Local Mom Spotlight: Jo Anne Gallant
We’re so excited to bring you a wonderful Mom for you to meet for Hampton Roads Moms‘ Local Mom Spotlight — Jo Anne Gallant. Not only is Jo Anne the face behind the viral snow meme from the 2017 Blizzard, but she is a realtor, Chesapeake Mayoral Candidate and Mom to two beautiful children. (I don’t know about you, but just reading that was exhausting).
Jo Anne is very active in the Chesapeake community and we appreciate her giving Hampton Roads Moms the chance to find out what she is doing today and how she plans to help the community in the future. To learn more about Jo Anne, be sure to follow her on Facebook!
Meme and Mom Mayor Life:
1.) When did you make your first Meme? How did you come up with the idea?
I love making people laugh. Last year when the snow refused to melt after several days, I came up with the idea for a “southern snow blower”. I brought my hair dryer outside as a joke in an attempt to help the melting process and my daughter snapped the picture. Honestly, I was just planning on updating my Facebook profile picture to make my friends laugh.
However, when I was watching the news to find out if school would be cancelled again, they were encouraging viewers to send in their snow photos. I sent mine in to Channel 13 News Now and they actually turned it into a meme.
2.) Now your original Meme has gone viral in Hampton Roads. How does it feel to be a local celebrity?
I was honestly shocked at how many times the original photo was shared and how quickly. In less than 24 hours it was shared over 7,000 times. My phone was going crazy from friends asking if I was the “Mom in the meme”. I was even more shocked when Kristina Zverjako called the following day and wanted to interview me for Channel 13 News Now.
It is funny though because people often look at me like they know me, but they are not sure how. This is especially true if I am wearing the blue jacket I had on… but since I am not generally walking around with my hair dryer and extension cord they can’t quite figure it out 😉
3.) And then you made another one this blizzard with your neighbors? Who came up with the idea?
Two of my neighbors are teachers, and they were surprised by some of the negative comments on the first meme, especially since it was just meant to be a joke. We can thank Christina Lowry who teaches at Larchmont Elementary School in Norfolk for suggesting we re-create the meme this year. Judi Cozart is also in the picture and was recently chosen as teacher of the year at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.
My neighbors all have a great sense of humor, especially Ellen & George Lamb. For almost a decade, we have been playing elaborate pranks on each other. Life is stressful and it truly helps to just have a good laugh once in a while. Courtney Strem, La Tina Hassell and Tonya Palmer are also in this year’s meme. Honestly, I am beyond grateful to live in a neighborhood where people make an effort to know their neighbors and are always willingly offer a helping hand. I should also mention one other neighbor who is not in the group meme, Sharon Long, as she put me in contact with Hampton Roads Moms and is indirectly responsible for my run for Mayor.
4.) What do your kids think of their Mom being a viral meme?
My kids think it is hysterical! They both have a great sense of humor too! They like to joke about how many times I ended up on the news last year. First it was the hairdryer meme, and then later in the year I ended up on the news another couple of times as I was trying to stop a large home development from being built directly across from Grassfield High School in Chesapeake. It is very unusual for a Realtor to speak out so avidly against a new construction development, but I strongly believed it would negatively impact the surrounding neighbors, the schools and cause more traffic issues. Fortunately we rallied enough people to make an impact and actually stopped the development.
5.) And you’re also a realtor, any tips for local Moms looking to buy?
HGTV makes a real estate agent’s job look easy and glamorous, but good agents work really hard for their clients. I was fortunate to have spent a few years as a stay-at-home Mom as my kids are very close in age. My real estate career began as a leasing agent renting apartments because the weekend hours off set my husband’s work hours when my kids were young. My career evolved to included property management experience and I am also a licensed appraiser. I have also rehabbed several homes including an original A-Frame home in the Outer Banks that I am extremely proud of. It is currently a vacation rental on Home Away or VRBO in Kill Devil Hills, NC called “A Different Frame of Mind”.
Again TV makes this all look easy, but my best advice for both buyers, sellers and potential investors is to find a good agent and trust their advice. Read agent reviews from past clients online and find someone you are comfortable speaking with. The home buying and selling process can get very stressful and you need to be able to voice your thoughts and concerns to your agent. Another good indicator is The Circle of Excellence award, which is given to the top 10% of real estate agents and demonstrates that they have the experience in getting deals to the closing table despite any obstacles. I am fortunate to have been a recipient of this award multiple times. However rather than focusing on volume of sales or working as part of a real estate team, I have personally chosen to work one on one my clients directly and offer my best service. This means that I work with less clients per year than some agents, but am I am always their main contact person. It is simply the way I prefer to do business. Often clients turn into friends after the process as it is a very personal experience with many long hours invested into the journey.
6.) Now, on top of being a Mom, viral meme and realtor, you are also running for Mayor what made you decide to run?
