Earlier this year, Marlee Anne Hopkins raised more than $23,000 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) in honor of her siblings. She stood “for the kids who cannot … in honor of [sisters] Michala, Mary Elizabeth and Abe, who could not stand.”
On Friday, General Mills and The Covington News named the 14-year-old the 2016 Hometown Hero.
Hopkins “has become an inspiration to not only me but many, many others,” said the anonymous person who nominated Hopkins for the award.
According to the nomination, Hopkins not only raised the $23,073, she took on a “21 days of miracles challenge,” visiting children who had been affected by the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and sharing her visits via Facebook posts.
“Marlee Anne has not stopped,” the nominee wrote. “She continues to volunteer her time to the Miracle League and various other charity functions … She is by far my hero!”
Hopkins, the daughter of Mike and Kelli Hopkins of Covington, lost two of her three siblings to rare disorders in 2014. Her brother, Abraham “Abe” Hopkins, 6, died of what was suspected to be mitochondrial disease, which caused constant seizures. Older sister, Mary Elizabeth died at the age of 21 from mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, a condition which causes seizures and the failure of the brain to communicate with the nervous system.
Surviving sibling, Michala, 18, has Aicardi Syndrome, another rare disorder occurring only in females and characterized by seizures, retinal abnormalities and developmental disabilities.
“I feel honored and grateful for the award,” Marlee Anne Hopkins said. “I think to have so many people in the community whose work is not recognized, to see all they do — it makes me feel completely grateful.”
Recognizing others in the community whose work may not be noticed, she said there were “so many in the community who serve and who work to make the community better. It’s important to inspire others, to do things and reach out to the community.”
One simple act, “like bringing dinner to someone or reaching out to people who need help, just a simple act of kindness can have a big impact,” she said.
Marlee Anne has been raising money for CHOA since 2011. This is the third year she’s raised money through the UGA Miracle Dance Marathon.
“The standing challenge is really hard,” she said, “and sometimes it can represent what the miracle children go through. You might struggle with it, but with all the encouragement and inspiration, you can get through it.”
Family story shared
The story of the Hopkins family has been shared frequently, not only in local and regional media, but at fundraisers and before the Georgia state legislature.
The family became medical refugees in November 2014, after the death of their oldest and youngest members due to excessive seizures. Because Michala Hopkins continued to suffer from multiple daily seizures, the family moved to Colorado to take advantage of the availability of legalized medical marijuana.
The move came after Georgia’s lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would allow the legal use of cannabis oil, which is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component that makes someone high, and high in cannabidiol (CBD), the medical component.
Two months leading up to the family’s move to Colorado, Michala Hopkins had 352 seizures, said Mike Hopkins, the children’s father. She had 46 after she began using cannabis oil in Colorado.
For the next 10 months, the family lived in Boulder and the Denver metro area, one of 17 Georgia families and 400 families nationally who became medical refugees in Colorado. Mike Hopkins kept his job as Director of the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority, accumulating 95,000 frequent flyer miles.
A loophole in a farm bill passed in 2015, which allowed the purchase of low doses of cannabis oil, considered hemp, allowed the family the choice to move back home to Covington.
What she’s learned
A polite and well-spoken teenager, Hopkins told The Covington News earlier this year that she has been blessed by CHOA and UGA Miracle. “Being involved with this organization has really meant so much to me and helped me through a lot of things. You can really get through [difficult times] with the help of others and their encouragement, and with God. People can still do things after they’ve struggled so much.”
She said her experiences having siblings with disabilities have “given me a sense to love every kind of person, no matter what type of person they are, to literally see no boundaries,” she said. “I really do believe I love more than I ever would.”
To read more about Hopkins’ work, read “Teenager will stand up to raise money for UGA Miracle,” at http://www.covnews.com/archives/200529/.