L-R: Awardees Alisha Donaldson and son, Blanca Gonzalez and daughter, Michelle Glathe, Rachelle Schull, Eleyna Smith (not her real name) and son, Nicole Galicia and Soroptimist co-president Runa Gunnars. A total of $26,500 was distributed to to the six local women to help further their education and training. Donaldson, Gonzalez and Smith received the club’s Live Your Dream awards, while Glathe, Schull and Galicia received awards from the Club’s Foundation, a separate entity.
Vista, California, February 19, 2017—Six local women were honored at Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland’s annual Soroptimist Women’s Award Gala (SWAG) held Sunday, February 19, at Shadowridge Golf Club in Vista. About 80 guests, including Vista Mayor Judy Ritter, attended the $35 per ticket luncheon, which had a Hollywood theme and several celebrity look-a-likes in attendance, a ballroom dance demonstration, Academy Awards-related trivia quiz for prizes, a $250 “Money Bouquet” raffle, and a Dessert Dash with tables bidding on the right to pick first from an array of desserts made or donated by members.The featured event was the presentation of the Club’s annual “Live Your Dream” Award to three single mothers who are all attending local colleges. As presenter Aleta Dirdo explained, the Live Your Dream award assists women who have overcome great obstacles and are the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education and employment prospects. Each of the three awardees received a $5,000 check and award certificate as well as a proclamation from Vista mayor Judy Ritter.
Eleyna Smith (not her real name) of Escondido is the single mom of a 9-year-old son. She asked that we not publish her real name for safety reasons. “Eleyna” grew up in a broken, dysfunctional home, with an angry, unaffectionate and abusive mother and an often absent father. She suffered emotional and physical abuse from her mom, and was physically abused, and molested by, an older brother. All of this she kept secret. Becoming pregnant at the age of 15 increased her mother’s rage at her and she was kicked out of the house. Her son’s father is only sporadically involved in their son’s life and struggles with addiction issues, making their relationship even worse. As a result, her young son is struggling with depression and anger, for which he is seeing a therapist.
“It is hard watching my son suffer,” said Eleyna, “but I will never leave his side. He is my life, my strength, and my everything. For him, I completed high school and received my diploma, in spite of my mom saying that I never would.” Eleyna currently attends Palomar Community College while working part-time, and plans to transfer in two years to UCSD to complete her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. “My goal is to continue through Medical School to become a Psychiatrist. My desire to go into this profession stems from my desire to serve people in my community who have suffered from similar abuse,” she said. “For every negative person in my life who has told me I cannot make it, to quit school, and who has pushed me down, I want to prove them wrong. I want my son to know that no matter how hard life gets and in spite of outside negativity, nothing in this world can stop him from being successful,” she added.
Blanca Gonzalez of San Marcos is the single mom of 5-year-old Priscilla. Blanca is attending Cal State San Marcos, where she maintains a high G.P.A. (3.3 overall; 3.9 in her major) in pursuit of her B.A. in Environmental Studies, a subject she is passionate about (among other things, she is working on is a Geographical Information Systems research project where she will map 6,000 of the City of Vista’s 19,000 trees that are in public areas to help with the city’s climate action plan goal to preserve and increase the amount of urban forest within the City.) Getting pregnant at age 16 has resulted in a series of challenges for Blanca; she has had to support herself and her daughter and endure years of unstable housing situations, moving frequently. Money is a constant problem, and she worries about the effect on young Priscilla. “I do not receive any monetary support from my family, and I have never received child support from my daughter’s father. I was fortunate enough to receive a paid internship while having three other paying jobs last semester….My ultimate goal is to fulfill our dream of having a steady place of our own by graduating college without the stress of unstable housing. In addition, a degree will allow me to have the credentials needed to hold a position that can allow me educate the community on sustainable planning and environmental education,” she said.
Alisha Donaldson of Vista is a single mom of a 6-year-old son. Raised by a single parent father until age 11, Alisha had a rough time when her father remarried and she was kicked out of the house while a freshman in college. She dropped out of college and had to fend for herself, working two jobs. She became pregnant, and after giving birth became very ill. Diagnosed as having ulceritive colitis, and then later Crohn’s Disease, she eventually underwent a total proctocolectomy with ileostomy surgery. After recovering from that drastic and life-changing surgery, she managed to return to work and to college. “I recently graduated from Cuyamaca College in June 2015 with 4 Associate degrees, and was accepted into Cal State San Marcos,” Alisha said. She is pursuing a BS degree in Social Sciences with emphasis in Communication, and secondary studies in Sociology and Psychology. “I remain a single mother, with full custody of my son. I work three jobs: one on campus at CSUSM as a student mentor, one off campus as an executive assistant, and one as owner of my own small cleaning business,” she said. She has created a Facebook awareness/support page to keep in contact with other people with chronic illnesses who live with an ileostomy. She is also organizing The Single Parent Network on campus, partnering with other on-campus organizations recently to host a Student Parent Mixer to get more parents networking. “I do my best to stay positive and think positive and encourage and support others around me,” Alisha said. “My goals in life are to show those who have gone through hardships and struggles, that although times can be very hard, that you can still do anything you set your mind to.”
The Club’s Foundation, a separate entity established as a testamentary trust when long-time Soroptimist Lucille Strachan passed away in 1983, then awarded $5,000 apiece to graduate nursing students Nicole Galicia and Michelle Glathe, and a $1,500 grant to Rachelle Schull, for graduate work in Special Education.
Gala Committee members were Pat Origlieri and Assly Sayyar (co-Chairs), Dyana Preti, Karen Thompson, Cherie Wilson, Catherine Manis, Nelly Jarrous and Lani Beltrano.