by Jackie Piro Huyck, SI Vista NCI
May 20, 2019–Tears do not come easily to me, especially in public, but recently I found myself reaching for tissues at the Soroptimist Desert Coast Region Spring Conference held May 17-19, 2019 at Pala Casino Resort. At the podium was one of nine Live Your Dream Award finalists on the dais. Natalia, obviously nervous and unaccustomed to public speaking, faced an expectant audience of over 150 Soroptimists. Overcome with emotion, she was temporarily unable to speak. She recovered her composure and apologized for her tears.
“This story never gets easier to tell,” she began. Tearfully, she related how she was kidnapped at a young age from the U.S., brought by traffickers to Sinaloa, Mexico and forced into prostitution, enduring repeated beatings and abuse, and spending the next 8 years of her life there. When she tried to escape, the local Mexican police brought her back to her traffickers. “I completely lost hope,” she said. “I didn’t speak Spanish. Nobody cared about me. Nobody was looking for me,” she sobbed.
But then, she said, “An angel saved me.” That angel was her son, to whom she gave birth in 2010. Becoming a mother brought a strength to her that she never knew she had. “I realized I had to fight,” she said. “I thought, if I die, who will take care of him?” She and her son were finally rescued by the local Child Protective Services and returned to the U.S.
The good news is that Natalia is thriving and will soon graduate with an associates degree in Business from Southwestern College with plans to transfer to SDSU. Suffering from PTSD, her body still sore from repeated beatings, Natalia is determined to succeed for her son’s sake and to regain what was taken from her as a child. Grateful for the $5,000 scholarship grant Soroptimists were awarding her that day, she said the words we’ve heard from so many of our past scholarship recipients: “It’s not just about the money, the emotional support is to me more valuable,” she said.
Hers was only one of many heart-wrenching stories we heard that day. The other awardees had stories equally moving. Those of us who grew up with supportive loving families and income security cannot imagine how alone these women have felt and how much they have overcome to even get to this point.
Our Desert Coast Region, representing 36 Soroptimist clubs that range from the deserts of Imperial County to the coast of Orange and San Diego Counties, gave each of the nine Region awardees a cash award, a computer and a printer. This is in addition to the awards they each received at the local club level. One of them—Natalia, nominated by the Coronado Soroptimists—was voted to be our Region’s nominee to apply for an additional grant of $10,000 at the National level. We wish her well!
The Soroptimist Live Your Dream award program is the signature program of all Soroptimist clubs throughout the world, along with our other programs supporting under-served women and girls. The multiplier effect of each local club awarding grants to one or more women each year means our collective impact is huge.
I’ve been a member of the Vista and North County Inland Soroptimist Club for 9 years now. We all worked really hard last year, holding fundraisers to raise enough money to give three $5,000 scholarship grants to our club’s Live Your Dream awards recipients. Yes, we were a bit disappointed that our club’s chosen nominee did not advance to the Region level for additional scholarship money. But we were not surprised, because we know there are many more deserving applicants than there is money to award.
As anyone who volunteers their time and money to help a non-profit raise funds knows, we sometimes suffer from burnout. But attending the May Conference gave me a big boost, because I heard first-hand from these women that we Soroptimists are indeed making a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of their families. So I left this year’s conference re-energized and ready to work hard to raise funds for next year’s scholarship recipients. Along with all Soroptimist Clubs worldwide, our club will be busy holding fundraisers, seeking donations and support from our local communities. If you are among our past supporters, individually or on behalf of local companies like Tri City Medical Center, Modern Builders Supply, and Cosmic Solar, please know that your generous donations are making a real difference in these women’s lives, and the lives of their families.
If you or your company would like to help us continue to help women like Natalia, the easiest way is to attend or sponsor a Soroptimist fundraiser. Our next one is a Casino Night Fundraiser on Saturday, September 28, 2019 at the Vista Optimist Club. All proceeds will go to help more women like Natalia. For more information, see soroptimistvista.org or leave us a message at 760-683-9427 and we will get right back to you.