The late Kathleen "Kathy" Carroll, PhD, was a prolific researcher who made seminal contributions to improving treatments for addiction during her more than 30-year career on faculty at Yale School of Medicine.
That was her public side. Privately, she took steps to better the lives of homeless and underprivileged children. If a child needed clothing, school supplies, or food, people knew they could ask Kathy for help. She never turned anyone down.
In the weeks following Kathy’s sudden death on December 28, 2020, family, friends, and colleagues quickly realized that even in death, Kathy could continue to inspire and help children, and give them a fun place to play and just be kids.
In Kathy’s memory, the Kathy Carroll Memorial Playground will rise on property on Winchester Avenue in New Haven owned by Christian Community Action (CCA), with whom Kathy maintained a decades-long relationship.
The playground will be in the shadow of a large brick building that CCA has renovated for transitional housing for families. Approximately $35,000 has been raised so far from a playground fundraising campaign that was launched in Kathy’s name shortly after she died. The money was recently given to the Rev. Bonita Grubbs, executive director of CCA.
“She’s (Kathy) always been a huge supporter of the kids at CCA. I think she’d be sitting on the swings with them,” said Charla Nich, a close friend of Kathy's who worked with the scientist for over 30 years. “She would be giddy. She was such a brilliant and accomplished woman and had met so many milestones. This was something she did behind the scenes.”
Grubbs said the playground, which will replace old play equipment, will be a “fitting and lasting tribute to a woman who gave so much and was a force.”
“Just to have that area that children can use with supervision, we are grateful,” Grubbs said. “We want to make sure it’s safe and something that will be fun for the children.”
The playground will complement the renovated building, which will house families in need of temporary housing. Eighteen one-, two-, and three-bedroom units will be ready for occupancy in the next couple of months.
“We would not be in a position to offer this playground to the children without having a major donor invest funds in the renovation of this building,” Grubbs said of the playground fundraising campaign. “We serve families so they can move toward a better quality of life. That’s something we’ve really made an investment in.”
It is an investment Kathy would have supported without reservation, said Nich, who added that Carroll’s 23-year-old daughter, Kate, is thrilled about the project and is helping as much as she can from her home in Oregon.
Kathy led a busy life as a researcher; her Psychotherapy Development Center at Yale – the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s only funded Center of Excellence devoted to behavioral therapies research – produced over 1,500 peer-reviewed publications, but Kathy never stopped thinking about how to give back or to help others less fortunate.
Even after she became ill Kathy was in touch with CCA to make sure children in need had necessities. Around the holidays she shopped for Christmas gifts and was always happy to donate to back-to-school clothing or toy drives.
Nich said Kathy enjoyed receiving thank you notes from the children not because she craved the accolades, but because it made her feel good knowing that her work had gone to help people in need.
“She spent so much time looking for the proper clothes for the kids. She really enjoyed that,” Nich said.
“She was always the most enthusiastic and generous in her contribution not only to the gifts but also her time and personal touch,” said Cynthia Morgan, a Research Associate in Psychiatry who worked with Kathy for 35 years and counted her as a close friend. “She included us all in her ‘extended family’ and we all benefited from her love and support and playful sense of humor.”
Nich recalled a time when she was working in the lab with a cocaine user whose daughter had wandered off. The girl was 3 or 4 years old and was non-verbal and with a tracheotomy. Frantically Nich and the mother searched and eventually found the girl and Kathy together.
“You see the girl with Kathy, who is on her knees talking to her,” Nich said. “The little girl is playing with Kathy’s necklace and they’re having this eye-to-eye communication. That’s who she was.”
Brian Kiluk, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, and a collaborator with Kathy, said the playground will be a fitting tribute to someone who cared deeply for children.
“Kathy would be thrilled to know that a beautiful, new outdoor playground is being created for the children and families who she loved so much,” he said. “Her fun-loving spirit will forever exist in this space that will be a source of playfulness, laughter, and joy for current and future families of CCA and the surrounding community.”
Friends and colleagues of Kathy met at the future playground site May 19 – on what would have been Kathy's 63rd birthday – to tour the area and donate the fundraising money to Grubbs.
Ayana Jordan, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry who counted Kathy as a mentor and friend, said Kathy created a legacy that encouraged others to do great work. Silently, humbly, and with great care, Kathy brought others joy in immeasurable ways, Jordan said.
“Being at the playground reminded me of Kathy’s fun-loving, playful spirit and how her essence will live on through play,” Jordan said. “This playground will provide a space for laughter, excitement, fellowship and fun. I am grateful that the playground memorializes a life well lived. I couldn’t think of a better way to capture the ethos of her soul. Get out there and have fun!"
Tax deductible contributions to the Kathy Carroll Memorial Playground Fund on GoFundMe may be made by clicking here.