Soroptimist International: Local Women Making a Difference in the North State

Chico Soroptimist club. Photo: Jessica Croshaw.

Chico Soroptimist club. Photo: Jessica Croshaw.

Valerie Sawyers-Stroud spent most of her life working things out on her own. For years, the single mom postponed the dream of pursuing her education so she could focus on supporting her children.

  “My childhood was spent coming up through the foster system, and I’ve been on my own raising my daughters for the last 10 years. I’m familiar with what people go through in tough times,” said Sawyers-Stroud, who decided to return to school when she was hit with a significant pay cut a few years ago.

Today, the Redding mom thanks Soroptimist International for selecting her as one of last year’s regional Live Your Dream Award winners. The funds helped with living expenses while she studied at Shasta College.

“When you have someone else cheering you on, it makes you feel so much more capable,” said Sawyers-Stroud, who needs only six more classes to complete her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Simpson University. “I have people who want me to succeed – and they have helped me not just in word but also in deed.”

Red Bluff Soroptimist club Board of Directors.

Red Bluff Soroptimist club Board of Directors.

Sawyers-Stroud is among the hundreds of recipients of awards sponsored by local clubs of Soroptimist International of the Americas, a global volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls through education, empowerment and business opportunities.

Soroptimist’s Live Your Dream Award honors women who are the primary breadwinners for their families looking for career advancement or a new career through studies or skill acquisition. Other awards include scholarships to young women leaving the foster care system, cash grants to individuals working toward economic independence, and scholarships for graduating high school seniors.

Local Soroptimist clubs include two groups in Redding, two in Chico, and clubs in Red Bluff and Yreka.

“Each club has its own particular goal, but we work toward the same mission of helping women in our communities,” said Donna Johnson, board member of Soroptimist International of Red Bluff, which is now in its 75th year.

Redding Soroptimist club. Photo: Cherrel Kirkland.

Redding Soroptimist club. Photo: Cherrel Kirkland.

The Red Bluff club raises thousands of dollars each year for scholarships through fundraisers like Chocolate Fantasia, coming up on Saturday, October 25, at the Red Bluff Community Center. The club also focuses on domestic abuse prevention and education, teaming up with other non-profits to furnish and operate a battered women’s shelter.

Area Soroptimist clubs also work to stop human trafficking and build solidarity with women around the world. Soroptimist International of Chico, for instance, has helped fund loans to entrepreneurial women in Latin America and Africa looking to start businesses of their own, and the Downtown Redding club has helped cover tuition for five young girls in Uganda.

“It is exciting to be part of a group making a difference in our own community and also across the world,” said Robin Glasco, membership director of Soroptimist International of Downtown Redding, a club that has focused on serving underprivileged women. She said even modest awards go a long way to help women find the success they seek. “When you are a struggling and single parent, that little bit makes a big difference,” said Glasco.

Soroptimist clubs also organize direct service programs that help transform women’s lives at the core. The Downtown Redding club teamed up with Shasta Community Health Center to create a program called “Promising Smiles” that provides thousands of dollars in restorative dental work for women, including victims of domestic abuse. Now in its fourth year, the program has benefited about two dozen women whose new smiles gave them confidence to apply for jobs and return to school.

But award recipients aren’t the only ones whose lives are improved through Soroptimist International, said Gayle Aylward, a Chico business woman and president of Soroptimist International of Chico. The organization also offers area business women a place to find personal fulfillment, friendship, networking, mentoring and leadership skills through volunteerism.

“Soroptimist encourages a life of success and significance,” said Aylward, who has been a Soroptimist member for 18 years. “And that comes through giving back.”

Jennifer Harris became hooked on the organization from the moment she walked into her first Soroptimist meeting two years ago.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of a club meeting,” said Harris, who now serves as vice president of Soroptimist International of Redding, a club chartered 68 years ago.

Harris’ club is launching a program this year called Dream It, Be It, providing mentors and career education to secondary school girls facing obstacles to success. The Redding club also focuses on breast cancer awareness and fundraising to ensure all women under 65 have access to free mammograms.

“I discovered a group of beautiful souls,” said Harris. “It was evident that I was sitting among a strong group of driven women who were passionate about various causes and motivated to make a change in their community.”   

Upper Northern California Soroptimist International club information can be
found online:

  • Soroptimist International of Redding (530) 243-6684
  • Soroptimist International of Downtown Redding (530) 945-9877
  • Soroptimist International of Chico (530) 864-6699
  • Soroptimist International of Bidwell Rancho-Chico
  • Soroptimist International of Red Bluff (530) 347-3087
  • Soroptimist International of Yreka
Sonia Giordani-Johnston
About Sonia Giordani-Johnston

Sonia Giordani-Johnston is a freelance writer inspired by generous people who do small acts of kindness with great love. She lives in Redding with her husband, their four children, a dog and 12 chickens.


  1. Thanks for such a great article! We really appreciate the honor of being included in your magazine 🙂

  2. Linda Lotspeich says:

    What a wonderful article that gives information about Soroptimist organizations in our area. I’ve been a member in Chico over 25 years and been impressed by the recipients of our awards that are both local and international. They truly touch our hearts by their struggles and perseverance. They are a big part of why we continue to raise funds in our community. We are proud to be women helping other women and girls either locally or internationally.

    Thank you for publishing this article.

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