When Ann Schorno ’78 graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in economics in the early 1980s the country was in the midst of a recession and she didn’t have the luxury of contemplating various career options. Her number one priority was finding a job, and she was thrilled to land a job at General Telephone in Santa Monica.
Ten years later, with the economy on a stronger footing, she decided it was time to let passion be her guide. She pursued a cooking certificate, taking classes every Saturday for over a year, and accepted a job as a line cook at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. She quickly advanced to the position of Hotel Manager and lived in six locations around the world, including Singapore and Shanghai. Then she was transferred to Houston – a move that didn’t thrill her.
“I didn’t want to be transferred there and wondered what I would learn from this experience. I later realized what an important step it was in my life journey,” she said.
“Though there were so many things to love about working for the Four Seasons, the least of which was the opportunity to travel the world and stay in some of the most luxurious hotels, I really struggled with the vast divide – in terms of financial resources – between the hotel staff and guests. I had attended a JustFaith program while living in Austin on a previous assignment, and it caused me to really question what is important and what role did I want to play. When is enough, enough?” Schorno wondered.
The next logical step in Schorno’s career was General Manager. She was conflicted about remaining in the hospitality industry, but didn’t have time to think about making a change – until her job was eliminated.
As her boss delivered the news, Schorno started saying a Hail Mary. “At that moment I knew I would be okay – I was instantly at peace,” she said.
Schorno had been volunteering for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Houston, and the organization had an open position for the Executive Director.
“After a series of interviews, I convinced them, as I had the Four Seasons, that though the job change was significant, both in role and financial compensation, I could do it,” she said. “That was almost eight years ago, and I couldn’t be happier. So many things fell into place with this new role, and I definitely could feel the impact of the Holy Spirit guiding me.”
Serving as Executive Director is like running a small business, though with mostly volunteers, Schorno said. “There are many priorities that one juggles daily, and because we have a small staff I wear a lot of hats,” she said.
Most recently, Schorno found herself at the epicenter of one of the country’s most serious natural disasters – Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s part of my faith journey, as it is with all our volunteers.”
“We immediately started helping with basic needs, like food, clothing, cleaning and hygiene supplies, and then moved into financial assistance to make sure families were not evicted from their apartments or had their utilities disconnected as they waited for pay or reimbursement,” she said. “Now that people are moving either back to their homes or to new homes, we are providing furniture assistance through our House in a Box® program. We also have a large immigrant population here and with the current political climate, both federally and in the State of Texas, many were afraid to come forward for government assistance. We are working to stabilize these families, too. This work is done collaboratively, with other agencies, because no one group can do it alone.”
What has been amazing is hearing the stories of people helping others in their community, regardless of what happened to their own homes, Schorno said. “The first couple weeks are high energy and then you realize that this chaos will continue for a long time – that this is the new normal. There is no clear path regarding who will do what or when in a disaster because each is unique. And a huge amount of patience is required, especially when the needs arising from the disaster far exceed the available resources,” she added.
“I am so thankful for the various experiences I have had in my life. They have helped me greatly as I respond to the new challenges I face daily in my work, whether it is responding to a disaster, establishing a strategic plan, raising money to fund our programs or recruiting volunteers,” Schorno said.
In addition to serving as Executive Director at St. Vincent de Paul, Schorno continues to volunteer for the organization, participating in home visits to ascertain needs and provide referrals and assistance.
She says this work keeps her personally connected to the organization’s mission. “It’s part of my faith journey, as it is with all our volunteers,” she said. “My faith has always helped keep me grounded, and reminds me that at the end of the day I want to want to be able to look back and know I treated others the way I want to be treated myself.”