updated 09/20/2008 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/20/2008 AT 2:30 PM ET
Growing up in the West Virginia mountain town of Charleston, Jennifer Garner didn’t dream of being a screen star – she wanted to be a librarian.
“This is about as far from Hollywood as any place on Earth. I wanted to be a children’s book author and a librarian,” Garner, 36, tells PEOPLE while back in Charleston, where her weekend was to include reading Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson at a gathering to help eventually expand the public library.
“My mom took my sisters and me to the library once a week when we were kids,” she recalls, “and it’s such a huge community center, especially in a town that has very few resources – to have a place with 100 computers and Internet access to everyone for free, that’s really important in a town like this.”
Back on Familiar Turf
It’s been a real homecoming for the actress who, with husband Ben Affleck, flew into Charleston Friday afternoon and hosted a black-tie gala, Starry Starry Night, at the University of Charleston.
The event raised $475,000 toward building a new athletic center in memory of Garner’s childhood friend’s parents, Mario and Louise Palumbo. (Her friend is state senator Corey Palumbo.)
“When we got off the plane, Ben realized he had forgotten his bow tie. I had worked at Kelley’s Men’s Shop all through high school, so I said, ‘Let’s go to Kelley’s.’ And everybody I knew was there,” she says.
Calming to Return
“I’m always so happy to come home. There’s never enough time. Just seeing the mountains, and seeing the green, and the river is the most soothing thing in the world for me,” says Garner, who is expecting the Afflecks’s second child this winter. (Daughter Violet turns three on Dec. 1.)
“Sometimes you just need to get you feet in the soil. It’s invigorating and calming at the same time,” she says.
So, how about returning to her original intention in life: Is Garner working on a children’s book?
“I would love to,” she says. “But I haven’t had the inspiration yet.”