Women of Achievement: Fawn Schott knows the importance of community support
Wed., Feb. 2, 2022
Fawn Schott, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, gives a tour of Hope House, a new 120-bed women’s homeless shelter that also includes 60 units of permanent supportive housing, on Oct. 29. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Fawn Schott credits her community and her mentors with her success. For her, being CEO of Volunteers of America is a way of giving back and lifting others up.
The native of Carnation, Washington, has been awarded the 2022 Women of Achievement award for Community Enhancement in recognition of her work in the community. The eight award winners will be honored at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. March 24 at the Davenport Grand.
Schott describes Carnation as a typical small town, which was also known for its dairy.
“I had a supportive community and a supportive education system, all the things you need to thrive,” she said.
After high school she moved to Pullman to attend Washington State University. Her original plan was to become a veterinarian, but her first animal science class she took made her realize that it wasn’t the field for her. So she switched gears and instead studied English and secondary education.
After she graduated, she taught eighth-grade English at West Valley’s Centennial Middle School and Spokane’s Salk Middle School.
“I taught really at-risk kiddos who needed a lot of extra love and care,” she said.
When she became pregnant with her first child a few years after beginning her teaching career, she decided to quit and become a stay-home mom. But she discovered that really wasn’t for her, either.
“The staying-at-home part I was struggling with,” she said.
Schott channeled her energy into running a video production company with her husband, Stephen. After 10 years, the pull to go back into the community was strong.
“I felt that my heart needed to go back to helping others,” she said.
She got a job with Goodwill Industries running its youth mentoring program and soon switched to overseeing all their grant-funded programs. That included a program for homeless veterans that was run in partnership with Volunteers of America.
A co-worker encouraged her to be present during a move-in, a day when a formerly homeless veteran moves into his new housing. Schott went, and found her life changed after that. “I will never forget that day,” she said.
She described the veteran as relieved and grateful to be done living on the streets. Schott said that was the day that she realized that so many things in life, things she took for granted, were only possible because she had stable housing.
“I can dream and raise a family and be successful because I have a front door key,” she said. “That front door key and home is so much more than just a place. I just wanted to make sure I could help lift people up.”
Schott said she’s always been amazed by the strength of the human spirit that can be seen in people who are homeless who use that strength to move forward.
“I’m absolutely in awe of that,” she said.
She worked at Goodwill for almost five years, then left to take a position at the Empire Health Foundation partnering with the Family Impact Network. She’d been working there for a year when she received a call from a recruiter asking her if she was interested in heading up the VOA. Schott said she initially thought she wasn’t qualified for the job.
“I said, ‘Why are you calling me?’ ” she said.
She consulted with colleagues and mentors about whether she should apply for the position and said she realized that she wanted to get back to serving the homeless population in Spokane.
“I think the board took a chance on someone young and inexperienced,” she said. “I thank my lucky stars that Spokane leans in and supports people like me.”
When the VOA’s former CEO, Marilee Roloff, retired she had one request, Schott said. Roloff wanted to remain involved with the Christmas Bureau, a collaboration between the VOA, Catholic Charities and The Spokesman-Review to provide food vouchers, toys and books to families in need at Christmas. Schott said she was happy to have Roloff remain involved in a cause that had been dear to her heart for decades and pledged whatever support Roloff needed.
Volunteers of America is perhaps best known for running the Hope House women’s shelter and the Crosswalk shelter for teenagers, but has multiple other programs and facilities designed to assist the homeless and prevent homelessness. Schott said she realized that the programs run by the VOA needed more space, particularly Hope House.
“We didn’t have enough beds,” she said. “We were turning away so many women.”
The VOA recently opened a new Hope House facility that includes beds for 100 homeless women and 60 apartments. Last year, the organization also opened a new shelter for young adults ages 18-24.
Despite her work in the community, Schott said she was shocked to hear that she would be receiving a Women of Achievement award and had trouble picturing herself among the other award winners.
“I had to pause, because I had to process,” she said. “I was so in awe.”
Nina Culver can be reached at email@example.com.
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