I became involved with city issues as I worked to stop a 544 unit development from being built across the street from Grassfield High School. Since I am dually licensed as an appraiser, I put together many facts and figures demonstrating the negative impact that other developments have had on the city. I tried to present alternative ideas based off studying successful urban areas. I spoke out against highly dense developments in Chesapeake because this that business model was designed for cities that do not have land and it based off a time period when people did not have two vehicles and needed to walk from place to place. This is not the right business model for Chesapeake. In my experience as a real estate agent people move here for the schools and the land. When people heard me speak, they started to approach me individually and encourage me to run for Mayor. It seemed crazy to me at first, but after the 20th person mentioned it to me, I started to seriously consider the idea.
During my research, I also realized that then Vice Mayor West was a real estate agent. I realized that he had accepted multiple real estate listings from builders. I wrote him an email stating that this could be viewed as a potential conflict of interest and encouraged others to do the same. The short version of the story is that my career was threatened for speaking out as a private citizen. I was utterly appalled at what I learned and personally experienced. Other people started to approach me with similar situations. I finally decided to make a run for Mayor to give people an alternative to the “good old boy network.” If you want the dirty details I would encourage you to read more on MomForMayor.com.
7.) What is your favorite thing about Chesapeake that makes you want to be the Mayor?
Chesapeake has a small home town feel, but yet the strong military community makes it very diverse. I welcomed my neighbors into my home one Thanksgiving and loved the fact that on my street alone I had made friends that were originally from Puerto Rico, Columbia and South Korea. Each of the areas of Chesapeake has it’s own individual characteristics and challenges and many people do not feel like their voices are being heard currently. There is a strong agricultural heritage within the city that needs to be respected as we grow and develop also.
We definitely have a problem with traffic and school over-crowding that are directly caused by rapid development. I think my perspective as both a real estate agent and a licensed appraiser gives my a larger perspective on these issues. I have no direct relationships with any builders or developers as my clients have been individual citizens and I believe I can analyze the pros and cons of upcoming issues and vote objectively. Just like balancing your home budget or that of a large apartment complex, the city needs to prioritize it’s budget and focus on fixing existing problems first.
8.) Any advice for local Moms looking to run for office or be more involved in local politics?
I NEVER thought I would be involved in politics or run for office. However, I have always tried to live my life open to new opportunities as they present themselves. As I mentioned, multiple people approached me and suggested I run for Mayor as a result of my efforts in halting the development of 544 homes. Honestly, I am a little surprised myself that I am on this path, but believe that I do have the knowledge, experience and aptitude to advocate for the citizens of Chesapeake as their Mayor. I have a lot of unexpected people supporting me also.
It was a tough decision as I realized that the Mayor is technically a part time position in Chesapeake and only makes $25,000 per year. I know it is going to be extremely time consuming and I will not have as much time to focus on my real estate career, but I strongly believe in the founding principals of our country. We are all given the opportunity to run and I encourage others to become engaged and involved. It should be people serving people, not “career politicians”.
In today’s day and age, this message of opportunity is often drowned out by doubt due to the idea that competing against candidates may have large campaign budgets. I am working off a grassroots model and believe that message will prevail over money. I believe in the process and made a decision that I will be a participate as a candidate. Win or lose, I am proud that I am trying, and I know I am setting an example for my children. My daughter Meadow is especially enthusiastic about my campaign run for Mayor.
I realized the fact that I am not politically entangled with anyone was actually an asset. Being independent voter is much like being the swing vote in the game show Survivor. When you are not bound by an alliance you are free to vote your conscious. You do need to have a tough skin because everyone haet s an opinion, and they are not afraid to share it, especially online. Some of the comments can be cruel, and I would encourage people to just think twice before posting negative comments.
People often don’t vote in local elections because they don’t have good access to information about the candidates and the issues. Many people also think of November as voting month, but Chesapeake city elections are held on May 1, 2018. Research your candidates and vote.
Now for some Fun….
9.) Winter is far from over, any meme plans for the next snow storm?
No ideas for new memes yet lol! Hopefully I will be Mayor next winter and be able to help implement a better snow plan. I love spending the extra time with my kids, but understand that the unexpected days off may also mean lost income for many families. I am actually from Massachusetts and have family that drive snow plow truck so I have a few suggestions that may help.
10.) As a mom, who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by my kids. They are both completely different personalities. I overheard the neighborhood kids discussing their concerns on the development as they had listened to many of the adults discussing the topic. We brainstormed a way for them to participate. They painted rocks in a form of protest against the over development and left them through out Chesapeake. We edited together a video and set it to the anthem theme song of The Breakfast Club.
I think it was important to find a way to show them that despite their age their voices should be heard. Too many of us become overwhelmed by the constant negativity being pumped out at us and don’t feel like we can make a difference. I think it is critical to show the next generation that it is worth trying and fighting for! They were thrilled to hear the news that our collective actions as a community matter and this particular development was denied by city council.
11.) Favorite kid snack that you secretly enjoy?
Minion Fruit Snacks lol!
14.) And finally, we’ve talked about how do you relax?
I enjoy photography and all the creative apps now available… obviously that is what I was doing during with a little of my free time during the last snow storm! The best way for me to relax is to share a good laugh with friends. I truly believe laughter is healing and we need a little more of it in the fast paced stressed out world we live in. Hopefully the hair dryer meme gave most people a little laughter in their day.