Boy, did Anne Marie Wells get a surprise last month when she read an article about the 2020 Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce awards.
Having nominated her employer, Community Entry Services, for Business of the Year, she was hoping to see its name on the list of winners. It wasn’t there, but hers was, for Rising Star.
It turned out that the chamber tried to give her a heads-up about her win but had the wrong phone number.
“And so I found out by reading the newspaper,” Wells said. “Funny. But I was delighted.”
The annual Rising Star Award goes to a person younger than 40 who is “blazing the streets of Jackson with their innovation and service, both professionally and personally.” The chamber received five nominations for the 34-year-old Wells.
One came from Devon Viehman, a real estate agent who ran for Town Council this year and became friends with Wells during her campaign.
“She’s such a kind and caring person,” Viehman said. “She’s such an asset to her community.”
Viehman said that during election season Wells reached out and “kind of grilled me,” and after awhile her own response was something along the lines of, “Well, why don’t you help me?”
So Wells, who in addition to her CES job is an accomplished writer, lent her copy editing skills to help Viehman put her ideas into words. But mostly she provided moral support.
“I called her in tears a couple times when people were being mean,” Viehman said. “She was always there for me.
“We’re quite different politically, but we became such good friends,” she said. “We realized we had so much in common that the political party stuff didn’t really matter.”
One commonality was the loss of a parent. Viehman’s mother died six years ago, and Wells lost her father early in 2020.
In the months since then she has found solace in opportunities to be of use to her community, to “do more in my life and to not just sit and be sad.”
A big part of that has been her job at Community Entry Services, a nonprofit that works to enable people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries to thrive.
“Helping care for others really gave me purpose to keep going through my grief, even in the hard times,” Wells said. “It’s fulfilling to know you’re making someone’s day better.”
As a direct services provider she sees to it that her clients live their best lives. For example, she cooks meals with them; makes sure they’re showering, doing laundry and taking care of household chores; checks to see that they completing their duties at work, if they have jobs. But there’s fun stuff too, like going on hikes, visiting the town’s parks and participating in the cultural scene.
Before the pandemic “I would love piling all my clients into one of our vans and going to see the Community Band play or seeing the Cathedral Voices performance or going to see Thin Air Shakespeare,” Wells said.
Fans of live storytelling undoubtedly know Wells from her own performances at the Cabin Fever Story Slams at the Pink Garter Theatre and The Moth Mainstage at the Center for the Arts.
In fact, an incident that inspired one of her Story Slam pieces — she confronted an apoplectic Persephone Bakery customer who was bullying the baristas about a tuna sandwich that was slow in coming — was mentioned in one of her Rising Star nominations.
“He wasn’t just complaining about the fish sandwich,” she said, “he was really insulting them individually.”
She’s a voice on broader issues as well. As a member of the LGBTQ community who identifies as queer, she has spoken out on LGBTQ issues. And having observed that some parks are difficult for her CES clients to negotiate, she said, she’s working with Age Friendly Jackson Hole and Parks and Rec to increase accessibility.
From her parents, Wells said, “I’ve always had that example that if you see something you say something, and you make the decision to help those who maybe don’t have an advocate. Or you stay silent and you do nothing, and I’ve never been that person.”
Due to the pandemic there are no storytelling performances on her schedule these days. Even if there were live events, she is focused on sheltering in place to protect the vulnerable adults she works with at CES.
“In addition to intellectual and development disabilities, many of my clients are living with physical disabilities that, if they contracted COVID, it would really be devastating for them. And so I just can’t risk potentially being a carrier.”
And so she’s concentrating on her writing. Already a well-published author, poet and playwright, she’s also working on a novel as well as a memoir about her time traveling in Iceland and exploring areas that natives told her were their happy places.
“Neither of them have been picked up by a literary agent yet,” Wells said. She’s taking online classes, with a goal of becoming more diligent in her writing practice “so I can revise my pieces and find a place for them.”
But don’t picture a lonely writer typing away in solitude. Wells has a fur-face companion, an almost 12-year-old black Lab-German shepherd mix she adopted five years ago. Isabella Bird is the dog’s name, after the Victorian-era explorer and travel writer, but she’s Bella for short.
And there’s a human companion, too: Robert Moreno. They’d planned to marry last February but put that off because of her father’s death.
“So I don’t say ‘fiance’ because right now we don’t have any plans for a wedding,” Wells said. But “we live together and have a life together, and so I just say he’s my partner.
“And when people refer to him as my husband, I don’t correct them.”