Lift every voice: Andrea Copeland reflects on struggles and successes

Andrea Copeland, who directs the regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Charlottesville organization, transitioned from educator to entrepreneur—and back
to educator. Photo: Eli Williams Andrea Copeland, who directs the regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Charlottesville organization, transitioned from educator to entrepreneur—and back to educator. Photo: Eli Williams

Andrea Copeland needed a break. For almost a year, she had been working full-time at the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce while running her own video production company, Positive Channels, in her free time.

“I felt like I needed to get out of town,” she said during a May 21 interview at a Downtown coffee shop. “I needed to just take a personal retreat unrelated to work.”

Her choice of retreat? The National Association of Professional Women’s annual conference. That’s the type of person Copeland is. Work and play are interrelated. She does what she’s personally passionate about every day at the Chamber, and she sticks with it after hours while producing uplifting video content for Positive Channels.

“She is the kind of person, who when you say, ‘Andrea, can you do this?’ it is almost always, ‘Yes,’” said Chamber President Timothy Hulbert. “She doesn’t quit at five.”

Copeland, a resident of Charlottesville for all of her nearly 41 years, became the Chamber’s director of member education services last spring. She manages the organization’s seminars and conferences, helping teach local businesses best practices and ways to get involved with the community. Education has been her passion since the start of her career, when she used her human services counseling degree from Old Dominion University to work her way through the ranks as a teacher and school administrator. She had always admired the mission of the Chamber, she said, and that made her latest career move a natural one.

“Whereas before I was helping students, I am now educating business owners,” she said. “Our job at the Chamber is to provide the resources necessary to make our members thrive.”

Much of Copeland’s current job revolves around directing Leadership Charlottesville, a nine-month program the Chamber started in 1982 to help a select group of local businesspeople improve their civic and business leadership skills. The program takes attendees through a series of sessions on community issues before dividing them up into teams and launching improvement initiatives for local nonprofit organizations. While some of the projects are pitched by the organizations themselves, others develop from attendees’ own ideas, such as the “Day of Sharing,” a United Way event Leadership Charlottesville created to help individuals, businesses, and groups donate goods specifically requested by other nonprofits.

Copeland, who is in her first full year as Leadership Charlottesville’s director, was also a member of this year’s class. She wanted to show participants that the program director was willing to get down and dirty on a leadership course and log hours in sessions and on projects. She also learned a thing or two herself.

“I have taken away that, in spite of all the issues it may have, I am personally thankful to live in a city like Charlottesville,” Copeland said. “I see where I have been blessed with some resources, with so many people before me who pulled me forward.”

Copeland knows the value of help. In 2010, she went through grief counseling when the unexpected passing of her mother left her a “broken girl,” and she proudly calls herself a “survivor” of sexual abuse.

“I have used the word survivor on purpose, because I am here,” she said. “And whatever I can do to help protect others, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Copeland credits her own ability to survive to her faith, community, parents, and boyfriend. She says one of the most rewarding parts of her job with the Chamber is helping businesses find the right people to move them forward. And she’s been instrumental in helping the African-American community through the Chamber Minority Business Council.

But Copeland also knows how to help herself. While toiling away as a physical education teacher and teacher’s assistant in the early 2000s, she began dabbling in broadcasting. She made a video during her stint at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, and one of her colleagues noted that she had “something.”

She put the gift into action and launched Positive Channels in 2009. She knew little about running a business but took classes and taught herself the ins and outs of profit and loss statements. Still, earnings have never been the primary goal of the production company. Copeland said she was looking for a way to give young people—specifically “women that have gone through what I’ve gone through, struggled with what I’ve struggled with”—something to watch on television other than “half-naked women and fighting.”

“The whole object of Positive Channels is to use the resources at my disposal in a positive way,” Copeland said. “We don’t celebrate bad things that happen.”

To that end, Copeland hosts an award-winning regular talk show, “Speaking With Andrea,” and produces the series “Inside Nonprofits” and a spiritual program “Breaking the Chains,” along with a variety of specials. The shows currently air on Charlottesville’s TV10 and channel 13, and past episodes are available on the Positive Channels website. Somewhere down the road, Copeland may start pitching programming to a wider audience. “We’re not OWN yet, but Oprah better watch out,” she said.

Copeland has also used the Positive Channels platform to tell her own story, as she did with a show about grieving during the holidays after her mother’s death.

“I know that in the work I do with Positive Channels, I have to be transparent,” Copeland said. “If telling [my story] helps just one person, it is well worth it.”


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