By Bridgett Harris
Annie Snead has always been devoted to the people of Colorado Springs — and the crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased her dedication to the community she loves.
As director of marketing and public relations for Pikes Peak United Way, Snead works with dozens of partner agencies, hundreds of companies and thousands of donors each year to provide the community with essential services that give people a hand up and a solid foundation for improving their lives. As an ambassador for PPUW, Snead also shapes and shares the organization’s story and its importance as a community partner.
Storytelling comes naturally to Snead. She began her career in media as a journalist for a news affiliate in Augusta, Georgia, before moving to Colorado Springs seven years ago as an anchor reporter at news station KOAA.
Four years ago, she made the transition to Pikes Peak United Way. She says the decision is one of the best she has ever made because it blended her love of storytelling with another passion — helping others in need.
“At heart, I truly am a storyteller, but now it’s stories of helping others, of people helping people,” she said. “It has been a big blessing working here every day.”
Snead says the COVID-19 crisis has shown that if the Springs community were to write its own story, it would be a tale of generosity and hope.
At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted the need for organizations like Pikes Peak United Way. As unemployment has climbed, so too have the community’s struggles with food insecurity, affordable housing and unemployment. Snead spoke with the Business Journal about PPUW’s plan of action for the days ahead, the resources the organization is offering and ways the community can help.
How is PPUW uniquely positioned to provide support during the pandemic?
Pikes Peak United Way is critical in bringing faith-based organizations, nonprofits, businesses and government together. During this time in particular, the organization is working to be the convener not only of raising funds, but in getting out information that is critical to saving lives. That’s what we’re able to do with our services and by working with the city and county.
What is Pikes Peak United Way 2-1-1 and how does it support the community?
Pikes Peak United Way 2-1-1 serves over 35,000 people every year. Most of the calls throughout the year relate to food, utilities and housing assistance, and our team provides them with referrals to secure those needs. Other referrals include military assistance, mental health, help for our seniors — it covers a lot of ground.
What impact has COVID-19 had on 2-1-1?
During this crisis, calls have increased. Last week, our first week of taking calls with the county in relation to COVID-19, there was a 167 percent increase in call volume compared to the week before.
How many total calls did the team end up taking?
It was over 1,300.
How large is the 2-1-1 staff taking all of those calls?
There are five full-time people, so if people are calling in and getting delays, please be patient with them.
What types of calls are you receiving?
Everything from questions about what to do if someone in a person’s company has come down with the virus, to calls about what to do after being laid off. We’ve even received calls from landlords who are trying to find assistance for their tenants who can no longer pay their rent because they got laid off.
What other initiatives is PPUW working on?
We are in the very early stages of forming a partnership called the Greater Resilience Information Team — GRIT. It will be a collaboration with public health, the county, the city, faith-based organizations and a doctor who specializes in helping people with trauma. We are working to form a way to help the community cope with mental health. This is a new normal for so many of us and it’s isolating. There are people who are not only dealing with the anxiety over health, but anxiety over losing their jobs and anxiety about what happens next. We want to make sure that people have a resource to turn to and that they’re able to be resilient during this time.
We foresee as this goes on that there will be requests to provide counseling. The ripple effects of this time will continue for weeks and months to come. Even when we do return back to “normal,” it won’t be going back to life as it once was.
Youth success is one of PPUW’s areas of focus. How do you think this will impact young people?
They are dealing with a lot of loss. Seniors, for example, are going to miss all of those things that come at the end of their senior year. There is the likelihood they will not have special milestone moments like graduation and prom. We all know that there are a lot of big things that we are dealing with as a nation and as a world, but these are still very real things for them. Some may not have the same coping mechanisms that we as adults have — and it’s hard as an adult to deal with this!
Adults in their lives can help them manage their fear and anxiety. Our organization is also putting together video segments and other tools to help them cope. We are working with our partners to continue to provide food and basic needs to take one more stressor off of both young people and their parents.
What can the community do to support PPUW right now?
One of the first things I want to encourage people to do is to give if they can. We have an emergency relief fund in partnership with the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the Pike’s Peak Office of Emergency Management. The fund was set up years ago after the fires when people really wanted a credible force for funding relief. Credibility is important to donors because there are people who take advantage of others and set up funds that are not going to help what they say they’re going to help. When people give to our emergency relief fund, the money will stay here in southern Colorado and it will go to nonprofits on the front lines doing the work of feeding and housing people.
People can also give their time. This is a very fluid situation, so volunteer opportunities might look different than in the past. For example, our partners at Early Connections and Community Partnership have an urgent need in their child care centers for toilet paper and cleaning supplies and gloves. If those centers are not able to stay open, doctors and first responders may not have somewhere to bring their children. Providing those resources can ensure that essential workers can make it to their jobs to take care of people who are sick.
How is PPUW preparing for the increased need for resources and funding during this time?
We’re currently fundraising. Additionally, we’ve had help from our partners. Ent Credit Union generously gave us a big gift to support 2-1-1 in addition to the support they, along with GE Johnson, already provide. That funding will help us continue and keep the lines open because we are fully dedicated to COVID-19 relief work right now.
Any words of wisdom for those who are feeling fear and anxiety?
I’ll start by sharing the famous Mr. Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I have been so encouraged by our volunteers. They continue to show up no matter what. Last week, they handed out food to a record 511 families, working harder than they ever have before and incorporating new safety standards. They handled it all because they wanted to serve those who need us.
Another quote that I love comes from Dolly Parton, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” We are in a storm right now, but we’ll come out stronger. This community always rises and I know we will again. I am proud to call Colorado Springs home.