Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Alumna is Chief Executive in the Fight Against Cancer

by Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications

Alexandra Morgan MNA '00 is CEO of one of the most unique nonprofits in San Francisco with strong connections to USF faculty, students, and alumni.

For Alexandra Morgan MNA ’00, the fight against cancer is personal. It played a pivotal role in her decision to become CEO of Family House — a San Francisco nonprofit that cares for children stricken by the disease.

“About half of my family died from cancer, and I was with two of them, an aunt and an uncle, at different times when they passed. It was awful,” said Morgan, a graduate of the USF School of Management's nonprofit administration program.

Double the size

Her family’s struggle stuck with her, and when she had the chance to take the reigns at Family House in 2001, Morgan went all-in. She threw herself into a fundraising campaign to double the size of the nonprofit, which provides free housing, meals, counseling, and other support for low-income families whose kids are undergoing treatment for cancer or other serious illnesses at UC San Francisco or its associated medical centers.

This September, Morgan and her staff reached their $40 million fundraising goal and celebrated the groundbreaking of a new building at Mission Bay, near the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. It will open in 2015 and accommodate about 4,000 families annually (twice the current number). The new building will have 80 bedrooms and 96,000 square-feet, including computer rooms and a courtyard.

As a USF student, Morgan never imagined “in a million years” that she’d lead a multi-million dollar capital campaign — let alone succeed. It’s humbling to think of the impact, she said.

Cancer, going under the knife

“Family House has been a godsend — a nice, comfy bed and a clean, supportive environment,” said Susan Smith, grandmother of Delaney Clements, an 11-year-old neuroblastoma cancer patient. Smith, Clements, and Clements’ mother, Wendy, live in Colorado, but are staying at Family House while Clements is treated.

Lisa Rooney, whose 5-year-old daughter, has undergone multiple heart surgeries at UCSF to fix a birth defect, said the nonprofit has helped her focus on little Anna-Lynn’s health instead of stressing about money. “Especially for us, being from Montana, the financial burden of getting here and trying to find a place to stay without Family House would be astronomical,” Rooney said.

Under Morgan’s leadership, Family House has also become a leading partner in passing on the values she absorbed at USF: helping others and changing the world for the better.

Connecting with families & patients

For years, Family House has welcomed USF psychology majors completing the degree’s rigorous 100-hour, service-learning requirement. And this fall, it opened up service-learning internships for another 15 students from a variety of majors through the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. USF business and law students, Greek groups, and others support the Family House by volunteering and fundraising.

“The amazing Family House staff guides our students in how to work with families experiencing some of the most anguishing moments in their lives,” said Saera Khan, associate professor of psychology.

Interning at the nonprofit gives psychology major Tricia Redor ’14 a chance to talk with patients and families and organize groups of volunteers who want to help the Family House. Like Morgan, Redor watched several family members battle cancer, including her grandfather, who passed away.

Internships & professional training

“Losing someone I loved to cancer affected me in many ways,” Redor said. “That’s one of the reasons I chose Family House for my practicum internship.” What she sees and hears at Family House, Redor revisits in a class journal and group discussions with Khan and other psychology students — covering topics like grief, mourning, and depression.

“Observing the personal and professional challenges of Family House’s full-time service providers is critical for our students’ careers aspirations,” Khan said. For many, it affirms their desire to pursue a career in mental health care. For others, it leads them to research or some other specialty, she explained. “Either way, it’s invaluable to their future.”

Being a place where students arrive at those critical realizations is why Morgan wants USFers at Family House. “I want them to be the best people they can be and not think making money has to be their number one goal. Earning a living is important. Being an empathetic person who gives back is much more important,” Morgan.

Know someone with a powerful USF story? Let us know! usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews