The Soroptimist International of Los Banos held its annual Soroptimist and Friends Awards event on May 8. In addition to inviting prospective members and having an informative guest speaker, the club honored the Live Your Dream, the June Erreca Community Service, and the Friends of Soroptimist award winners.

Soroptimist clubs have been economically empowering women with the Live Your Dream Awards since 1972. Providing women and girls with access to education is the most effective way to help them reach their full potential and live their dreams.

When women and girls are educated, they have more opportunity, choice and power to make healthy decisions for themselves and families. Although the awards address economic needs and make a difference in a practical way, they also affect women in a personal way.

Women who have received the award report an increase in self-confidence, self-esteem, and pride for being recognized for having the courage to change their lives. Every year, more than $2.8 million in education grants are awarded to nearly 1,900 women.

Committee member Delia Salazar presented the awards to the three recipients who were selected by local community judges.

The first recipient was Miranda Schofield. She is attending Merced College and plans on transferring to CSU Stanislaus in hopes of becoming a teacher.

Next was Brianna Soto who is working as a part-time caregiver and wants to become a Certified nursing assistant. Her long-term goal is to become a nurse.

The final winner was Reyna Garcia Serrano who is studying towards a GED and taking ESL courses. Her long-term goal is to become a Medical Assistant. All are single mothers who have faced many obstacles and challenges in their lives.

Volunteering and the name June Erreca go hand in hand. A volunteer is one who enters into community service of their own free will and who gives freely of their time for the betterment of others without any personal gain in return.

In 2003, the local Soroptimist club started this award as a way to honor June while she was still an active charter member who helped start the club in 1962. June was able to present the award to the honored senior volunteer for 10 years prior to her passing in 2013. This $500.00 award is now given in memory of June.

Pauline Scoles presented the award to Prishaa Vala, a Los Banos High School senior.

Prishaa Vala is involved in many volunteer activities. To begin with, she is a columnist for The Westside Express newspaper and she has her own blog and Podcast.

Vala has given Henna tattoos to bring light to her heritage at community events, and tutors math in all grades. She has painted fences to get rid of graffiti, participated in the removal of trash around town, and volunteered at the Angel Tree at Christmas to be sure that underprivileged children received gifts.

Vala participated and helped organize, distribution of hygiene bags and clothes for women in shelters, and has participated in the Soroptimist sponsored S club for all four years of high school

Making an impact on her peers, Vala helped institute a club called Walking Serenity. Walking Serenity is a mental health group of peers and school staff who walk together an hour before school in order to express themselves and to encourage each other to have a positive outlook on life.

Prishaa Vala is an amazing youth role model for other high school students.

During dinner, Andree Soares gave an overview of her business-Star Creek Land Stewards, Inc. which she purchased in 2014. Andree’s daughter Bianca joined Star Creek after graduating from UC Davis in 2018 as the program manager.

This innovative company takes an organic approach to help protect California’s forests and grasslands while enriching and benefitting vegetation on the landscapes naturally. Their unique services include providing grazing sheep and goats as another tool in forest fire abatement and land management.

Sheep and goats primarily eat low-lying grasses that allow fires to spread along the ground while goats also feed on taller plants like shrubs that can help fires jump to other places. Per their web page, a herd of 400 can eat about 2,200 pounds of vegetation every day.

Renting the animals can be a cheaper alternative than human crews that use gas-powered machinery. The foragers can go where people have a tougher time clearing such as rocky slopes and hills. As an added bonus, the animals provide natural fertilizer along the way.

The evening was closed with the presentation of the Friends of Soroptimist award. The club recognizes an individual, group, or business that helps work with the Soroptimist club to help it reach its goals and services.

This year’s winner was Kenneth Lambert, owner of Biggin’s Texas BBQ. His business has always worked with providing a private meeting place for the club to hold one of its events while providing a delicious dinner at a reasonable price. He also accommodates the club by being open on Mondays which is his usual day closed for business.

For more information on Soroptimist International of Los Banos or to attend the next Soroptimist & Friends event, contact Sherry Pearson, membership chair at 209-617-9624.

Gene Lieb/The Express Soroptimist members, Sandy Lemas, left, and Delia Salazar present the Live Your Dream awards to, from left holding certificates, Reyna Garcia Serrano, Brianna Soto and Miranda Schofield during the May 8 awards ceremony at Biggin’s Texas BBQ in downtown Los Banos
The Westside Express