Many people have heard of the Rotary Club, an international service organization whose members are professional business leaders; this club only accepted male members until the 1980s. However, another significant service club, Soroptimist International, is not as well-known by the public. Founded in 1921, SI served almost as a female counterpart to Rotary; SI is a nonprofit organization for professional women that aims to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities around the world. Their main focus is giving young women education and resources that can help them be successful. Currently, there are 76,000 Soroptimist clubs in over 120 countries.
The name Soroptimist means “best for women,” which is an ideal the club stands for wholeheartedly. The local clubs participate in the Dream Programs of Soroptimist, which are Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women and Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls. These programs empower women and girls socially and economically by ensuring that they have access to education and the training necessary for them to reach their full potential and achieve their goals. The Live Your Dream program is specifically for women who are the primary breadwinners in their families, have financial need, and are enrolled in school. Dream It, Be It is a newer addition that began last year. Soroptimist invests in programs that create sustainable, measurable change for women and girls. Moreover, the clubs also participate in local projects like mentoring women in domestic violence shelters, providing help services like mammograms to low-income women, and working to end sex trafficking. Local clubs also have specific focuses depending on the country and location. Clubs also participate in international programs depending on their individual funds.
For example, the Soroptimist International Chino Hills/Inland Empire club in California worked for years with anti-human trafficking organizations like C.A.S.E. to put on a local event called the West End Walk Against Human Trafficking. The goal of this event was to raise the community’s awareness of the human slave trade by educating people about preventative measures and how to get involved with groups that help victims. With their extensive organizational work, Chino Hills Soroptimist helped bring together community organizations, high school clubs, and local politicians, like Congressman Ed Royce and Assemblyman Curt Hagman, together to make this event a success.
Maria Rivera, the Vice President of Programs of the Chino Hills club, described in an interview some other major projects and activities the club does. Through the program Dream it, Be it, the Chino Hills club joined together with the Soroptimist of Chino Valley club to work with girls from Buena Vista Continuation High School. Some girls are at Buena Vista because they need help catching up and they return to their home schools once their grades have improved. Other girls there are either pregnant or have children in day care. Every month, a group of professional women from the Soroptimist club come to the school and talk with the girls in small sessions.
“Each session focuses on a different topic, like how to dress for success, how to qualify your goals, analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, and how to make short-term goals that will help accomplish an overall long-term goal. This program is career-oriented and empowers girls to strive for education after high school,” said Rivera.
The program was created last year, and the club uses input from the girls in innovating the curriculum. Two girls act as advisors and tell organizers which topics were the most popular and helpful. The advisors at Buena Vista are also very accommodating to the Soroptimist members; the program has become so popular with the students that now the mentors have more time with them. Every year, one of the girls wins an award as well. The current goal is to bring more young professionals to the program.
Another project that only the Chino Hills club does is a career day for sixth graders from a low-income school in Montclair. There is one specifically for girls and one for boys. The career day functions almost like speed-dating; the boys are paired with professional men and the girls with career women. The children ask the adults any questions they want, making the program more personal and interactive. The career day for boys, however, is more focused on teaching the boys to respect women and to stand against standards of toxic masculinity. This program has been going on for about five years.
Soroptimist International of the Americas also has another signature project called the Saturday of Service, which is on the first Saturday of March; this date was chosen because it is closer to International Women’s Day. This year the Chino Hills club might have a showing of the film Sold for the Saturday of Service, in order to focus more on fighting human trafficking.
“Another movie showing we are going to do at the Chino Hills Library is the movie The Chosen. It’s a 20 minute documentary about two girls from middle class families and how they get sucked into the world of human trafficking. This film is much more relatable to the Chino Hills community and demographics; we might do this in January before the West End Walk Against Human Trafficking,” said Rivera.
Because Soroptimist is a nonprofit organization, to subsidize the club they have different fundraisers. One of the signature fundraisers is a painting party that is coming up on September 23. The club has to raise money for the Dream Programs and also the scholarships they have for girls from Chino Hills High School and Ayala High School. The recipients are chosen not just by their grades, but mainly because of their volunteer work in the community.