Janis Joseph of Port Alberni has spent her life raising and working with children in a number of capacities. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Janis Joseph of Port Alberni has spent her life raising and working with children in a number of capacities. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

‘Slow down and take the journey’

Janis Joseph has spent her life raising and working with children in a number of capacities

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Alberni Valley News is recognizing some of the women who make this community a better place to live.

There is a framed sign visible as soon as one walks into Janis Joseph’s office at North Island College: “We walk the Earth as one; no one person better than the other. Therefore, any good that I can do with my time I am gifted let me do it with passion, grace and kindness.”

The passage, says Joseph, an early childhood education instructor at NIC, is her life’s motto.

“My motto came from everything I did and all the experiences I had,” she explains.

“I was thinking about what a legacy was and what we all want to leave. It sums up who I am.”

Joseph was born and raised in the Alberni Valley, one of four children born to Sheila Joseph and her late husband Winston. “That’s where I began,” says Janis. “They are the two strongest influences in my world. What a gift I was given to have my parents…be my first teachers in my life.”

Janis Joseph once had a conversation with her father, an educator and philosopher, about what people leave behind—the “dash” that is carved onto their headstones between their birth and death dates. “It’s a little dash and I wanted to express that dash. It’s who I am, it’s what I’ve lived for.”

Family is a large part of her “dash,” she says. She lives in the family home where she grew up, and is now raising four children—Michael, Kristin, Madeline and Josh—as a single mother. She is invested in her children’s lives, whether it’s driving to dance competitions, travelling to see Michael in his first university drama production at VIU, serving on the high school parent advisory council or prom committee, or volunteering with the breakfast club.

“In my world, family comes first. From that, paying it forward comes from within. I tell my kids the most important giving you can do is when you don’t have to tell anybody because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Joseph has worked with children throughout her professional career, especially neurodiverse children. Until the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, she operated Fresh Steps Behavioural Consulting out of Ability House on Gertrude Street. When COVID-19 restrictions meant the business could no longer stay open, she found a new home teaching international students in the Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) program at NIC. 

Just as young women now look to Joseph as a mentor, she reflects on the women who held her up along her own journey. Joseph was in Grade 10 when she spent time helping in a pre-school with Jill Webb. “Jill noticed me; how I worked with children and how natural it came,” Joseph recalled.

Her first dance teacher, the late Pat Cummings, also saw something in Joseph and encouraged her. “That was the first time someone outside my family noticed me.”

After graduating from Alberni District Secondary School, Joseph spent a decade searching for her passion. She credits Clara Cauduro and the late Sharon Hillman for guiding her. She was working as a behaviour aide at Wood Elementary School—a brand new job title at the time. “They were two women I looked up to and they told me ‘you need to do more. There’s more to you.’ They’re the reason I went to university.

“These women are all very important to me. These are the women who got me to where I am.”

Her years following university in Victoria, where she graduated with an English degree and a minor in psychology, were filled with jobs focusing on children with diverse needs—from before- and after-school care with the YMCA in the Lower Mainland, to a personal attendant at Bamfield Elementary School where she worked with Pat Lindsay’s son, family support worker in Ucluelet and Tofino under the tutelage of Diana Dawson, to a behaviour consultant with Vancouver Island Community Support Services. She left that job to strike out on her own.

The past 25 years have been a whirlwind of change—moving around, working in a number of different places, all while raising her children. If there is one piece of advice she could go back and impart on 18-year-old Janis, it would be this: “Slow down. I would tell her to slow down; it’s like a pinball machine in your head of all these places you want to go and all these things you want to do, so you don’t know what to do. Eighteen-year-old Janis was searching.

“Seek your happiness….slow down and take the journey.”

Port Alberni