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Soroptimist Award Winners

Local women are honored for overcoming obstacles and making a difference for others.

Posted: February 23, 2008 1:34 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Soroptimist is an international organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. Almost 95,000 Soroptimists in about 120 countries and territories contribute time and financial support to community-based and international projects that benefit women and girls.

The name, Soroptimist, means "best for women," and that's what the organization strives to achieve. Soroptimists are women at their best, working to help other women to be their best. Soroptimist members belong to local clubs, which determine the focus of volunteer work to their communities. Club projects range from renovating domestic violence shelters and providing mammograms to low-income women, to sponsoring self-esteem workshops for teenage girls.

Soroptimist's mission is to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. In order to accomplish this goal, the organization administers several international programs.

On Feb. 20, the Soroptimist International of Santa Clarita Valley held its annual awards breakfast at the Hyatt, honoring the recipients of the three awards sponsored by the local club - the Women's Opportunity Award, the Women Making a Difference Award, and the Violet Richardson Award. According to club president, Gail Rocco-Mack, "This is one of the club's favorite events. It's wonderful to meet these deserving recipients and it reminds all of us what the club is about - women helping women and girls."

Women's Opportunity
The Women's Opportunity Awards program is Soroptimist's major project. Through the program, clubs in 19 countries and territories assist women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills, and employment prospects. Each year, more than $1 million is disbursed through cash awards at various levels of the organization. Recipients, many of whom have overcome enormous obstacles including poverty, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse, may use the awards to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare and transportation.

Eligible applicants must be women who provide the primary financial support for their families, and who are enrolled in or have been accepted to a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, and cannot have already earned an undergraduate degree. Only residents of Soroptimist International of the Americas' 19 member countries and territories are eligible to apply.

Since the Women's Opportunity Awards program began in 1972, about $25 million has been disbursed to help tens of thousands of women achieve their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families.

Michelle Freeman: This year's SISCV Women's Opportunity Award recipient was Michelle Freeman. In 2006, Michelle found herself in an abusive relationship and knew she had to do something about it to protect herself and her children. The steps she had to take to change her situation have been difficult and costly. Currently, she is a full-time student at Los Angeles Mission college. She plans to graduate the Paralegal Certification program in the fall of 2008. She is currently employed part time as a legal file clerk at a local law firm. Michelle believes that many women face emotional and financial hardships when deciding to leave an abusive relationship. She is not alone. She is planning to dedicate her personal time to sharing her story with other abused women and encourage them to take the steps toward protecting themselves and their children. The club presented Michelle with a check for $3,000, which she will use to continue her education.

A Difference for Women
The Soroptimist Making a Difference for Women Award program acknowledges women who, through their personal or professional activities, are working to improve the lives of other women and girls. Examples include: spearheading an effort to open a domestic violence shelter, starting a mentoring program for at-risk girls, or lobbing companies to provide on-site childcare. The program begins on the club level, where the type of recognition varies. Award winners at the club level are eligible for additional awards at other levels of the organization. The finalist receives a $5,000 donation to the charitable organization of her choice.

Women who are improving the lives of other women or girls through their professional or personal activities are eligible for the Soroptimist Making a Difference for Women Award. These women have identified and focused on a need in their communities, which has significantly contributed to the improvement of women and girls' lives. Although Soroptimist clubs are free to honor a woman for a lifetime of good work, the majority of the work should have occurred within the past two years.

Kim Goldman: Kim Goldman, executive director of the SCV Youth Project, was this year's winner of the Soroptimist Making a Difference for Women Award.

Goldman thanked Sue Reynolds for her nomination and noted how proud she is to work for the Youth Project. "My staff works hard in the community, and on the campuses, to 'reach the kinds in need,'" she said.

Violet Richardson Award
The Soroptimist organization is especially concerned with the challenges facing today's girls and young women. The organization launched the Violet Richardson Award program in 2000 as a way to recognize girls for their volunteer service to their communities. The program honors young women between the ages of 14 and 17 whose volunteer efforts include: helping other disadvantaged girls; fighting drugs, crime and violence; cleaning up the environment; and working to end discrimination and poverty.

The program is named after Violet Richardson Ward, the first president of the first Soroptimist club. Richardson Ward was committed to creating opportunities for girls and young women through her affiliations with Soroptimist, the Girl Scout Council and the American Association of University Women. Her passion for volunteer service, particularly as it affected women and girls, has been an inspiration to Soroptimists throughout the years.

Soroptimist clubs implement the program at the local level, where awards vary. Club-level recipients then become eligible for a $1,000 cash award, with a matching $1,000 cash award for the charitable organization of the recipient's choosing. The Soroptimist organization grants one finalist $2,500 award to the recipient's volunteer organization.

Three deserving young ladies were honored at the breakfast as recipients of the Violet Richardson Award - for a variety of volunteer services they perform. The third place winner was Talisa Hayes, a senior at Academy of the Canyons Middle College High School ($1,250). The second place winner was Danielle Haberman, a sophomore at Canyon High School ($1,500), and the first place winner was Naomi Kaswan, a senior at Saugus High School ($2,000).

Other Programs
Other Soroptimist programs include: Soroptimists STOP Trafficking, a project that raises awareness about the sexual trafficking of women and girls, and seeks to encourage citizens, law makers and service providers to focus on this global problem. Soroptimist Live Your Dream Campaign, which aims to inspire women to live their dreams, and encourages them to pass their good fortune on to others. Soroptimist Workplace Campaign to End Domestic Violence, an awareness campaign that targets domestic violence as a workplace concern. Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls, cash grants for innovative Soroptimist club projects. Soroptimist Disaster Relief Fund for Women and Girls, providing funds for programs that assist women and girls after a man-made or natural disaster.

Soroptimist clubs participate in organizational programs on the local level, depending on the specific needs of their communities.

The Soroptimists will host their annual fundraising auction on March 8 at the Hyatt in Valencia. The theme will be "Cruise Around the World," and Gavin MacLeod from the "Love Boat" television series will be the celebrity host.

Sponsorship packages start at $1,500 and individual tickets are $125. For more information contact Dora Zavala at (661) 254-6380. For more information visit


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