The basics: Paul Copeland, a former railroad conductor and Fresno State JV basketball player, is founder and executive director of Helping Our Own Destiny.
What he does: In 1995, Copeland started H.O.O.D. with the aim of combating juvenile delinquency, curbing violence and increasing self-worth among disadvantaged youths in west Fresno. The nonprofit provides vocational training, career guidance and a safe place to play basketball while promoting community connections and cultural awareness. Copeland does not draw a salary from H.O.O.D. and supports his wife and two daughters through odd jobs in construction.
Why he does it: “We need to reach back and help our kids,” Copeland says. “These are our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews. If we don’t help them, who will?”
The turning point: Copeland worked for Santa Fe Railway until his life suddenly took a different track. He decided to dedicate himself to steering at-risk youths away from gangs and drugs by giving them the necessary tools to succeed. “I’m just trying to do my small part to make things better.”
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Details, details: H.O.O.D. is headquartered in the Mendinghall Better Living Center on property owned by the Fresno Westside Seventh-day Adventist Church. Next door is a vacant, 2-acre field, also church-owned, that in early 2016 will become the organization’s newest chapter – the Harvest Urban Youth Agricultural Program. Thanks to a $7,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Copeland has the seed money to begin preparing the land for cultivation. Youths in the program will plant and tend the crops while learning the basics of soil science.
What others say: “Paul is a God-fearing man, and this is something the Lord put in his heart,” says Norman Pugh, H.O.O.D. board president and longtime friend. “Some people talk the talk, but he’s been doing this for 20 years.”
How you can help: H.O.O.D. is subsidized primarily through donations and grants. Copeland seeks volunteers from the ag community to lend expertise to the new program. Call 559-681-9005 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.