When Fawn Schott was a child, she remembers her grandmother telling her how everyone starts out in a different place in life, and it’s not our job to judge, but it is our job to help.
Now Schott, the president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, lives out that wisdom every day when she goes to work.
“I was blessed in my life to have everything I would have ever needed, but I was also supported by others to get where I am, and so giving back is just really deeply ingrained in me,” Schott said. “It’s important for me to return that.”
Schott, 42, filled the position in May after longtime president and CEO Marilee Roloff retired.
Volunteers of America, along with Catholic Charities Spokane, organizes the Christmas Bureau, a program that provides new toys, books, grocery store gift certificates and more to thousands of people struggling to get by during the holiday season.
Donations made by community members to The Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Fund are channeled to the two nonprofits to pay for the bureau.
Schott served at the Christmas Bureau as a volunteer before landing her new position.
“It was something that helped me recognize, remember, what Christmas is about,” she said. “It’s not about the big gifts under the tree. It’s about the little joy that someone can give to another person by showing that they care.”
Her voice quavered with emotion as she described an interaction with a young, new mom at the bureau that left an indelible mark.
The mother told Schott she needed help picking out a book for her baby boy. Schott told her chunky board books were great for babies, because they can easily hold them and bring them to their mouths to chew on.
“She said to me, ‘Is it okay for babies to put books in their mouths?’ And I said ‘Yes, that’s how they learn, it’s part of their developmental process.’ She looked at me and said ‘I would never have known this. How do you learn this stuff as a mom?’”
“You just love them,” Schott told her.
“She hugged me over the table,” Schott said. “It was just one of those experiences you get to have only a few times. It was a just really beautiful moment with that young mother.”
It’s that kind of impact that motivates Schott.
She grew up in Carnation, Washington, a small dairy town at the foot of Snoqualmie on the West Side of the state. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Eastern Washington University and a master’s degree in project management from Washington State University.
She started her professional life as an eighth-grade English teacher, and later helped her husband run a business. Ultimately, though, Schott had a different calling.
“My heart and passion is for serving others,” she said.
She worked with Goodwill Industries and Empire Health Foundation before taking the Volunteers of America position following Roloff’s retirement.
Schott said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is working with team members who are intensely devoted to improving the lives of others.
“I have never seen a more dedicated and committed group of people in my life,” Schott said. “They believe in the work that they do, but more importantly, they absolutely believe in every individual.”
The organization has several programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable in the region, including: housing for chronically homeless veterans; transitional housing for pregnant or parenting teens; an emergency shelter for homeless women; a shelter, school and multi-service center for homeless and high-risk teens; permanent, supportive housing for disabled, chronically-homeless, adults; and much more.
As for the Christmas Bureau, Schott said it’s a gift that Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities of Spokane and The Spokesman-Review can combine efforts to fill a need in the community so those who are suffering have a glimpse of brightness during the holiday season.
“It’s just such a reward,” she said.
Frank’s Diners and The Onion Taphouse & Grill employees and owners gave $7,750.00, writing, “May your organization’s efforts be continually blessed. May we all continue to seek ways to make Spokane a better place to live for everyone.”
John and Kristi Blake, of Spokane, gave $5,000.
The Bergquist Foundation gave $2,500.
Steve and Rene’ Goebel, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $1,500.
Bill and Sharon Bronson, of Spokane Valley, gave $1,000.
Tipke Manufacturing gave $1,000.
An anonymous donor gave $1,000.
An anonymous donor gave $700.
An anonymous donor gave $560.
Cyrus and Janet Vaughn, of Spokane, gave $500.
Laborers’ International Union of North America Local No. 238 gave $450.
An anonymous donor gave $300 in memory of Allene Hayden.
Tim and Darlene Holliday, of Spokane, gave $250, writing, “In memory of our son, Russell ‘Air Hoss’ Holliday.”
Steve and Peggy Koehler, of Spokane, gave $200.
Roger Tompkins, of Spokane, gave $200, writing, “Thanks to all the volunteers.”
Eileen Thorpe, of Spokane, gave $200.
Carol and Cliff Rankin, of Spokane, gave $200
Lois Richards, of Spokane, gave $175.
An anonymous retired newspaper employee gave $155.
Francisco and Mary Velazquez, of Colbert, gave $150.
Emmett & Marylu Arndt, of Spokane, gave $150, writing, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all volunteers and recipients.”
Erik and Julie Ohlund, of Spokane, gave $150.
Colleen Birchill, of Spokane, gave $150.
Robert and Cecile LaFountain, of Spokane Valley, gave $150.
An anonymous donor gave $150.
Tom and Bette Brattebo, of Liberty Lake, gave $125, writing, “It is time once again to share the joy of this season. Thanks for making it possible.”
Spokane Branch American Association of University Women gave $119.09, writing “On behalf of all the members of Spokane Branch AAUW, we wish to thank the Christmas Bureau for everything it has done for this community all these many years.”
Barry Benoit, of Hauser, Idaho, gave $100.
Howie and Jennifer Stalwick, of Spokane, gave $100, writing, “In memory of longtime Christmas Bureau volunteers Lois and Vernon Thomasson.”
Ray Long, Diane Wagner and Suzanne Grainger, all of Spokane, gave $100 each.
Ryan and Gwen Taylor, of Spokane, gave $100.
Pat and Kathy Harper, of Spokane, gave $100.
John and Kathleen Olsufka, of Spokane Valley, gave $100.
Bob Mudge gave $100, writing, “In memory of June.”
Samaritan Lodge #52 Independent Order of Odd Fellows gave $100.
Nick and Leslie Zilka gave $100, writing, “We will be working as volunteers in our third year. It gives us such pleasure to see the gratitude on the recipients’ faces.”
An anonymous donor gave $100, writing, “Hope this helps to make Christmas better for someone in need.”
Four more anonymous donors also gave $100 each.
Sharon Boyer, of Spokane Valley, gave $75.
An anonymous donor gave $70, in memory of Jack and Jean Cobb.
Ed and Jan Bryan, of Loon Lake, gave $50.
Steven and Bev Booras, of Spokane, gave $50.
Northwest Treasure Hunters Club gave $50.
An anonymous donor gave $50.
An anonymous donor gave $35.
Joe Singor, of Spokane, gave $30.
Leo and Mary Kay Divalentino, of Nine Mile Falls, gave $25.
Sherryl Niska, and Muriel Tuttle, both Spokane, gave $25 each.
Tracy Howe, of Spokane, gave $20.
An anonymous donor gave $20.
For donations made through PayPal, The Spokesman-Review contributed the processing fee.
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