Fairhope resident Jo Ann Broadus was named the city’s 2016 Volunteer of the Year Award at the Fairhope State of the City Address on Feb. 28.
A retired nurse practitioner and educator, Broadus has directed the Dogwood Trail program on the Eastern Shore for 22 years, touching the lives of 100s of young women and sustaining a legacy of what she refers to as “the fabric of our neighborhood.” Sponsored by the Eastern Shore Optimist Club and now in its 56th year, the program consists of an annual pageant held for the selection of a six-member court of Eastern Shore high school females, who serve a one-year term as leaders and ambassadors of the community.
“It is a true pleasure to see Jo Ann in action,” Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant said. “The sheer energy she has for the program and the dedication she puts into the lives of these young women is nothing short of amazing. It is such a positive experience for them, one they will remember for the rest of their lives. We are very appreciative that Jo Ann has put so much passion into the program to serve her community in this way. She is an example to follow.”
A native of Grand Bay, Broadus graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in nursing before returning to Mobile to raise her young and growing family. Following encouragement to teach nursing students in the field of obstetrics and gynecology, Broadus ultimately spent 40 years teaching maternal child health, earned her Master’s degree in the program, chaired the department at the University of South Alabama for 10 years, sat for her certification as a family nurse practitioner, and developed, created and implemented the women’s health nurse practitioner program at USA.
“In nursing, we have a philosophy of caring, and we talk a lot about the behaviors you exhibit that really define you as a caring person,” Broadus said. “The bottom line is, it’s about the other person, not you; and that’s what I have tried to instill in the Dogwood Trail program participants. I have tried to identify with these young women and share the idea that they might benefit if they would just think about others first. We talk about their plans and their futures and what they want to accomplish. I encourage them to go out there and find their dreams.”
It was when Broadus’s eldest daughter, Cheryl, was in high school that she first heard about the Dogwood Trail Court program in the late 1970’s.
“She came home from school one day and said that several of her friends were going to participate, and she wanted to try out. Wouldn’t you know, she was actually crowned queen that year,” she said. The following year, Broadus’s middle daughter, Natalie, participated and was also crowned queen. “It was the only time in the history of the program that a sister crowned a sister.”
Her youngest daughter, Angela, was selected as first-runner up for the 1991 court, and in 1993, Broadus received an unexpected phone call from the Director of the Fairhope campus of Faulkner State Community College, Dr. John Borom, asking her to consider directing the program.
“I was working full-time and Angela was still in high school, I didn’t think I had the time to do it,” Broadus said. “But he told me the program was about to go belly-up and wouldn’t I please take charge of it. I will tell you; the only motivation I had at the time for agreeing to take it on was that I needed a community service project for my faculty evaluation.”
Broadus directed her first program in 1994. Over the course of more than two decades she has expanded the scope entirely, bringing her whole family on board in the process.
“No man is an island and you cannot accomplish anything without a support system,” she said.
Angela now serves as assistant director and handles all of the communications and marketing. Natalie has served as pageant director for the past 18 years, and Cheryl does intake and oversees the judging process. Broadus’s husband Gene serves as President of the Eastern Shore Optimist Club and Financial Director of the program, and her son Barron and his wife Lori oversee the lighting and sound booth for the pageant.
“The very first thing I did was organize a committee and develop an implementation plan that we follow like a rule book and that we evaluate every August,” Broadus said. “The committee of the ESOC Dogwood Trail Program is 12 members strong with countless numbers of other volunteers. They are the ones that make the Dogwood Trail Program happen year in year out. We took away the queen title in 2007 and increased the number of court members from five to six. That way, each member serves a two-month term leading the court. This is a leadership program, so it only made sense to us that each court member should have the opportunity to serve in that role. During that time the court member’s mom is mother of the month, assisting her daughter in getting the job done.”
Broadus has traveled with the Trail Courts all over the country, making appearances in Washington D.C., Pasadena, CA, and of course, many at home. In fact, one of the highlights of her tenure was meeting Prince Albert of Monaco during his visit to Mobile.
“At the heart of the program is the simple mission of the Optimist Club, which is, ‘by providing hope and positive vision, you will bring out the best in kids’. These young women have had so many experiences and have gone on to do so many wonderful things with their lives,” she said. “Myself and all of the volunteers of the Dogwood Trail Program are community servants. Our goal is to actively seek to inspire and empower these young women and to help their dreams come to life.”