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Women of Distinction feted
Michaela Morales
Denise Wickham presents honors to Live Your Dream: Education & Training Awards recipient Michaela Morales. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /The Courier

The Soroptimist International of Ceres recognized a number of women Thursday evening who make the Ceres community a better place during its annual Women of Distinction Awards ceremony.

The service club held its event at the Ceres Unified School District Board Room.

Michaela Morales and Maria Rosas were recognized as winners of the club’s “Live Your Dream: Education & Training Awards” program. The award is given annually to a woman who is the head of their household and its primary financial supporter while pursuing their education. It comes with a financial award.

Morales was abandoned by her parents when she was two and raised by her grandparents. She struggled with depression and anxiety through high school. At age 20 she became a mom while attending college. Michaela was a single mom and failed to earn her associate degree. She has now returned to school to become a sociologist or a teacher who works with special education or emotionally disturbed students.

“I don’t want anybody to fall through the cracks or feel like they’re not loved or cared for or they’re just tossed to the side because maybe they’re acting out because deep down they need somebody to encourage them as well,” she said.

Morales got hurt five years ago and went on workers’ compensation and went through three surgeries. She decided to go back to Stanislaus State with her brothers helping financially.

Maria Rosas, another single mother, works for the Ceres School District’s Adult Education Department and is overcoming barriers in her life. Because of her heavy work schedule with two jobs she has only been able to take online courses. She plans to spend her award on books to finish up her junior college courses. She told the group that she was comfortable in survival mode but finally got motivated to go back to school. Maria plans to go onto California State University, Stanislaus on her way to becoming a school counselor.

Local Business Partner awards were presented to Kathy Casey of Casey Moving Systems in Ceres and Sally Lara, owner of Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill in downtown Ceres.

Soroptimist Denise Wickham said she didn’t know of anyone who serves others more than Casey. She joined SI when she moved to Ceres 28 years ago.

Lara was not present.

The club also recognized Lisa Mantarro Moore for recently being named one of Stanislaus County Commission for Women’s “Outstanding Women.”

Moore has a dedicated career of serving the public in a variety of capacities.

Professionally, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Congressional Representative Dennis Cardoza and is currently the District Director for State Representative Adam Gray.

Mantarro-Moore has had her own public service career as a Ceres City Council Member and Vice Mayor.

She also is leading the Clinton Whitmore Mansion Foundation, helping to oversee the maintenance and operation of one of Ceres’ most historic homes.

Liz Harrelson, owner of Modesto’s Do Good Distillery, was the guest speaker at the event. She told of prevailing after the 2017 death of her husband Jim and keeping the family business going.

Also honored by the club was Becki Barton Nicholes who in January was named by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce as its Citizen of the Year.

Nicholes opened Becki’s Munchkinland Day Care 35 years ago with sister Cindy.

Becki served as a volunteer firefighter in 1985 and met future husband Bryan Nicholes. She worked her way up to captain as she became certified as a Firefighter 1 Swift Water Rescue and Heavy Rescue. She worked on numerous wildland strike teams. Becki earned her Emergency Medical EMT certificate.

After the birth of son Colby, Becki resigned but continued to serve the community. She was a charter member of the Venture Club of Ceres and has belonged to the Soroptimist International of Ceres for over 19 years and served as its president in 2004-05.

Nicholes is a past recipient of the Soroptimist of the Year award, due to her time as co-chair of the Fundraising Committee, chair of the Women of Distinction event, and participating in other activities to improve the lives women and girls.

She was appointed to the Proposition 10 Board for the county and served as chairman of the campaigns of numerous City Council and mayoral candidates.

For six and a half years Becki was a Girl Scout leader in Ceres, coached Ceres Youth Soccer and played Ceres Adult Soccer for seven years. She also served on the Chamber’s board. Through her church involvement, she and husband Bryan organized the first two “Love Ceres” events. She served on the Ceres Street Faire Committee, managing the children’s activities.

In 2012, Becki and Bryan were named the Chamber’s “Volunteers of the Year.”

She is often seen at community events taking photos of participants.

The club also paid tribute to life members Sophie Pallios and Ruth Strange who were not present. The two were members when the charter was established on Sept. 8, 1972. Both Pallios and Strange continue to support club activities and projects.

The club also recognized Carli Gomes for serving as president of the Ceres High “S” Club, which operates under the Soroptimist umbrella.

Honored as “Life Members” of the Soroptimist International of Ceres were JoAnn Haglund and Fran Welsh.

Also recognized were longtime club members Donna Strickler, who has served 35 years; Pat Cousins and Bonnie White-Silveria who have been members for 29 years; Carol Perry, 28 years; Dolores Machado and Arlene Vilas, both in the club for 27 years; and Isabel McKay, 25 years.