Soroptimists dedicated to empowering women, girls and improving their lives

By on February 14, 2017
Joan Wilson, president of the Osoyoos Soroptimist International spoke about her club's work in the Osoyoos community and internationally. (Richard McGuire photo)

Joan Wilson, president of the Osoyoos Soroptimist International spoke about her club’s work in the Osoyoos community and internationally. (Richard McGuire photo)

When Joan Wilson, president of Osoyoos Soroptimists International, got up to speak last week, she tried to find common ground with her audience.

The Soroptimists are a busy service club that in December celebrated their 30th anniversary in Osoyoos – meaning they’ve had a much longer continuous history than the Rotary Club of Osoyoos that she was addressing.

“Both clubs meet here for our meetings and we eat the same food,” she said, referring to McKia’s Restaurant at Best Western.

“Our values and goals are similar, if not identical,” she continued. “Both believe in empowerment, self-esteem, education, community service, friendship, networking, advocacy, volunteerism, fellowship, lifelong friendships, etc., etc.”

But then she came to the major difference between the two clubs – Rotary members include both men and women, while the Soroptimists are a club made up of women.

Indeed the local club of 25 women is part of an international organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.

Soroptimist International is now located in 133 countries with more than 75,000 club members.

The club was founded in 1921 in Oakland, California and its name comes from Latin words meaning “best for women.”

Underlining the common ground between the Soroptimists and Rotary was Althea Raum, who is an active member of both clubs and helped Wilson with the presentation.

“Our mission as Soroptimists is to transform the lives and status of women and children through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities,” said Wilson.

The Osoyoos club was chartered in 1986 by Penticton Soroptimists, who have since disbanded due to lack of membership.

Perhaps the challenge of such clubs attracting and retaining members is reflected in Wilson’s joking comment: “Our average age is retired.”

But for a group of mainly retired women, there is a lot of energy that’s reflected in their numerous fundraising activities and the many local and international causes they serve.

A major focus is the Safeteen program, a skill-based violence prevention program offering gender-specific strategies for managing fear and anger and teaching teens to stand up for themselves without violence.

The Soroptimists provide $1,000 to each of the three high schools in School District 53 – in Osoyoos, Oliver and Keremeos – to bring in counsellors each year to run the program.

This funding is matched by contributions from the schools’ parent advisory councils.

Wilson said the program deals with such current issues as racism, bullying, suicide, alcohol, drug addiction and peer pressure.

She was impressed, she said, when one girl participating in the program recounted how she had been bullied. At the end of the program, two boys who had bullied her came up to her and apologized.

“So we know it works,” said Wilson.

But the Osoyoos Soroptimists also help with many other local projects such as the women’s safe houses in Osoyoos and Oliver.

And they support groups such as the Osoyoos Legion and the Okanagan Gleaners.

Their international efforts have including helping to provide solar heaters for cooking in Africa so that women don’t have to scavenge for fuel, literacy programs in India and support for midwifery programs in Africa.

Wilson and Raum both said they are excited about a new program called “Dream It, Be It,” which offers career support workshops, goal planning and other skills to girls aged 14 to 18.

They also provide bursaries to students and have a “Live Your Dream” program that helps single mother breadwinners to retrain or go back to school.

And that’s far from a complete list of their projects.

For fundraisers, they have a bottle drive in September and a garage sale in May. They also hold spring and fall fashion shows at the Watermark Beach Resort. And their pre-Christmas rocking horse raffle has become an annual tradition.

The Osoyoos Soroptimists have a dinner meeting every third Tuesday of the month and a board meeting on the first Tuesday.

For more information, Joan Wilson can be reached at 250-495-2929.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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