The Lighthouse Keeper

September 14, 2020

Like a lighthouse, our Masset branch, with its unique cabin mystique sits like a beacon on the northern coast of Graham Island. Its log walls and cosy atmosphere are what welcome patrons in, but it’s Customer Support Technician, Jo-Anne Zaleski that keeps them coming back.

“I love interacting with the community. Since opening for Takeout Service, I’ve realized how much a part of my job is simply talking to people,” says Jo-Anne. “I felt like a lighthouse keeper, starving to see familiar faces.”

Jo-Anne, who is often referred to by her South African nickname, Etchi is as unique as the walls that surround her.

Having been with VIRL for more than 20 years, Jo-Anne has made the Masset branch her home, reeling in those around her to put together some one-of-a-kind programming.

“I really enjoy shadow puppetry,” says Jo-Anne. “Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, William Steig’s Brave Irene, and Raymond Carver’s Why Don’t You Dance (that I performed with Pat), are some of the shadow plays I’ve facilitated.  I inevitably rope people into helping me, either with music accompaniment, or puppet manipulation, so I like that aspect of it as well.  Shadow puppetry has a timelessness that I love.”

Jo-Anne has also hosted many evenings with local storytellers including Kung Jaadee, a professional Haida Storyteller.

“We’ve also had evenings with other community members who are simply wonderful storytellers. Genevieve Gay, an adventurer and very animated storyteller held 50 people spellbound in our tiny log library. I love evenings where people learn more about each other, and I love that people who are not performers are willing to share a little of themselves.”

Jo-Anne is also a self-taught storyteller. When she first started with VIRL, she was trained by her dear friend and colleague, Susan, and after a few sessions, Jo-Anne dove in headfirst.

“It was a little awkward at first because the participation was spotty, but then I started inviting the kindergarten class from the elementary school to come by. It felt natural to slip into the role of Community Support Technician after that,” says Jo-Anne.

Taking the bull by the horns is something Jo-Anne applies in her personal life as well. Last month she weeded the garden, walked the dog, worked on her daughter’s van conversion, fought for the family cat’s affection, and maintained a household while listening to Stephen King’s It through Libby – all 45 hours of it. But VIRL is never far from her mind.

“VIRL has been there while I raised my two children, started a charitable organization for kids, built my house, and nursed my husband at the hospital.  I enjoy working for an organization that values creativity and community,” says Jo-Anne.

Now with customers to interact with, Jo-Anne no longer feels the loneliness of a lighthouse keeper, but continues to tend and care for her lighthouse, keeping the library shining bright so her customers can find their way back.