When Ann Webre attended the NYU Silver School of Social Work, few professionals were qualified to work with the developmentally disabled. Her scholarship required her to serve that population, and she did. At her first field work placement, AHRC (Association for the Help of Retarded Children), now-retired Professor Eleanore Korman supervised the student unit.
A year after graduation, Webre was hired by the Karen Horney Clinic, under a grant to demonstrate the effectiveness of counseling techniques with high-functioning developmentally disabled young adults. She found that she loved clinical work, took classes at a psychoanalytic institute, and eventually was hired by the Shield Institute-Flushing to help found a counseling program for young developmentally disabled adults, as well as supervise a group of social workers and paraprofessionals.
Wanting new challenges, she left social work in 1980 for the private sector. However, Webre found that private sector employers were not receptive to social workers. As one executive at a major accounting firm put it: “You haven’t had responsibility for the bottom line.” Webre countered, “No, I’ve had responsibility for lives.” She was hired as an in-house recruiter and stayed for two years before being laid off during a recession.
Webre always knew she liked explaining things, and she enjoyed the bits of writing she got to do in social work; but she had never thought of herself as a writer. One day, however, a friend recommended her for a freelance writing position at the Wall Street employee benefits consulting firm where she worked. Webre was hired, informally coached by friendly colleagues, and took classes at the College of Insurance.
In 1997, Webre accepted a position at TIAA-CREF (a financial services firm serving people working in academia), passed required securities licensing exams, and served as editor and writer of a quarterly magazine for retired investors. Although the magazine routinely featured articles on the company’s financial products, under Webre’s direction, it added lifestyle articles─on evaluating whether to enter a continuing care retirement community and the benefits of engaging an elder law attorney, for example. To stay current on elder issues, she attended meetings of the NASW Subcommittee on Aging and the United Nations Global Committee on Aging, among others.
Many Nobel Laureates are TIAA-CREF investors, so Webre was able to meet with Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, on the 50th anniversary of that event. The meeting resulted in an article on how the decoding of the human genome has contributed to cancer research. “The company came to regard me as the ‘subject-matter expert’ on older people,” she recalled.
In 2008, TIAA-CREF laid off most of its marketing writers, including Webre, but she continues to receive freelance assignments from the company. In 2010, she heard from Korman about the School’s 50th anniversary celebrations, which led to her being hired to write some of the anniversary pieces—profiles of faculty, students, and alumni for the 50th anniversary website, as well as a commemorative publication offering glimpses of the School’s past and visions of its future.
“I am thrilled to be re-immersed in the issues and values of social work,” she said. “They have always been a part of me, but writing for the School surrounds me with people who actually share them.”