VERO BEACH — On Nov. 7, United Against Poverty’s Campaign Cabinet hosted a Campaign Kickoff for Phase II of their Lifting Lives Out Of Poverty Capital Campaign. United Against Poverty, or UP, announced their progress towards the retrofit and improvement of a 46,000 square foot former citrus packing house in the historic district of Vero Beach. The event was held at their New UP Center, located at 1400 27th St. Vero Beach, FL, 32960.

Don Drinkard, retired petroleum engineer and UP’s Campaign Cabinet Chair, opened the event. He remarked “UP was originally known as Harvest Food & Outreach when it was founded by Austin and Ginny Hunt here in Indian River County 15 years ago. From humble beginnings … today United Against Poverty is the largest non-profit social services organization in Indian River County”. Don then introduced Alma Lee Loy, one of Vero Beach’s most well­-known and honored residents. Alma Lee shared her memories of Austin Hunt, UP’s Founder and CEO, and his wife Ginny. “I have known UP’s founder Austin Hunt since he was a little boy. He and his lovely wife Ginny started a small co-operative grocery store in South Vero Beach because they wanted to help people in a way that their parents would have agreed to be helped; with dignity and respect. From those humble beginnings, UP today has built an incredible track record of empowering people to lift themselves from the grips of poverty through their core programs.”

Alma Lee also spoke about UP’s services, which include four core programs. Last year their Crisis Stabilization Program helped over 1,700 families in Indian River County. The Member Share Grocery Program allows families earning 200% of the poverty level or less to get access to discounted food and personal care products. The program serves over 500 families a day in their two locations in Vero Beach, resulting in $4.1 million dollars in savings for those families last year. The Education Program enables individuals that have not had good classroom experiences get comfortable and reengaged with learning. Finally, their Success Training Employment Program helps individuals with significant barriers to getting and keeping employment. Alma Lee shared, “The curriculum includes not only skills like interviewing and building a resume, it also teaches emotional intelligence or “soft-skills”. After Success Training Employment Program graduates attain employment, UP’s success coaches stay with them for up-to 3 years, helping them advance in their jobs until they reach economic self-sufficiency. Last year, 109 graduates of this program in Indian River County earned jobs. 98 lifted themselves from poverty! Isn’t that amazing?”

Next Stacy Thompson, a recent graduate of the Success Training Employment Program, shared about her experience taking the class. Her moving personal testimony about the journey that brought her to the doors of UP was inspirational. Stacy shared “I learned so much about my self confidence, my self esteem … I learned how to write the right resume, how to be able to speak to someone when I’m in an interview, and I thank the teachers and the coaches for that. They are amazing. They are with me every day, every step of the way, and even after the class they are still with me.”

Todd Fennell, a partner in Gould, Cooksey, and Fennell law firm, was the next Campaign Cabinet member to speak about the need for UP’s services. Todd asked the audience: “Would it surprise you to know forty percent of families in Indian River County cannot afford the basic necessities?”. Todd explained why he and his wife Kathy decided to add UP to the charities they support: “What greater gift to a child than to have the opportunity to be in a household where you don’t have economic instability, where there is food on the table, where there is opportunity, and maybe more so where there is a role model above them who has overcome adversity?”

Todd went on to speak about the physical facility limitations UP currently struggles with. Due to these limitations, UP is only able to serve 14% of the families who currently qualify for their programs in the county. The New UP Center will enable United Against Poverty to double the number of families that access the Member Share Grocery Program and triple the number of students who graduate from the Success Training Employment Program. He then introduced a virtual walk through video produced and underwritten by project architects Cuhaci and Peterson.

Marybeth Cunningham, Chair of the Indian River County Hospital District, is another community member who has been serving on the Campaign Cabinet. Marybeth announced that an exciting collaboration will take place within the New UP Center. “The Hospital District and myself have been working with United Against Poverty, our partners in healthcare Treasure Coast Community Health, the VNA, and Whole Family Health, on a pilot project in the New UP Center.” The vision is for a wellness center to provide employment health services for workforce development program graduates, primary care services for low income citizens, and specialized counseling such as substance abuse, mental health, eating disorders, and family counseling. UP plans to devote 20% of the floor plan in The New UP Center to partner organizations in the community. This will provide a one-stop-shop for families in crisis to receive the care they need. Marybeth spoke of how powerful the collaborative aspects of the New UP Center will be, saying “Can you imagine how important this project is going to be to our community? To be able to address a family that comes here in crisis for whatever reason? They come here and they can get their needs taken care of in one place.”

Bob Puff, retired from investment management, Campaign Cabinet member, and the former Director of the Indian River Community Foundation, then spoke about the progress that has been made towards reaching the goal for Phase II of the campaign. He noted “I am delighted to report that there has been substantial progress made in making The New UP Center a reality!”. UP successfully completed the initial phase of the Lifting Lives Out of Poverty campaign. In June of this year, UP purchased the New UP Center building with $2 million dollars in cash raised by Board Members and a handful of investors close to the organization. Since starting Phase II in January of this year UP has raised $2.715 million towards the goal of $3.9 million dollars to retrofit and repurpose the space. Bob noted: “That means that we are seventy percent complete and we are truly grateful to the people who have made that happen”.

Bob then introduced Simon Caldecott, CEO of Piper Aircraft. Simon noted that” I personally believe in giving back to the community, and I’m pleased to say that the Piper family also has that core value”. Piper has been an employment partner at United Against Poverty, hiring graduates of the Success Training program whenever they are able. It was this partnership that led Piper’s Community Outreach Program to get involved with the Capital Campaign. The audience was thrilled when Simon shared “Tonight it is my great pleasure and an honor to announce that Piper Aircraft will make a pledge of $50,000 dollars to name a classroom for the STEP program”. Simon went on to say: “Furthermore, tonight I challenge other businesses in this great community to join Piper Aircraft, Hale Groves, and the National Bank of Commerce to make a pledge in support of the project. I cannot think of a more appropriate way for leading businesses to give back towards building a better future for the citizens of our community.”

The event closed with Austin Hunt, UP’s Founder and CEO, and Annabel Robertson, Executive Director, thanking the Campaign Cabinet Members, Board Members, staff, volunteers, and everyone who has contributed to the success of this campaign so far. Austin noted “We thank you on behalf of all the families that we serve. Thank you for your leadership and commitment”. UP’s Campaign Cabinet members are Paul Becker, Peter Bijur, Robert Brackett, Marybeth Cunningham, Don Drinkard, Todd Fennell, Bill Frick, Bernie Kastory, Chet Lasell, Barbara Lowry, Alma Lee Loy, Karan Morein, Bob Puff, and Jennifer Watson.

Annabel closed with a call to action, “If you can give, we need your help. If you can tell a friend, we need your help. We need to share what is going on here with as many people as possible, so we can start building January 21st”.

To learn more about UP’s programing, the Lifting Lives Out of Poverty campaign, or to schedule a personal tour please contact Campaign Coordinator Jane McNulty Snead at 772- 205-2286 or by email at [email protected].

About United Against Poverty:
United Against Poverty is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering people living in poverty to lift themselves and their families to economic self­-sufficiency. The organization operates UP Centers in Indian River County, St. Lucie County and Orlando which serve more than 10,000 low-income families daily.

This article was distributed through Treasure Coast Business, a news service for the readers and advertisers of Indian River Magazine.