Person of the Week
Nancy McCormick: Learning from Experience
Nancy McCormick (accompanied here by T.C. the chicken) has helped reinvigorate the Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore organization, which serves the towns of Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Guilford, Killingworth, Lyme, Madison, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. (Photo by Mark McCormick)
Nancy McCormick has a chicken named Experience.
When she and her husband, Mark, moved into their 18th-century house in Killingworth two years ago, they discovered a headstone on the property inscribed with the name Lucretia Wilcox.
“We did an ancestry.com [search] on Lucretia Wilcox in Killingworth and it turns out [she] was one of 15 children, Nancy says. “And one of her siblings was named Experience.”
About a year later, she and Mark decided to raise chickens. They researched the breeds to determine which they’d prefer, drove up to Colchester to buy them, and came home with four, one-day-old chicks.
“We had a recycle bucket in our kitchen with shavings in it and heat lamps,” she says. “And they just kept growing and growing and then it was still too cold for them to go outside. So we moved them into our mudroom and the next thing you know, they’re flying around.
“[W]e had to build a coop and a pen...Now they’re very happy.”
They named the chickens Flo, after Nancy’s grandmother; T.C.; Chris; and Experience, after Lucretia’s sister.
“It’s been a really wonderful experience,” she continues. “People don’t realize that they each have their own personality and they’re funny.”
But then disaster struck.
“I was out one day and I came home and I always count how many chickens are in the pen,” she says. “And I counted and I’m like, only three. Where’s Experience?
“In between the coop and the pen there was a little area, a little space, and apparently, she jumped on top of the coop, slid down the back, and fell in between the coop and the pen,” she continues. “Now, I don’t know how long she was there.”
Experience was injured, with legs and wings pointing in directions they shouldn’t.
“And I looked and I said, ‘Oh my God, she’s dead,’” Nancy recalls. “And she picked her head up and looked at me.
“I moved the coop, I picked her up. She was so broken. She couldn’t stand. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t even know if there’s such a thing as a chicken vet,” she says. “What do you do with an injured chicken?”
Nancy googled it and came up with an answer.
“Put her in a safe space where she can’t move around and let her heal. So...from the beginning of November until maybe January, I had this chicken living in a box in my mudroom,” she says. “The chicken couldn’t stand, she couldn’t walk, but she could eat and she could drink.
“It took months. I would take her out—this is how crazy I am—I’d take her out every day and exercise the legs...I’m doing physical therapy with my chicken. At one point, she could only walk in a circle because she couldn’t put any weight on” one leg, Nancy says. “So after like 2 ½ months, one day I went out there and she’s standing up in the crate and there’s an egg in there. And they won’t lay when there’s been trauma.”
Experience the chicken was healed.
Mark told Nancy, “You’re the Chicken Whisperer.”
“But I wasn’t going to give up,” she explains.
“My husband at one point said, ‘Take her to get x-rays.’ And I thought, ‘How much are they going to charge me to x-ray a chicken? And then what? They’re going to put her in a body cast?’
“We’re going to take it a day at a time and see how we go. And it worked,” she says. “Of all the chickens, it was Experience.”
Leading the Literacy Volunteers
This story might illustrate why people offer Nancy jobs.
She and Mark are retired, but Nancy is busy. She belongs to three book clubs as well as a magazine club. And through her two Killingworth book clubs (one of her book clubs is in Madison), she began to meet people in town. She ended up looking into the Westbrook-based Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore (LVVS) and joined the board in September 2018.
By December, she was chair.
“In November, the executive director quit and the board chair stepped down. Quit. Left,” Nancy says. “And because I had nonprofit management experience, the board came to me. And I didn’t know anything about this organization...I had been on the board for two months.
“When I lived in Weston—I lived in Weston for 23 years—I had served on boards and commissions,” she continues. “I was the board chair for the Westport Weston Health District for eight years, I was the board chair for the Commission for Children and Youth in town, I was the co-chair of the Alcohol and Drug Awareness in town, and then I worked in a non-profit.”
Weston’s first selectman had asked Nancy to work as project manager on a new initiative, the Independent Transportation Network, which provided rides to seniors in six towns in Fairfield County. Nancy got the organization operational in 2010 and worked there for six years.
“So I had experience on both sides of the table,” she says.
She decided to serve as chair of the LVVS board “for a bit, just to see what it’s all about. And what I realized is that this is an organization that has been in business for 40 years, that has sort of limped along in the last couple of years.
“They had executive directors come and go, they had board chairs come and go, they had a lot of board members that had been on for a long time that were sort of set in their ways—this is how we’ve always done it kind of thing,” she explains. “So they needed an evaluation. It needed more active board participation. We needed to grow the board.
“We needed to raise money. That was one of the biggest problems that we had,” she continues.
“I’ve been board chair ever since,” Nancy says. “My commitment is to keeping the organization strong and growing it, raising money, and getting a really strong board—a functioning, efficient board.
“It’s going to be a process, but we’re getting there,” she adds.
The organization’s first annual appeal since Nancy became chair brought in increased donations of around 25 percent, she says. She continues to work on building the board, leading it in strategic planning, and trying to get its message out to potential students, volunteers, community partners, and donors.
LVVS will have a trivia fundraiser in May and will hold their annual wine tasting event in the fall.
In addition to their chicken adventures, Nancy and Mark embarked on another project last year: maple syruping. Again, they googled the process and for the second year are collecting sap and making a small quantity of maple syrup for their own use as well as for friends.
Nancy also serves as Killingworth’s Democratic registrar of voters and serves on the town’s Library Board and the Killingworth Newcomers Club steering committee.
For the past year she’s been volunteering at the Shared Harvest Garden at Killingworth’s Parmelee Farm. Volunteers tend a special community garden and provide seasonal produce to the community at no charge.
“Anything that’s left over goes to the food pantry,” Nancy says. “We have a farmers’ market every week [late June through early October] where we have all of our produce and flowers—because flowers brighten everybody’s world—and people can come and take what they want and leave a donation if they want, and they don’t have to.”
She is also a member of the Killingworth Women’s Organization, which offers an annual scholarship to a graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School, works on domestic violence issues, and organizes a nutritional backpack program for kids in need and a holiday gift card drive for students and seniors.
“Our purpose is to help our community, give back to our community,” she says.