identify specific sustainability strategies, opportunities and resources that can spur future action. The debate will be translated into recommendations to town council.