Soroptimists continue mission to improve lives of women

Jo Hine presents the Live Your Dream award to Kristen Harding, who is attending Lane Community College to become an elementary school art teacher. The Live Your Dream is an award given to a woman who is the head of household to help with expenses as she works to improve her life through education. Soroptimist of Florence gives the 2019 Rhododendron Senior Princess Court a check toward this year’s scholarships for the Rhody Court Showcase at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at the Florence Events Center.

The roots of Soroptimist International first began to spread in 1921, when a small group of business women began meeting in Oakland, Calif., in an effort to collaborate on important local issues — particularly those impacting women or women’s causes. Taken from the Latin words “soro” (sister) and “optima” (best), the first project taken on by the Soroptimists — or “Best Sisters” — was in saving area redwoods that were being cut. The group, led by its first president, Violet Richardson, lobbied the legislature and took on powerful lumber companies, eventually winning public support that resulted in a major portion of land being set aside as protected.

Within five years, 15 additional Soroptimist Clubs were established on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, with each focusing on the concerns and issues facing women in their communities. Today, Soroptimist International has branched into a worldwide organization that maintains local roots — including here in Florence, where the overriding mission is “Improving the Lives of Women and Children” through programs that foster social and economic empowerment.

“We do what we can — through programs, scholarships, mentoring and creating opportunity — to help women reach their full potential,” says long-time member and Florence chapter president Carol Bennett.

The Florence charter, which was established in 1972, has pursued that mission in many forms, whether through its coordination of the annual Community Christmas Food and Toy distribution — which it works in conjunction with other area nonprofits such as Florence Rotary, Kiwanis and area churches — or through donations to programs like the Caring Pregnancy Center, Siuslaw Outreach Services, Florence Senior Meals, Boys & Girls Club Smart Girls Program, Rhododendron Court scholarships, the Coalition Against Human Trafficking and others.

In addition to supporting programs and events that support women and children, Soroptimist International of Florence (SIF) has also established its own programs to encourage education and financial empowerment for women in our community. One such program is “Live Your Dream,” which helps women enter or re-enter the work force, helping them develop the skills and experience necessary to establish financial independence for themselves and children.

“A lot of times it’s women who have left abuse situations with their children and have been out of the workforce for several years,” Bennett says. “Other times it’s an education cut short for one reason or another. The program is about helping women get back on track with their dream or getting on track in the first place.”

Another program is aimed at middle school age girls and enhancing self-esteem. The “Dream it. Be it” program encourages young girls to pursue their dreams through mentorship opportunities with local business women. In addition to developing the kind of self-confidence that can help young girls become successful women, the program also dovetails into the organization’s focus on reducing human trafficking.

Bennett says that with Seattle being the No. 1 spot for human trafficking, and Portland being No. 2, “we are along that trafficking corridor. And many times, it’s a lack of self-esteem and confidence that traffickers use in luring women and young girls. Creating a support network is very important.”

Between donations that support local programs, community service, mentoring and scholarships — which average between $25,000 to $35,000 each year — the 14-member “Best Sisters” that make up the Florence charter are doing what they can to continue their mission to help women reach their full potential and live their dreams.

For more information, call 541-902-7948 or email [email protected]