Susan Sneed is a lifelong Tennessean connected and committed to East Tennessee. She was born in the Tri-Cities, worked and ministered for seven years in Chattanooga, and finally settled down in Blount County.
Her father worked at Eastman Chemical Company and her mother was a registered nurse at Holston Valley Medical Center. She grew up involved in church and community: playing soccer, participating in her church’s youth group, and taking part in academic activities at Sullivan Central High School. The birth of Susan’s younger sister brought awareness of health issues into Susan’s life early. Lisa was born with a heart condition that required surgery at six weeks old and again a few years later. She needed careful, regular medical attention throughout her childhood.
Susan received an early and ongoing experience of how some people simply have health issues that impact their lives. Lisa will always have this “pre-existing condition,” and even though she’s now a healthy, productive adult, there are always concerns about getting adequate health insurance.
Susan’s ministry in Chattanooga focused on making connections with the neighborhood by knocking on doors, introducing herself, and inviting people to church. She also reached out to local businesses and schools to form creative partnerships. “We wanted to focus on how we could be in ministry close by as well as far away. So, we gave money and volunteer time to United Methodist organizations, but we also invited the underserviced kids up the hill to Sunday school,” says Susan. “We fed them breakfast, and we all had a good time. That’s my idea of ministry.” With her leadership, the church participated in what is now Family Promise with their partner church, St. Luke’s, to house and feed homeless families.
One thing Susan learned from these ministries, as well as through the birth of her own daughter, was how important safety and security is for children to grow up into healthy adults with bright futures. There are too many children in Tennessee who don’t live in appropriate housing, whose only meal each day is their free lunch at school. She realized we cannot expect our children to reach their potential if they are hungry or cold, and developed a deep concern for Tennessee’s impoverished children that she hopes to bring up in the state legislature.
Always a trailblazer, Susan also invited media to the church when she arrived as the first woman pastor and one of the youngest in the conference. Along with her personal neighborhood welcoming efforts, she hoped the attention would draw people who hadn’t been to church in a while—and it worked. The worshipping congregation grew around 30% during Susan’s tenure.
During her time in ministry, Susan learned she had a passion for organizing people for a purpose, actively capitalizing on people’s gifts and talents in order to provide more services to the community. “We had wonderful strategic planning meetings based around our values as Christians and how we wanted to make the church as welcoming as possible,” Susan recalls.
Realizing she was organizationally-minded, Susan also got to know professionals who did training and organizational development. “We spend so much time at work and those hours affect all the other hours in our lives—there are ways to make work better and positively affect our whole lives.” She began working for and with business clients such as Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Milliken in South Carolina, Covenant Health in Knoxville, and Vienna Coffee Company in Maryville. She has led teams inside corporations and as a consultant—including sales, product development, and client services. Always a student of what makes people and organizations successful, she’s coordinated cross-functional teams, wrangling department leads through product development and delivery, as well as consulting with growing organizations, leading them into creative and more effective services and programs.
While transitioning into business consulting, Susan’s husband was transferred to Church Street United Methodist Church and Susan was again invited into ministry. She took a part-time time position that included pastoral care and counseling, as well as occasional preaching and a television talk show!
Susan has always supported public schools, and another major reason she and her family relocated to Maryville was so her gifted daughter, Gabriel, could attend their public schools. However, public funds aren’t supporting schools at the quality every child deserves. One of her priorities is to figure out how to bring more money to all the schools in District 20. Raising a gifted daughter also taught Susan to recognize and value the hard work and sacrifices public school teachers make for their students daily, and she wants to work on policies that support and pay these educators more.
Susan began her political advocacy in 2013 assisting her Blount County neighbors in signing up for health insurance through the ACA. She saw firsthand the relief of those who could sign up for healthcare, some for the first time ever, but also the tragedy of those who fell through the cracks because of the Tennessee legislature’s decision to refuse to expand Medicaid. She’s a strong proponent for expanding Medicaid and keeping Tennesseans tax dollars in Tennessee in order to support citizens’ health and job growth.
Frustrated with politicians who put party over people, Susan became more heavily involved in political advocacy through Indivisible East Tennessee. She has since been a tireless advocate for her neighbors by bringing their stories and concerns in-person and in offices to politicians on the local, state, and federal levels. “Indivisible was a huge part in my coming to understand the power of personal political involvement,” Susan notes. “And it’s how I learned that I had the power to run for office and become the type of representative who could really help people.”