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Shown here speaking as 2018-’19 co-chair of the United Way of Greater Waterbury annual campaign, 13-year-old Guilford resident Ella Copeland has demonstrated, in several meaningful ways, that young people can make an impact, and get involved, to help their community and others. (Photo courtesy of Ella Copeland )
Ella Copeland, speaking during a 2018-’19 United Way of Greater Waterbury annual campaign event with her dad and co-chair, Grant Copeland (right). (Photo courtesy of Ella Copeland )
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Have you heard of #theEllaEffect? It’s named for 13-year-old Guilford resident Ella Copeland, who, along with her dad, Grant, co-chaired this year’s United Way of Greater Waterbury (UWGW) campaign. When the campaign ended on May 2, over $4 million had been raised—nearly toppling the campaign’s record 75th anniversary mark of $4.1 million.
After checking in with state and global United Way groups, as closely as it can be determined, Ella, an 8th grader at Adams Middle School, is believed to be one of the youngest ever to hold the post of active campaign chair in the state or around the globe.
For someone who’s been involved with Guilford Public Schools Unified Sports and Connecticut Special Olympics programs since the 5th grade, and as a volunteer with therapeutic equestrian riding programs for just as long, getting involved in helping others comes naturally to Ella. So last year, when her dad was asked to chair the UWGW campaign, he realized it was an opportunity to allow Ella to help others, exponentially, as his co-chair.
“Just like anything else, if you have a child who’s interested in something, you try to expose them, at the highest level. And I think, from a non-profit standpoint, certainly UWGW is an all-star team [of] people willing to roll up their sleeves,” says Grant. “So I approached them about chairing the campaign with Ella—and to their credit, they jumped at the chance.”
As the president of WORX, a branding, digital, and marketing agency in Prospect, Grant had been involved with UWGW for a decade, predominantly developing its campaign branding and serving on committees including its campaign leadership council.
“The reality was the campaign started out as me being the known entity,” he says. “So it started out as ‘Grant Copeland is chairing the campaign with his daughter.’ Basically, that flip-flopped halfway through the campaign.”
Ella said she really enjoyed going out to meet with area stakeholders, including the executives of organizations including Webster Bank, Eversource, ESPN, Post University, Waterbury HEALTH, and Thomaston Savings Bank, to discuss the campaign’s community impact and her thoughts on how to help.
“A lot of people would look at me, saying you’re only 13?” says Ella. “But I think that it was really special to go and thank, personally, many people who had helped with United Way, or maybe were looking to get more involved. Because I think it was really different that someone went out to personally thank them, and then it was someone my age! So that was really fun for me to go out and do that.”
The result? #theEllaEffect, as it was coined by one Waterbury executive who met this remarkable young campaign co-chair. The employee-based workplace of that company contributed more than $200,000 inspired by the campaign’s message: EVERYBODY UP, which was delivered by Ella and her dad at several Greater Waterbury area workplace meetings. Ella continued that message throughout the year, as well as posting campaign updates, and news of the campaign’s new program for youth, UPSTARTERS, on YouTube videos and social media posts tagged with #theEllaEffect.
Grant brought the idea of UPSTARTERS to the UWGW board in 2017, and Ella is especially proud to have been involved with moving UPSTARTERS into action during the 2018-’19 campaign. The program’s goal is to encourage area youth (ages 10 to teens) to identify community issues, then get friends and classmates together to help and, finally, to work with the board to determine where funds or goods and services raised will have the best impact.
Ella not only helped the 2018-’19 campaign to introduce the idea of UPSTARTERS, but inspired several hundred youth to participate in UPSTARTERS initiatives during the campaign.
“The launch of UPSTARTERS was what I was most interested in, and focused on in the campaign, because I am qualified to be an UPSTARTER because of my age,” says Ella. “I wanted to inspire other UPSTARTERS to get involved, and get involved with the community, like I had. And I think that really did happen, on a great scale.”
Locally, Ella also encouraged some of her friends and family members, including her younger brother, Adam, a 6th-grader, to get involved as UPSTARTERS. In the Greater Waterbury area, her dad especially remembers a campaign visit to Thomaston Savings Bank where Ella took the wheel as a proponent of UPSTARTERS, and also showed that “kids have really good ideas,” says Grant.
“We met with their executives, and quite honestly, I thought their head of marketing asked a pretty pointed and tough question—and I was kind of on my heels, thinking, ‘Good luck to Ella answering this,’” he says. “It was something along the lines of, ‘We would like to get more involved, as a bank, especially in UPSTARTERS. We’ve got 200 employees—how would you recommend we get more involved?’”
Ella thought for a minute, her dad recalls, then responded that, “she imagined a good number of those employees have kids, so why couldn’t you put together a Thomaston Savings Bank Day dedicated to UPSTARTERS, where you bring the families together to do an activity, [and] whether it raises financial resources or goodwill, it’s meaningful to the whole family?’ And everyone kind of looked around—and then they all starting writing.”
“I didn’t really know what I would be doing across the course of the campaign, and I wasn’t sure how much I might be doing for the organization,” adds Ella. “So I started out thinking, ‘Well, I don’t know if this would be too much too handle, or not enough for me to do at all.’ But I was definitely given the right amount of stuff that I felt comfortable with doing, and I was given tasks that I wanted to do, and that I asked to do. So I thought it was a really fun experience, and I didn’t have a doubt I could complete the things that were given to me.”
Now that her time as campaign co-chair has ended, Ella will stay involved with her other charitable efforts, including assisting her mom, Meghan Copeland, with therapeutic riding programs at Rivendell Farm in Durham. Ella’s looking forward to getting involved with Unified Sports as a Guilford High School freshman next year and is also certain she’ll stay involved with assisting UWGW for many years to come.
“It hasn’t been too sad to see the campaign end, because I know I’m going to continue to be involved with United Way, and Unified Sports, and all these programs for a while,” says Ella. “So while I don’t get the title of campaign co-chair any more, I’m still definitely going to be heavily involved in United Way, because I find it’s so much fun and it’s a great program.”
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