Soroptimist have a mission: 'the best for women'
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:51 PM
"Honorees at the annual Soroptimist awards banquet are, from left, Kay Stanley, Beverly Graham, Russell McKinley, Hannah Shafaat and Michelle Casey. At the far right is Tonya Henny, president of Soroptimist International of South Whidbey.Gayle Saran/staff photo Soroptimist InternationalSoroptimist is a worldwide organization for women in management and the professions. The name Soroptimist was coined from the Latin: soror meaning sister, and optima meaning best. According to SI, the name is perhaps best interpreted as the best for women.The Soroptimist mission is to be a global voice for women's rights, health, education and other issues working through awareness, advocacy and action; and through its programs to advance the status of women. The first Soroptimist Club was formed in 1921 in Oakland, Calif., the same year as Rotary, with the purpose of classified executive business and professional women to associate together to render service. The first club was quickly followed by other clubs in North America, and in 1924 the first clubs in Europe were chartered, in Greater London and Paris. Today there are more than 97,000 Soroptimist members in 119 countries. More information is available at Soroptimist International on the Internet.Soroptimists celebrate successesEngaged in a tradition of service that dates back 80 years, Soroptimist International of South Whidbey concluded its programs for 2000-2001 with the certain knowledge that they did indeed fulfill the Soroptimist mission: To work for the advancement of the status of women through programs that encompass educational, economic, and social development.The words of the women they helped were the proof.I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for this program.I can't thank you enough. You have taken help to a new level.I have gained the ability to have faith in myself. It's been an awesome experience.I was ready to give up, to check out. This group became a safe place and a home.The sentiments were being expressed by several women who had spent a year in a program called Women in Transition, offered by Skagit Valley College at its Ken's Korner Clinton branch and taught by Bobbi Sandburg. The women were talking to members of Soroptimist International of South Whidbey at a special luncheon celebrating the end of the quarter and honoring both the program itself and the women who had been a part of it. And while the Soroptimists were paying tribute to others, the honor reflected their own achievement, since the Women in Transition program was the service group's focus project for the year, the one that enlisted their funds and their commitment.The Women in Transition program was such a perfect fit with our tradition of encouraging and helping women in the community, said Soroptimist President Tonya Henny. We tossed around several ideas, but this one allowed us to be not only financially supportive but also to get involved and contribute personally.The WIT program, Discovering Your Possibilities, was founded by the Arise Foundation 10 years ago and restructured about four years ago by Bobbi Sandburg, who currently teaches it. Sessions begin in fall quarter at SVC and go through spring, offering a unique form of assistance to women in any transition, Sandburg said. These are not necessarily displaced women. Some are in hiding from an abusive relationship; some are recovering from addictions, or suffering from chronic or even terminal illness. One is an early widow who suffered a stroke; now she's in school. Others, Sandburg said, come for respite, for the sense of safety and security.Barb Douglas, one of Bobbi's girls, described the many steps along the way that Women in Transition helped her take.I learned that I need to find what I have in myself, to know what is right and to have faith in myself. It's too easy after a pattern of abuse to make excuses, Douglas said. I have personally rediscovered 'Barb.'Erin Otteman told the group of abuse she suffered from age 4 until 18.I struggled with anger. I was in foster care 13 different times, Otteman said. Now I'm a full time student. Bobbi (Sandburg) changed me and showed me who I am. A lot of women like me need this proof. Just knowing the program is there keeps me going.For her part, Sandburg said the women in transition are all awesome women -- loving, generous, empowering and empowered. You wouldn't believe some of the strides they have made. Some of them, in fact, couldn't come to the luncheon because they had jobs!It's one of the outcomes Sandburg is proud of, and one of the elements of the WIT program, which offers the women an opportunity to learn new skills or refresh old ones.We teach practical things like computer usage and social science, Sandburg said. The women also learn about writing resumes, looking for a job, and interviewing.And that's where Soroptimists reached in and got personally involved.We paid for a spring quarter at the college, said Kathy Habel. This meant paying for the instructor, and the tuition for the women. The Soroptimists also stocked a library, particularly with self-help and career oriented books.And then they offered their own expertise.This project meant so many members could contribute, Henny said. Spring quarter of the course focused on getting ready to go out in the world -- in school or perhaps in a job. Nine Soroptimists offered job shadowing opportunities, so the women could just hang out for a day. Members also put on a mini-career fair in April, complete with mock interviews.We brought in some people from the community, women who actually do the work and could describe what it was like in a pharmacy or a daycare center, Henny said.Many Soroptimists also donated professional clothing for a Fashion Boutique and then offered advice on putting an outfit together. Several of the clothes were seen again as the women in transition wore them to attend the luncheon marking the end of the quarter. The Soroptimists presented their guests with a final gift that would continue the philosophy of learning and growing: journals in which each Soroptimist had written notes of encouragement, and in which the recipients themselves could continue the record of their journeys.And the Women in Transition presented their own thank you gifts to the women who had helped make the transition possible.At the same time, Henny presented a surprise Soroptimist grant of $3,750 to fund another quarter of the program, and also mentioned plans to involve more members of the community in the project.We are blessed that our community has this program, Henny said.Giving to the communityEach year, in addition to funding its focus project, Soroptimist International of South Whidbey awards grants and honors to numerous organizations and individuals in the arts, education, and social services. Among the recipients of 2000-2001 disbursements were: *Big Brothers/Big Sisters *The Maxwelton Outdoor Classroom*Helping Hands *South Whidbey school discretionary funds*The South Whidbey Children's Center*In-A-Pinch Crisis Childcare*Dancers Loren Mack and Alexis Daly from Island Dance*Summer programs at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts *Student Russell Mckinley, to assist him with vocational technical training. McKinley hopes to become a toymaker.The Soroptimists also named the winners of several special awards.This spring's Woman of Distinction award was given to Beverly Graham who was instrumental in developing Operation: Sack Lunch, a program that provides food for the homeless in Seattle. When Graham was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she decided to reach out and help others. Michelle Casey, a young woman who has overcome odds in her life and is pursuing a college education, was named the winner of the Women's Opportunity Award. High School senior Hannah Shafaat was presented the Violet Richardson award for her community service.And Kay Stanley, manager of Washington Mutual Bank in Freeland, was presented the prestigious Dorothy Cleveland Award for her work in the community, especially as co-chairman of Relay for Life. The Soroptimists will hold their last meeting before fall on June 28 with a picnic in the park. The group is open to new members and says it would suggest membership to anyone wanting to meet the most dynamic women of the community -- Soroptimist International of South Whidbey Island. "