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Copeland speaks at human trafficking awareness event

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Aimee Copeland, center, is honored as Woman of the Year by nonprofit organization Wellspring Living during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. Copeland talks with her father, Andy Copeland, left, and Erin Ritter of Wellspring Living. Copeland contracted a rare flesh-eating disease which lead to the amputation of her left leg, right foot and both hands in May.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Aimee Copeland, center, is honored as Woman of the Year by nonprofit organization Wellspring Living during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. Copeland talks with her father, Andy Copeland, left, and Erin Ritter of Wellspring Living. Copeland contracted a rare flesh-eating disease which lead to the amputation of her left leg, right foot and both hands in May.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Aimee Copeland, right, is honored as Woman of the Year by nonprofit organization Wellspring Living during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. Copeland contracted a rare flesh-eating disease which lead to the amputation of her left leg, right foot and both hands in May. The nonprofit organization Wellspring Living mission statement is to confront the issue of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. To her left sits panel member Father Timothy Watts of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany Episcopal Church.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Aimee Copeland is honored with the title of Woman of the Year by nonprofit organization Wellspring Living during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. Copeland talks with Jerri Miller with the event sponsor Wealth Horizon, Inc.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Panel members Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., speaks beside Paul Bowley, Father Timothy Watts, guest speaker, Aimee Copeland and Raymer Sale Jr. during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. The panel discussed the issue of childhood sexual abuse and exploration.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Panel members Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., speaks beside Paul Bowley of Wellspring Living, Father Timothy Watts of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany Episcopal Church, guest speaker, Aimee Copeland and Master of Ceremonies Raymer Sale Jr. during the 7th annual "Celebrating Wonderful Women" dinner and panel discussion at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford Wednesday. The panel discussed the issue of childhood sexual abuse and exploration.

BUFORD -- Sitting bored in a hospital room, Aimee Copeland decided to click to the website of the Public Broadcasting System when she found a show about human trafficking in which a former mayor of Atlanta was interviewed.

The television special focused on metro Atlanta, and specifically mentioned Gwinnett County, which Copeland said was, "appalling." When Shirley Franklin mentioned the cause had lost funding, Copeland said she felt compelled to help.

She looked at several organizations that worked to raise awareness and spread education about the issue.

So on Wednesday night, she was a guest speaker, and recognized as a Woman of the Year, for the nonprofit Wellspring Living, which lists its mission to, "confront the issue of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, training and treatment programs for women and girls.

The seventh annual event, a fundraising dinner called "Celebrating Wonderful Women," was at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford. Jerri Hewett, a financial planner with Wealth Horizon who helped organize the event, said she always looks for an inspiring speaker for the event, and was struck by Copeland's walk across the set of the Katie Couric television program.

"I want her as my wonderful woman," Hewett recalled saying.

Copeland, a Snellville resident and graduate student at the University of West Georgia, contracted a rare infection after she suffered a deep cut falling from a broken zip-line in May.

Copeland returned home in August after more than 50 days in rehab, and the amputation of her left leg, right foot and both hands.

At the event, Copeland, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. and Paul Bowley of Wellspring Living discussed the ramifications of human trafficking and why Copeland has a passion for the issue.

Hewett added that the human trafficking issue also hits close to home.

"People are not aware of this problem," she said. "They think it's a problem in the city, it's a problem in the suburbs, in Gwinnett."

Copeland said her goal was to raise awareness, because when she first saw a billboard in Tucker about the issue of human trafficking, she dismissed it as not being a local problem.

"Often we turn our heads from it, (and) we really need to look in the eye and get some progress," Copeland said. "Education for the community, and (I) definitely want to help out Wellspring Living and the financial contributions from the event tonight, hoping they will get the education out there for the girls that are out there in this. Help those women get back on their feet."

This week also brought some news for Copeland, whose rehabilitation in the last month has included swimming at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Today, she will have her left leg casted for a prosthesis, and on Friday she will meet a potential service dog, a cafe chocolate Labradoodle named Vinny.

"He's very cute," she said.

The dog is expected to help Copeland turn lights on and off, pick up things off of the floor, close doors and retrieve things like bottled water from a refrigerator.

Vinny is coming from Louisiana, Copeland said, and courtesy of the nonprofit organization "Healing 4 Heroes," which typically connects military veterans with certified service dogs.