As the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe’s water and environmental resources program manager, Kelly Coates coordinates with federal and state agencies to manage aquatic and environmental resources within the tribe’s ancestral territory and also heads up the tribe’s lamprey conservation program.

But the University of Montana graduate, who was hired by the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe in 2011, also happens to be a tribe member, which is why she has a unique perspective on its recent donation to Southern Oregon University’s Multicultural Resource Center.

Coates was on hand Monday, along with outgoing SOU interim President Roy Saigo and MRC director Marvin Woodard Jr., as the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe presented the MRC with several pieces of used furniture previously in storage that will now offer a comfortable landing pad for anybody who pays a visit to the center’s office on the second floor of Stevenson Union.

“I literally grew up going to tribal council meetings sitting on this furniture at a very young age, enjoying it,” Coates said during the 10-minute ceremony, “so I’m really glad that you all will get to enjoy this now, too. It’s very comfortable. It’s very easy to fall asleep on.”

Coates also presented Woodard with a $1,000 check.

Coates, Saigo, Woodard, tribe public affairs director Susan Ferris and Janet Fratella, the vice president of development and executive director of the SOU Foundation, took turns speaking about the donation in front of a small audience, some of which lounged in the two couches and two chairs that were hauled up to the center earlier in the day. An end table was scheduled to arrive later to complete the set.

Later, Fratella presented Coates and Ferris with a certificate of appreciation that was signed by Saigo and Fratella.

TaSheena George, 22, who works in the multicultural resource center, gave her own endorsement of the new furniture before the presentation. Coates, George said, was not exaggerating about the comfort level.

“They’re really nice,” she said, “and all of them recline. I was actually over there earlier. I was thinking, I should probably get back to the desk.”

George added that the center will also upgrade its computers soon, although Woodard couldn’t say whether the surprise $1,000 donation would be used for that or something else.

“It will be a conversation with my students and my supervisors and the others who are involved, our stakeholders, so that we can prioritize it,” said Woodard, who’s been the MRC director since 2008. “Having the funds is fantastic but we don’t just want to go out and spend, ‘Oh, we can get this or we can get that.’ We want to prioritize and make sure that it is used most effectively to support the students, because ultimately that’s where all the funds will go.”

The MRC’s website encourages students to stop by the center — room 301 — and “relax, release and relate” and has four stated goals: to coordinate lectures and programs which expose the community to diverse perspectives, cultural events and social opportunities; to provide guidance as advisor to the SOU diversity scholars, multicultural clubs and the multicultural coalition; to foster a safe space for discussion of diversity issues through format and informal gatherings that promote an understanding of the trials, successes and histories of marginalized peoples; and to provide a community center that draws people from various backgrounds together in order to celebrate, educate and support the mission of creating an inclusive global society.

The tribe and the MRC connected through efforts by Woodard and Chava Florendo, who’s the director of annual giving and development communications for the SOU Foundation. It was through Woodard and Florendo that Ferris learned of the MRC’s pressing need.

The furniture in the MRC was so old and worn down, Woodard had been rotating the cushions to even out the wear and tear, which was considerable. Florendo said the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe has been a longtime supporter of SOU through scholarships and a youth program, and when Ferris learned of the need she knew immediately how the tribe could help.

“It’s from the (Seven Feathers Hotel & Casino Resort) lobby,” she said. “We stole it this morning.”

“So, I don’t know what people are sitting on up there,” Coates added with a laugh, “but they’re not comfortable.”

Coates said she knew they’d made a good call when she arrived at SOU Monday afternoon.

“When I walked up the stairs today and I came in and I saw all the students hanging out on the furniture, talking,” she said. “It was a good fit. It felt like this was the right place for this to be. And this is very necessary and I think it’s very appropriate, this being the multicultural center, that they have some furniture that’s from the tribe. It makes me feel great that we can support such a wonderful place for the students to come and gather and have a sense of community and support.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or