PHOTOS: White Rock soroptimists celebrate past, add new focus to future

Soroptimist International of White Rock members Sharon Greysen, Jas Salh and Liz Aubert met Wednesday (Oct. 7) to brainstorm ways to boost the club’s membership and fill the fundraising gap that has been felt due to the pandemic. (Tracy Holmes photo)
ReSTART kits, with sundry household items, are provided to women and children who are leaving transition homes to start new lives. (Contributed photo)
The local club began with members from both sides of the border. (Contributed photo)
Soroptimist members with a van full of ReSTART kits. (Contributed photo)
Soroptimist International of White Rock members funded a shower facility at Sources’ Women’s Place. (Contributed photo)
An historical photo shows a telethon fundraiser held by the group. (Contributed photo)
A recent Soroptimist International of White Rock Christmas photo. (Contributed photo)
An historical photo shows the soroptimists with Christmas bags filled for Atira’s transition house. (Contributed photo)
The soroptimists fundraised to provide buses for the disabled and ill seniors. (Contributed photo)
Grant recipients pose with Soroptimist international of White Rock treasurer Liz Aubert and club president Jas Salh following a May 2019 fundraiser. From left: Kate Lucas of Semiahmoo Family Place, Rhea Hubbard of Alexandra Neighbourhood House, Aubert, Salh, Kirsty Gordon of Elizabeth Fry Society and Ram Sidhu of Sources Legal Aid. (Contributed photo)

White Rock soroptimists had big plans for marking their club’s platinum anniversary this year, including a repeat of their successful Wine, Women and Chocolate affair, which last year raised $3,000.

But – as with so many other clubs and organizations – the pandemic wiped that plan off the table, not to mention every other fundraising effort that had been lined up or would have been planned to help support sundry projects and programs on the Peninsula.

In short, the impact has been severe.

READ MORE: White Rock soroptimists grant funds

“We have nothing in operational funds,” club president Jas Salh said Wednesday (Oct. 7).

“We’re living on fumes right now,” added fellow member Sharon Greysen. “It’s a frustrating time.”

Undeterred, Salh, Greysen and club treasurer Liz Aubert met to share brainstorming ideas for adapting the for-women-by-women club to the current environment – as well, ways to spread the word about the club itself, including how much of an impact it has had on the community over the past seven decades.

This includes supporting mothers who seek to better themselves through education, and helping women and children who are leaving transition homes to start anew.

“The clubs, in order to succeed, they have to have a reason,” Greysen said of service groups. “The soroptimist reason is an amazing reason – but no one knows.

“The amount of quiet good that it does needs to be a little bit loud and proud.”

Greysen joined the group after attending a number of its functions with Aubert. While her official membership only began about 18 months ago, she’s been quietly involved for about a decade.

For Salh, who was new to the community when she joined in 2007, getting involved was a way to meet people while supporting initiatives she felt strongly about.

“We’re so different but we have that one common cause we believe in – helping women and girls,” she said.

Aubert, a retired physiotherapist, joined in 2004 and is the group’s most senior member.

“I was looking for something to get involved in,” she explained of how she came to find the Soroptimists. “I just retired and I knew another member who said, ‘Why don’t you come along (to a meeting)?’ I had a look and I had a listen and I decided it was something I’d like to get involved in.”

Aubert said the fact the Soroptimists was a women’s organization appealed to her, as did a new program that was just launching at the time – ReSTART – to provide kits of household items to women and children leaving transition homes. In the years since, hundreds of women and children have benefited from the kits (each of which currently costs around $300 to compile).

The club’s global scope also appealed, Aubert said. It spans more than 120 countries.

Soroptimists International – currently helmed by Langley’s Sharon Fisher – was started in 1921 because service organizations at that time wouldn’t allow women, said Sahl. While clubs such as Rotary have since opened their doors to all genders, Soroptimists remains a women-only club, with a name that translates to ‘best for women,’ she said.

Globally, its priorities include putting a end to sex trafficking and female genitalia mutilation.

While those issues do exist in Canada, locally, the focus is less “grisly,” Greysen said.

In its 70 years, Soroptimist International of White Rock’s support has ranged from setting up and training home-care workers and providing scholarships to high school students, to assisting hospice, funding buses for sick and disabled seniors, sending hampers to American soldiers overseas, creating a Women’s Opportunity Award and supporting a program whereby inmates record stories for their children.

The group was also instrumental in getting the LifeLine program – a personal emergency response system – up and running at Peace Arch Hospital; and, partnered with Atira to open a transition house in 1987.

Its tradition of fundraising dates back to a semi-annual rummage sale that began in November 1950, and continued over the decades that followed, with everything from a Grand Ball and Oktoberfest events to fashions shows, purse auctions and more.

“We’re not just a tea-party-make-lunches-once-in-a-while-and-have-cucumber-sandwiches (group),” Greysen said.

READ MORE: Girls night planned

Many well-known residents have been involved over the years, the women added. A summary of the group’s history includes such names as former White Rock councillor Margaret Lower and longtime educator Betty Huff.

While membership in recent years has numbered as high as 25, it currently sits at 13 – and that is something else the women would like to see change. Becoming involved can be as simple as donating funds or running with an idea to generate funds.

“Donate some money and you’re going to do a lot,” Greysen said. “You can passively be a member without much effort and still make a difference.”

They’re exploring creating a virtual club to further ease the commitment.

And, more than four months after their gala was to have been held, they are getting ready to host a fundraiser. Planned for Oct. 25, it is to include a Krispy Kreme doughnut sale, a 50/50 draw and raffle prizes. However, they’ve still got one key obstacle to overcome: a location to hold it. Anyone who can assist with that detail – or would like further information about getting involved or donating – may contact Salh at 604-535-3454 or
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