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From left, Soroptimists wildflower walkers Terry and Barbara Oldfield, Joan Lamont, Mel Bailey, Janie Burcart, Wendy Ray, Hannah Christensen, Bea Bacher-Wetmore, Al and Linda Anderson and dogs Nora & Quito. Courtesy photo

Soroptimist Report: 'Soro plus optima' equals 'best for women'

Soroptimist International of Ashland (SIA) is always on the lookout for enthusiastic new members. As with most service clubs and nonprofit organizations, our members are attracted to us because of our mission.

Soroptimist is a coined word, loosely translated from the Latin, soro + optima, or “best for women.” Our mission, both local and global, is to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. Soroptimist International has clubs in more than 120 countries throughout the world.

While the mission is central to most members’ interest in Soroptimist, there are also specific opportunities to contribute to programs targeting education, health, and economic empowerment. SIA sponsors the Strong Girls, Strong Women program at Helman Elementary School which includes both STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and career workshops and a “lunch-buddy” mentoring program.

SIA offers scholarships for both vocational and academic pursuits at Ashland and Phoenix High Schools and SOU. We collaborate with other Soroptimist clubs in our area to give the Live Your Dream Award to 11 Jackson and Josephine County women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families. This year SIA will award three local women a Live Your Dream Award. Since 1972, SI clubs have awarded about $30 million, and annually clubs award $2.7 million to women who have faced and overcome such obstacles as poverty, domestic violence, sex trafficking or addiction. The beauty of SIA is that we are working with other women around the world to increase our collective impact. Longtime SIA member Marilyn “Mel” Bailey remarked, “Membership in Soroptimist gives me a way — far beyond what I could do individually — to make an impact in my world. And, nothing surpasses hearing from our scholarship and award winners that, while the money is appreciated, the real value for them is in knowing that we believe in them.”

Our current president, Colleen Chambers, added that, “There is a deep feeling of satisfaction and inspiration, in knowing that our efforts affect young girls and young women, encouraging them to continue on their paths to becoming their best selves. Our support of education not only improves the lives of the girls and women we serve, but also the lives of their families. It is an honor to be a part of this organization.”

SIA has a partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) that began in 1949 when SIA first offered pillow rentals (blankets were added later) in what is now the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Early on, SIA supported scholarships in the Costume Department which has now evolved into a system where 50 percent of pillow and blanket rental proceeds are shared with OSF for their FAIR Program (fellowships, assistantships, internships and residencies) and 50 percent support the SIA programs described above and more. SIA members who provide significant support for this activity share in some OSF volunteer benefits as well.

There are several other aspects of membership in SIA that are fulfilling. At our weekly lunch meetings (Wednesdays at noon at La Casa del Pueblo) we have regular informational programs, perhaps from an organization we support, e.g. the Maslow Project, or to provide information on some timely issue, e.g. energy conservation. The operations of the club are supported by funds raised at social events that are both fun and intellectually stimulating.

Finally, our members are very supportive of each other when “life happens” and someone needs help or a pat on the back. For example, recently we took dinners to a member who underwent major surgery. We provided another member with transportation after a medical procedure, and of course there is always a warm round of applause for announcements of new grandchildren or a graduation from high school or university. Member Chris Christensen still recalls with deep gratitude the strong support of her Soroptimist Club many years ago when her daughter was born. That daughter is now the youngest member of SIA.

SIA members have many other opportunities for fun and fellowship as we work to fulfill our mission to improve the lives of women and girls locally and globally than can be described here. For information about SIA,please see our website at www.soroptimistrv.org/siashland.html or contact President Colleen Chambers at cocarson@hotmail.com.

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