Bott Leaves Behind Legacy of Positive Programs That Benefit Many in Stafford
Twenty-five years ago, Gail Bott filled a need in Stafford Township as the administration sought to solidify the community and make the township a better place for families to live. On Sept. 30, Bott left behind her role as the town’s Municipal Alliance director, and, yes, Stafford is a better place to live.
“Year after year, Gail made Stafford Township a better place to live, and she’s one of the reasons this township is a great place for families to be,” said Mayor John Spodofora during a farewell party for Bott on Sept. 28. “Gail’s an individual who sees a need and she’s there. She’s been an amazing asset to this community, and we’re going to miss her.”
After some years as a youth minister with St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, Bott turned to real estate sales for a while before taking a couple of years off to recharge and refocus. During the summer of 1991, Lynn Sherry, whom Bott had known through the Southern Regional Home and School Association, suggested a position that was “the perfect fit.”
“All the volunteer work and fundraising I had done to that point helped,” said the 72-year-old Bott, who first started as a part-timer before former Township Administrator Paul Shives found a way to make the position a full-time gig. “But Lynn recommended that I go after the position, and I thought, ‘Why not? I can do it.’ There were 37 who had applied, and I got it.”
Once Bott took her post in October 1991, she set out to help change the landscape among young people within the community.
“Initially, we worked together to offer programs that would benefit teens and preteens, to help get them or keep them on the right track,” said Recreation Director Betti Anne McVey. “She wanted kids to have good role models, and she developed a bunch of programs that fostered that kind of environment and raised their awareness of the problems they could face later in life if they made bad choices. She truly is an inspiration to many here.”
Township Police Officer Chris Fritz has worked alongside Bott for years as one of the many public servants involved in such programs as DARE, Project Graduation and Project Aware – a unique program tailored for sixth-graders and centered around a skit that depicts a youngster who dies from drug use at a party.
“Gail’s always been an advocate for public safety and drug and alcohol awareness,” Fritz said. “She’s always been very passionate about it, and a lot of the programs she started have made a huge impact in this community. And her personality was perfect for the role she filled.”
Bott believes Project Graduation at Southern Regional High School has been the program with the biggest impact during her tenure. The all-night activity offered to seniors following the graduation ceremony has offered a safe, supervised alternative to private parties and other, possibly dangerous, options. She said that throughout the 22 years of Project Graduation’s existence, some 7,500 students have gone through it.
“Most of my intention in this role has been to help kids, because while not every kid has a problem, they all go through phases in which problems can arise,” she said. “With Project Graduation, it was, at least, the one night – when so many kids feel like they’re invincible and can do anything – where parents don’t have to worry whether their children are going to make that one bad choice.
“We’re not going to stop kids from drinking entirely. But by creating the programs we’ve put in place over the years, along with the safe environment of Project Graduation, we probably saved at least a few from taking the wrong direction. And that’s what it’s always been about for me.”
McVey said Bott “set the pace for everybody here at the municipal building.”
“Her attitude of positivity and her endless energy have been infectious here,” she said. “She really has made a big impact here, and not just within the schools and our community. If you talk to her for just a few minutes, you feel better about life. She’s just a good soul, and I’m going to miss her as a co-worker and friend. There’s going to be a lot of ‘Where’s Gail?’ for the next six to eight months.”
Behind Bott’s positive attitude and bright personality lives a mantra of God’s love for everybody, and it is one she has hinged on for decades.
“Growing up, my parents always had an open house, where our hearts and heads were always about giving,” she said. “In youth ministry, you’re always reminding kids that God loves you. And (although) I couldn’t always directly say that as a public worker, that always was the message. Everybody matters to God, and we have to love them and help set them in the right direction.”
So, now, as Bott moves on from public service, she doesn’t intend to go very far – she fully expects to be volunteering somewhere, at some point, again soon – but she is hoping to enjoy more time with her husband, Roger, by doing some traveling to Florida and elsewhere.
But she definitely is going to miss a lot about the past 25 years.
“Mostly, I’m going to miss the people,” she said. “I’m going to miss seeing all the people with whom I’ve made friendships over all these years. Whether they’re little people or big people, it’s been one big family to me. And I’ve been blessed to be with them for so many years.”