ABOUT THE AWARDS
Since 1972, the Jefferson Awards that recognize volunteerism have been presented on the local and national levels. Each year a national winner is selected in four categories: elected or public officials, private citizens, people benefiting the disadvantaged and individuals 35 or younger. Chattanooga winners will be honored at a luncheon on March 29. The final winner of Chattanooga's Jefferson Awards will attend the national awards program in Washington, D.C., later this year.
Mary Lane Timpany knew she had to nominate her fourth child, 39-year-old Jon Peri Coppinger, for the Jefferson Award last month. There wasn't a doubt in her mind.
When he was an infant, a tiny blood vessel popped in her son's brain that caused him to have a major learning disability. But that disability hasn't gotten in the way of his determination to help others.
For 14 years, Coppinger has volunteered his free time to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association in a variety of ways.
Simply put, Timpany's son is her hero.
"Around the time I got remarried, he came up to me and said, 'Mom, I want to do something different,'" she said.
So when Coppinger turned 24, he began focusing his volunteer efforts on muscular dystrophy.
It started for Coppinger by answering calls for a telethon. Now, Coppinger has evolved into the Multiple Dystrophy Association's "number one" volunteer, association fundraising coordinator Tracie Grant McCartney said in a statement.
"He is our go-to guy for all things MDA. His selfless spirit and can-do attitude make him a remarkable person to have in your life. Whether it's a birthday, birth, illness or diagnosis, Jon Coppinger is there to the rescue," McCartney said.
One of Coppinger's best friends is 21-year-old Chris Johnson, a Chattanooga State Community College student who serves as a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Together, Johnson and Coppinger go to the movies, go out to eat, and play video games together at least once every two weeks. This is an opportunity to give Johnson's mother a break from taking care of him, as well as allowing Coppinger to continue helping people, he said.
"[Johnson] is like my little brother," Coppinger said. "He looks up to me."
Just like in the past 11 years, Coppinger will spend this summer volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual summer camp. This will be the first year the camp will be held in Scottsville, Ky., instead of its usual location, Cookeville, Tenn.
Coppinger, a color lab technician at CPQ Professional Imaging in Cleveland, Tenn., doesn't have MD, but he said it's still easy for him to relate to those affected.
"We're like crutches to them," he said. "I see a lot of myself in the kids. I teach them that if they fall down, pick themselves back up and dust themselves off. I keep my phone on all night for them. If one of them calls me, I bounce right out of bed."
Coppinger said he's hoped to impact the lives of campers, who in turn have affected his life.
"I have a stronger faith in myself," he said. "Don't let anyone say there's something you can't do."
Initially, Timpany was worried that her son's learning disability would restrict him. However, her concerns were silenced when she saw how much he thrived after volunteering at the summer camp that first year.
"He grew up. He saw the other kids and what they go through," she said. "I'm always concerned for him, but that's because I'm his mom. Your kids keep you forever on your toes, but they're forever in your heart."