Soroptimist International (SI) of Los Banos has been making a positive difference in the Westside community since the club was chartered on June 16, 1962 and continues to do so today.

I became involved with this wonderful women’s organization in 1986 and was inspired by what the 23 charter members and later members had accomplished to improve the lives of women and girls.

At that time, there were six charter members still active in the club.  They were all in their 70s and were all so positive, energetic and such great role models.

When I took a “Women of the West” course at Fresno Pacific University in the early 1990s, I wanted to honor in an essay these pathbreakers by writing a paper explaining the many forms of service Soroptimists are involved in. These are the highlights from that essay.

Soroptimist accomplishes its community service goals through its six programs of service. The club identifies the specific needs of the community through awareness, advocacy and action. Soroptimist then establishes projects  that will benefit the community.

The program of service for HEALTH involved making people aware of how to achieve the goals of well-being.  Over the years, SI sponsored in Los Banos the blood bank, mammogram programs, and immunization clinics. Educational programs were conducted on breast cancer, heart disease, stress management and more.

Funds were contributed for medical research, and the club sponsored programs for hospice and teen parent services. Donations were provided to the convalescent hospital, community hospital and Kingsview Work Center for cognitively disabled clients.  

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT programs promoted better conditions for women through actions to improve the economic and social climate for women. At that time, SI provided a Training Awards Program (TAP) to assist mature women in their efforts toward retraining as well as entry or re-entry into the labor market. (This award is now the “Live Your Dream” award.)

SI members became supporters of battered women shelters, rape crisis centers and preventative youth programs, and they sponsored financial and career counseling seminars.

The EDUCATION program helped women further their education and skills to improve their quality of life. Scholarships and awards were the major components. Scholarships were provided annually for the two local high schools,- Los Banos and San Luis, and for Merced College to help students achieve their educational goals.

The local library was supported by the Soroptimists funding literacy programs and volunteering for tutorial programs. SI purchased individual books  Head Start students to promote and encourage the preschoolers to read at home. A computer literacy software program was purchased for Merced College Los Banos Campus.

Boosting self-esteem for young people to achieve their potential and goals was an important part of the club. A high school senior girl of the month was honored, encouraged and recognized for her academics and school activities at the luncheon meetings. Youth Citizenship Awards (YCA) were given to graduating seniors for merit in the areas of service, dependability, leadership and a clear sense of purpose.

During the school year, SI provided school clothes, supplies  and other needed services when requested by the school nurses. SI wanted all students to do well in school and help in any way possible. 

The ENVIRONMENT program supported the Big Basin Friendship Groves and other tree planting projects. Due to the efforts of Los Banos and clubs in the Sierra Pacific Region, several redwood groves at Big Basin in the Santa Cruz mountains were purchased and saved for future generations to enjoy and treasure.

SI assisted in maintaining Little Page Park.  Safe playground equipment, cement picnic tables, benches, and a barbeque were purchased along with an ADA drinking fountain.

The INTERNATIONAL GOODWILL AND UNDERSTANDING program contributed to universal friendships, better relations with other countries and world peace efforts. As an international organization, friendship links were established with other clubs globally that brought us closer and provided a better understanding and appreciation of cultural differences.  The club also supported the American Foreign Exchange programs and international programs such as UNICEF.

The last program of service, HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE STATUS OF WOMEN, involved keeping all Soroptimist International members informed on any new developments that discriminated against women. Networking of all women’s groups and lobbying political leaders and representatives were essential keys for success to improve the conditions for women throughout the world.

Global women’s projects were supported by all Soroptimist clubs to make a difference for women. Two examples of these projects were teaching women in Peru health practices and income-producing skills while another project was creating clean water wells in Africa.

It is truly amazing what a dedicated group of volunteers can accomplish. For additional information or comments, contact me at 209.777.5974.

Sandy Lemas

Sandy Lemas is a longtime resident of Los Banos who has volunteered much of her time to community service. She will be writing a regular column on volunteers and volunteer organizations that help their community.