On Friday, February 15, President Obama will award the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor to Minnesota’s own Mary Jo Copeland, founder of Sharing and Caring Hands. Sharing and Caring Hands serves as a refuge for the homeless and those needing a helping hand in the Minneapolis area.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mary Jo Copeland, and her family, as well as volunteering at her facility serving meals to the homeless. I have always been impressed by the love and compassion Mary Jo shows every person who walks through her door. She hugs every child, prays with those that need comfort, and makes sure that every single person knows they are important and cared about. One of the things she is best known for is her daily tradition of washing and applying ointment to the feet of the homeless, then providing them with new shoes and socks to ease at least one of their burdens. Her priority is to make sure that the people she serves know that someone cares about them.
I would describe her as selfless, prayerful, caring, generous and a ray of light to all those who are lucky enough to meet her. She does not seek praise, or even enjoy receiving it. Despite her enormous success, she remains humble and thankful, and takes no salary for the work she has devoted her life to for the last 27 years. She lives by the saying, “The only things you will take with you, are the things you give away.” She has often been referred to as Minnesota’s Mother Theresa, and it is a very fitting description.
Sharing and Caring Hands does not accept any government funding. Mary Jo began with $5000 and a desire to serve and now manages a yearly budget of $19 million, funded 100% by private donations. She is a shining example of how a private citizen can make a major impact and I hope that her success will serve as a model to other nonprofits throughout the United States. Mary Jo proves that the government does not need to be the answer to every problem in our society and that one person with a passion can make a much larger impact on society in a far more efficient and effective manner. The guiding principle on the Sharing and Caring Hands website reads:
We are dedicated to the proposition that the community can make a difference in the lives of others through volunteerism, donation and commitment, and that this can be accomplished without creating an expensive bureaucracy that saps the resources necessary to carry out it’s vision and achieve it’s goals.
Mary Jo prides herself on the fact that she “will never take a dime” from the government. She holds those who cite their difficult childhoods, drugs or other challenges as the reason for their situation accountable. She does not let people cast blame for their own situations. Instead, she will empathize and say,”Well, that’s the past, and this is the present. What are you going to do with it?” Everyone she helps is expected to also help themselves.
Thank you, Mary Jo Copeland, for your selfless years of service to others and congratulations on a very well earned honor!
From the White House Press Office,
“It is my distinguished honor to award these individuals the 2012 Citizens Medal for their commitment to public service,” said President Obama. “Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country.”
Mary Jo Copeland (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Copeland founded Sharing and Caring Hands in 1985, which has served as a safety net to those in the Minneapolis area through the provision of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical and dental assistance. Sharing and Caring Hands assists thousands of people a month, and is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. Copeland, who currently receives no salary for her work, has served as its director since its opening and still greets every client entering the center and conducts intake interviews.
Cross-posted at Eye on Politics