|Family girl: Jo Hayes, in the orange dress, with her mother and sisters.|
After a year working as a speech pathologist in far-north Queensland, Jo came to the realisation that what she had signed up to wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Instead of struggling on, she opted to take a year of "prayer, reflection and discernment", and voluntary work with Youth Mission Teams, to help her decide on her life's direction.
"It was a really humbling experience to leave my 'career' as a speech pathologist and step out into the unknown of mission work and then go back to uni to do another degree," says Jo. "Many people warned me against it, but my 'important' people did support and encourage me. It was a real time of pressing ahead with what I felt the Lord wanted me to do, and I think my current job and career are the fruits of that 'testing time'."
She enrolled in a Masters of Journalism and began work experience with 96.5 radio in Brisbane, where she has now been a newsreader since 2009, and breakfast co-host for part of that time. The job sees Jo research, write and deliver the news on-air every hour between 9am and 5pm with content tailored for a family audience, which means toning down some of what she comes across via her Twitter feed.
This week sees 96.5 ramp up its annual fundraising efforts, the End of Financial Year Appeal. The station bills itself on its efforts to support communities with school excursions, live broadcasts and SOS requests, as well as on-air segments,such as 'Focus on the Family', that help support positive family values and life choices, which speaks straight to Jo's heart.
"Aside from the faith, family was the biggest thing for my parents, and I think this had a huge impact on all us kids," says Jo. "We are all still very close and think that living 20 minutes away from each other is 'too far'. My dad would actually prefer we all still lived at home!"
The Masters of Journalism graduate, who thrived in the humanities subjects (legal studies, English, Study of Society) at her state school, "helped by some amazing teachers, who checked, and re-checked my assignments", so perfectionist Jo might be satisfied, remembers fondly the words of advice of a Year 9 coordinator: 'You wouldn't care half as much about what other people thought of you, if you knew how rarely they did'.
After school, Jo thrived on university life, which she says opened up a whole new world. "I really blossomed through my uni years. I became a lot more confident in myself, and my 'true identity' was refined/revealed. I came to realise who I was apart from my siblings/family, which I think this is an important step for kids from big families."
She describes her childhood as one of "love, happiness and hand-me-downs". It was simple. Jo attended church and Sunday school and took up three musical instruments: the piano, flute and french horn. Her father worked hard and instilled the values of honesty and integrity in his children ('Always be scrupulously honest' he would say).
The family's annual holiday took place at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. "I thought we were the luckiest family in Australia," says Jo, who loves the Matthew 5:5 scripture 'blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth'. "Obviously, squeezing eight people into a two-bedroom unit was not what my mother would describe as 'luxury'."
Her mother was a significant influence in Jo's life, with Jo and her sisters role-playing with their Cabbage Patch dolls. "I was growing up and thinking, 'I just want to be like her'. Her life looked perfect! Obviously a seven-year-old has no idea what it takes to keep a big household running! We thought all 'motherhood' involved was dropping the kids off at school, going to church and 'catching up for coffee'... sounds like bliss to me!"
Her parents are committed Catholics who brought their children up with strong foundations in the faith, which is allowed to prosper in her workplace, though her personal relationship with God has deepened over the years, and she now attends what she calls a "charismatic Catholic church" in Brisbane.
"I say it's the 'best of both worlds'," she says. "The beauty and history and reverence of the catholic tradition, combined with awesome spirit-filled, charismatic praise and worship. I love it."
While she says constant communication with God helps her keep her peace in the frenzied world of media, she is a fan of Joyce Meyer books and podcasts ("She is a great practical Bible teacher") and loves reading about the lives of the saints. "They were just ordinary people like you and I who led extraordinary lives in order to spread the gospel message," she says.
Weekends see Jo reading the newspaper over a good coffee (a skinny latte from Elixir, if you please), hanging out with her sisters at French Twist or Hamptons Home Living in Paddington and scoping out kitchen stores for baking tools. But each day begins with tea. "I'm a big fan of tea – as a beverage and as an 'experience'. I think sipping tea out of a beautiful tea cup can literally make your day."
96.5 radio helps to make the day of many of its listeners. If you'd like to support the station and its work, go to 96five.com.au to donate to the Appeal, which ends Friday.
Girl With a Satchel