Best for Women
On March 23, 1953, Soroptimist International Vista was chartered into the international family of clubs that consist of hardworking women helping other women. Now called Soroptimist International Vista and North County Inland (SIVNCI), the club is expanding both its membership and its reach to surrounding communities. Programs like Dream It, Be It, STOP Trafficking, and the Live Your Dream award are among the many ways in which SIVNCI is actively making an impact in the lives of women and girls in the local community. It is this desire to help and empower others that brings these Soroptimists together and enables them to continue achieving their collective goals. Read along as we speak with leaders of SIVNCI about how the organization is creating a world that is “best for women” – and having fun doing it.
Q&A with Soroptimist International Vista and North County Inland
Where does the word Soroptimist come from, and what does it mean?
SIVNCI Secretary Assly Sayyer: Soroptimist is a coined word meaning “best for women” and that’s what the organization strives to achieve. Soroptimists are women at their best, working to help other women to be their best.
When and why was Soroptimist International founded? What is the history behind the Vista and North County Inland chapter?
Assly: Soroptimist International was founded in 1921 in Oakland. Soroptimist International (SI) is a worldwide volunteer service organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. The original president of the organization was Violet Richardson Ward in 1921. SI holds category one general consultative status as a non-governmental organization at the United Nations. Almost 95,000 Soroptimists in about 120 countries and territories contribute time and financial support to community-based and international projects that benefit women and girls. SI Vista was chartered on March 23, 1953 and has approximately 45 active members. We recently changed our name to include the words “and North County Inland” to more clearly reflect our membership, because we have members from Escondido, San Marcos, and Fallbrook as well as Vista. We are part of the Desert Coast Region.
“I love the friendships I’ve made with this great group of women, and the feeling that I am, in my small way, a force for good in the world!” ~ Jackie Piro Huyck, Assistant Treasurer and Soroptiline Editor
What is SIVNCI’s mission, and how do you go about fulfilling it?
Assly: Our mission is to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. We do this by working on club projects that benefit our local community directly. We raise money to give away annually as part of our Live Your Dream awards program. This year we are giving away three $5,000 awards to three deserving women in North County to further their education and training. Our Dream It, Be It program has club members working hands-on with local girls ages 14 through 17, providing mentoring and support in making goals and overcoming obstacles. We partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Vista to provide this curriculum to local girls. Our club has also been active in the fight against human trafficking and raising awareness in San Diego County for more than 11 years. We have been on the forefront of this fight and continue to work with collaborating agencies to fight the global stain of human trafficking. Finally, in the past we have donated grants to local nonprofits that support our mission, like the Vista Community Clinic and North County Lifeline.
How did you personally become involved with SIVNCI?
Assly: I first learned of Soroptimist when I was in high school. I applied for a scholarship that a local Soroptimist club in Sonoma County was offering students and I won. This award helped me pay for my first year of college once I graduated. Many years later, when I opened up my law practice in Vista, I signed up for piano lessons at Vista Music in Shadowridge, and my teacher, Dyana Preti, was a Soroptimist who invited me to a meeting. Remembering the organization and the great works they did, I went first as Dyana’s guest but soon joined as an active member.
At-A-Glance | SIVNCI Secretary
Name: Assly Sayyar
Education: Juris Doctorate and Masters in English Literature
Hobbies & Interests: Reading, writing, playing piano, attending theater productions and cultural events, going to the movies
Favorite Spots in Vista: Walking down Main Street Vista, going to Vista Village to eat and see a movie, going to Brengle Terrace Park
What is your current role within the organization, and what duties does it entail?
Assly: My current role in the club is that of secretary. I take meeting minutes and am an active participant as a board member. I am also co-chair of two committees. One is the committee that organizes the Dream It, Be It program for girls and the other is the committee that puts together the award banquet every year where we give out our Live Your Dream awards.
What is the most rewarding thing about your role? The most challenging?
Assly: The most rewarding thing for me about my role is seeing the impact our club has. When I have a chance to work with my club sisters at a Dream It, Be It event with the teen and pre-teen girls, teaching them about goal-setting and opportunities for them, it gives me a feeling of tremendous fulfillment. The most challenging thing about the role is that there is so much to do. Being a member could be a full-time job if I had the time. There is so much good that can be done. The challenging thing is setting boundaries so I have time to give and be part of the club activities, including our social activities and get-togethers, while balancing my career and home life.
What are the primary goals of SIVNCI, both short-term and long-term?
