Meet LaJuana Hill Zanoni12/30/2020 05:00AM ● By Kylie Cooper
Conversation by: Kylie Cooper Photo by: Lillian Reitz
KC: You and your family moved to Coastal Bend over a year ago now when your husband Peter Zanoni became Corpus Christi's City Manager. How has this last year and a half or so been for you all? Most challenging part of moving to Corpus Christi?
LHZ: The move was smooth and without too many hiccups. Each of us found our niche within our respective jobs and schools, and couldn't have found a more welcoming community. Finding a home that fit our space, aesthetic, and location needs was probably the most challenging part. Initially I thought finding schools for our sons would be a challenge; however, we were afforded the opportunity to tour middle and high schools in CCISD, London, and Flour Bluff. Each school district had wonderful leaders and schools that made the choice close, but we found the perfect fit for each son. We were welcomed by everyone we encountered, whether or not they knew us. I feel like we hit the community jackpot moving here!
KC: After working in local government for the majority of your career, you’re now in the field of social services. Why are you passionate about that industry?
LHZ: I worked in local government for the greatest part of my career. I suppose that line of work could also be considered social service as I did function in a "service to the community" capacity. The most rewarding aspect of the positions I currently hold is that I have direct contact with the people whom I serve as a Community Liaison with a hospice company. I am afforded the wonderful opportunity of witnessing how many people of several agencies are able to work together to provide our clients with the aid they require in their time of need. Being able to provide solutions to issues that can oftentimes become life-altering for my clients and their families is what keeps me passionate and engaged.
KC: You've always been heavily involved in charitable organizations and nonprofits. What is the importance of giving back to your community and are there any local organizations you are particularly passionate about?
LHZ: My foundation in rooting myself in the local community through service began when I was a child. My mother was instrumental in assisting refugees from other countries who had sought a better life in Miami, Florida. She also helped many individuals and sometimes entire families with food, clothing, shelter, and job opportunities, and was instrumental in guiding them toward their educational pursuits. I spent many of my days after school visiting the Head Start programs she'd founded as well as going with her to the local newspaper organizations to drop off her most recent community call to action articles, which she'd authored. I feel we are all intended to care for our elderly. My mother lives in Florida, so I care for the elderly that I am near.
I also feel we are obligated to care for the children in the community. I give support through the Parent Teacher Organizations and Booster Clubs at my children's schools. I am also involved in campus and district advisory committees. Other organizations I try to provide time and financial support to include being a member of an advisory team working with The Coastal Bend Food Bank; Junior League Corpus Christi; The Art Museum of South Texas as a recently appointed Trustee; an Ambassador for Christus Spohn; and I'm a member of The League of Women Voters and Aqua Vitae Toastmasters Club.
KC: Where do you see Corpus Christi's greatest potential for growth?
LHZ: Optimizing the utilization of our beautiful bay and gulf ocean destinations would be the obvious answer; however, we have a natural resource just as valuable: people power. We, as a community, can work together to support and protect one another; to cultivate our strengths; and to elevate every resident as if we personally depended on their success. Throughout the strife and grief experienced during the year 2020, we learned that we are all impacted by the success and failures of others and that we can, with not much more effort, collectively write the story of what Corpus Christi is to become. Sure, we have beautiful physical resources in the Coastal Bend area; multicultural cuisine, arts, and industry; but we also have the ability to shape our growth as a highly sought-after tourist location as well as a place where people would love to live and raise their families to continue to live for generations.
KC: What keeps you up at night?
LHZ: Not much keeps me up. By day's end, I know I've done my best to keep a clean slate with everyone in my life. With every other aspect of life, I believe we all have the opportunity for a fresh do-over each morning.
KC: We've heard about your now iconic walks around downtown Corpus Christi with local photographer Debbie Noble. Talk to me about that experience and how it got started in the first place.
LHZ: My good friend, Debbie, would continuously tell me about all of the wonderful places of interest in the downtown area and her enthusiasm toward them made them must-see attractions for me. Of course, they did not disappoint. This city is filled with amazing history, culture, and art that can be missed by visitors just here for the beach and/or fishing. My goal is to share our tours and bring awareness of all those treasures in an effort to entice my friends and family to come visit Corpus Christi. I also like to remind natives to support and continue to enjoy our local businesses, arts and cultural activities.
KC: How do you enjoy free time?
LHZ: I love the intricate layers and textures of people's personalities, so of course anything that I get to do with family, friends, and new acquaintances is top on my list. I also love to read mystery and thriller novels. More recently, I began learning how to sail, play tennis, and I'm learning new songs on my clarinet. Painting is next on the list.
KC: What are a few of your favorite local businesses?
LHZ: I'll have to say there are so many it's difficult to choose. I'll just list some of my top haunts in no particular order: K Space Contemporary; Olive Bleu; The Art Museum of South Texas; The Art Center; The History & Science Museum; any of the city libraries; Lucy's Snackbar; Hamlin; Lott’s of Art Boutique; Sugarbakers; Bernard's; Doc's Seafood and Steaks; the Botanical Gardens; The Aquarium; and the Oso Nature Preserve.
KC: Do you have any special projects or anything in the works you'd like to share?
LHZ: Absolutely! Last school year I was blessed to be granted permission to sponsor and facilitate Gavel Clubs at a middle and high school. Gavel Club, Toastmasters for youth under 18, involves weekly opportunities to practice and showcase public speaking and leadership skills. There was enthusiastic participation each week with students writing and delivering their prepared speeches before their peers; planning and facilitating their meetings; and assuming various leadership roles such as Toastmaster, Grammarian, Speech evaluator, Table Topics Master, and several other functional roles. Each meeting also involved impromptu speeches, allowing participants to answer questions presented on the spot within one to two minutes.
We were prepared for a competition scheduled last March, facilitated by city and school district elected and appointed officials, but it was cancelled due to public health concerns. I have been asked to resume the Gavel Club at the middle school via Zoom and am planning to begin again after the first of the new year. Lastly, I have been working with a wonderful coach and team that has what I think is the only lacrosse team in Corpus Christi. I was able to obtain approval to begin at a middle school. I will be working with the coach and principal to bring the sport on campus to both girls and boys this spring. I'm excited to dive back in to both!