The story of the founding of the first Soroptimist Club, which occurred in Oakland in 1921, offers an inspiring example of how attentive listening uncovers opportunity. Calling on an Oakland business college, an organizer for a new men's club made his pitch to a woman who turned out to be the male business manager he had expected to see. On discovering the "mistaken identity," the organizer was about to excuse himself when he heard the remark, "When the men admit women as members of their service clubs, I would be interested."
A few months later, the organizer was meeting with several prominent Oakland businesswomen in the Rose Room of Hotel Oakland to discuss plans for the first women's service club, which they dubbed Soroptimist, taken from Latin to mean "the best for women."
Today Soroptimists are found in 124 countries, with over 3,100 clubs and approximately 92,000 members. Initially targeted at women in business, management, and the professions, the organization today includes retirees, community volunteers, and those without any business affiliation among its ranks. According to the Soroptimist International (SI) website, the clubs "strive for human rights for all, equality, development and peace through international understanding and friendship. Because of their work, SI holds category 1 consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations International Non-Governmental Organization."
Among its concerns, SI is known for having sounded an early warning about the dangers of buried land mines in Bosnia, says Corrine Mavridis, a long-time member and officer of the Pleasanton/Dublin chapter, which was established in 1956. As part of its human rights outreach, the organization is currently speaking out against predators trafficking in young girls. "We think that kind of thing happens elsewhere, but it exists all over. It is even present in our area here," Mavridis relates. One of the SI's projects is to send speakers to meetings of younger women to make them aware of the problem and how it can be detected.
The local chapter, which Mavridis proudly points out is part of SI's Founder Region, has several other service projects close to home, providing support to the Tri-Valley Haven and Oakland's Sophia House in Oakland, which serves children and families at risk for homelessness. Other hands-on involvement includes Christmas traditions like buying gifts for disadvantaged children and treating a group of senior ladies to a festive lunch and chitchat. The Founder Region has an ongoing program awarding $70,000.00 in fellowships and grants to area women in the last year of their doctoral studies.
Meetings are held twice a month, on the second and fourth Wednesdays, over lunch at Vic's All Star Cafe on Main Street in Pleasanton. Newcomers are always welcome, Mavridis says enthusiastically. For more information, contact her at (925) 846-6644 or visit www.sifounderregion.org .
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