Just because the Gig Harbor chapter of Soroptimist International is one of the newest clubs in the organization—and one of the smallest—does not mean the members cannot think big when it comes to service projects to empower women in their own community.
Past President Nita Sutich said she was driving through town in deep discussion with Diana Chapman several years ago trying to think of how the small band of determined women could make an impact on the women and children in Gig Harbor. That’s when she noticed the entrance to the Cottesmore Child Development Center at Henderson Bay.
“What could make a bigger impact than to help the mothers of young children?” she said with conviction. “We knew that the chapter was too small to tackle some large undertaking, but we could make a difference in our community by dedicating our time and our limited resources to help single mothers at a time they need our help the most.”
Sutich turned her car into the driveway and walked into the busy childcare facility. She asked to meet the director and was immediately escorted into an office where she met Peg Loe.
“There was an immediate connection,” she remembered. “We wanted to jump right in to provide whatever Peg needed. This was a project we could sink our teeth into and really make a difference in the lives of these young mothers and their babies.”
Sutich explained that the Henderson Bay center serves the needs of teen parents who need to know their children are in a secure environment while they are in school or job training in an effort to improve life for their family.
The president knew her chapter could provide more than moral support to fulfill their mission. The Soroptimists took Loe’s wish list and went to work. The women dedicated proceeds from an annual fundraiser to help defray the cost of daycare for the mothers in the critical financial situations. They volunteered time with the children, pitched in to paint the classroom and staged a Christmas dinner for the children and their parents.
“When I mentioned my dream of an organic garden, the women jumped in to work with the kiddos to build the garden that first year and actually helped plant some of the vegetables,” said Loe. “The work they have done with us touched the children as well as the families. Even many of the grandparents.”
In addition to the physical labor that members of the chapter dedicated to the school, the Gig Harbor Soroptimists provided the young mothers contacts to employers at the Career Pathways Expo.
“We know that helping these young mothers get ahead will make a difference, not just in their lives, but improve the health of our community,” said Sutich.
The generosity of the women has not gone unnoticed. Loe and some of the mothers of children in the daycare program have baked cakes that were auctioned as part of the Dessert Dash at the club’s annual fundraiser.
In turn, Loe was also named the recipient of the Gig Harbor chapter’s Ruby Award as one of the outstanding women in the community.
“In addition to all of the wonderful work she does with the children” said Sutich, “Peg serves as a role model every day to these young mothers who are doing their very best to raise their children in a complex world.”
The daycare center administrator understands the delicate position that young mothers are placed in today’s society, said Sutich.
“Social media and dozens of other factors make being a mother a much more difficult job than when we were raining our own children,” Sutich explained. “Peg does an amazing job of understanding how hard they are working and providing support in ways that allow the young mothers to embrace each other to know they are making a real difference.”
Soroptimist International of Gig Harbor (SIGH) was chartered in 2007 and is one of the youngest Soroptimist clubs in the Puget Sound area. The Gig Harbor chapter is part of a global volunteer organization that works to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.
The past president was excited to proclaim that two women had applied to become members in July, bringing the chapter’s membership total to 13. The new members were initially attracted to the group through the club website (ghsoroptimist.org) by the opportunity to network with other professional women, but are eager to be part of the group’s commitment to serve both women and families in the area.
Soroptimist International has more than 1,300 clubs in 20 countries and territories that work to improve the lives of women and girls. Soroptimist clubs receive assistance in their volunteer efforts by participating locally in programs developed and sponsored by the organization.
In addition to the work they do with the mothers and children at the child development center, the Gig Harbor Soroptimists are involved in other local endeavors as well as some of the worldwide efforts of the global organization.
The daycare lent itself to the chapter’s Brussels Sprouts Project at Henderson Bay High School established in 2012, a collaborative effort among Cottesmore Center for Life, Peninsula School District and the SIGH that provides funding and hands-on assistance to improve the lives of teen moms and their children enrolled in the child development program. The goal of this project is to ensure that teen moms can complete their high school education, knowing that their children are well taken care of.
The Live Your Dream Awards given out annually by the chapter provide financial assistance to women who are the primary source of financial support for their families. Recipients of the Live Your Dream Awards may use the cash award to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare, tuition and transportation.
The New Girl program was designed to help and encourage girls to set and pursue goals, overcome setbacks and educate girls of the career opportunities available to women. New Girl is run in cooperation with the international organization and allows local clubs to design and conduct community events that give girls the resources they need to pursue career goals.
The current emphasis of Soroptimist International is aimed at two issues of human rights that impact women in all parts of the world. The first is an effort to stop the trafficking of young women around the world as well as raise about the sexual trafficking of women and girls by encouraging citizens, lawmakers and service providers to focus on the global dilemma.
The second cause being championed by the organization is focused on the needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence and homeless women and their children.
Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis. He is now a freelance writer living in Mukilteo dedicated to capturing the cherished stories of our lifetime so they can be preserved for future generations. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.