By Diane Barney
VACAVILLE — With a theme of
“Can We Do It? Yes We Can!”
Soroptimist International of Vacaville celebrated a room full of amazing women – and a couple of extraordinary men – handing out $14,000 during the 2019 Live Your Dream Awards Banquet March 19 at the Vacaville Opera House.
At that point, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, a recipient of one of three Soroptimist Fellow honors – stepped up to the stage and pledged another $500 for each award winner.
“I am just blown away by his continued generosity and support,” said SI Vacaville President Beth Rowe. “We are very lucky to have him share our mission and champion our causes.”
The pledge came less than two weeks after SI Vacaville announced it is working with Frazier on legislation to ensure that all rape kits in California get tested.
“He doesn’t just say he’s going to support us, he takes action to help us in our mission to improve the lives of women and girls in our community,” Rowe said.
During the evening eight women – from community activists to single moms – were honored with cash awards by SI Vacaville.
In the Live Your Dream program, five women collectively received $10,000. Two young women from local high schools earned a total of $3,000 through the Violet Richardson Award. And not only did Emma Green earn the 2019 Ruby Award for community service, but Rowe announced that the club’s 2018 winner, Deanna Allen, founder of Abundant Place, was selected to move on to the organization’s regional competition.
In addition to Frazier, longtime member Jill Hunter was presented with a Fellowship pin, while Rowe accepted a pin on behalf of the entire club. The pins reflect $1,000 each, donated to support a Soroptimist program that helps women complete their doctorates.
Then Hunter’s husband, Ken Hunter, was honored with a Laurel Society Pin, thanking him for 40-plus years of supporting his wife’s involvement in SI Vacaville, and for attending events and donating his artwork. A $1,000 donation was made in his name to the program that supports the Soroptimist Live Your Dream and Dream It, Be It awards.
Author, editor and founder of the Robby Poblete Foundation, Pati Navalta, gave the keynote presentation, encouraging women to “speak up, step up and roll up your sleeves. Listening to your theme, we have more in common that I realized.”
After her son’s death, she wrote, “A Better Place, A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy,” and launched the Robby Poblete Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to decreasing crime by providing a safe and easy way to dispose of unwanted guns through a gun buyback program. The goal, she explains, is to transform weapons of violence into instruments of peace and opportunity through an art program.
Amanda Caudel, a mother with three children, took top honors in the Live Your Dream category and received $4,000. She is working to attain her associate degree in human services, with a minor in early childhood education. Her goal is to work at a local family resource center. She credits the Benicia Family Resource Center with keeping her from being homeless and keeping her lights on.
Courtney Ross, a mother with two daughters, was honored with a $3,000 award. She is pursuing a career in nursing. She works hard to change the stigma of being a teen mom.
Candace Cureton, a student at Solano Community College and mother of two, earned a $1,000 award. She said Opportunity House gave her the tools she needed, when she was homeless, and put her on the path toward getting her education. She hopes to become a nurse and would like to support the program that helped her.
Elizabeth DeHart, a working mother who has had to overcome numerous challenges, including an eating disorder, is now on her way to achieving an associate degree in kinesiology. She was presented with a $1,000 award.
Jasmine McCrory collected $1,000 to pursue her advanced degree in criminal justice. Her life experiences have fueled her passion for a career as a sexually violent predator evaluator for the California Department of State Hospitals. A single mother of twins, McCrory’s goal is to complete her associate degree in criminal justice before earning a bachelor’s and then a doctorate in psychology.
Tristan Keene, a junior at Benicia High School, was presented with $1,000 and $500 each will be donated in her name to the Benicia High Intersectional Feminism Club and St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church. She is the president of the Feminism Club and vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance. Her mission is to create a safer and more inclusive school environment. She also serves as a youth counselor at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Kids Vacation Academy every summer.
Megan Vershuur, co-president of the Best Buddies chapter at Vacaville High School, earned a $500 award and another $500 will be donated to Vacaville Best Buddies. Vershuur was determined to help the Vacaville chapter better understand the group’s mission and to ensure that everyone at Vacaville High School had a friend. She and her co-president attended a Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana and came back filled with ideas and enthusiasm. Their group has grown from 15 students serving 10 with disabilities to 28 serving about 50.
This year’s Ruby Award winner, Emma Green, was nominated for her outstanding work as the Community Meals Program coordinator at Epiphany Episcopal Church. Green was lauded for her efforts to make a difference in the lives of homeless individuals through a multiple-church ecumenical program that is unique to Vacaville.
“This program feeds not only homeless people but also the working poor, and anyone who doesn’t want to eat alone, no questions asked,” according to the nomination.
Green helped expand “The Navigators,” a local community outreach and resource organization that uses trained volunteers to help the homeless get jobs, housing, clothing, medical assessments, free showers and more.
It was also a night for Soroptimists to honor some of their own, for longevity, service and commitment. Debbie Hitzeman was honored for 40 years in the organization. Dawn Shepherd and Faye Sheppard both celebrated their 15-year anniversary. Diane Barney celebrated 10 years, while Celina Hatt, Chantel Reyes, Lisa Hilas and Allison Catapano all celebrated their five-year anniversary with SI Vacaville.