MINNEAPOLIS - A longtime advocate for poor and homeless families across the Twin Cities is about to receive America's second highest civilian honor.
Mary Jo Copeland, founder of Sharing and Caring Hands, is among 13 people selected to receive the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal.
"It's overwhelming and I'm humbled," she said. "This is from God."
Copeland was selected from 6,000 people who were nominated for the honor. She has been invited to the White House to receive her medal next Friday.
"It is my distinguished honor to award these individuals the 2012 Citizens Medal for their commitment to public service," said President Barack Obama in a written statement. "Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country."
The Citizens Medal was established in 1969 to recognize and honor American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. The White House says President Obama is recognizing Americans whose work has had a significant impact on their communities but may not have garnered national attention.
"I hope this award brings to the world that we must bring hope to people," she says. "No one in any city should feel alone."
Mary Jo Copeland founded Sharing and Caring Hands in 1985. The shelter and service center has served as a safety net to those in the Minneapolis area by providing food, clothing, shelter, transportation and 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.
She has long claimed a policy of accepting no governmental funding, relying on private donations from organizations and citizens.
"What has happened in my life is God's accomplishment," says Copeland. "I'm just following his will."
For more information on the President's Citizens Medal and to nominate someone for the 2013 Citizens Medal, visit www.whitehouse.gov/citizensmedal.
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