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Copelands speak at Salvation Army luncheon

Staff Photo: John Bohn Salvation Army Captain Andy Miller and his wife Captain Abby Miller listen to Andy Copeland speak about his daughter Aimee, as the Gwinnett County Salvation Army hosts an annual luncheon benefitting the Home Sweet Home Program on Friday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Salvation Army Captain Andy Miller and his wife Captain Abby Miller listen to Andy Copeland speak about his daughter Aimee, as the Gwinnett County Salvation Army hosts an annual luncheon benefitting the Home Sweet Home Program on Friday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Salvation Army Captain Andy Miller presents Aimee Copeland with a bouquet of roses as the Gwinnett County Salvation Army hosts an annual luncheon benefitting the Home Sweet Home Program on Friday. Andy and Aimee Copeland were featured speakers at the event.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Aimee Copeland greets the audience as Gwinnett County's Salvation Army hosts an annual luncheon benefitting the Home Sweet Home Program on Friday. Both Aimee and her father Andy Copeland, right, were featured speakers at the event.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Friday afternoon, hundreds of church members, nonprofit employees and local residents gathered in Lawrenceville to listen to an inspirational story that was followed by the nation: Aimee Copeland's.

Andy and Aimee Copeland spoke at The Salvation Army of Gwinnett's luncheon, a fundraiser to benefit Home Sweet Home. The program is the only emergency re-housing program for the homeless in Gwinnett County.

After the audience had finished eating barbecue supplied by J.R.'s Log House Restaurant, Andy Copeland took the stage to talk about how he and his family's life changed on May 4, 2012.

He remembers when he and his wife got "the call" about Aimee's accident, falling from a zip line. Over the next few weeks, his daughter's health went on a roller coast ride with emergency surgeries and bad news.

Finally, Andy said, he realized everything would be fine because he was leaving everything up to God.

"Our family's story is about the power of prayer," he said on stage. Not the infection, amputations or surgeries.

Aimee felt it was important for her and her father to speak at the event because she can relate to starting over when things got tough when she lost her hands, left leg and right foot after surviving a rare flesh-eating disease.

"I think it's really important raising money and it's like I said, people with disabilities have to find your place and sometimes you need help finding that place," Aimee said after talking to the crowd. "It's the same thing with people who fall into homelessness. You have to find your place and you need help getting on your feet. So I really wanted to support this event to help people get on their feet and to raise money for that cause."

With her one-year anniversary around the corner, Aimee is focusing on the future. She's finishing her first master's degree and has applied to start her second. She wants to help disabled people -- both mentally and physically -- to get them back outdoors.

"I want to take them off the beaten path -- onto trails, to waterfalls," she said from the stage. "I want to help people when they have nowhere else to go."

But one group she would love to speak with are the teenagers. She believes that many of them are influenced more by society than what's inside of them. Copeland knows there are better ways to grow into adulthood without taking unhealthy risks.

"I think it's the teenage community who needs this message the most because in our society, we really lack rights of passage," Aimee said "When kids get over and try to prove that they're adults, they are taking part in illegal activities. Going out into the wilderness is the way to do a right of passage and taking risks, but it is positive -- positive growth. I would really love to minister to youth about that."

Proceeds from the event will help fund Home Sweet Home, a program which helps newly homeless families or those at risk of homelessness find "stable housing and self-sufficiency."

To learn more about Home Sweet Home Gwinnett, visit www.salvationarmyatlanta.org.