Editor’s Note: As we countdown to the nomination and selection process for the 2017 Young Alumni Award, we will be highlighting the finalists from the 2016 Award over the next few months and the work they are doing in the world. The text for each finalist is courtesy of their respective alma maters.
Read about the first three finalists here.
Stephen Copeland, Grace College (’11)
Stephen M. Copeland was the recipient of the 2014 Grace Young Alumni of the Year Award, which is presented to an individual who has made significant contribution to society and/or who has made significant advancements in their career less than 10 years since their graduation.
Stephen is a 2011 Grace graduate with a BS in journalism and Bible. Stephen worked in the athletic department as a sports information writer while here at Grace along with his best friend Josh Neuhart and mentor Chad Briscoe. He currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is working as a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum Magazine, a national faith-based sports publication.
Stephen has a passion for coming alongside others and helping them tell their story. He co-authored “The Jersey Effect" with former Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith, a book that seeks to help athletes, parents, and coaches gain a proper perspective on sports, told in the context of the Colts' 2006-07 season when they won Super Bowl XLI. He also co-authored "Finally Free" with NFL quarterback Michael Vick, a redemption story about the rise, fall, and comeback of one of the most dynamic athletes in professional football. Additionally, he co-authored two books in 2015: a parenting book “Raising Boys the Zeller Way” with Steve and Lorri Zeller, parents of three NBA-playing sons; and “Fall to Grace” with former Baylor men’s basketball coach Dave Bliss.
Copeland is expecting two more books to come out in the next year. The first is called “It’s Only Pain” about former University of Alabama football player Taylor Morton’s journey of dealing with adversity; the second is an autobiography with Pro Bowl quarterback Kordell Stewart. Both books are in their final stages of production.
Jared Freeman, University of Mobile (’11)
The biggest obstacle Jared Freeman had to overcome to be president and CEO of one of Alabama’s oldest credit unions was his age.
“Age discrimination is real, and I found that it works the other way – you’re too young, you don’t have any gray hair, you don’t have enough life experiences, you don’t know enough, there’s no way this 27-year-old guy can lead a multi-million-dollar organization,” said Freeman. “It’s made me work harder.”
The University of Mobile graduate is responsible for over $230 million in assets for 29,000 members of the Alabama State Employees Credit Union. He manages employees twice his age, and works with a Board of Directors who are contemporaries of his grandparents.
“I think my age is an advantage in some ways,” he said. When the new, young CEO questions why something is being done a certain way, it encourages employees to break away from the way things have always been and begin to think creatively about how things could be.
It has taken drive, determination and passion to reach his goal – qualities that Freeman is using to energize and lead the credit union to the next level.
“I knew I wanted to be in a position of influence and a position of authority, and I knew I wanted to be there before I was 30. I had that vision, and I worked toward it,” said Freeman, who stepped into the top spot at ASE Credit Union on Oct. 1, 2015.
He graduated from the Christian university in Alabama in 2011, earning both a Bachelor of Science in finance and a Master of Business Administration through the school’s 5-Year Integrated M.B.A. Program. A two-term Student Government Association president, cross country runner and Center for Performing Arts scholarship recipient, Freeman had a college experience that included meeting national leaders George W. Bush, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee during the school’s annual Leadership Banquet fundraiser.
The financial industry was also part of his college experience, as Freeman worked as a bank teller to put himself through school.
When he started his career after college, it was his ability – and willingness – to make decisions set Freeman apart.
“Truthfully, I just took a leap of faith and started making decisions. Right or wrong, I was going to make a call. I think that’s what got people’s attention. It’s definitely the reason I got the role of Chief Operations Officer at my last job. Somebody’s got to make the decision. If you’re willing to take that leap of faith and be the one, you’re definitely going to gain some positive attention.”
It was a different leap of faith that brought Freeman to the University of Mobile, when many of his friends were deciding to attend large public universities.
“I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be someone different,” he said.
But his parents said “no.” There was no money for a private college education in a family whose income put them in the lower middle class.
After three months, “I literally pulled my mom aside one day and said, ‘I’m going, regardless. I’d really like it if you were on board.’ She just broke down in tears and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’”
Freeman remembers vividly when he paid for his first semester with the savings he had been earning from part-time jobs since he was 16 years old.
“I wrote a check for $9,386.84 which was every dime I had for my first semester of college, and sat on the floor in Weaver Hall and cried my eyes out, because I knew I didn’t have another dime, and I had only paid for one semester.”
Faculty and staff helped him get scholarships that, along with student loans, covered tuition each semester.
“I think it’s incredible that you know you’re where God wants you to be when, against all odds, you go somewhere you know that you can’t afford. It’s incredible the way God provided that and made a path,” Freeman said.
He brings that understanding of financial struggles to his career in the financial sector, where he helps people in “very realistic, tangible, practical ways.”
“Money tends to be a stress point in a lot of people’s lives and in a lot of people’s marriages,” he said. “To be able to sit across the desk from someone and counsel them in such a way that you know you’ve just given them freedom from that worry and anxiety; that’s the most rewarding thing ever.”
That ability to make a difference is important to recent college graduates, Freeman said, “especially our generation of workers. They have to feel an emotional connection of some sort. They have to believe in it, to have a purpose.”
His own purpose is clear.
“At the end of the day, not only as a believer but as a business person, success is the building up of others. If we as believers and business people invest in others, and that becomes our product – people and building them up – then the income will take care of itself, the growth will take care of itself. All those things will happen because you’re investing in people,” Freeman said.
Kenton Lee, Northwest Nazarene University (’07)
Kenton Lee is a 2007 graduate from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU). In 2009, he founded Because International, a non-profit organization committed to practical compassion. Currently, Kenton serves as the Executive Director of Because International and pastor of a church plant in his neighborhood called The Table Church of the Nazarene.
With a focus on practical compassion, Kenton strives to meet the needs of those living in extreme poverty. He is a minimalist by nature and lives out his care and concern for others on a regular basis, which is exemplified through his non-profit Because International. He is innovative and strives to use his God-given gifts in service to others and the Kingdom of God. Because International seeks to listen to those living in extreme poverty to hear their thoughts, ideas, and dreams for a better life and then work together to help make those ideas into a reality.
One of the first projects of Because International, "The Shoe That Grows" has met a significant need and has reached worldwide attention. The need for The Shoe That Grows was inspired by his travels in Ecuador and Kenya after college. One day while walking to church, he noticed a little girl in a white dress next to him who had shoes that were way too small for her feet. That led to questions about why. And finally an idea: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand so that kids always had a pair of shoes that fit?” Upon returning to the states, Kenton dreamed about the reality of The Shoe That Grows. He invented a shoe that can adjust and expand its size and launched the product in the Fall of 2014. Currently there are over 20,000 pairs of The Shoe That Grows in over 25 countries around the world. The Shoe That Grows has been featured in Oprah Magazine, CBS News, Washington Post, Inc. Magazine, and most recently, the NBC's The Today Show,
In addition to his undergraduate degree from NNU, Kenton holds Master's degrees in Organizational Leadership (Regent University, '09), Nonprofit Management (Regis University, '10), and Divinity (NNU, '12). From 2009 to 2014, Kenton returned to his alma mater to serve as the Assistant Director of Campus Life. Kenton lives in Nampa, Idaho with his wife Nikki (NNU, '06) and two kids Kenny and Rosie.