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Soroptimist International Celebrates Centennial

The local club, Soroptimist International Manhattan Beach, will join thousands around the world to commemorate its “bright past, brilliant future.”

By Kelly Fogarty

11 members of Soroptimist International of Manhattan Beach pose along the pink-painted Tower 60 at El Segundo Beach
Members of SIMB hold Breast Cancer Comfort Bags at lifeguard tower 60, painted pink in October 2019 for breast-cancer awareness.

One hundred years ago, many service organizations would not accept women as members. A woman in business in Alameda County, however, decided that women in business and professional careers should gather in service and bring their energy and talents to improving their community. Soroptimist International was formed and grew to include 72,000 members in 120 countries and territories.

Soroptimist International of Manhattan Beach (SIMB) was chartered to serve the South Bay in 1953. Original members included Bette Deziel, co-owner of Don’s Jewelers with her husband; Carmen Daugherty, a hair salon owner in Hermosa Beach; Opal Robinson, an educator; and many more. Today fifty-five members will celebrate the rich history of this club, connect with members from around the world, and make plans for the coming years.

Marixa Barba serves as SIMB President during this year and is excited to be leading the celebration. “I am endlessly amazed at the generosity and caring attention of our members. No matter the obstacles, we find ways to carry out our programs and raise funds needed to achieve the work,” she says. To achieve the organization’s mission, which is to provide women and girls with access to the education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment, SIMB presents programs with a focus on education as the key to escape poverty and other adversity, and to bring women and girls into full participation in society.

The Live Your Dream Education and Training Awards for Women make cash grants to female heads of household who are enrolled in college or vocational training courses. Helen Block serves as Chair for the program, which last year gave $17,500 to 11 South Bay women. A member of SIMB for more than 30 years, Helen says that meeting the award winners each year is a highlight, as they describe the obstacles they have faced to independence and making the most of their potential. “Many say that our caring outreach is even more important to them than the funds. Throughout our Soroptimist clubs, over half of our Live Your Dream Awards recipients are survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, or sexual assault. Nearly all the women and families we serve have overcome enormous obstacles, including poverty, teen pregnancy, and drug or alcohol addiction,” says Helen. “Being part of an organization that annually serves 1,700 women, giving $28 million in these grants, is very rewarding.”

El Segundo resident Jane Phillips first met the group when she was operating the Crown Jewel Club, a nonprofit program to mentor underserved girls. “The women of SIMB just jumped right in and supported the program,” Jane says of the collaboration. “These women came in like a force and just made the Crown Jewel Club happen, which in turn directly helped more than 1,000 girls” through countless hours of work in school classrooms. That was in 2006. Jane joined SIMB herself soon after and calls her fellow members “amazing, dedicated, and committed.”

SIMB is also known for presenting the LUNAFEST Film Festival each year. The festival of short films celebrates female voices in writing and producing and shines a light on the contributions of women in these arts. The fundraiser is held each spring, and plans are in place for April 2022, with a hybrid in-person and virtual option for guests. Community support is outstanding and it is the club’s largest fundraiser.

Today, members do not need to be working to join. New members with a desire to empower women are always welcome. Soroptimist enjoys consultative status with the United Nations and is an important voice for women in meetings there.

The club’s website includes grant applications and membership information, as well as a calendar of monthly meetings and events that the public is invited to attend.

Kelly Fogarty is VP Membership of SIMB.

This story appears in the October 2021 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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