Live to Give: Hilton Head Island woman draws from past to bring hope to kids' futures

loberle@islandpacket.comOctober 19, 2013 

Deb Copeland's mission is fueled by her past.

Her childhood was full of abuse -- emotional, physical and sexual. Then, when Copeland was 13, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her father left for another woman. Her two older siblings had already left the house. It became Copeland's responsibility to care for their mother.

"It was just me," Copeland said. "And (now) I look at other kids who are at that age, and I think 'How could they do that? How could they be expected to do anything?' "

With her desire to help others, especially children, the Hilton Head Island resident founded the nonprofit Live to Give almost nine years ago.

"I can tell all along why God would have children in mind because I was really hurt and abandoned and orphaned at a young age," Copeland said. "It's not a miracle I do what I do."

WORKING FOR GOD

It's been almost nine years since Copeland woke up and told her husband she wanted to work for the Lord.

"Great. I'll keep my day job," her husband of 20 years, Don Lucci, said in support. "I am very blessed to have a good job (as an investment consultant), so we didn't need two people working in the family.

"It wasn't surprising, especially coming from her," Lucci said. "She's always wanted to give back."

Her career and life had already been focused on helping others. She owned a consulting firm and traveled the country as a motivational speaker for businesses and churches. She founded a human resources and staffing company that grew to include 4,000 employees in seven states. She and Lucci adopted three children -- two from Guatemala and one from Russia -- to add to the three they had the "old-fashioned" way.

"I know my heart's been tender my whole life from the pain that I had, but I guess I'm just in my 50s figuring out how it all works together," Copeland said. "And I knew I always had a soft spot for kids, but I didn't get it."

But when she woke up that day, Copeland wanted every bit of her work to be for the Lord.

"I didn't know what it would be, but knew it would involve helping children," she said.

Live to Give started simply. Copeland reached out to mothers in the community, holding Bible studies and prayer groups.

"If I can show God a little bit when I show up with something they've needed for six months or help them get financing they could have never found money for in a legal way, it's just awesome," Copeland said. "We're changing lives, and it's awesome."

In June, Live to Give gained a physical presence. Copeland opened a store on the north end of Hilton Head, at 4 Southwood Park Drive, that features purses, jewelry, picture frames, paintings and furniture from about 25 local artists as well as many international artists.

Copeland doesn't draw a salary, and the store is staffed by volunteers.

Some of the proceeds from sales go toward scholarships for four children to attend Hilton Head Christian Academy, where tuition is just under $11,000. The rest goes toward helping other struggling families.

"We're giving children a Christ-centered education," Copeland said. "Some of these kids live in poverty, so changing the environment they interact in every day is important."

The store also serves as a hub for Live to Give's missions. Volunteers serve meals in the store twice a week. There are free art classes. Copeland and others lead Bible studies and prayer groups there.

Copeland says she's now working for God.

"I have a great boss," Copeland said. "And there's great benefits."

WAKING UP

Between her mother's illness and father's abandonment, Copeland found herself on food stamps, working odd jobs to make ends meet.

"It was like going from living a normal life to poverty," Copeland said.

She had to give up the things she was involved in -- she was a majorette and danced -- and eventually school itself.

Copeland dropped out of high school to take care of her mother, but earned her GED early, later attending Morris Harvey College in Charleston, W.Va.

But Copeland struggled with drugs and alcohol. She would drink in the morning to cope with caring for her mom. She would smoke marijuana at night to relax.

"It's funny because I was centered in this home with no way to find sin," Copeland said. "I wasn't out at the bars or with friends or anything. But sin found me. ... Because when we are oppressed and sad and lonely and hurt and in pain, Satan finds us."

But at age 19, Copeland became a Christian and turned her life around.

"I woke up two years after my mother died and decided to live," she said.

'HEALING THROUGH YOURSELF'

As the saying goes, "You get more than you give." But Copeland has only recently come to understand that.

She'd been a giver for so long, sometimes to a fault, she said.

"Everything we do, we give," Copeland said. "We've never needed anything. We're givers, but I've only recently realized the truth of that saying in my life.

"I feel like certain things in my life would have never healed had I not slowed down, listened to God and really got involved on the front line with helping people."

Copeland's days begin quietly.

She spends the first couple hours reading the Bible and in meditation and prayer, seeking what direction God has for her that day.

"To some people that may seem corny," Copeland said. "But a lot of that slowing down and waiting on the direction has made me heal from my past life. ... I didn't know that I had pain because I pushed it down."

Last year, she co-authored "Face to Face with God: Healing the Cry Within," with Janice Davis. It was Copeland's third book; she had previously published "Attitude Therapy" in 2006 with the tagline "Attitude is not about what happens to you, but rather how you respond to what happens," and a devotional in 2008, "Good Morning ... Good Night: 99 Days to Your Spiritual Recovery."

But in "Face to Face with God," Copeland and Davis delve into their dark childhoods, which provided redemption and healing Copeland didn't know was missing.

"I would have never seen it clearly had I not taken it apart," Copeland said of writing her story.

Her past continues pushing her forward as she works every day to give people hope.

"There's not anything I can't do with Christ," Copeland said. "And these people I work with everyday, there's not anything they can't overcome with Christ. And they're learning that, and the ministry is teaching that.

"It's a blessing what you learn from other people when you're supposedly helping them," she adds. "You're healing through yourself."

Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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