A 72 year old Moe woman who has dedicated most of her adult life to help support carers across Gippsland has been named the August winner of a 3AW and Villa Maria Community Hero award.
Each month since February, an inspiring individual who has overcome the odds to achieve their dreams, or who makes a positive difference to their community, has been chosen to receive a Community Hero award. The initiative – run by Villa Maria and top-rating radio station 3AW – aims to ensure unsung heroes receive the recognition they deserve.
Jean Tops (pictured second from left, with 3AW presenter Denis Walter, Axella Johannesson, Villa Maria's Cassie Zlonzak and 3AW's Peter Hitchener) knows firsthand the struggles faced by carers. Three of Jean’s four children have disabilities, and her experience as an unpaid carer including a lack of on the ground support is what inspired her to begin the fight for a "better deal" for those struggling in similar situations.
Ms Tops is the founder and president of the volunteer run Gippsland Carers Association (GCA), established 15 years ago to provide peer support, information, education and advocacy to more than 26,000 family carers across Gippsland and beyond.
“I just think that family carers in this country get a very raw deal,” Ms Tops said. “They contribute $42 billion a year to the national economy but they get virtually no support in return. It is just very upsetting to me to think people can give up their entire lives, as I have done most of my adult life, to caring for others without an adequate amount of help in return.”
She also hosts two Carer Forums for GCA each year, updating carers on relevant issues from government departments and services, and is actively lobbying to see a funded, peer-to-peer Carers Support Network for the entire Gippsland region become a reality.
Ms Tops’ friend Axella Johannesson – who nominated her for the award – described her as an “humanitarian and a true hero”.
Ms Tops said she was “over the moon” to receive the award. “I’m ecstatic to think that after all these years somebody out there appreciates the work that I do.”
Villa Maria executive manager marketing, Rebecca Ryan, said Ms Tops was a fantastic example of the type of communityminded and inspiring people the organisation and 3AW wanted to acknowledge.