Interview with Founder, Joan Jackson
By Anne Marie Moro
Photo credits: Photo by Gregg Eligh, Eligh Photographs
We met up with Joan Jackson to find out what Soroptimist International of Victoria Westshore is all about:
Q: Let’s just start at the beginning, Joan. How did you discover the Soroptimist organization? Until last year at the ‘Flavour of Chocolate’, I’d never even heard about the club and the community work that you do here on the West Shore.
A: Soroptimist, as a worldwide organization, has been around since 1921. I didn’t hear about it until 1994 when I was at a sports club in California and one of the women suggested that I come to a Soroptimist lunch and the rest is history. It was a standard sort of lunch with about ninety women there. It was an amazing group. I stayed a part of that group for twelve years and was President for a year. By the time I left for Victoria in 2006, there were about 140 members in that club and I was newly retired so I joined the existing Victoria club and stayed for a couple of years. Eventually, I moved on to start another club here on the West Shore. It took about 2 years to develop, but eventually we got it going in 2010.
Q: What is it exactly that a Soroptimist does?
A: The club brings together an amazing group of women with a lot of ideas, energy, and passion who work together to transform the lives of women and girls through various programs and initiatives. We don’t tend to fund existing community programs. Instead, we develop our own projects and raise the money we need to fund our own community initiatives.
Q: So, you invest your time and energy not in what is, but what can be.
A: Exactly. When an idea someone initiates sounds good, then, we figure out how to make it work and we make it work—like our annual ‘Flavour of Chocolate’ event that raises money to benefit community organizations that support women and girls.
Q: What other projects like the ‘Flavor of Chocolate’ have you initiated?
A: In 2012, we started with a small, empowerment workshop for girls called ‘Imagining Possibilities’ with about 20 girls. Now it’s running with about 100 girls a year. It’s a one-day conference that’s free for these girls. They get so excited and turned on to the possibilities of what they could be when they grow up. Career doors have been opened to over 320 young women in the past 4 years alone. A couple of years ago, one keynote speaker was an accomplished First Nations woman.
At the end of her talk a young woman came up to her and said, “I didn’t ever have dreams of what I could end up being. Now, I know I can be Chief.” Learn more at www.sivw.ca/dibi/ip.
Q: Amazing! It must be a very satisfying feeling to have such an impact on a young girl’s life.
A: That’s what we aim for. Much of our financial largesse goes to this event every year because we want to make certain this is something really special for the girls. We’ve held it at the Chief Petty Officers’ Mess for the last couple of years, a gorgeous facility. We’re teaching them from the start that they’re worth it.
Q: How did your successful ‘Anney’s Closet’ project come to be?
A: In 2011, our first recipient was a young woman off the streets who, with support, was going back to nursing school. She and her little toddler were living in a tiny little apartment with nothing in it except the baby’s bed and that was about it. At her ‘Women’s Opportunity Award’ celebration, our Soroptimist club members asked her if she needed a bed or other household items. Most of our group of about eighteen women had most of the things she needed. So, we sent truckloads of things over to her; that was the beginning of what eventually became ‘Anney’s Closet’.
About a year later, a woman named Anney Ardiel joined Soroptimist. She downsized seniors and was giving surplus things to women at Salvation Army. She suggested we visit a storage company for a locker to store donations we would be redistributing to future recipients.
Believe it or not, when we asked the GM, Darrell McKinnon, at West Shore U-Lock Mini Storage if he had a small locker for us to house our donations, he offered us their largest locker and said, “You can have this forever and for free.” Their staff even donated items to the locker. I quipped that we should call it ‘Anney’s Closet’… and the name stuck, much to Anney’s chagrin! Currently, we have four of those big lockers. We’ve served hundreds—I don’t even know the exact number. We’ve got about 40 social service organizations referring women to us. ‘Anney’s Closet’ won the highest honour across 20 countries within the Soroptimist International of the Americas [SIA] with a ‘SIA Federation Celebrating Success Award for Program’ in 2014. The program has been replicated on the mainland in the Port Coquitlam area.
Q: Congratulations! Final thoughts?
A: We feel our partnerships help to bridge a gap, fill a need and give back to our communities—and it makes us all feel good to help others.
WANT TO HELP TOO?
For info about Soroptimist International of Victoria Westshore
check out www.sivw.ca