Stepping up for an honour

Janice Rowley stands in front of rows of shoes in her Morwell shoe shop

Janice Rowley sells specialty shoes in the Latrobe Valley town of Morwell where her store has been a fixture of the community for 29 years.

Alongside her business, she cares for her 46-year-old-daughter who has a disability and works on community events. On the side, she embroiders bibs and towels to raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital.

“It’s nothing for me to get up at 6.30am and knit three or four bibs before I get moving for work,” Janice says. “Last year I raised $3500. You have to enjoy life and help other people.” Janice is passionate about the acceptance, social inclusion and overall wellbeing of people with disabilities.

She ran the Happy Achievers Tenpin Bowling League Competition for 29 years and has facilitated the Gippsland Groover’s Dance for people with intellectual and developmental disability for the past five years.

“At my first Christmas dance we had 15 people, by last Christmas we had 239,” says Janice. “Our guys just love music. We had Channel 9 come and do a story and the news crew ended up staying on for the dance, they just loved how well everyone was getting along and how happy they were.”

Janice says the dances mean a lot to the community and have been greatly missed recently. Her first priority, when she can, is to get them back up and running. It is this commitment to others that saw Janice honoured as a Local Champion in this year’s Victorian Honour Roll of Women – and she carries this spirit of giving and community through every aspect of her life.

“Customers come into the store and bring in afternoon tea, and we’ll put the kettle on. I once offered a customer who looked very lonely a hug and then that started a trend … people would say ‘go to that shop because that lady will give you a hug’,” Janice laughs.

That was prior to the recent need for physical distancing resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19). Janice says the pandemic has hit the disabled community especially hard.

“We say that when we’re allowed to hug that we’ll be hugging each other for a long time,” she says.

Of her Victorian Honour Roll of Women recognition, she says: “It is a great honour. And it motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m also hoping it will motivate others to step up and do this sort of work.”

Janice was among 32 inspirational women inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women this year, its 20th anniversary. Since 2001, over 600 women have been honoured for their significant and lasting contribution to Victoria, Australia and beyond.

Nominations for next year’s honour roll will open later this year. For more details email [email protected].

Pictured above: 2020 Victorian Honour Roll of Women inductee Janice Rowley is a dedicated member of the Gippsland community, committed to the wellbeing and inclusion of those with disabilities

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