Soroptimist International, which has a branch in Preston, is committed to a world where women and girls together achieve their individual and collective potential, realise aspirations and have an equal voice in creating strong, peaceful communities worldwide.
Members inspire action and create opportunities to transform the lives of women and girls through a global network of members and international partnerships. The organisation was started in 1921 by Violet Berkeley in Oakland, California. There were 81 members at the first meeting, all from various professions. All were by invitation only and all were outstanding in their profession and holding executive status.
Now there are almost 80,000 members in 28 countries.
SI Preston started in 1938 – again at a time when only one member from each profession could be a member at one time. Now, however, everyone is welcome.
The group will next year celebrate its 80th birthday and currently has 27 members. The club is part of the North West and Isle of Man region, where there are 13 clubs.
Members meet on the first and third Wednesdays of each month (except August, December and January) at County Hall in Preston.
Karen Rainford says: “We are a service organisation with all clubs doing project work. Our aim is to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide though our Educate – Empower – Enable project. In short – we are women working for women.
“In Preston we do all sorts of different things, from simply collecting toiletries for the SafeCentre in Preston and food for the Salvation Army’s food bank.
“Every Christmas we fill 30 big gift bags with toiletries and goodies for the homeless.
“We have lobbied local county councillors and MPs about the cuts in funding to domestic violence refuges.”
The Soroptimists also support communities in third world countries, providing dresses and sanitary protection to young girls.
Karen adds: “One of our latest projects is to send handbags to Syrian refugee women filled with ‘girly’ items – make up, underwear, sanitary protection, make up, jewellery etc.
“Last year we made more than 500 dresses from pillowcases to send to little girls worldwide because Every Little Girl Deserves a Dress.
“These went to Swaziland, Kenya and Sierra Leone to name a few of the places.
“We support charities, too – Life Education, Save the Children, Meru Women’s Garden Project. We have held events raising awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation, Human Trafficking and FGM.
“Penwortham Girls’ High School helped us collect shoes to send to Kenya to help eradicate jigger beetle infestation.
“The girls were so enthusiastic that we are now starting a Soroptimisses club at the school.
“We hope that the ‘Misses’ will go on to become full club members in years to come and we are looking forward to this new venture.
“We are also going to hold a Soroptimist Superhero competition later this year when we will recognise the local unsung heroes, of which there are many.”
Karen adds she loves being part of the group and helping others.
She says: “I have made some fantastic friends. I have learnt so many things which – before – I was only vaguely aware of them – CSE and FGM for example.
“I have become part of a team of ladies who are, despite many differences, all like minded.
“I like being part of an international women’s organisation. I like to think that I have helped just a little.”