On their way: Siobahn Healy flies high
Photo courtesy of Siobahn Healy
On Their Way profiles young Islanders who have moved on to establish themselves in careers — on the Vineyard or around the world. We are looking for people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way you might imagine. Your suggestions will be welcomed by Nelson Sigelman or Whit Griswold, at The Times.
Siobhan Healy, 29, has covered a lot of ground since she graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1999. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003, she joined the Air Force, which took her to Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma — and Iraq.
Currently she lives in New York City, where she works for the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, a nonprofit partnership of over 160 of animal rescue groups and shelters dedicated to working with the City of New York to eliminate euthanization of dogs or cats in reasonable health.
There's no uncertainty for Ms. Healy when she looks back at her childhood on the Island. "I loved growing up on the Vineyard, and I'd like to move back at some point," she said in a recent telephone conversation. "I was born and raised there, and though I live in NYC I still consider the Vineyard home, and I go home as much as possible."
Ms. Healy is the daughter of Bill Healy, a long-time Tisbury town moderator who now lives in Boston, and the late Kathleen Healy. She has two older brothers, Devin and Kieran. Her stepmother, Deborah Medders, is the current Tisbury moderator. "She lives on State Road, and that's where I go when I'm there," Ms. Healy said.
"I spent the majority of my childhood running around West Chop, at the Vineyard Haven library, and playing sports," Ms. Healy said. "I started playing soccer when I was six, and I played hockey, when I could, with boys. I played soccer and lacrosse in high school."
The future, what she imagined she'd do when she grew up, didn't preoccupy Ms. Healy. "It changed every day," she said. "I thought I wanted to be a nurse — or a country singer."
At MVRHS, Ms. Healy's outlook continued to be unclear. "I wasn't the best in school and I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, so why waste your family's money when you don't know what you want to do?" she said. "I was just going to enlist in the Air Force, until my guidance counselor explained ROTC to me, And I thought, 'oh, why not?' It was just something that was different and that's me."
Ms. Healy graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003, but her future wasn't any clearer. "I was 21 and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was just looking forward to a steady paycheck, and serving my country."
But things started to come into focus in the Air Force. "The service was a stepping stone, it was a way for me to grow up," she said. "I wanted to do this job, I love the military, I love what I do."
Trained initially in Airborne Warning Air Control System (AWACS), Ms. Healy served four and a half years of active duty. "Because of the training I got and top-secret clearance that I have, I owed them eight years," she said. Now, as a member of the Air National Guard, she works in Ground Tactical Air Control System.
In 2009, her Guard unit was deployed to Iraq for six months. She described the experience almost dispassionately, but with an undercurrent of pride. "I did my job," she said. "We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It was hard, it was hot, gross, sweaty. We're actually going back, sometime in 2012."
Because two years in the National Guard equal one of active duty service, Ms. Healy's commitment will last until 2015. She plans to continue on in the guard for another eight years, however, which will give her 20 years in all, so she'll be eligible for full retirement benefits when she is 55.
Who knows where Ms. Healy's career will take her by then, but it promises to be interesting, and most likely it will have something to do with animals. She first volunteered in an animal shelter when she was in college. "And I fell in love with it, and everywhere I went in the military I found the local animal shelter and volunteered there," she said. "It was the one constant, the one thing I could do to relax. And I realized it was what I was meant to do — animal welfare."
Before she left active duty in 2007, Ms. Healy found her current job in New York, where she planned to move to be with her boyfriend, Bill Reed, a New York City police officer whom she met while they were both students at Pitt.
At the Animal Alliance, Ms. Healy is the project manager. It's a small office, so she wears many hats. "My main job is caring for the animals that are in our program and placing them in homes," she said, adding that she also runs events and handles media relations. "I'm the one on the TV news programs."
"NYC still has a long way to go with animal welfare," Ms. Healy said. "They just passed a law that you can't tether a dog for more than three hours at a time. There are so many junkyard dogs who are tied up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — in pouring rain or intense heat."
Progress has been slow, but it is accelerating. "The euthanasia rate back in 2002 before our organization was started was 72 percent," Ms. Healy said. "Now it's at 32 percent. The goal is to be a no-kill city by 2015. Which is why I want to work part-time when I'm in law school because I don't want to let this organization go. I love it. I love it!"
Law school? It's not enough that Ms. Healy earned a master's degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma when she was still on active duty? In 11 months, going to school nights and weekends? "I just applied to law school the other day," Ms. Healy said. "I have my master's, and I thought, why not?
"I love working with the animals and I'm very good at what I do, but I think I'm better suited to work on the law side of it — to work on lobbying and things like that," she said, with a typical mixture of confidence and modesty, almost chuckling at herself at times. "The City University of New York, one of the top ten public interest schools, is right down the street from my apartment. It's the only place I applied, and if I get in I'll be starting in September, right before I get married."
Ms. Healy and Mr. Reed will marry on the Vineyard this fall. "He loves New York, but he loves the Vineyard more than me," Ms. Healy said about her fiancé. "But we can't make a living there right now. It's tough for young people, but we will definitely live there some day. My goal is to move back. I would love to grow old there.
"The Island is such a great place. The community wraps its arms around people, rather than shunning them if they get in trouble. Growing up, there was a sense that you could do whatever you wanted — work in a nursery, be a doctor, or a builder. The Vineyard really fosters this individualness, acceptance. I always felt that no matter what I did, I could come home and people would be proud of me."
There's plenty of ground to cover before she heads home to "grow old." Ms. Healy isn't sure where she's heading, exactly, but she's got a head of steam up and she'll keep moving forward, no doubt. "I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow, or in ten years," she said. "Making a difference in the military in another country, or here at home. I'm totally open to new things and experiences, like this job dropped in my lap totally out of the blue, and I love it.
"I really hope I make a difference to one life — animal, people, I don't care. If I make a small difference every day, then I'm happy."