Soroptimist: united in a common cause | Women in Business

The 2014 Soroptimist executive board

Founded 18 years ago to help better the cause of women in the community, Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor doesn’t necessarily immerse itself in the world of business.

But that’s not a bad place to start, because improving the lives of women and the economic opportunities available to them often go hand-in-hand.

“I’d say at least 10 to 15 of our members are either a full owner or co-owner of their own business, and there’s another 20 to 30 or so who work in a ‘professional’ capacity, like in banking or insurance, or in the legal field or in government,” 2014 Soroptimist President Sharon Pigman said. “And, there’s a lot of our members who are retired after having long careers in different professions, like the medical field or social work, attorneys, architects, teachers. There’s quite a diversity.”

And, there’s quite a sphere of influence, too.

Sponsor of numerous financial aid programs and yearly community service projects, and the benefactor of a host of annual scholarships and financial awards, Soroptimist champions, funds and partners in a wide-range of philanthropic causes, and promotes and puts its energy and muscle into a variety of civic activities.

The list is as varied and familiar as it is long, including: transportation and financial assistance for cancer patients, a women’s emergency fund, Thanksgiving Day baskets, a free-trade coffee project, as well as participation in the Great Island Cleanup, the Knowledge Bowl, the Children’s Festival, working the gates and admission booths at the county fair and spearheading the ever-popular face-painting at the Pig War Picnic, to name a few.

While its activities are many, the mission of Soroptimist is fairly simple and straightforward. It’s encapsulated in its name. Soroptimist is an amalgamation of the latin words for sister, “soror,” and for best, “optimus.” Or, as Pigman explains, “What’s best for women.”

Still, working to better the lives of women and girls doesn’t necessarily come easy. It takes a good deal of time, effort, creativity and donations to ensure that both the demands of its service projects are met, and that the group’s financial-aid programs remain adequately endowed.

Soroptimist strives to create fundraiser that are entertaining, like the annual St. Paddy’s Day Extravaganza or Bunko Party (the group devised the unique and comical “Kiss a Pig” contest as part of its participation in the 2010 Relay For Life event), as well as profitable.

To date, those efforts have proven successful. And, Soroptimist is once again in the season of accepting applications for the financial awards it disperses to deserving candidates each year, the Violet Richardson Award, the Ruby Award, the Fellowship Award and the Live Your Dream Award (formerly the Women’s Opportunity Award).

The group is also casting its collective eye beyond its current collection of projects, fundraisers and financial assistance programs and considering embarking on new territory. Long a supporter of the Family Resource Center and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Service, the group is  researching what it might take to establish a more formalized partnership, or programs, with each.

Pigman cites several reasons for why Soroptimist has been able to achieve what it has over the years. Beginning with 44 members back in 1996, the group now boasts more than 70 and, she said, there’s always room for more. Many hands make for lighter work.

“I think the key is we work hard and that we like each other,” she said. “This is a community that comes out and supports each other and will dig in and get dirty when there’s work to be done. I think there’s a sense of obligation among our members to do just that, and a feeling of wanting to give back, too.”

To find out more about Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor and programs, or for an application packet for financial awards, visit, www.sifri.org.