A GIFT OF A LIFETIME
When Paula Oppenheim Cope '75, G'83 took to the podium to accept the Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award, she took the opportunity to share what she said was "my story."
It wasn't the story most who knew her well were familiar with-the successful consultant, facilitator, and training specialist and President of Cope & Associates, Inc., a management consulting & training firm based in Burlington; the volunteer who has worked tirelessly on behalf of UVM and its Alumni Association for years; the published author and health care expert who has spoken widely on the economics of child care, total quality management, and volunteerism.
She focused her story instead on a 16-year-old girl who arrived on campus penniless, without parents or guardians to help and advise her and uncertain to whom she could turn. She followed her instincts, though, and soon found herself in the Financial Aid Office, where she met a man named Rodger Summers. "He was an incredible mentor for me," she says.
In what Paula remembers as a remarkable display of courage and problem solving, "Rodger made it possible for me to remain at UVM." Summers arranged for her to stay on campus over break periods, helped her to secure legal status as an "emancipated minor" and in-state resident, and connected her with a network of people who helped her find part-time jobs. "When I graduated from UVM four years later it was Rodger Summers who was there at my graduation with a dozen roses at the bottom of the stairs," she says with obvious emotion. Summers would later become UVM's associate dean of students.
During her time at UVM, Paula was also a self-driven student leader, active in founding Women in ROTC and UVM Rescue, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Paula was also active on campus in the Hillel organization. "UVM was a safe place for me to grow up," she says today.
It was out of gratitude for that UVM experience that led Paula and her husband, Timothy Cope, to provide through their estate for establishment of The Cope Family Fund, honoring Rodger Summers, that can be used to help students, like Paula, "who enter the University under unusual circumstances, when counselors are at a loss and no rules apply." To be eligible to receive assistance from the Cope Family Fund, students must be enrolled in an undergraduate program at the University and demonstrate financial need, with preference given to UVM Rescue or UVM Hillel participants, not to exclude other qualified candidates.