One woman is a professional activist who works to protect children. Another is a single mother of three boys, who overcame a life of addiction and abuse to head for school and success. A third is a teenager who volunteers her time to help the homeless in myriad ways -- from collecting food to reading to children at the shelter.
All three were recognized with “Best of Women” awards by Soroptimist International Southwest Washington, a local chapter of the worldwide Soroptimist movement, which aims to make life better for women and girls. The event took place on International Women’s Day, March 8, at the YWCA Clark County. Alexis Del Cid, an anchor and reporter for KOIN-TV in Portland and a previous Soroptimist award winner, was the emcee.
• Mandy Zoe Lathim, 17, a volunteer at Share and a senior at Mountain View High School, won the Violet Richardson Award, honoring a teen volunteer.
Lathim said she found volunteering at Share “heart-wrenching” until she started reading to homeless children while their parents got counseling and services. She stared with an audience of one, she said, but when she looked up from her Dr. Seuss book she realized a whole crowd of kids was spellbound. All of which fit into a
research paper about socioeconomic status and literacy.
“These kids have the lowest socioeconomic status … and they have such a desire for literacy,” she said.
Lathim has also managed a book drive at Naydenov Gymnastics, where she works, and Mountain View High School’s biggest-ever food drive. She will attend Western Washington University this fall.
• Tami Sayles, 33, a single Vancouver mother of three boys, won the Women’s Opportunity Award, providing educational support to women who are financially responsible for their families. Sayles’ award was $1,500. The money can be used for any educational expense, from tuition and books to transportation and child care.
Sayles endured years of abuse and struggled to overcome addiction; she called the YWCA’s crisis hotline many times, she said. “It has been a long process,” she said. Eventually she and her children fled the situation and spent weeks living at the Y’s domestic violence shelter. (She told the children they were “on vacation,” she said.)
Now, Sayles is attending Clark College. “Education is key, especially for us women,” she said. “We have to get an education.” She also wants to go to cosmetology school, she said, and then launch a mobile beauty salon that can go where needy people are.
Sayles also volunteers at Clark County Juvenile Justice Center -- that’s the juvenile jail -- where she counsels girls. “It’s my passion,” she said. She tells the girls there: “I’ve been where you’ve been, and there are resources to do something different.”
• Mary Blanchette, executive director of the Children’s Justice Center in Vancouver, is the winner of the Soroptimist Ruby Award -- recognizing a professional or volunteer who has made a major difference in the lives of women and girls.
Blanchette said she was accepting the award on behalf of all the people who work and volunteer at the Children’s Justice Center, which provides advocacy and a safe environment for abused children and their families, as well as a focus on investigation and prosecution of abusers. The center has a specially trained staff.
It’s also facing the same budget squeeze these day as every other public agency, she said. The need for everything just keeps rising, she said, from foster parents and respite providers to donations of clothing and shoes. It’s not uncommon for a child to be removed from a terrible situation and show up at the Children’s Justice Center more or less undressed, she said.
“We want this place to be a really good, safe home. A happy place,” she said. “But they are pulling all our supports. It’s kind of a broken system.”
Meanwhile, she said, the hard economic times have driven more family stress, and more child abuse, than ever before.
“We need people to know the level of child abuse in our own community,” Blanchette said. “It is scarier than we’ve ever seen.”
You can learn more about the Children’s Justice Center at http://www.clark.wa.gov/childrens_justice_center/index.html. And you can learn more about Soroptimist International Southwest Washington at http://sisouthwestwashington.org.