Soropimist International of Vacaville presented $14,000 in grants to 18 women-owned and women-led businesses Tuesday, March 23, as part of its first-ever Soroptimist Means Business grant, a program Founder Region Gov. Kris Chorbi called phenomenal and inspirational.
In a Zoom call with many of the 21 nominees and sponsors, Assemblymember Jim Frazier gave the keynote presentation, noting that it’s because of SI Vacaville’s commitment to community that “We’re connected at the hip.”
“You’re committed to the community and so am I. And this is going to be a game-changer in the life of young women,” he said, speaking from his Fairfield home. “The hand up you achieve with women in education and business, and all the things you do to help them, you’re are amazing.”
Grants in the amount of $1,000 and $500 were presented to all sorts of women-owned and women-led businesses, from retail shops to hair salons, fitness studios to restaurants and catering businesses, and to schools, focusing on ballet and academics.
SI Vacaville club member Lisa Hilas was president when the pandemic struck. As she wrestled with how to keep her Soroptimist club active, it hit her that many women-owned businesses were struggling too. She watched as the owner of Ebb and Flow Yoga pivoted to keep classes going, and it inspired Lisa to propose the grant.
At first, the goal was meager. After all, this was the first time ever doing such a grant.
“We hoped to raise $1,000,” recalled Lisa. But thanks to a kickoff from donors via Giving Tuesday Facebook campaign and an outpouring of generous sponsors, $7,000-plus was raised. When the club saw 21 nominees had applied for the grant, members voted to match funds, doubling the reach of the “Women Investing in Women” opportunity, said President Mary Dickey.
In announcing the winners, Soroptimist Brooke Fox, executive director of the Downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District, said she was proud to serve on the Soroptimist Means Business grant committee. “As someone who advocates daily for 650 businesses in downtown Vacaville, this last year has been challenging. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s going to take everyone pitching in to do what they can to get everyone through this time.”
Businesses and their owner/leader honored on Tuesday were Tammy Anderson of Anderson Family Catering; Drea Cabillo of Essenza Salon Spa Studio; Lindsey Chelini of BackDoor Bistro; Alexandra Christensen of Imagine That!, Maria Collins of The Baby Shop; Fearon DeWeese of Hella Shirt Co.; Nicole Fahey of True Roots Juice and Eats; Rachel Lynn Felt of Moms Strong Fitness; Jema Hagerman of Merchant & Main Bar & Grill; Cassandra Kamakeeaina of the Royal School of Ballet; Siobhan Magee and Catherine Owen of Heritage House Café; Martha Meza of Aqua Hair Salon; Heidi Rydman of Ebb and Flow Yoga; Fatina “Fae” Saltifi of Bliss Urban Arts Center; Erica Serface of Erica Marie’s Catering; Marianna Schiovonne of La Borgata Italian Deli; Sarah Stetson of Stetson Academy and Ashley Tapp of Rise & Redemption.
Many of the winners took time to address the club and say thank you.
Lindsay, chef and owner at BackDoor Bistro, holding her six-week-old son on her lap, said she never would have thought about applying for the grant, but her stepmother told her about it.
“Thank you for everything you guys do,” she said.
Fae, owner of Bliss Urban Arts Center, thanked the group for helping her put a dent in the amount of studio rent she owes.
Fearon, owner of Hella Shirt Co., said winning the grant was a huge surprise.
“My mom did this for me, without me knowing. She was excited, because I got the honor.”
Fearon, who was an event planner for 20 years, pivoted to open her own business, and in the process has been able to work from home and enjoy the first years of her toddler’s life. “I appreciate it very much,” she said.
Heidi, owner of Ebb and Flow Yoga Studio, was delighted to be inspiration for Lisa.
“It warms my heart that I was the seed that started this whole thing,” said Heidi. “It has given us so much relief and recognition.”
Andrea, owner and lead stylist of Essenza Salon Spa Studio, agreed that it has been a difficult year for her industry.
“It’s tremendous to see my name with these other amazing women,” she said. “We are so blessed here in this area to have so many great women in small business. Thank you, for acknowledging us, putting us all in a space and place to be celebrated,” she said. “I appreciate it more than I have words to express.”
Gov. Kris said the program has inspired at least one change for this year’s Soroptimist International regional conference: instead of raffling off gift baskets, they’re going to give away gift cards – from women-owned business.
“This was the whole inspiration!” she said. “And it has been very well-received.”
Dana Holve, member and past president of the Soroptimist International Twilight of Vacaville club and current District II fellowship director, told the gathering that SI Vacaville is an inspiration, “Not just as a fellow club, but in the district and in the region and beyond that. You are going to affect Soroptimist International of the Americas, too. Thank you not just for what you’re doing locally, but globally, for the women of the world.”