SIVNCI Assistant Treasurer and Soroptiline Editor Jackie Piro Huyck: I would say our club’s primary goals are the same as all Soroptimist clubs: to empower women and girls who may be disadvantaged, victimized, and/or lacking in self-esteem get the education, training, and motivation they need to become self-sufficient and strong, confident citizens. We do this locally by holding fundraisers and then donating the funds as grants and scholarships to women and organizations that support this mission. We also donate a portion of our funds raised to the national organization, which then goes to help women and girls internationally. And of course we now are actively working with teen girls via our Dream It, Be It program.
Another goal of ours is simply to create within our club a fellowship of women who want to give back to their community and form long-lasting friendships while doing so.
Long-term, we want to grow and expand our membership so that we can have more of a collective impact, raise more money to help even more women and girls.
What projects has SIVNCI worked on recently?
Assly Sayyer: We are very excited about the new Dream It, Be It program for young girls ages 14 to 17 where we partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Vista’s Smart Girls program. We work with girls in small groups to provide them with the information and resources they want and need to be successful. The topics to be covered include career opportunities, setting and achieving goals, overcoming obstacles to success, and how to move forward after setbacks or failures. We are fortunate to have a member of our club, Ellen Clark, who is development coordinator at the Vista Boys & Girls Club, helping us with this. So far we have held two events, one helping the girls create their own dream boards at the Boys & Girls Club, and a workshop on creating achievable goals, at the Vista Magnet School. Our national organization, Soroptimist International of the Americas headquartered in Philadelphia, provides all Soroptimist Clubs with a comprehensive curriculum guide for this new program, so we get plenty of support and guidance on this program.
“You can see the benefit of your time and energy right here in your own home community. At the same time, you are part of a global team of individuals committed to improving the lives of women and girls and having a lot of fun while doing it.” ~ Assly Sayyar, Secretary
Are there any exciting new projects or events coming up soon?
Assly Sayyer: We have many upcoming exciting events. Our Soroptimist Women Award Gala (SWAG) where we celebrate our Live Your Dream awards is set for Feb. 19 at 11:30 a.m. at the Shadowridge Golf Club. It will have a Hollywood theme and entertainment, and our money raffle and Dessert Dash. This year we have three awardees each receiving $5,000 cash awards, and two additional women receiving money from our Soroptimist Foundation. All of these events and more are or will be posted on our website at www.soroptimistvista.org and in our newsletter, Soroptiline (available online). Our region holds a big three-day spring conference each May where we get together with other Soroptimist clubs in our area, and Soroptimist International of the Americas holds a convention every two years. In 2016 it was in Orlando, FL. The next one is in Yokohama, Japan in the summer of 2018. For those who can travel, it’s a great event and you meet other Soroptimists from all over the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day Walk? How was this year’s event and how does it help raise awareness for this issue?
Jackie Piro Huyck: The Awareness Walk is always during January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Awareness Walk is just one component of STOP Trafficking, a program run by our Human Rights/Status of Women Committee. There are three components of this program: 1. the Awareness Walk, 2. our Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative which meets at the United Methodist Church on Melrose Ave. every other month, where we share information and invite guest speakers, and 3. our Speaker’s Bureau where we make ourselves available to speak to other organizations about human trafficking. The woman who has been spearheading all three components for years is Kaye Van Nevel. Kaye’s been tireless in her efforts to fight human trafficking. Most recently Kaye and another member, Allison Metzler, were interviewed on Palomar Live, Palomar College’s TV show.
We as a community need to work together, both to prevent more children from becoming victims, and to find ways to empower victims to realize they can return to normal life. Much has been done but much remains to be done.
Can you tell us more about the Live Your Dream Awards?
Assly Sayyer: The Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award assists women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills, and employment prospects. Each year, Soroptimists award more than $1.6 million in education grants to over 1,200 women, many of whom have overcome enormous obstacles including poverty, domestic violence, and/or drug and alcohol abuse. Live Your Dream Awards recipients may use the cash award to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare, tuition, and transportation. The Live Your Dream Awards involves three levels of cash awards. The program begins at the local Soroptimist club level, where award amounts vary. Local-level award recipients then become eligible for region-level awards of either $3,000 or $5,000. Region-level award recipients then become eligible to receive one of three international-level awards of $10,000. This year, our club is giving away three awards of $5,000 each to worthy recipients at our gala on Feb. 19. Tickets may be purchased online at our website and are $35, which includes luncheon and entertainment at the Shadowridge Golf Club.
