Soroptimist International of Carson City celebrated more than just a 60th anniversary Wednesday at Bleu Cafe — its members are revolutionizing the club by adding more community service, with the help of looking back into their history.
Since June 8, 1957, the local Soroptimist club has been serving the needs of women and girls through programs such as Miss Carson City Pageant, Girl of the Month at Carson High School, and Friends in Service Helping. The key of the club is to inspire women to become leaders in their communities by promoting awareness, advocacy and action through volunteer service.
With the increase in local memberships, members analyzed the community service that was done within the club 60 years ago and discussed how to resurrect those opportunities, in order to gain more local involvement.
Some of those ideas include reconnecting with longtime members who received scholarships and share how the Soroptimist club changed their lives.
“Our club was instrumental back then,” said Sherry Griffin, inducted president of the club. “Members participated in more community-based projects, rather just internal. We need to know what happened these last 60 years with our service, and apply it to current issues of what women and girls are facing today.”
Soroptimist International was founded in Oakland, Calif., in 1921 with women members representing a variety of professions. According to Soroptimist International of the Americas, there were 30,230 members at the end of 2015, and 1,284 clubs in 20 countries and territories.
Like service clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotary experiencing a decline in memberships the last few decades, the local Soroptimist has seen a 50 percent decline in local memberships over the past 30 years.
But over the last few months, the Carson City Soroptimist has seen an increase in membership, going from 40 to 50 members.
“We’re not struggling with members but sometimes it can be hard to find staff for fundraisers,” said Past President Jean Bondiett. “It’s really because of life. Women are involved in Carson City, but they also have busy lives.”
The other service clubs in the area expressed the same conflicts about their membership; people sign up and want to get involved, but don’t have the time.
With that, clubs are hoping to attract a younger generation, as the age demographic ranges from 40s-80s.
“They’re more focused on activities, not meetings,” said Bondiett. “Women enjoy the camaraderie.”
Some service clubs also believe they lost in memberships after the economy’s downturn in 2008.
Carson City is one of the few places in the region with a Soroptimists club, including two clubs in South Lake Tahoe, and one each in Dayton and Reno.
However, based on archives, some of the members found women of professional and business services were involved in community outreach events representing Soroptimists. In fact, it was women who established a local chapter in 1957, for the women of Carson City.
“Soroptimists back then were very particular about who was involved, especially with professional women in an executive position,” Griffin said. “They had very busy schedules but they participated in short periods of time and making contacts within the community.”
Griffin also was president of the club during 2010-2011. Now as president for the second time, her goal is diversify opportunities for local women, implement more networking events, and going back to the perspective of getting involved — even if it’s just for a small amount of time.
“The community saw it as emerging opportunities,” Griffin said. “We all continue that and they had similar issues as we do today, and that’s important.”
Griffin said proof also is shown by the interest of former and current governors, mayors, and senators as they recognized the purpose of the club. Mayor Bob Crowell read the proclamation at the ceremony honoring the organization, stating “their dedication toward this community and arduous work improving the lives of women and girls.”
As a local impact, the club raised more than $15,000 in scholarships this year, along with more than $12,000 in grant funds were awarded to Carson City non-profits in April, such as FISH, Muscle Powered, and Advocates to End Domestic Violence.
They also donated $5,000 to the Volunteer Attorneys of Rural Nevada earlier this year.
Funds were raised through the club’s annual Stroke to Help Gold Tournament.
The club also organizes its Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention program, which has provided more than 1,200 local women with screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and biopsies at a cost of more than $160,000, ranging from 14 to 70 years of age.
With that, the club also organizes back to school backpack donation drives, which begins in late July.
Moving forward, the club has two more major projects of focus: the Dream It Be It program, and focusing on sex trafficking in Carson City.
Dream It Be It features women in careers to reach out to girls exploring opportunities and network, as an opportunity for busy women to get involved.
As for the awareness advocacy and action perspective, the club will work together to find a solution to trafficking involving sex, labor, and immigration.
“Our projects are thriving,” said Didi Chaney, co-chair of Soroptimist publicity committee. “We’re a club with an influence and we’re lucky to be so involved.”
“We want to offer a short period of time of participation,” Griffin said. “Along with that, we’re rewarding them, too, for making a difference. Even the small things made a big difference for us.”
To learn more about memberships or donating to the Carson City Soroptimist International, visit sicarsoncity.org.