ChangeMaker: She shines light on mental health

By: Dean Rich
May 6, 2017
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Kathy Robbins talks about her work as the organizer for Let the Sun Shine run and walk during an interview Thursday, May 4, at her home in Cold Spring. The annual event raises funds for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com)Buy Photo

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COLD SPRING — Kathy Robbins' cell phone is ringing. Not so much ringing as playing "Here Comes the Sun."

It's part of a theme in her home and her life. She is the primary organizer of an annual event called Let the Sun Shine run and walk, a Cold Spring event that brings people and funds together to recognize the importance of mental health.

The April 22 run/walk, with a kids event, bake sale and silent auction, raised more than $37,000 for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation — the most it's ever yielded. It's the result of preparations she and husband Curt start each October, and it's the reason the St. Cloud Times recently selected Kathy Robbins for a ChangeMaker award and a $500 donation from St. Cloud Federal Credit Union.

Photos and mementos of Kathy Robbin's son JonathonBuy Photo

Photos and mementos of Kathy Robbin's son Jonathon fill her home in Cold Spring. Robbins has dedicated herself to raising funds and awareness of the importance of mental health.  (Photo: Dave Schwarz, dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com)

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But beyond the fundraising, Robbins will tell you, the run is important for the way it connects people who need support and advice. It is a positive result that her son Jonathon Robbins would have wanted. Organizing an event in his honor is a way for her to mother him still, even though he has been gone for seven years.

Jonathon committed suicide shortly after he was released in April 2010 from St. Cloud Hospital, where he was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. He was 22.

Within a week of his death, Robbins chose to be open about his suicide and organized the first run. She expected 200 people; 500 showed up.

The event has given other families a way to talk about suicide, grief and guilt. Robbins, 48, has become someone people turn to throughout the year.

"You don't realize how much suicide and mental health affects people around you until you're willing to share," Robbins said. "On a day-to-day basis, we talk about Jonathon. He's still part of our family. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it's OK to talk about him."

Many items in memory of Kathy Robbin's son JonathonBuy Photo

Many items in memory of Kathy Robbin's son Jonathon fill her home in Cold Spring.  (Photo: Dave Schwarz, dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com)

She chose the Let the Sun Shine theme because she called Jonathon her sunshine, and after he died she discovered that one of the family's favorite songs was on his iPod: "Let the Sun Shine In."

The run is 2.2 miles, a number that represents Jonathon's age and keeps the loop manageable for most people. It starts at the Church of St. Boniface and fills streets going to the Robbins' house and back again.

The family posts a sign in the yard to mark it as the home of Jonathon Robbins. Every 10 feet along the route are signs honoring others lost to suicide. Kathy Robbins makes them all. This year there were 35 new ones. "I have to do it on a day that I'm really strong," she said.

Jonathon's siblings, Arianna, now 23, and Jordan, 20, help with the event. Kathy, the youngest of 12, gets help from siblings too. One older sister in particular has pitched in, especially since Kathy added a part-time job at Kohl's to her work as a home childcare provider.

Letters, comments and emails tell Robbins the event is worth continuing long into the future.

"I'm hoping it will be bigger than us."

Let the Sun Shine 

  • Has raised $184,000 in seven years.
  • All proceeds go to the , which distributes funds for research into causes and treatments for psychiatric illness. Kathy Robbins said her research led her to choose that foundation because her son would have benefited from more research into treatment options.
  • This year, there were 29 sponsors from Cold Spring/Richmond/Rockville, two from Kimball, 13 from St. Cloud and others from Little Falls, Osakis, St. Joseph, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids and Avon.
  • Next year, the walk and run will be April 28, the anniversary of Jonathon Robbins' death. 

How to nominate

This is the first in a series of profiles featuring winners of the ChangeMakers award, which recognizes selfless service by individuals in a 50-mile radius of St. Cloud. To submit a nomination or read more details, go to .

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