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Soroptimist program seeks to empower junior high girls
SET program builds self-esteem, encourages girls
Soroptimist member and artist Gari Sperry approves of the water color washing technique used by Marilyn Zabalza, a seventh-grader at Blaker Kinser Junior High School. Local Soroptimist members are investing in the lives of junior high school students to boost their self-confidence. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A little bit of adult time with a student can go a long way.

Just ask members of the Soroptimist International of Ceres who are seeing junior high school girls blossoming as the result of a mentoring program that encourages them, awakens their talents and enriches their lives.

The program focuses on girls who have not quite found a place to plug into the social network at school.

"It's to help them participate and build their self-esteem," said Arlene Vilas, chair of the Soroptimist Empowering Teens (SET) program.

Club members alternate between Ceres' three junior high campuses to talk with the girls and present a craft workshop. Each campus is visited after school two to three times during the school year. On Monday the SET visit to Blaker Kinser Junior High School brought water color lessons to 18 girls through artistic members in Gloria Vincent and Gari Sperry. Vincent is a retired 18-year Don Pedro School teacher who enters her own artwork into Mistlin Gallery shows in Modesto.

"These girls just love this program," said Sharon Caruso, a member of Soroptimists. "They're just so positive. They thank us for coming in. They give us ideas for new projects and presentations to do. They love the arts and crafts, the hands on so that they can have something they can take with them. They are very interactive with the presentation as well."

Soroptimists have heard some girls say that they've never done a craft before the program introduced one to them.
"We do cookie decorating and (some) have never done cookie decorating," said Caruso.

After a demonstration of floral arranging, some girls expressed a desire to explore floriculture as a career option.

The visit also includes a "girl talk" lesson led by "S" Club members - the high school version of Soroptimists - from both Ceres and Central Valley high schools. On Monday Ariana Herrera and Carina Galvan spoke about life in high school and allowed the seventh-graders to ask questions to help dissolve their fears about the transitions. The pair also told how the girls can get involved when they graduate eighth grade.

The program, conducted by usually eight Soroptimist members, is so popular that there is a waiting list, said Vilas.

The program typically starts with refreshments and ends when with the gift of a flower and a book to encourage them to read for pleasure at home.

Vilas said her club used to offer a similar program at the Stanislaus Recovery Center until the format there changed.