“Being a part of this organization is not only rewarding but the friendships I have made I cherish. It’s a true sisterhood, a family of women from all different walks of life working together to lift up other women and girls. I love it!” ~ Dee Dee Timmons, Director of Programs
Has SIVNCI won any awards for its philanthropic work? If so, please describe.
Assly Sayyer: In 2007, the Live Your Dream Awards received the Associations Advance America Summit Award – ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s highest level of recognition. In 2013, we received our district’s Newsletter Award for our monthly Soroptiline newsletter. We’ve been recognized many times for being among the clubs that routinely donates a full 10% of our funds raised yearly to SIA’s international projects to help women. Several years ago our own Kaye Van Nevel was honored by STAT (Soroptimists Together Against Trafficking), which is our South San Diego group of clubs during their “Salute our Mission Heroes” event, in recognition of her efforts in the fight against trafficking.
How would somebody go about joining SIVNCI? What is the criteria for membership?
Jackie Piro Huyck: Most prospective members come to one or two meetings first to assess if the club is a good fit for them. So I would advise emailing our recruitment and retention chair at email@example.com to ask about attending a meeting. We welcome women from all backgrounds, ages, professions, and experiences. Our annual dues currently is $150 per year, pro-rated based on when you join. Although we would like for members to attend all meetings and club activities, we recognize the personal and career responsibilities of our members and therefore have a “no guilt” attendance policy. We meet twice per month: the first Friday of each month is our business lunch at ServPro of Carlsbad in Vista. Eden Weinberger, our director of fundraising and the owner of ServPro, has generously allowed us to hold our meetings in the ServPro conference room, and allows us to store our archives and equipment in her storage facility, thus saving us the cost of a storage unit. The third Friday each month is our program lunch with a guest speaker at Shadowridge Golf Club in Vista.
Prospective members can go online to www.soroptimistvista.org, click on “Become a Member” (left side of home page), and download the application. We currently have over 45 committed and fun members. Many of our members have been in the club for decades, but we are recruiting new members all the time. We also offer sponsorships; if you don’t want to commit to being a full member, you can become a distinguished Soroptimist sponsor for a small donation and receive all our emails and be recognized in our newsletter.
“I love all of our members coming together to better the lives of women and girls. Attending a meeting is a great way to see who we are and what we accomplish. Your talents will be put to good use!” ~ Karen Del Bene, Membership Chair
Can you describe the most gratifying aspect of serving the Vista and North County Inland communities?
Jackie Piro Huyck: It is most gratifying and very empowering to venture out of one’s isolated, self-absorbed bubble and meet other residents of Vista and North County who are also trying to give back and “be the change” they want to see in the world. In my case, I joined the club in 2011, a year after losing my husband to pancreatic cancer, and at a time when I was reluctantly closing down our 20-year magazine publishing business. By joining the club, I’ve gained a new appreciation for what strong women can do when we band together for a common purpose. I’ve met women and girls I would never have met otherwise who have been severely victimized and traumatized and yet somehow remain unbroken. They inspire me. I sometimes feel like the transformed Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes. My heart has grown. My circle of friends has grown. My interests have expanded. Soroptimists also changed my life in one very unexpected way; I met my husband Paul at a Soroptimist fundraiser!
Is there anything you’d like to share that most people don’t know about the Soroptimists?
Assly Sayyer: We are frequently referred to as a “best kept secret.” Our clubs are all over the world but unlike other service organizations, we are perhaps not that well known. I would just say that what sets us apart from other similar organizations is how much fun we have and how much impact we have in the day to day lives of women and girls in our community. I would also say that most people don’t realize that it was clubs like ours that brought domestic violence and human trafficking into the mainstream consciousness as problems that must be tackled and fought. Our club is on the front lines of these and other fights and we have tremendous impact and power when we work together.
If you could grant SIVNCI one wish, what would it be?
Jackie Piro Huyck: Ooh, tough one! How about this: I wish for SIVNCI to double its membership this year. Because I know that would double the impact we are able to make to help women and girls.
If you had to describe SIVNCI using only five words, what would you say?
Jackie Piro Huyck: Women helping women and girls.
At-A-Glance | SIVNCI
Name: Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 382, Vista, CA 92085-0382
Meeting Location: Monthly Business Meetings are at ServPro of Carlsbad in Vista, Monthly Program meetings with guest speakers are at Shadowridge Country Club in Vista. We do not meet in December and July, but we have social events during those months.