- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The leader of a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that worked to build a 200-bed orphanage is giving up after 15 years of facing roadblocks and opposition.

Mary Jo Copeland, who struggled to raise $30 million for the effort, is selling the 33-acre property in Eagan to a developer who plans to turn it into an industrial site. The founder of the nonprofit Sharing and Caring Hands had faced opponents who argued that children should be with their family instead of in a group home.

“I couldn’t continue to try to convince the world that’s what’s needed,” Copeland said.

She had tried to assure skeptics that her children’s home would provide a peaceful, stable setting and would allow groups of siblings to stay together, the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1TGXMR9 ) reported.

“No matter how well-meaning the people behind an orphanage are, institutionalization inherently does terrible harm to children,” said Richard Wexler, former director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

He was among a group of people who initially urged Copeland not to move forward with her plan.

“I hope by now she has some understanding of the fact that this would have been a terrible mistake and it would have been a terrible thing to do to children,” Wexler said.

Copeland’s project did earn her respect from prominent supporters, including former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Pat Anderson, a former mayor of Eagan.

But Copeland said she was drained after spending years defending her vision and talking to the media.

She had originally intended for the orphanage to be in one large building, but she started to question the project’s viability when people pressured her to instead build several small cottages. Copeland then planned on placing about 10 children in each house with a married couple and a staff member.

“I always thank God I had the grace and the strength to fight for what was right. And I still know I was right,” Copeland said. “I think if it had worked out it would have been a wonderful, successful thing.”

Copeland decided about a year and a half ago that it was time to give up on the project, and instead focus on the housing and services that her organization runs in the North Loop of Minneapolis.

“When this guy came to offer me the money, ah! I was so happy,” she said of her decision to sell the property in Eagan. “I could get rid of it. And I could put the memory behind me.”

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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