The mission of ACT is:
To engage women of all ages in leadership opportunities that will promote social and personal change.
ACT's work will be accomplished by:
ACT for Women and Girls received the Soroptimist Organizational Award in Visalia on January 30th.
Article from the Visalia Times Delta, January 27, 2014
by Teresa Douglass
Being a Soroptimist is a family tradition for Jody Gilman and now her daughter, Caity Meader, who recently moved back to Visalia to become executive director for Family Services of Tulare County. Gilman's mother, Mary Line, who passed away in July, was a Soroptimist. And her late grandmother, Catherine Cruzen, was one of the 18 women present at its first meeting on March 4, 1939. That was 75 years ago. But because Cruzen was a stay-at-home mother of five and not a business woman or professional woman she was not able to join the club until later in the 1940s when she was hired as the assistant county auditor for Tulare County, Gilman said. Nowadays, men are welcome to join the club, but none have become members. "I was the first to bring a gentleman to the club in 2002," she said. It's a comfort issue for the men because there's a lot of female energy in the building when they get together. Soroptimist International was born out of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Just after women were allowed to vote in the United States in 1920, the organization was formed to empower women and girls. In Visalia, the organization was founded in 1939. Soroptimist International of Visalia has been empowering women ever since. Earlier projects included volunteering for baby-spacing clinics which taught women how to space their children before birth control was available, help with the war effort during World War II and establishing the Soroptimist Park in 1963
On Thursday, the public is invited to attend its annual award's banquet at the Visalia Convention Center. Ten women and girls and one organization will be honored. Here, we profile a few of them.
As the youngest of four children, Karah Gong said she's looked up to many people in her short life. But, she feared she never inspired anyone. That motivated this 17-year-old Redwood High School student to come up with Project Leader, a fun leadership program for fifth graders at Willow Glen Elementary School. She said she coaxes children into becoming leaders. "Being a leader isn't taking control," she said. "It's about doing the right thing, being very respectful and active in school and the community."Once a week, she leads students in team building exercises during which the students have to work together to accomplish something. For example, she laid a tarp on the ground, had nine of them stand on it and told them to flip the mat over with everyone on it. "Using a tarp, only one person can lead," she said. "It's about communicating." She learned this activity first hand while attending Camp Royal, a Rotary Camp at the YMCA Camp at Lake Sequoia. "It took a while," she said. "Sometimes you just have to talk it out, let one person talk and go with it." Project Leader also shows younger students that older kids care about them. Often, she is accompanied by other Future Business Leaders of America from Redwood. She said she'll finish out the school year with Project Leader and pass it on to one of her friends to continue next year. It could be expanded to other schools. Her next project is still in the works. She's getting a building at Redwood High School named after Doris Lowe, an accounting teacher at Redwood for 31 years and the Future Business Leaders of America adviser there for 28 years. She died in 2008 from lung cancer. An all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner Feb. 8 will raise money for this project.
Erin Garner-Ford, 32
Erin Garner-Ford, executive director for ACT for Women and Girls, was raised around women who cared about the community and the world at large. Her mother, Lynn Fjeld, a retired social worker, was a magnet for people who needed her, Garner-Ford said. "My mom is a natural advocate," she said. "She has a big heart." Her mother was friends with other strong women, including the late Karen Cooper for whom Family Services named its battered women's shelter. Garner-Ford said she spent most of her time growing up at Cooper's house where she was surrounded by women who cared about people. Their leadership rubbed off on her. "I used to organize kids in my neighborhood into little clubs," she said. "I was the leader of my clubs." After getting her bachelor's degree in Women's Studies, Garner-Ford returned to her hometown of Visalia. She started working with ACT for Women and Girls in 2005 before it was a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to engage women of all ages in leadership opportunities that will promote social and personal change. Founding members included Lisa Strongin, a public defender, and Graciela Martinez, formerly of Proyecto Campesino. They mentored Garner-Ford. "When I came in, I was young and energized," she said. "They had the skills and I had the energy." The nonprofit is having an impact in the community, one young woman at a time with its signature program, an 8-month-long Female Leadership Academy. This program has graduated 94 young women since its inception in 2005. Recruited at the high schools and College of the Sequoias, these teen girls learn public speaking, negotiation skills, civic participation and activism, research and analysis, problem solving, team building, community organizing and legislative advocacy. Garner-Ford coordinated the academy for its first two years. Since she took over ACT for Women and Girls as executive director two years ago the organization has grown tremendously. In 2012, they added three staff members and began two support groups for teen mothers in Visalia and Exeter. This year ACT for Women and Girls upped its staff to five people with the implementation of a peer education action team. After a training period, these teens go to events or do street outreach to let teens know where they can access birth control, suicide prevention services and get information about date rape. This nonprofit partners with Family Services, the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters and Soroptimists to put on One Billion Rising, a walk in downtown on Valentine's Day, to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence. Last year 150 people marched and this year, Garner-Ford expects participation to double.
Francie Levy, 71
Many people are familiar with Francie Levy's work with the Tulare County Symphony and her support of the arts in Visalia including co-chairing Taste the Arts, a signature event she helped invent with the Arts Consortium. Some people may know she's an ordained Anglican clergy member. She serves as the Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin and Vicar of St. Philip's Anglican Church in Coalinga. A few people may know she's involved with prison ministry at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. But not too many people have heard her story about ministering to the 20 women on Death Row. She has been visiting, praying and writing to them for seven years. She can remember her first day on Death Row as if it was yesterday, she said. She became involved in prison ministry while taking a class in ministering in unusual contexts. "I decided on prison ministry," she said. "It was probably the Holy Spirit." And she had seen the movie "Dead Man Walking" about a real life nun who wrote a book about ministering on Death Row. She also read about Anglicans in Texas who went to pray and bear witness at executions. Many national organizations do prison ministry. "And I wrote to every group," she said. She sent 20 emails and received not one response back. Next, she turned to a friend of hers who introduced her to Nancy Turk in Visalia who does prison ministry. She had a person for Levy to visit -- a lady on Death Row. Together, Turk and Levy walked through an electric door. It slammed behind them. "You hear it close," Levy said. They walked into a visiting room and Levy was taken into a side room used by attorneys to meet with their clients. Locked in, she sat alone with just a table, four chairs and a waste paper basket. "I sat and waited," she said. "I prayed because I was scared." The female prisoner came in and after 10 minutes into the visit, it was as if she'd known her for 20 years, she said. "We became like old friends," Levy said. "I've been visiting the same lady for seven years." She writes to the other 19 female prisoners on Death Row. All their cases are on appeal. She tells them that she prays for them, asks God for justice to prevail and His will be done. "They're just like us," she said. "Yes, they've committed crimes. They are ordinary people for the most part who had a really bad day." In addition to her work on Death Row, Levy helps put on 4-day retreats for female prisoners. The retreats are called Kairos which means a special time when God breaks in to a human life. A good example of this was the incarnation of Jesus, she said. Levy is one of up to 25 women from the "outside" who put on the retreat for 42 prisoners. The motto for the retreat is "Listen, listen, love, love."
How to attend
What: Soroptimist International of Visalia annual award dinner
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia Ave.
Cost: $35 per person, includes dinner
List of winners
Ruby Award: Merrilyn Brady, Erin Garner-Ford, Frances Levy
Making a Difference in the Community Award: ACT for Women and Girls
Making a Difference for Soroptimist Award: Dianne Sharples, Mary Line
Women's Opportunity Award: Martha Angelica Valencia, Esmeralda Sandoval and Zahra Chekabab Ayala
Violet Richardson Award: Karah Gong, Jessica Bonnar
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 17:28
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