Soroptimist: noun. <Latin Sor (sister) + optimist (a person disposed to take a favorable view)
So what do you get when you create a sisterhood of people finding ways to take a positive outlook on the challenges that life can present for women the world over? According to the Soroptimist: Best for Women organization’s mission statement, “Soroptimist is an international organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. Over 80,000 Soroptimists in about 120 countries and territories volunteer time and contribute financial support to community–based and international projects that benefit women and girls.”
The Soroptimist Organization works hand-in-hand with schools across the globe to award scholarships to women who are trying to improve their living situation through higher education. One of these awards, the Women’s Opportunity Award (WOA), has given out over $30 million over the last 41 years. Annually, the WOA awards around $1.5 million between a thousand or more women in varying award levels. At the local level, recipients receive around $1,000. Once a recipient is awarded a Local award, they are eligible for and entered to win a Regional WOA which ranges from $3-5,000. Climbing that ladder further, Regional Award winners are eligible to win an International award which totals $10,000. All of this award money is to be used toward paying for an education but can be used in any way to do so (ie. books, tuition, gas money, etc).
So what kind of a woman does it take to win such an impressive and prestigious award (an award that was given the 2007 Associations Advance America Summit Award – the highest recognition from the ASAE and Center for Association Leadership)? To answer that question, one could turn to Teresa Williamson and Christine Asbury, two current MTI College (now Campus) Medical Assisting and Phlebotomy students who were award Local Level Awards this past year.
Both Christine and Teresa are the primary providers for their households (one of the requirements for WOA applicants). Christine is a single mother of two teenage daughters and, though Teresa’s children are grown, her husband is disabled and requires her care and support. Both women have incredible stories that have brought them to Campus, formerly MTI College, and illustrate why they are definitely deserving of Women’s Opportunity Awards.
Teresa did not grow up with any traditional formal education. She was homeless until she was thirteen when she fell in with a good crowd (including the man who she would marry fifteen years later) and pulled herself out of the lifestyle with which she’d grown up. She began her education in her 20’s and earned a Medical office Technician certificate before realizing that it would take more than a certificate to find a job. She began working in the customer service field and got married. Shortly after her marriage she adopted her niece and nephew when it became evident that her sister was not going to be able to continue to care for them. Shortly after officially adopting her sister’s children, her sister passed away. Education took a back-burner to raising two children until a major organizational transition and relocation hit her employer and she was very suddenly unemployed and caring for her husband and herself. It was at this point that she realized she needed to take steps to improve her earning power.
She went on a tour of Campus and was so overwhelmed with the opportunities the school could provide and the friendliness and personability of the admissions team that she enrolled. Not long after her enrollment her daughter was in a devastating car accident but not only recovered, but decided to follow in her mother’s inspirational footsteps and enrolled at Campus. “You have to think about your long-term goals,” Teresa said, “and think what it’ll take to get there.”
Christine’s battles have been of a more internal nature. “Getting rid of my verbally abusive husband was the easy part,” she said. At 35, Christine discovered that she had a Gastrointestinal Stomal Tumor (GIST), a form of cancer more common in individuals 50-80 years old. She was able to have the tumor removed, but as a result she lost the valve at the top of her stomach and would never again be able to sleep lying down since the stomach fluid would have nothing to stop it from moving up her esophagus. After 3 years of Cancer-free living, the GIST returned. Chemotherapy and radiation do not affect this particular Cancer, but an experimental drug called Gleevec had just hit the market. Now, after years of being on the market, Gleevec’s effectiveness has been proven time and time again. In fact, Novartis Oncology, the company that created Gleevec, won the 2007 Pharmaceutical Nobel Prize. However, at the time, a new experimental drug treatment was terrifying. However, by blocking the signal from the abnormal KIT protein in the Cancer cells (the protein that controls growth and division of cells), the Gleevec treatment regiment shrunk her GIST over the course of two years and she has been healthily living with it in this state ever since. However, she will need Gleevec for the rest of her life and with a price tag of around $9,000 per month, she will need to keep her insurance current which is why she is working toward what she hopes will be employment with Kaiser. Unfortunately, there are side effects to the medication.
“It makes me feel really ill a lot of the time, but I still have to get up and do everything,” she said. And by “everything,” she means raising her two teenage daughters, fighting Cancer, working as a lunch lady, and of course maintaining 100% attendance and a 4.0 in her studies at MTI College.
Both of these impressive women are fighting to improve the lives of their children, in Teresa’s case her husband, and – of course- themselves. But what is most impressive is their attitude and outlook on their situations. “All in all, it’s not that bad,” Christine said, and Teresa mirrors that sentiment. They are both focused on improving the lives of their family at any cost and allow their own desires to take a back seat to the needs of their loved ones.
When asked what winning the Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award means to them, both Christine and Teresa expressed immense gratitude and hope. “I feel so grateful and blessed that I received it,” said Teresa and Christine added, “It’s great to be appreciated for your effort.” Not only does the Local Award help financially in the immediate sense, but the chance to win a Regional ($3-5,000) or even International Award ($10,000) has given them a burst of hope that they sorely deserve. Earning the WOA takes work, yes, but “you have nothing to lose, so it’s worth it,” says Teresa.
For those interested in applying for a Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award, follow this link (www.soroptimist.org/awards/apply.html), obtain two references, and complete and send the application. Eligible applicants are women who:
- Provide the primary financial support for her dependents (including children, spouse, siblings and / or parents)
- Demonstrate financial need
- Are enrolled in, or have been accepted to, a vocational / skills training program or an undergraduate degree program
- Are motivated to achieve their educational and career goals
- Reside in one of the Soroptimist International of the Americas’ member countries or territories (http://www.soroptimist.org/awards/apply_list.html)
- Have not previously been the recipient of a Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award; are not a Soroptimist member, employee of Soroptimist or immediate family of either
Applications are due each December 1st and recipients will be notified between the following January through June.
Christine added this, summing up her thoughts on this award and the process of taking control of her life, “taking that first step out of your comfort zone and going back to school is probably the hardest thing. But you have a set goal and you know the timeline. It’s much easier to succeed when you have a goal and know exactly what you want to do. It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it. The first step is scary. Change isn’t always fun, but it’s worth it.”