by Patricia Grandjean
Mar 1, 2011
02:52 PMBox Office
Q&A: Ann Leary
(page 1 of 5)
For more info on Literacy Volunteers of Greater Waterbury’s fund-raiser with Ann Leary—March 6 at 1:30 p.m. at Carmen Anthony Fishhouse in Woodbury—call (203) 754-1164 or visit lvgwct.org.
Why did you want to get involved with the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Waterbury?
I've wanted to get involved for years. A friend of mine is involved with the Literacy Volunteers of New Milford. My youngest is off to college and I work at home, and I've long been involved with local charities in one way or another—like the after-school arts program in Washington, and helping with fund-raising and events at New Milford Hospital. When I realized I would be facing an empty nest I became an emergency medical technician [EMT] in Roxbury. But literacy is a huge thing for me. So when Tina Agati [Literacy Volunteers of Waterbury's executive director] called to ask if I would be in this event, I was excited. I'm going to be doing a short reading and Q&A session. And this month, I'm also going to take the training course and start volunteering for the organization.
The Literacy Volunteers training is just a few hours—and then you volunteer two hours a week, one-on-one. It's something that's wonderfully rewarding; you're doing something to help another person yet it doesn't require a tremendous amount of time. A little time goes a long way. I think it's a good thing for people to know about.
Literacy Volunteers was started in 1962 in Syracuse, N.Y.—that's when and where I was born. It was originally started for American-born citizens who, because of gaps in their education, had never really learned to read. And it was always intended for adults. Now, a lot more immigrants are coming to the organization in order to learn English.
I have a show on National Public Radio called "In House," for which I did an interview with Tina. Literacy Volunteers has done some really interesting things in recent years; one involved a halfway houses and people who had been in prison for a long time. When they came out, they needed jobs, but they didn't know how to write a résumé. So the organization had someone who worked with them on assessing their skills, which were often quite considerable. And Literacy Volunteers was able to help these people put résumés together, which led to a wonderful outcome: Out of 28 participants, 26 had jobs a year later, and only two wound up going back to jail.
A lot of immigrants come to this country with advanced degrees they can't use because they can't speak the language. So this organization helps fill that gap, so they can participate in society rather than just "be here." One of the immigrants who went through the program now works in Waterbury as a substitute teacher. He didn't know any English. So there are really great outcomes for some of these programs.
Another thing I wanted to ask you right away is: I understand you're working on a third book?
My third book is a novel that I've been working on for several years; I just sent it off to my agent in January. I'm really excited about it. It's really different from my previous two books in that it has nothing to do with show business. It's set in a small town north of Boston, sort of similar to where I grew up in Marblehead, Mass., and is about a very successful woman who's an alcoholic—she's been through rehab but still drinks alone at home every night. She's a descendant of one of the Salem witches and may or may not have psychic powers. There's a lot of intrigue compared to my other books. And though it's set in Massachusetts, I drew on a lot of people I've come to know in Roxbury in developing the characters.
I moved a lot as a child. We've lived here 12 years, and that's the longest I've ever lived anywhere. I love being part of a small town, and love the way the community has people who have lived here for generations; they have deep roots. So the book is really about a small town, and this kind of scary thing that happens, and this complicated person at the center.
Small towns seem to hold a great deal of fascination for writers.
Well, they do for me! And one thing I've found regarding volunteering is it helps you become a little more involved in your community. In our town, the first selectman is an EMT, as the minister of our congregational church. Everyone knows the people we go to help. And it's not just a matter of doing what an EMT is taught to do: If we're taking an older woman to the hospital, the question is, who's going to take care of her cat? Who will call her daughter? Someone on our crew will make sure that's taken care of. I love that. There's this extra sense of responsibility to one's neighbor that I kind of love, and that I'm constantly in awe of when I watch the other members of my community. They grew up with this way of being, beause theeir parents were this way, and their grandparents. But I grew up in these Midwestern towns where everyone worked in certain corporations and moved as required. Because I moved to New England as a teenager, I know much more about it: I came and saw that there was a character to each town that its inhabitants shared.
What was the hardest part of your EMT training?
For me it was the classes. I'm 48 years old and haven't been in school in a long time. Quite a number of people in the class were young firemen and kids just out of school. To me, the memorization—and learning about anatomy—that was the hardest part. I'm not squeamish at all: bodily fluids don't bother me, and I love excitement. Fortunately, I haven't been on any calls that involve major trauma. I'm just so glad I'm doing this, because the crew in our town are really wonderful people.