What originally began as an alternative for women to Rotary, has now become a worldwide organization with more than 1,300 clubs working to improve the lives of women and girls.
Soroptimist International helps women of all ages through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. The word, loosely translated from Latin, means ‘best for women.’
“In the early 1920s in San Francisco, a female lawyer wanted to go to Rotary but (at the time) didn’t classify because it was only open to men,” explained Jean Violette, a member of the Soroptimist International of Courtenay. “It is a organization of business or professional women.”
The first Canadian Soroptimist club was chartered in 1926 in Vancouver; SI of Courtenay was chartered in 1944.
One of the charter members was Elizabeth Charlotte ‘Cherry’ Aitken, sister of Mary ‘Mamie’ Aitken (a member since 1947) who bequeathed $25,000 to the club after her passing in January this year.
“(The club) was really important to her,” noted Violette. “Both sisters loved being members and kept their membership with the club until their passing.”
Courtenay club historian and past president Margaret Wootton said Mamie was known for her warm heart, sweet smile and encouraging words.
She added her memory and values will live on for many years through the bequest through The Aitken Fund to identified community groups and the Comox Valley Community Foundation.
Violette said membership for the club is ongoing, and the key to becoming a member is to “be attracted to our programming; wanting to do what’s best for women and girls.”
She added there are a variety of projects which the SI Courtenay centres on including Live Your Dream, Dream It – Be It and SoroptiPaks.
“Live Your Dream is geared towards women who are the sole financial supporters of their family,” explained Violette. “It provides resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects.”
The Dream It – Be It program provides career support for girls – specifically in high school – which helps them overcome obstacles and live their dreams.”
Wootton said the SoroptiPaks project began in 2003 in collaboration with Lilli House, the Comox Valley Transition Society and other local transition providers. They aim to supply a starter kit of basic household items for women and their children who need help and are transitioning to their own home.
“It’s full of useful items such as pots and pans and bedding,” she added, and noted the club applied for a Soroptimist Federation Club Grant and have received $2,500 for the upcoming year.
The club meets on the third Monday monthly from September to June at its new location – Glacier View Lodge – in the Adult Day Care program space at 2450 Back Rd. at 6 p.m.
For more information, visit wcsoroptimist.org, or search Soroptimist International of Courtenay on Facebook.