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Courtesy photoHelman School students in the Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women program show off a wooden disc with a computer-generated cutout of their school mascot dragon made for them by women at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production facility.

Soroptimist Report: Strong Girls Strong Women marks 10th anniversary

Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women (SSGSW) is celebrating its 10th year in Ashland. The program supports the belief that young girls can be nurtured to gain confidence, enjoy science, explore career options, learn to think outside the box and care for the environment. SSGSW is the signature project of Soroptimist International of Ashland, in partnership with Helman Elementary School and Principal Michelle Cuddeback.

Ashland Soroptimists, with help from the American Association of University Women and friends, work together to bring opportunities to more than 60 girls each year who participate in the “strong girls” program.

The parents of girls, grades two through five, sign them up for Lunch Buddies, which pairs each girl with her own adult Lunch Buddy mentor for a monthly half-hour lunch-time conversation. Since its inception, many girls and their mentors have stayed together from the second grade until middle school. For the youngest girls, once a year on March 2 (Dr. Seuss’ birthday), kindergarten and first-grade girls are given books with positive female characters.

Girls in fourth and fifth grades may also participate in science and career-based, after-school programs. For the careers component, the fourth- and fifth-grade girls go on five field trips to sites around Ashland and Talent to meet with women and learn about their jobs. This year, 25 girls went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival-production facility in Talent, the Ashland Police Department, the Hospice Unique Boutique warehouse, ScienceWorks and the Ashland Public Library to meet women who work there and learn what they do.

Gracia Dodds, a former “strong girl,” told Principal Cuddeback, “I was a former student of yours. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about how much the program (Soroptimist) Strong Girls has affected me throughout my academic career. Currently, I’m on track to taking AP Calc and Biochemistry senior year,” said Dodds. “I think my track to success was predetermined by getting interested in science and math in fourth and fifth grade.”

A Helman parent, Arianna Van Heusen, said, “It has given both my daughters an opportunity to enjoy an after-school science program that was both fun and educational.”

The SSGSW program was created in 2008 by Susan Hollandsworth, a former Helman principal; Sara Brown, a former Ashland Soroptimist president, and Jenni Egan, former Helman child development specialist. “Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women” is funded, along with other Soroptimist initiatives, through proceeds from the rental of pillows and blankets at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Persons interested in learning more about SSGSW should contact Bea Bacher-Wetmore, SSGSW chair, by email at beabwetmore@me.com.

Soroptimist Report appears quarterly in the Tidings. For more, go to www.soroptimistrv.org/siashland.html, call Janie Burcart at 541- 910-0235 or email siashland@soroptimist.net.

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