Movers & Shakers: Wheels of Hope

Veronika holding a bag of juice boxes that the juicebox project collected.

“Although I am seventeen years old, I am not your typical teenager.” The story of Veronika’s life certainly lends weight to her words. Author of the Juice Box Project, she has become a gifted speaker and extraordinary leader in the world of nonprofit organizations. Veronika Copping was the originator of the popular Juice Box Project in her elementary school when she was only in grade one. Upon noticing that all the drinking containers the children brought to school ended up in the trash, Veronika received permission to collect and recycle them with the proceeds going to Hope Haven Canada. Her grandfather, whom she calls ‘Opa, ’just happens to be the founder of Hope Haven Canada and it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Veronika has always believed that “even as kids we have the power to make a difference.”

Hope Haven, a branch of Hope Haven International, is a Christian charity operating in 109 countries. Their primary mission is to advocate and provide services for people of all ages with disabilities. According to Veronika, “Honestly, it is just something I’ve grown up around. I was volunteering before I knew what the word meant. When I was young, both of my parents worked full time, and I spent most of my childhood with my Opa and Oma. My Opa was collecting used mobility aids from around Metro Vancouver and the Frazer Valley and I spent my days travelling with him.” These mobility aids are then shipped to Guatemala and around the world where they are repaired and redistributed. “This was how I was first exposed to Hope Haven and the work they were doing.”

Veronika’s primary focus through the Juice Box Program is to fund wheelchairs for children in Guatemala. She has accomplished that through recycling refundable beverage containers. Accomplishing this work has been, according to Veronica, “one of the most significant parts of my life.” The organization has grown from only collecting them in her classroom, to collecting all refundable beverage containers in the school and from other local organizations. She and her family then sort them and return them for cash, which is used to provide wheelchairs for the disabled children of Guatemala. The Juice Box Program has sponsored over 100 wheelchairs to date. Her love for Guatemala’s children was also born of her grandfather’s vision for the country. He had travelled to Guatemala with Hope Haven International in the early 2000’s and had never flagged in his desire to help their people.

Veronika has visited Guatemala several times and hopes to visit it again. “Guatemala is a beautiful country, yet home to much poverty. Due to the lack of health care and the ability to afford it, there is also a large population of people with disabilities. I have travelled to Guatemala four times and hope to travel there again in the near future.” Veronica was ten years old when she experienced Guatemala for the first time. She was working at Camp Guatemala when she met a young girl who would establish the trajectory of Veronika’s life. “I will never forget meeting Rosalva who received a wheelchair from The Juicebox Project. Upon meeting her, with the help of translators, I was able to explain that it was the money we received by returning juice boxes that was used to purchase her wheelchair. When she understood this, she was filled with joy and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘muchas gracias por la silla de ruedas,’ which in English means, ‘thank you very much for the wheel chair.’”

That watershed moment opened Veronika’s eyes to just how much a wheelchair could change a child’s life. The opportunity for mobility can mean the difference between being stuck at home all day or going to school, making new friends, finding employment, and generally living a more fulfilled life. She has never looked back. Her creativity, determination, and her willingness to step up and give of herself when needed all make her an exceptional young woman. “When needed, I am always there wholeheartedly, stepping up above and beyond what is required of me and ready to make a positive difference.” She is a tireless advocate for the less fortunate and her leadership skills are apparent to all who meet her.

Veronika attended a Christian school for the last years of her high school education and was raised in a church community. When asked how her faith instructed her world view, she said, “my faith has allowed me to see that everyone is loved, no matter what. Disabilities are simply different abilities, and often times even special abilities.” Veronika herself has struggled with health issues which has further sensitized her to the pain of others. “Throughout my life I have dealt with and continue to deal with a number of different health conditions. These experiences have allowed me to better understand and have compassion/empathy for those that also have complex medical needs and the day to day challenges that come with that.”

Nevertheless, Veronika has dreams for her future. She will be attending the University of British Columbia at the Okanagan Campus and is interested in courses in the social sciences. Veronika has already achieved an outstanding academic record and has multiple awards for her excellence in public speaking, performing arts, and service leadership. She is also the recent recipient of the Trevor H. Shirtliff Scholarship. Trevor was the founder of Canadian School Counsellor magazine. Veronica anticipates that as she steps forward in her education she will discover new areas of interest. She is determined to acquire the skills to grow The Juice Box Project. An education degree is also a possibility in her future. “I intend to work in a sector that allows me to continually create change in the lives of others and make the world a better place for everyone.” She is an unstoppable force for good and lives up to her life philosophy, “together we are stronger, and with care and creativity we can make the world a better place for everyone.” Chances are we will hear more from this remarkable volunteer. 

By Alison Zenisek