A quote by Helen Keller greeted the students as they found their seats on the bleachers: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Pam Cope, an author and philanthropist, shared how she started much like the students who sat in front of her.
“I’m here to tell you my story,” she said. “I struggled with self-worth and identity. Every single person in this gym has a story.”
She married her high-school sweetheart, had a son and daughter, took vacations and lived a normal life. But on a certain June 16, her life changed forever, Cope told the crowd. Her son, Jantsen, left for football camp a bit dizzy and died suddenly that same day.
After a period of grief, a memorial fund grew in his honor until it reached $25,000. With that money, Cope utilized her friends and resources and an invitation arrived for her to visit Vietnam. While there, her eyes were opened to a world she had never seen before.
“That invitation changed my life forever,” Cope said.
In southeast Asia, she witnessed children who were enslaved as house cleaners, prostitutes and workers. Some would treasure a loaf of bread she gave them as if it were gold.
Cope founded The Touch A Life Foundation to help liberate children from slavery in Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam, providing them dedicated, holistic rehabilitation. Cope has also written her personal memoir, “Jantsen’s Gift,” and has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
“Save your money and see the world,” Cope advised the students. “Get out there. See it. Taste it. Feel it. You will see the suffering.”
On one of Cope’s visit, she met Vinh Thien, a small infant boy who had been abandoned by his mother. The young boy stood out, and without any explanation, she and her husband just knew they wanted to take him home, according to her website. He would ultimately become Van Alan Cope.
The Reed High School Cornerstones class organized Monday’s presentation and a fundraising event, “Strides 4 Life,” a walk/run set for May 20 to benefit the Touch A Life Foundation. Cope agreed to fly from Texas to speak to students at Reed and Mendive Middle School this week in advance of the Strides 4 Life fundraiser.
The Cornerstones Class focuses on empowering students to use their gifts and skills to make the world a better place. The project is the result of the group’s desire to serve and give back to the global community, according to Cornerstones teacher Amie Newberry.
“I thought the kids were great,” Cope told the Daily Sparks Tribune following the presentation. “I love to come and talk to this age group. I think this age group is the next generation that is going to be looking for something different.”
Senior Amanda Kleveland, 18, is a Cornerstones class member. Kleveland said she had traveled to Ghana in the past and planned to go again to help those in need.
“I really loved today,” Kleveland said. “I’m blessed and fortunate to be able to help children find a safe place to live and sleep and eat.”
The Strides 4 Life walk/run benefit will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. on May 20 at Reed High School. All proceeds from the walk will be directed to the foundation and help in the construction of a new school focused on art therapy and healing.
A new building project to hold hundreds of children who have been trafficked in Ghana will likely be finished at the end of August, Cope said.
To learn more about the Touch A Life Foundation or to donate, visit www.touchalifekids.org.