About Us

“For me, helping others right in our own community is important. Completing high school and entering the work force or college is a huge challenge when you are battling poverty and food insecurity.  I want these kids to know that someone cares about them and the challenges they face.”  Cathy O’Connor, President

Cathy O’Connor, Founder and President of Step Up Northern Michigan

Cathy has a passion for schools, students and all things related to the education and social development of young people. After graduating from Gaylord St. Mary’s, she received a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Michigan and MA in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. Her career in education encompasses a wide variety of roles, including:

• Teacher at Ann Arbor Public Schools and Whitmore Lake Middle School.

• School Administrator at Dearborn Public Schools.

• Adjunct faculty at St. Xavier University.

• Vice-President of Gaylord Community Schools Board of Education.

• PTO President at Old Mission Peninsula Elementary.

• Founder of Step Up Northern Michigan.

Cathy’s 30+ years of education and experience, combined with her strong desire to support the flourishing of young people, make her an ideal advocate for students who are struggling, often through no fault of their own, on the path to adulthood. She understands how schools work and how to navigate the complex relationships between students, teachers, parents, and the community.

Cathy and her husband, Sean, are the parents of six children and one grandchild. In her free time, she enjoys playing (or watching) tennis, walking her dog, and connecting with family and friends.

Robin Appleford – Vice President of Step Up Northern Michigan

Robin is a mom, wife, art director, designer, massage therapist, teen-chauffeur, and self-proclaimed, “jack-of-all-trades and master of none”.

Robin’s career in creative advertising and graphic design has spanned over 20 years at ad agencies in the Chicago and Detroit area (along with 15 years of local freelance). She has received national awards in Communication Arts Magazine, Print, and a Chicago Addys winner. 

Robin attended the University of Queensland in Australia, and graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado (1992), and The Portfolio Center in Atlanta, Georgia (1995). Robin later received her LMT from Solace School of Massage at Boyne Mountain (2011).

In 2005, Robin, her husband David and their (then) baby Luke, moved to Traverse City from the Detroit area after falling in love with the outdoor lifestyle and of course, the fantastic people in the area.

Robin has been active in Traverse City community for several years. She has served as Gala Chair for The Children’s House, has been a volunteer with Safe Harbor, volunteers regularly at her children’s schools, and is currently active in local emotional support groups. 

Robin is an avid mountain/trail/road cyclist, a cross-country and downhill skier, and is a nature, animal, art, and travel enthusiast. Robin believes in finding mental and physical health through nature.

Having served with Step Up since the early days, Robin is incredibly honored to “step up” to the new role.  “I am ready to discover what good we can do in the community. The possibilities are exciting.”

Leslie Cooper is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cooper Strategic, founder of Leslie Cooper Design and author of multiple health and fitness books and cookbooks.  She has designed and led seminars for leaders and spouses in several prominent companies and with countless entrepreneurs.  Her background includes merchandizing and design at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and health sciences at Colorado University, Boulder.  Leslie specializes in drawing together leading edge, proven insights on work-life balance, personal energy, health, wellness, and performance sciences.  She is a widely acclaimed authority on high-energy living for leaders, entrepreneurs, and busy families.  Books with her insights and recipes have sold more than three million copies and appeared on major bestseller lists.  They include The Health & Fitness Excellence Cookbook, America’s New Low-Fat Cuisine, Low-Fat Living, Low-Fat Living Cookbook, High-Energy Living, Flip the Switch-Lose the Weight and Cuisine7.  She is the founder of Leslie Cooper Design a custom hand-crafted gemstone jewelry business. She and her husband, Robert, live in northern Michigan and have two daughters.

Leslie Cooper – Secretary of Step Up Northern Michigan