Over the past 18 months, Jenn Snyder has established a college fund, collected furniture – and even helped get a home – for the family of 4-year-old Blake Davis.
Snyder didn’t even know Blake until she saw him on television in June 2007.
The Ohio boy’s missing mother had just been found dead. The prime suspect was his father.
“I was sobbing watching the press conference,” said Snyder, 36, of Charlotte. “I thought, ‘This little boy has no mom or dad.’”
She decided to help.
Snyder has spent more than a year collecting money and donations to help Blake and his family in Akron, Ohio.
A trust fund she established – Blake’s Bright Tomorrow – raises money for the boy’s college education. She is also trying to find someone willing to give the family a vehicle to replace their car, which she said often breaks down.
Her effort has already persuaded a mortgage company to donate a foreclosed house to the family. Businesses from Charlotte gave $32,000 to pay the gift tax and help furnish the house.
Celebrities such as singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, NBA star Lebron James and Carolina Panthers players Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme contributed autographed items last year that helped her collect $25,000 during a fundraiser.
“It has totally changed my life,” said Snyder, who works as executive director of Hood Hargett Breakfast Club in Charlotte, a business networking group. “I can’t imagine what life would be like without it.”
Blake’s story made national headlines. His mother, Jessie Davis, 26, was nine months pregnant when she went missing from her Ohio home in June of last year. Patty Porter, Blake’s maternal grandmother, found him alone in the duplex two days later.
Davis’ dead body was discovered nine days later about 25 miles away in a national park.
The boy’s father, former police officer Bobby Cutts Jr., was later convicted of murder and aggravated murder of Davis’s unborn child and sentenced to life in prison.
During the sentencing hearing, Porter publicly forgave Cutts, her daughter’s boyfriend and the father of the unborn child.
Porter, 62, is now raising Blake, whom she describes as personable and smart. He can count to 200 and spell names of all his family members, she said.
Blake also asks questions about what happened to his parents.
“We never lie to him,” Porter said. “He knows Dad’s in a long time-out. He’s progressed to Dad’s in jail.”
Snyder grew up in Uniontown, Ohio, a small blue-collar town not far from where Blake lives. Her parents still live there.
Blake’s story gripped the town. Thousands signed up to search for Davis’ body.
“My dad got choked up on the phone telling how all these people were searching,” said Snyder, who has lived in Charlotte for 11 years. “These were people who didn’t have a lot of money taking time off their jobs.”
Snyder wanted to do her part, so she started organizing a silent auction in Ohio. It was held in July 2007.
She persuaded business associates to give jewelry, a television and other merchandise. Homebuilders and other volunteers agreed to renovate the family’s new house, furnish it and buy play equipment for the backyard.
Her boss, Chuck Hood, allowed her to work solely on the fundraiser for three weeks.
“She became so passionate about it,” Hood said. “She was not going to be content until she had done it 110 percent.”
On the day of the fundraiser, Snyder and other volunteers surprised Blake’s family with the three-bedroom, split-level house. Six family members previously had been living in a two-bedroom apartment.
When Porter saw the laundry room with a washer and dryer, she turned to Snyder and hugged her. Porter had never owned her own house and did not have a washer and dryer.
“She said, ‘My daughter would have loved you so much,’” Snyder said. “It was an amazing moment between us.”
But perhaps the biggest gift, Snyder says, is the relationship between her and Blake’s family. Snyder and family members said they talk at least once a week by phone and she visits their home every few weeks. They are planning a pajama party to celebrate Christmas together.
“She is like one of my daughters,” Porter said.
Snyder keeps a card that Blake wrote for her. On one half of the card, he traced his hand and wrote, “I love you.”