Soroptimist Disburses $1.5 Million Through Awards Programs

Share Article

International organization works to improve the lives of women and girls

Soroptimist, an international volunteer organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, recently honored the 2011 finalists of its Women’s Opportunity, Violet Richardson and Ruby awards. In total, more than $1.5 million was disbursed through these programs at various levels of the organization.

Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Awards

Akiko Hirashima of Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka, Japan; Emilia Menegasso of Curitiba, Parana, Brazil; and Gladyn E. Minzey of Clarksville, Tennessee, U.S.A., were the three women chosen to receive the finalist 2011 Women’s Opportunity Award. The finalists each received $10,000. The awards—given annually to women working to enhance their economic status and improve life for themselves and their families—can be used for tuition, books, childcare, carfare or other education-related expenses.

As a child, Gladyn E. Minzey lived in fear, enduring years of sexual abuse. As an adult, she fell into abusive relationships with men. The single mother of two, however, finally broke that cycle of violence after entering a domestic violence shelter. In addition to the finalist award, Minzey also received the Music City Nashville Soroptimist club and Soroptimist Southern Region Women’s Opportunity Awards. She is using her cash grants to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker.

Having recently graduated with an associate’s degree from Hopkinsville Community College, Minzey is now taking online classes at Austin Peay State University to finish her bachelor’s degree. She then plans to complete her master’s degree in social work.

Her ultimate goal, Minzey says, is to help military families. “Because of my father’s experiences in World War II and my own background with abuse, I feel a pulling toward Fort Campbell to help the soldiers and their families with domestic violence issues,” she says. “I believe that I can turn the problems I have faced into opportunities to help others.”

When Emilia Menegasso was two years old, her mother abandoned their home, leaving her and her brother to live with her father. At age 11, the father began to sexually abuse her, and at 17, she became pregnant with her first child-brother. Three more children followed. As a result of having genetically related parents, the children all have health problems. At 36, with the help of her sister-in-law, Menegasso finally broke free from her father.

Nominated by the Curitiba, Brazil, Soroptimist club and Soroptimist’s Brazil Region, Menegasso earns minimum wage at a manufacturing job and is taking a computer science course so she can have more opportunities for advancement. She has finished her high school education and receiving the Women’s Opportunity Award is now helping her to develop her professional life. The award is also enabling her to have a more stable life with her children, she says.

“I can now offer them a better life and raise them with respect and dignity,” she says. “I was without hope, but now I can and want to start a new life. I have great will power. Now, I am free!”

Akiko Hirashima endured great violence from her husband, who often drank. As a result, he ruptured three of her knee ligaments and today she walks with a limp. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia and depression, she eventually fled to a shelter.

After the divorce was finalized in 2008, Hirashima enrolled in a correspondence course at Nihon Fukushi University’s school of social welfare. Through that program, a certified social worker helped her by offering advice about laws, welfare support, pension and health care, in addition to giving emotional support.

This experience gave Hirashima a new dream of becoming a social worker, she says. Today, she plans to graduate from Nihon Fukushi University and earn the necessary credits to take the national exam to become a social worker. Nominated by the Fukuoka-Minami Soroptimist club, and Soroptimist’s Japan Minami Region, Hirashima is continuing her studies, which would not have been possible without the award, she says, because she had no way to “make ends meet.”

“I am on my way to fulfilling my dream,” she says. “I want to help women overcome gender discrimination deeply rooted in our society and at home, and empower them to reach their full potential.”

Soroptimist Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women

Margarita Guillé Tamayo of Mexico City, is the recipient of Soroptimist’s 2011 Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women, which acknowledges the efforts of women who through their personal or professional activities work to improve the lives of women and girls. As the organization’s finalist, originally nominated by the Pachuca, Mexico, Soroptimist club and Soroptimist’s Mexico/Centroamerica Region, Guillé received a $5,000 donation to her charitable organization, which create shelters for abused women in Mexico.

It wasn’t until 1996 that a law against domestic violence was created in the Federal District, of Mexico’s capital. At the time, Guillé says, women had few options, no real justice, no social support, no job training and no state presence around this issue.

In 1999, she created a network of shelters with the other four that existed in Mexico, but it took years of lobbying and political work to sensitize authorities. In 2000, Guillé’s work started to show results and the First National Violence Program was created, followed in 2005 by the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence.

Although the situation has changed for the better on behalf of abused women in Mexico, realities such as drug and arms trafficking continue to challenge progress. “Therefore, the death rate, risk for women and femicide have increased, with 60 percent of femicides occurring in public and only 40 percent at home,” she says. “It is almost as if Mexican women have to a pay a special tax just for being women.”

Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award

Allyson Ahlstrom, 16, of Santa Rosa, California, U.S.A., is the recipient of Soroptimist’s 2011 Violet Richardson Award, which recognizes women between the ages of 14 and 17 for volunteer service to their communities. As the Santa Rosa Soroptimist club’s recipient, Ahlstrom received $250 for herself and $250 for her nonprofit ThreadsforTeens. She went on to receive $1,000 for herself, and $1,000 for Thread for Teens as the Soroptimist Founder Region finalist. As the international finalist, Ahlstrom received an additional $2,500 for her program.

Threads for Teens, in Windsor, California, opened in August 2010, featuring brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Stussy, Hot Topic and other designer labels—but with one twist: the clothes are free to under-privileged teen girls ages 13 to 17. The girls are referred by social workers and live in foster care and group homes, with 50 being served to date.

“The boutique is set up to look exactly like a real store,” Ahlstrom says, “so that the girls coming in feel like they are actually out shopping. This benefits them by giving them self-confidence and makes them feel like they are worth more and someone actually cares about them. This is exactly why I started Threads for Teens, to boost self-esteem, give girls hope for the future, and give them clothes they will love and cherish.”

Read more about these inspirational women and their accomplishments on the Soroptimist website at

Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa., Soroptimist is a cause-related philanthropic federation of clubs improving the lives of women and girls through social and economic empowerment. With 37,000 members in 19 countries and territories, its major program, the Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Awards, provides cash grants for women seeking to improve their lives with the help of additional education and training. The organization also sponsors the Live Your Dream Campaign in recognition of the power of women and their dreams. Visit the Campaign’s online home at See for more information.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jessica Levinson
(215) 893-9000 x129
Email >
Visit website