Soroptimists International was established by a group of about 80 women in Oakland in 1921, and the local chapter, Soroptimists International of Patterson, was founded 1955. Soroptimists International was modeled after the Rotary Club, which was itself founded in 1905.
The loose translation for the Latin word “soroptimist” means “best for women”. According to the Soroptimist International website, “Soroptimist is a global women’s organization whose members work to improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.
Soroptimist programs focus on providing disadvantaged women and girls with access to education, which is one of the most effective ways to end social problems disproportionately affecting women and girls.”
Again according to the website, the group was established specifically to help girls and women because, at the time, there were no volunteer opportunities for women who wanted to help their communities.
There are currently a total of about 104,000 members worldwide.
There are two “Dream Programs” that Soroptimist clubs participate in: Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women and Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls to help disadvantaged women and girls achieve social and economic empowerment.
The goal of the Dream Programs is to “ensure women and girls have access to the education and training they need to reach their full potential and live their dreams,” per the Soroptimist International website.
Through the Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women award, more than $1.7 million in education grants are awarded to more than 1,300 women, many of whom have overcome enormous obstacles including poverty, domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol abuse.
Live Your Dream recipients must be their families’ primary financial support, must demonstrate financial need, and must be enrolled in or accepted to a vocational or skills training program or undergraduate degree program.
The cash award may be used for any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare, tuition and transportation.
Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls
This program helps girls in secondary school who face obstacles to their future success. Soroptimists work with girls in small group or conference settings to provide them with access to professional role models, career education and the resources they want and need to be successful and live their dreams.
Topics covered include career opportunities, setting and achieving goals, overcoming obstacles to success and how to move forward after setbacks or failures.
Soroptimists International of Patterson has done many projects in the area, one of the first of which was a blood drive. The group also sent Christmas gifts to Modesto State Hospital the same year. (Modesto State Hospital was a mental hospital located on the former Hammond Army Hospital site, which is now the location of the Modesto Junior College West Campus and Stanislaus County Juvenile Detention Center.)
In 1956, members of the local club voted to sponsor a weekly radio report from the United Nations (UN) Headquarters on radio station KMOD from the Del Puerto Hotel. In the days before email, prepared scripts were airmailed to the local group by the UN, and various club members were appointed to read them on the air.
The group also sponsored an Election Day luncheon for many years, and held a tea for the Miss Apricot contestants.
Asked what she finds most rewarding about being involved in the club, current president and three-year member Wanda LaRussa quoted Gandhi: "’The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’. I whole-heartedly support what the organization strives to be - women at our best, helping other women to be their best.”
Of the events and activities the Soroptimists hold throughout the year, La Russa’s favorite is the annual fundraiser, Martini Mayhem. “Proceeds from the event are used for our programs such as - Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women, Dream It Be It: Career Support for Girls, P.R.I.D.E. Scholarships and more,” she said. “The most effective way to empower women and girls is by providing them with access to education because they are far more likely to realize their potential. Our Martini Mayhem is the BIGGEST party in Patterson and fun is had by all!”
The Soroptimist club “was founded in Oakland in 1921 by women who were denied access to a male service club….Our club has worked on numerous entities devoted to services that benefit Patterson for over 62 years. We are an active group of professionals, volunteers and retirees dedicated to serving our community year-round through programs, projects...and fun!”
The Patterson Soroptimist group meets the first, second and third Tuesdays of the month at 1 p.m. at Chamber of Commerce office, which is located 13 Plaza #B. For more information, see Soroptimist International’s website: www.soroptimists.org, or visit the Patterson chapter’s Facebook page.