VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT – JO-ELLEN MATHEWS
By Megan Maynard
By most standards you would call Jo-Ellen a true Floridian, as her parents moved from New Jersey to Florida when she was 2 years old. She only briefly moved away after high school where she earned her degree in finance at Auburn University. Like many, she realized after working in her chosen field that perhaps it was not her true calling. Upon moving back to Florida she attended University of Central Florida where she would eventually meet her future husband, Mark. They both majored in computer science and are software engineers.
Recruiters for Harris Corp led Jo-Ellen to the Melbourne area in 1990 before moving back to Orlando in 1991. She and her then fiancé Mark were married roughly 1 year later and have been happily married for 27 years. It was during their year in Brevard they were living in Melbourne Beach and they attended the annual Founder’s Day festival and spotted a sea turtle exhibit. Although this would never be allowed today, they had a live nest on display. It piqued their interest that day although they would not formally join STPS until 2010.
For 18 years, Jo-Ellen and Mark successfully owned and ran their expanded family business in Orlando, Florida; Mark’s two brothers and sister-in-law were also employed with them. They proudly ran the entire business independently and Jo-Ellen once again found herself managing the books. They returned to Brevard again in 2001. In 2010 she and Mark joined STPS and took Turtle Talk 101 and STERP. Due to some new family obligations and the changing economy, they closed their business in 2011. This made more time available for volunteering and she became a board member in 2015 as Treasurer. Unfortunately as Jo-Ellen’s familial responsibilities grew, she had to change her role with STPS. Her mother was diagnosed with cognitive impairment that progressed to Alzheimer’s Disease. Given the demands on her time, STPS was happy to accommodate and she is now in charge of adoptions and donations and on the stranding team. You may hear Jo-Ellen and Mark being referred to as “Team Matthews” as they work together to transport the rescued sea turtles. A highlight for them is the never ending influx of education from the different centers they visit, such as Sea World. They enjoy the work so much, they find themselves feeling “selfish” because they get to interact with the turtles and rescue centers.
When asked if there is anything that may surprise others about her is that she competed in her first Triathalon at age 50 and she completed a solo flight while taking private flying lessons many years ago. To friends and family she is considered the queen of arts and crafts. She has taught paper crafts for years and jokes she could live in a “tiny home” so long as she had a trailer with her craft supplies! She is even certified to teach Zentangle (a form of structured art).
She recommends any interested volunteers to take Turtle 101 and learn more about the organization. There are no tasks too small and all volunteers are welcome to help in any capacity!