Arnold native, retired officer brings books and hope to New Kensington

After seven years, Lillie Leonardi has reached the point of having to expand or end her literary services and audio production business, Passages & Prose.

She chose to grow, investing what she had left and bringing it back to New Kensington.

“I wanted to bring him back here. It all started here,” she said. “I want to leave a legacy in this community.”

Leonardi is moving Passages & Prose and an affiliated nonprofit, Books Bridge Hope, to an Olde Towne Overhaul storefront at 878 Fifth Ave. in downtown New Kensington. It plans to open on September 1.

“It felt like home,” said Leonardi, now of Oakmont. “Space energy is good.”

Born in Arnold and graduating from Valley High School in 1974, Leonardi, the third of 10 children in a Ukrainian-Lebanese family, was 28 and running her own pizzeria when she became Arnold’s first policewoman in 1984. , serving there until 1992. .

She then served as Director of Security at Carlow University from 1992 to 1994, then Chief of Police at Chatham University from 1994 to 1998, when she started with the FBI.

She retired on disability in 2010, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and health issues related to her experiences as a responder at the crash site of Flight 93 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a Community Outreach Specialist, she worked as a liaison between law enforcement and the families of passengers and crew killed in the crash near Shanksville.

“It kinda crushed me for a while,” she said. “I absorbed it all. It broke my mind and my heart.

But, “I would do it again,” she said. “I miss it.”

Her first book, “In the Shadow of a Badge,” published in 2012, is her memoir of that experience, in which she says she saw angels at the crash site. Her second book, “The White Light of Grace”, was released in 2014.

Passages & Prose was born when other aspiring authors came to her for advice.

Its mission is to help authors cultivate, navigate, publish and promote their work in print and audio formats. Services provided include editing, proofreading, copyright protection, illustration, cover design, and publishing through Amazon or Barnes & Noble Press.

“We’ll help with anything,” she said. “If it was easy, everyone would write a book. So we help the author’s only job is just to write.

The space will house a small bookstore, host events with authors and be available for community groups, Leonardi said.

“We want it to be a community space as well,” she said.

Indiana Township’s Joyce Wilk is the Director of Operations for Passages & Prose and a member of the Board of Directors for Books Bridge Hope. A novelist, she has known Leonardi for several years.

“I can’t think of anyone better qualified to be at the helm than Lillie,” Wilk said. “Through everything she’s been through, past careers and everything and being an author herself, she knows the craft. She knows how to get things done, and she knows how to get things done with professionalism and compassion.

Having the storefront is a dream come true.

“It gives us a landing spot, a welcoming place,” Wilk said. “Having a physical location where someone can walk in and talk to someone is going to be important. It’s nice to know that when you talk to someone, you know how to locate them.

Leonardi founded Books Bridge Hope in 2017 to promote reading, writing and literacy.

“I missed the serve,” she said. “It almost broke me, that my job was done before I was ready.”

Working with UPMC Mercy’s Operation Safety Net founder Dr. Jim Withers, and Pittsburgh police, the nonprofit distributed boxes containing books, writing supplies to the homeless and art, food, toiletries and clothing.

“We call it ‘essential resources,'” she says.

From her own experience with PTSD, Leonardi learned of its prevalence in the homeless community, many of whom are veterans.

“I was lucky. I had no mental health issues before this happened,” she said. “It’s tough, even with a great family and great healthcare, to get out of it.”

Gina Masciola is a board member of Books Bridge Hope. A resident of Crafton Heights, she is the Executive Director of WQED’s Education Department.

Masciola said she was introduced to Leonardi about six years ago when she ran the station’s writing contest for children.

“It was really about giving voice to the unprotected community in and around the Pittsburgh area, giving them the opportunity to tell their incredible stories that might not be heard,” she said. “Lillie is great at encouraging people to heal by telling their story. This is how she began her healing journey and what made her a writer.

Masciola agreed it was important to have the building.

“She has an ideal space for people to come in and use the media resources she has there to help tell their story,” she said. “She has the chops to provide all the advice the community will need. She’s also created a really nice community space that I think they need, especially in that area, where people can come in and gather and connect.

Masciola said Leonardi is a survivor and a fighter who wants to make a difference.

“She is very thoughtful in her work. She is very introspective. She learned a lot of lessons throughout her career and her life journey,” she said. “That’s what feeds her. She’s been through a lot. She wants to help people based on what she’s learned and what she’s been through.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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