The Soroptimist International of Ceres recognized a number of women Thursday evening who enhance the community on during its annual Women of Distinction Awards ceremony.
The event, held at the Ceres Unified School District Board Room, gave the service club a chance to highlight their highly successful Soroptimists Empowering Teens (SET) program. Brandy Meyer explained that each month members go to one of the three junior high schools in Ceres to spend time with the girls, offer a message and provide a craft session to make such things as bracelets, scarves, baking and planting succulents. Often high school girls are invited to speak to the younger girls to inspire them.
"Our current message is giving back service," said Meyer.
The program started out a few years ago with 25 girls but has grown to 30-32 "because girls were requesting to come."
"We try to get other members of the community involved."
SET also gives the junior high girls a chance to learn about Soroptimists and its "S" Club at the high school level.
Meyer honored the principals of the junior highs for being "very supportive of the program." Kristi Britton, principal of Blaker Kinser Junior High, said the word has spread about the fun of the program and that girls are always found waiting outside to see if any openings occur.
"Our girls have learned so much from these events," said Britton, "both the Girl Talk portion as well as the activities. I hope this program continues in the future because it provides opportunities for our young women that are truly a need for them." She said the program connects girls who are without ways to feel connected to others.
Carol Lubinsky, Mae Hensley Junior High School's principal, sent a message of praise. "The young girls you work with look forward to spending their afternoons with you and are actually lobbying me to invite you to the campus more often," said Lubinsky. She explains that the club makes its rounds among the three schools only once per month.
Cesar Chavez Junior High School Principal Rosemarie Kloepfer said she observed her girls having lots of fun making bracelets and enjoying hearing high school girls talk about their transition into high school.
Soroptimist member Denise Wickham, emcee for the event, took time to praise "S" Club advisers Angela Durossette of Ceres High School, and Ashley Groom, advisor at Central Valley High School. "Both of these ladies work many, many volunteer hours organizing the "S" Club and having "S" Club girls help us at different events, the ice cream socials, and putting up chairs and setting things up so it's very much appreciated," said Wickham.
Distinguished Young Woman
Jennifer Rossi introduced five Ceres teenagers who participated in the Distinguished Young Woman program.
"The program promotes leadership, it promotes scholarship, talent and these are all things that as Soroptimists we want to foster in young women today," said Rossi. "They come with these skills already, these girls. They are outstanding young women."
She explained that girls spend two months learning a "brutal" seven-minute fitness routine with the support of their families. They also learn life skills such as job interview skills, through a workshop. "They are taught to be the best version of themselves that they can."
Breanna Moreno, the overall winner of the program - she also won awards in the panel interview, talent, self-expression and fitness categories - said "this experience is truly life-changing ... I was able to expand my horizons in ways I never imagined.
"I never would think that I'd voluntarily put myself on stage only to get judged on how good I do a push-up or dance a solo so it was definitely nerve-wracking but it was awesome. I've learned so many skills, just the confidence of being on stage, meeting new friends ..."
Eva Borden, the program's first runner-up who claimed the scholastics and panel interview scholarships, said she got close with all the girls who participated and met so many members of the community.
"It was just an amazing experience to learn a lot about myself and the things that I can do on stage ... it was amazing," said Borden.
Andria Esho, the program's second runner-up, and a talent scholarship winner, said the other participants are now like family to her. She thanked Soroptimists for the experience.
"I hope every girl wants to be a part of it," said Andria.
Madison Zamaroni, the third runner-up, also was a scholastics winner, was unable to be present.
Monika Ramirez was the contest's winner of the Spirit Award and won the "Be Your Best Self Community Service Award."
"I had a wonderful time," she said, noting how the preparation time between January and March went by quickly.
Wickham also honored Jennifer Rangel of the Ceres Partnership and World War II nurse Jane Elrath, a long-time member of the Soroptimist International of Ceres.
Jan Wix was honored for "Outstanding Service." Twice a year she makes quilts and donates them to the club for raffle prizes.
Ceres singer Patty Castillo Davis was recognized for receiving a Modesto Area Musicians Association award last year.
The final two honorees are both Associated Student Body presidents at their respective high schools. Bailey Carlin of Ceres High School was not present to be honored.
Brittany Navarro, the ASB president at Central Valley High School, did make it and spoke briefly to the club. She said she wanted to be the ASB president back when she was an eighth-grader and feels she is giving back to her school community.
"I actually remember the SET program," said Navarro. "I actually did that when I was younger which actually something is something that made me want to get involved in my community. I became vice president of ‘S' Club my junior year."
She applauded the ladies for being "lights" for a "community that needs help."