“Go out and do amazing things.”
One of the first things Jane Snead does every morning is log on to her favorite website, where an inspirational message puts a smile on her face and a bounce in her step. As development director for United Against Poverty (UP), Snead shares that smile and bounce as well as an optimistic outlook with everyone she comes into contact with.
That’s why it’s hard to believe that when the upstate New Yorker arrived in Vero Beach 19 years ago she was homeless, a recovering heroin addict in desperate need of a roof over her head and a job. As if things couldn’t get worse, a hurricane named Frances was heading straight for the Treasure Coast.
“You can’t be brave if you’re not scared. When I tell you that God is my best friend, I mean it. I don’t know how I could have survived some of the things that have happened to me without him,” says Snead, who was sexually abused as a child, became a victim of sex trafficking in her teens, spent 10 months in jail on a petty charge, married at 16, and had three children by the time she was 20.
And that’s just the short version.
“Life gets very quiet before all the doors open.”
Snead was eager to turn her life around and start fresh, and Vero Beach offered the perfect opportunity to do that.
“For over 10 years I settled in and really did well; then I got sick, couldn’t work, and became homeless again. It was the free health care through Whole Family Health that finally got the correct diagnosis and helped me get healthy again,” says Snead, who eventually found shelter at the Hope for Families Center, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing and counseling programs.
One of those programs was UP’s Success Training Employment Program (STEP), a workforce development program designed to enhance job readiness skills. Having worked in restaurants for several years, taking orders, serving meals, and managing shifts, Snead already had skills that were transferable. A people person with a strong work ethic, she possessed qualities employers look for.
“Through UP I got an internship that turned into a full-time job at the Children’s Home Society Adult Transition Center in Vero Beach. I was basically what you’d call a ‘house mom,’ doing room checks, making sure the kids were in their room by curfew, and teaching them life skills,” Snead explains.
Having kept in touch with what was happening at UP, she learned about a job opening that paid more than what she was making. After weighing the pros and cons, she decided to fill out an application. Then came a call, followed by an interview, and an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“Making the decision to come to UP was hard. I really loved working at CHS and spending time with the kids,” says Snead. “Then I thought, ‘What a wonderful problem to have’—there I was with two great jobs to choose from. That’s when I realized I’d been referring so many people to UP for help, and I knew I could still help everyone at CHS, but at UP I could help so many more.”
Confident she had made the right decision, Snead jumped into the role of intake coordinator. As it turned out, the entry-level position put her in the right place at the right time when Trip Snelson, project director for UP’s capital campaign, was looking for a coordinator.
“When Trip showed me the job description, I went down the list of responsibilities and said, ‘Yes, I can do that.’ Check. ‘Yes, I can kinda do that.’ Check. When I said, ‘I don’t even know what that one means,’ Trip said, ‘Trust me, I can teach you,’” Snead smiles remembering how Snelson encouraged and guided her.
Two and a half years later, the capital campaign had raised $5.9 million, funds needed to build UP’s 46,000-square-foot center on 27th Street in Vero Beach. It’s a community hub where multiple social service partners and agencies have satellite offices; it’s also home to UP’s Member Share Grocery Program, educational and training programs, crisis stabilization services, and a medical facility that includes mental health counseling services. There’s a sense of optimism as everywhere you look you see colorful art, uplifting words, and smiling faces.
With the capital campaign successfully completed, Snead took on the role of success coach for STEP, developing relationships with program participants in order to help them create and reach their goals.
Then came COVID and the program was put on hold. At the same time, the demand for crisis services was increasing, and Snead was named crisis stabilization manager.
When Snelson left UP last spring, all eyes turned to Snead, who was the perfect person to assume the role of development director. In five and a half years she had gone from an entry-level position to department head.
Snead’s can-do attitude is on full display in her office, where motivational messages and 14-year-old daughter Natalise’s colorful artwork brighten the walls. This is where one gets a real sense of how committed Snead is to UP and to her current goal of raising $1.7 million. “It’s our annual fund drive and I’d love to raise more. The goal is to keep the lights on, the programs going, and pay the employees; there’s so much need in the community,” Snead emphasizes.
As she reflects on the past, Snead continues to be amazed at where she is today. She has a job she loves, her children are doing well, and she shares her story openly with others.
“I go to the alternative high school and talk to students about my journey. At first I can tell they’re not really interested in what I have to say, but when I get into all the bad things that happened to me—the homelessness, the addiction, the abuse, what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck—they start to sit up and pay attention. I tell them about how the many Indian River County nonprofits helped me and my kids get back on our feet.”
The list is as long as her arm. There’s Riverside Children’s Theatre, the Homeless Children’s Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, GoLine, Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, and many more, but the most important is UP.
“We inspire and empower people living in poverty to rise up; we show them this is what you can do, and this is how you do it. The results are amazing,” Snead enthuses. “I tell people that where you are now is not where you have to end up—there are so many people who are willing to help you and show you the way if you’ll just accept the help and work hard.” The possibilities are endless.”