Former Army helicopter pilot Deborah Snyder has gone from the cockpit to the boardroom to take on an important mission: finding homes for veterans who don’t have a place to live.
“I don’t think we should have homeless vets,” Snyder, a retired lieutenant colonel, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a fixable problem.”
Since 2011, Snyder, 53, and her organization, the Operation Renewed Hope Foundation, have fixed the problem for more than 800 homeless veterans in the Washington, D.C., area.
“We find housing for them, and help in other ways too,” Snyder says, noting that the organization’s services include help with transportation, jobs and medical services.
“She’s very serious about helping the veterans,” says Lloyd Clarke, 66, a once-homeless, Vietnam-era vet who lives in housing that Snyder found for him. “She’s really into it.”
Snyder first embarked on the mission after she’d hung up her flight suit and was working for the Army as a civilian analyst.
“I used to walk to work every day in Crystal City,” Snyder says of the area in Northern Virginia near the Pentagon. Each day, she encountered veterans like Clarke, whose plights astounded her. “I couldn’t believe it. He was homeless, right here in my area.”
The retired Army officer soon realized there were many more like him.
“I decided to do something about it in my own backyard,” Snyder says.
Seven years ago, she started the Operation Renewed Hope Foundation to help get destitute veterans back on their feet. She pitched in her own money, gathered a squadron of helpers and “jumped right into fundraising,” she says.
First, she and the team auctioned off a set of Washington Redskins tickets, bringing in $8,000.
“We would go into the shelters and see who we could help” with security deposits and rent, says Snyder.
Soon, the small group of helpers had grown into more than 30 staff members and volunteers. The group also linked up with the Veterans Administration, which now refers people to Snyder.
One former Marine, Christopher S.W. Quincer, had lost everything — his job, housing and family — before Snyder found him five years ago in a shelter.
“She got me into housing, and paid my first six months rent,” says Quincer, 43. She helped him get a job, reunited him with his family and Quincer now runs a successful company.
“I’m doing great,” he says.
Snyder has been recognized for her efforts.
In 2014, she was honored at the annual L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth celebration, where the foundation was awarded $10,000.
The biggest reward for her, though, is seeing the improvements in veterans’ lives.
“At night when I lay down, I see a ceiling over my head,” Snyder says. “I think of these vets who see the inside of a car or a tent. It’s really nice to see someone go from living in a shelter or in a vehicle and see them happy.”
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Others she helped include a couple who lived in a car with their two young children; and a veteran who didn’t know he qualified for VA benefits.
“She’s incredible,” Clarke says. “What she’s done has changed my life.”
Quincer adds: “Deborah is a standup person. She really cares, and she gets involved.”
Snyder has not yet said “mission accomplished.” For her, it’s a mission in progress. Next up, Snyder aims to transform a former assisted-living facility into a home for veterans.
“We need to keep pushing,” she says. “We need to keep helping our homeless veterans.”