A Love Story
by Diane McMahon
Photography (top) by Christian Lee
On a sunny afternoon, as students were just getting out of Hilton Head Christian Academy (HHCA), Deb Copeland—“Miz Deb”—whizzed into the school lobby, whisked me down the hall, whooshed words at me in an explosive rush and then deposited me at our classroom destination. I was there to talk with six students, ranging in age from first to seventh grade, who attend HHCA through the sponsorship and financial support of Deb Copeland.
The students, in class for after-school tutoring, looked towards Miz Deb, broke into smiles and moved forward for hugs. She asked them to introduce themselves.
Kywon Middleton, a 7th-grader, immediately stepped forward and offered a firm handshake. He was followed by: Kinari Carmona, also a 7th grader, her sister Nicole Carmona, a 3rd grader and her brother, Yair Carmona, a 1st grader. Their sister, Arelli Carmona, a 6th grader, was at play practice for the school production of Disney’s Aladdin, Jr. Their brother, Junior Carmona, a 4th grader, joined the group later.
They weren’t expecting us. Deb had decided not to give them advance notice because, “if I prepared them they might just say things they think I want to hear. I want to know what they’re really thinking,” she said. I think she winked. Shortly after the introductions, Deb excused herself. The tutor and I agreed each student would spend a few minutes talking with me privately in the lobby.
I knew that each of the students lives in The Oaks, an apartment complex that borders Christian Academy. Deb became familiar with many of the residents there through her work as founder of “Live to Give…A GOD Thing.” The Gallery, a retail store she owns and operates as part of her mission work, was located next to The Oaks (it’s now moved to 1203 Main St.). Deb became involved with her neighbors, leading bible studies, prayer groups, sponsoring Saturday night community dinners and organizing activities for the kids. Five years ago, Junior Carmona, now a 4th grader, stole her heart. He was the first student she sent to HHCA four years ago. As Deb met his other siblings, her heart expanded; she wanted to provide the same opportunities to all of them. Then she met Kywon; she had to include him.
Kywon sat with me first. His initial enthusiasm in front of Miz Deb had toned down. It took a while to realize these kids weren’t sure if they were in trouble or what. When I explained, things relaxed. He met Miz Deb and helped her move boxes at her store because he’s strong. His name—Kywon—is short for Kentucky won. He remembered the day his mother told him he was going to HHCA. “I was really excited. Going here is much better than my other school. I can walk to school and I get to learn more about the Bible.”
Kinari came next. She said the great thing at Christian Academy is whenever you need help for anything the teachers are always there. Her best friend, Riley, was standing in the lobby and Kinari kept glancing over. I finally asked Riley to come over and Kinari explained what we were doing. No, she wasn’t in trouble! Attention wandered. Kinari went and brought back her sister Nicole.
Nicole was the most talkative. She said Miz Deb is cool and fun. She said her favorite thing is recess, but she likes history and science. She then told the complete Bible story of Joseph, his mean brothers and how his dream helped the Pharaoh. Nicole had lots more stories, but it was time to go back for tutoring.
Junior then showed up with his younger brother Yair. Junior loves PE and can’t wait till he can play on the school soccer team. He loves going to HHCA because he can learn a lot and he has a lot of friends. He even likes the food at school, especially the pizza and brownies. Yair quietly said he’s going to play football.
Deb had to be persuaded to share even one watt of the spotlight with “her students.” Her personal story is eventful and dramatic and warrants a book. So Deb wrote it. Attitude Therapy is a painful, authentic and redemptive autobiography. It chronicles a young woman who, at 19, decided to overcome a terrible childhood and move from addiction and suicidal despair into a God-centered life. She consequently built Smart Temporary Services, which grew to 4,000 employees in seven states and made her rich; became a nationally renowned inspirational speaker; and at 50, gave up making money (she donates every cent she earns) in order to serve God and make a difference in the world and in her Lowcountry community. In her spare time she grew a tight-knit family with her own six kids.
Of all Deb’s myriad accomplishments and the hundreds of tributes and testimonials by people whose lives she’s changed—just Google Deb Copeland for a taste —perhaps the most impressive tribute is something her husband Don told her: “I might be able to call you out on a lot of things, but you live your faith with total honesty and integrity every day. I can’t call you out on that.”
Her “other” kids: Matthew 37, Erica 35, Ryan 25, Maggie 19, and Molly and Tate 16. She says, “I love my six kids who are all involved in helping Live to Give. And NO it’s not a requirement.
Beachcomber: She walks the beach with her husband and their two weimaraners twice a day.
Managing her Ministries and Outreach: “I show up everyday and I plug in the light. The people find me. There are no mistakes.”