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“You have to believe in yourself. How do you want to contribute to the world? Let that guide you.” 

The situation was dire. Hundreds of refugees with immediate needs had been released in El Paso. "All of a sudden, everyone's phone started buzzing," said Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the El Paso del Norte Region of the YWCA. "A bunch of friends also got emails at the same time. It was from Ann Horak."

"Within an hour, she had organized a group of individuals to put together hundreds of boxes of necessities for the refugees," Acosta said. "She has that kind of ability to bring people together."

This ability is true in everything Horak does-from her work as vice president and racial justice facilitator for the YWCA (and now a national board member) to her work as a professor of religious studies and women and gender studies at UTEP.

As part of her classes, she takes her students on field trips to temples, mosques and churches throughout El Paso. 

"Before, they often have these stereotypes about people," Horak said. "Afterwards, my students say,'Wow, that was amazing.' They come away with a new appreciation of diversity in the area."

Horak, who was named to the Academy of Distinguished Teachers this year, is committed to giving students access to higher education.

"At colleges in most of the country, gatekeeping is way too high (concerning test scores)," said Horak, who holds a doctorate in English language and literature/letters. "UTEP recognizes there are many more talented kids out there. I tell new students, 'So what if you didn't take AP or dual credit? You had a job, you had a kid. You learned there. You have to believe in yourself. How do you want to contribute to the world? Let that guide you."

That belief and the need to encourage has translated into all her civic involvements.

Acosta said a favorite project that Horak organizes is Mother's Day photos for the women at the Transitional Living Center.

"She makes sure each one of them has a current photo of their kids and their families together," Acosta said.

"Ann is the ultimate mediator," friend Felipa Solis said. "Ann will find a way to not only get her point across, but also has everyone finish by shaking hands. She will guide the whole room to the next level of understanding and compassion."

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