The humid Virginia air blasted Mary Anna’s face as she rode her teal mountain bike through her new neighborhood to check things out. A sign caught her eye, and she back pedaled to brake. “Hermitage on the Eastern Shore: A Continuing Care Retirement Community.”
She parked her bike out front, grasped the silver door handle, and pulled the glass door open. She marched into the lobby, up to the front desk, as if she were leading Operation Badass.
“Hi, I’m Mary Anna Rodabaugh. I just moved to the neighborhood, and I am interested in volunteering here.”
The woman behind the desk eyed Mary Anna to see if she was serious. Mary Anna stood there waiting expectantly and gave her a smile as professional as she knew how.
“Uh . . . sure. You’re . . . how old?”
Mary Anna nodded. “Twelve, ma’am.”
“Oh . . . okay. We can schedule you for an appointment available with Shaneria Cobb at three p.m. You may come back then.”
“Thank you!” Mary Anna smiled, turned, and walked out feeling confident they would bring her on as a volunteer.
Fifteen minutes later, she walked into her own living room, which had more unpacked boxes than not, and announced, “Hey, guys, I found a nursing home down the road, and I have an appointment with Shaneria Cobb at three o’clock.”
“Wait, what is going on?” Mary Anna’s father, Wayne, asked, more shocked than anything. “Who is this person?”
“You just went out to ride your bike!” Patty, Mary Anna’s mother, asked. Later I found out that Patty takes credit for Mary Anna’s empathy toward people.
From twelve to eighteen she volunteered at the home, starting in residential activities, and by the time she was fifteen, she was in dining service as a waitress.
“Like anyone, I just like helping people.”
Affecting people in a positive way seems to be the vein of her young life through her school years as she was nominated prom queen, homecoming queen, and senior class president in high school. These titles are an example of her ability to be a natural leader who encourages others. There are other titles that, as a kid, Mary Anna thought she would have, but she found out early on that not everything is a perfect fit.
“At first I wanted to be a ballerina, but I never took lessons. I liked the tutu. Then I wanted to be a firefighter, but I was terrified of fire. Then the one that stuck was veterinarian, but I am allergic to half the animal kingdom.”
She does, however, have a soft spot for dog rescues and currently is the mom to a fur baby named Manhattan Happy Rodabaugh, or Manny for short. He is a rescue pit bull that was featured on the news for being tied to a tree and left. Her heart for animals, at least those that she isn’t allergic to, is apparent as her last pup had canine ALS, and she would care for him, even raising money for his own wheelchair so he could enjoy his walks.
Empathy is a common theme in Mary Anna’s life, and she touts herself as an ENFP from the Meyers-Briggs test. “It describes me perfectly,” she says. Sometimes they are referred to as “Champion Personalities” because of their enthusiasm for helping people realize their dreams.
As a matter of fact, Mary Anna used to volunteer in Redeemer Ministry Corps, a Catholic volunteer service program based in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. She resided in a convent and helped homeless families transition to permanent housing. She was so successful that when it was time for Mary Anna to leave, she was offered a full-time position as a child social worker.
She agreed and worked in that position for six more years. And no, she didn’t wear a nun’s habit—I had already asked.
Championing others is what seemed to follow Mary Anna in life, but when I dug deeper, I found out that she has a creative side coupled with her energetic ambition. At sixteen, she was the youngest journalist for a Gannett weekly paper on the rural Eastern Shore of Virginia. When asked how she got that role, she said she basically walked in much the same way she landed the volunteer job at the elderly home and asked to be considered to write articles.
“I want to write. I want to learn. I’m willing to do it for free.”
She got the job, landed an internship a week later, and then was hired as a freelance reporter.
When asked why she chose writing, she said she liked telling stories. When she was a kid, she wrote in tons of notebooks.
“But I’m an ENFP, so they’re all half-finished notebooks because I have ‘shiny object syndrome.’”
Writing began with her inventive imagination, but as an adult it was her empathy and her love of understanding people. She wholeheartedly believes empathy comes into play for her as a journalist because she can read her subjects, then they trust her, and finally, they feel comfortable enough to tell their story.
“As a kid, it’s an appreciation for telling stories. As an adult, it’s an appreciation for hearing stories.”
With three full manuscript development projects under her belt, four coaching clients who have finished their books, five manuscript analyses, and over two hundred fifty articles written, Mary Anna has the storytelling experience and enthusiasm to bolster our clients in writing their stories.
There are many wins for her clients here at RTC, and one of them is when they pick up the writer’s jargon that Mary Anna uses to help her coaching clients become better writers. “Paint the scene” is a phrase that she uses when she wants her clients to use sensory detail to help the reader enjoy the entire story experience.
For example, after Mary Anna urged a client to rework a scene about an extremely difficult time in their life, they came back with something so extraordinary that she felt she had experienced it herself.
“He just completely blew me away to the point where when his friend kicked in the fence, I could see it cracking and bending. I was so proud that he dug in deep and brought the reader into the backyard with him.”
For a woman who has childlike wonder, she becomes excited when she sees her clients fueled by the drive of telling their own stories. This particular client caught on.
“He saw the power of the sensory detail, and to this day my client still uses the term ‘paint the scene,’” she laughs.
From art review columns to e-magazine articles, from book coach to her own nonfiction, Mary Anna enjoys writing. She even has a poetry book coming out in January 2021 called Pandemic Poems and Other Ponderings.
“It’s a poetry book written during the pandemic, and a good chunk of them were written while I was under the influence of spiked slushies.”
While I could hardly contain my laughter, Mary Anna went on to tell me that not all of them were written this way, but she is pretty sure one of them is a about a fat mouse that lives in her apartment called Chunky Charles.
Not only is her comedic timing evident in her interviews and writing, but it comes through when she participates in an event called First-Person Art Story Slam. Here’s the deal: you buy a ticket, show up, and the organizers draw ten names out of a hat to tell a story in five minutes. The audience-nominated winner pockets $100. Adventurous Mary Anna has braved the stage twice, and it has inspired her to try her hand at stand-up comedy.
“My goal, when we’re allowed again go to a club, is to sign up for a slot.”
This gutsy woman’s superpowers are empathy and cheerleading. Not on the sidelines of a game, she clarifies, but with clients and friends.
“I just want to support people to live their best lives.”
Anybody that has the privilege to know her learns two things: she side-mentions epic stories as if she were adding flavoring to her iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, and she has a deep appreciation for hearing stories and helping the people behind them.