“Life doesn't happen to us. It happens for us and in every situation we can step back and find the blessing in the bad,” Leeper told a group of United Way officials, volunteers and supporters on Thursday. “Life is not fair, it doesn't matter how good your intentions might be. Sometimes you might just come up short. That's life.”
Leeper was the keynote speaker at a community celebration hosted by the United Way of Greater Kingsport. United Way officials announced the results of the 2016 fundraising campaign during Thursday's event, saying $3.6 million, or 96 percent, of its $3.75 million goal has been raised in cash and pledges.
Including $247,000 of in-kind advertising contributions, the United Way announced a fundraising total of $3.86 million. The campaign will still accept contributions through the end of the year.
Leeper told the audience life is not about how much money we can make or who we can impress. It's about making experiences with other people you love and care about.
“We have to embrace life and be thankful for the blessings we have. Tomorrow is not promised and nothing is guaranteed,” Leeper said. “Each and every day we wake up, we should put a smile on our face, be thankful for the things we have and go out and help another person. That's why we're here today.”
Leeper, 27, is a Kingsport native, eight-time paralympic track and field medalist and world-record holder. He was born without legs and doctors told his family he would never be able to run. Today, every morning, Leeper said he wakes up, puts one leg on at a time and goes out and attacks the world.
“One of my biggest fears growing up as a child was being accepted,” Leeper said. “When I stepped on the court, or played baseball people would clap for me, applaud for me and support me. It was genuine, it was real and what gave me the motivation to keep moving forward.”
Leeper's talk was titled “Overcoming Adversity” and focused on looking ahead in trying times, having a positive attitude and the power of community to give strength to all those who live in it. Life isn't easy, Leeper told the audience several times on Thursday.
“It's important to have a positive attitude, towards everything we attack or go through or face. Even though it might seem bad, we have to keep a positive attitude,” Leeper said.
The theme for this year's fundraising campaign was “Drive and Inspire Community Change” and has focused on the ability to create positive, long-lasting change when the caring power of the community is mobilized to address root cause issues.
Throughout the campaign, the United Way has emphasized the 1,400 local lives improved every single day by its 30 member agencies, 44 programs, and three community impact initiatives.
“Don't ever think what you're doing is not important,” Leeper said. “By showing up today, being a volunteer and donating, you guys are saving lives. People like you save lives like mine.”
Individuals, companies, or organizations interested in learning more about United Way’s work or investing in the community through UWGK are encouraged to visit UWayKPT.org. Contributions can be made directly to the organization by mailing a check to UWGK, 301 Louis St., Suite 201, Kingsport, TN 37660. Inquiries may be made by calling (423) 378-3409, ext. 16.