Soroptimist International of Woodbridge

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By Rebecca Barnes

Soroptimist International was formed in 1921 in Oakland, California, at a time when women were not permitted to join service organizations. The name, loosely translated from the Latin, means best for women. Today, Soroptimist has about 120,000 members and supporters in 21 countries and territories.

Soroptimist International of Woodbridge was established in 1977. SIOW is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) volunteer women’s organization providing women and girls in the community the resources and opportunities to reach their full potential and live their dreams. They work toward these goals by providing educational scholarships and offering various mentoring programs. This month, SIOW celebrated its 45th anniversary.

SIOW’s Impact in the Community

Over the years, SIOW has mentored high school women, worked with incarcerated women getting back into the community, and supported the homeless population and those who have not been able to afford basic needs.

 Other programs include:

  • Partnered with Habitat for Humanity Women Build project to build a home for a single mom and her children
  • Partnered with Saved Hands Foundation to provide backpacks and school supplies for children who could not afford them
  • Worked with the Hilda Barg Center to feed the homeless population of Prince William
  • Partnered with other Soroptimist Clubs to provide education and support to women in the Juvenile Detention Center through career and educational counseling
  • Contributed funds to well building in Haiti for populations impacted by natural disasters

Signature Empowerment Programs

SIOW has two signature empowerment programs:

  • Live Your Dream Awards program is a unique education award for women who provide the primary financial support for their families. Live Your Dream Awards give women the resources they need to improve their education, skills, and employment prospects.
  • Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls gives girls the tools they need to achieve their education and career goals, empowering them to break cycles of poverty, violence, and abuse. This is a mentoring program for rising high school juniors and seniors.

The club’s years of experience working with women and girls has taught them education is the key to unlocking economic empowerment of the world’s women and girls. When women and girls are educated, they have opportunity, choice, and power to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families, which in turn make our community stronger and more successful on all fronts.

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Members at a Fall Conference

 Collaboration with Other Regional Programs

“When women help other women, amazing things happen!” said SIOW member Carol Padgett. “Our club and members breathe life into our programs and truly come together to make a difference for women and girls locally and worldwide. We truly believe and have seen the effects of the ripples of kindness, empowerment and community has changed not only individuals but families and neighborhoods.

“We work with other Soroptimist Clubs in the greater DC area as well as several community organizations. Our work with Saved Hands (backpack giveaway) and the Hilda Barg Center for the Homeless are just two examples of working with other organizations. Our latest Spring Fashion Show Fundraiser (April 16) was done in collaboration with Soroptimist International of Fairfax.”

 The Our Dream It Be It program has been a very successful endeavor in Montgomery and Gaithersburg (Maryland) high schools.  SIOW has been collaborating with these Maryland clubs to work in partnership with girls in small groups or a conference setting to provide them with the information and resources they want and need to be successful. Padgett said, “Due to the success in Maryland, we are currently looking for avenues to introduce this successful program into our Prince William County Schools.

“Our last Spring Fashion Show Fundraiser was an epic success, so we are currently discussing ideas on how to organize another wonderful fundraiser event for next Spring 2024,” said Padgett.

Live Your Dream Award Applications

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2023 Live Your Dream Award Recipients

From Aug. 1 to Nov. 15, application information for our Live Your Dream Award scholarship/grants are sent to all neighboring colleges, trade schools, and extended education institutions. Here are some of the requirements women must meet to be eligible:

  • Provide the primary financial support for yourself and your dependents. Dependents can include children, spouse, partner, siblings and/or parents.
  • Have financial need
  • Be enrolled in or accepted to a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program
  • Be motivated to achieve an education and career goals

Effective Volunteer Leadership

Effective leadership in any volunteer organization is vital. In Padgett’s experience with SIOW, she has found “The most important leadership characteristic one must possess is an immense passion to assist in empowering women and girls. Along with this passionate motivator, organization, patience, and a can-do attitude are necessary.  Since Soroptimist International is a volunteer nonprofit organization it’s extremely necessary for an effective leader to practice servant leadership — lead by example and motivate the club members towards a common goal/mission.”

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, Padgett said, “We would like to help more women and girls in Prince William County through our signature programs. In addition, our organization has a goal to help empower over a half a million women and girls in the next 10 years.”

 In order to meet those goals, SIOW needs more members and volunteers. “We are always looking for girls/women (over 18) to get involved in empowering other women and girls financially and academically,” said Padgett. 

For more information, visit siwoodbridge.org.

Rebecca Barnes is the publisher of Prince William Living.

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