Women’s Opportunity Award winners named | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Women’s Opportunity Award winners named

Tahoe Daily Tribune

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily TribuneRecipients of the Soroptimist International Women's Opportunity Awards are congratulated by chairs of the Human Rights Status of Women committees. From left, are Michelle Sower, S.I. of South Lake Tahoe; Erin O'Brien, Stephanie Stephens and Debra Calhoun, recipients; and Norma Santiago, SI of Tahoe Sierra.

Kathleen Norris wrote, “None of us knows what the next change is going to be, what unexpected opportunity is just around the corner, waiting a few months or a few years to change all the tenor of our lives.”

Members of Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe and Soroptimist International of Tahoe Sierra were able to provide that opportunity to three women who are recipients of the Women’s Opportunity Award. The award, which is Soroptimist’s major service project, was established by Soroptimist International of the Americas in 1972, to assist women entering or re-entering the workforce in obtaining the education and skills training they need to improve their employment status. The awards are designed to give women heads of household, who provide the primary source of financial support for their families, the opportunity to achieve their career goals — an opportunity they have not previously had, whether because of economic or social barriers or personal circumstances. The Women’s Opportunity Awards are for women who are attending, or have been accepted to, a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program.

The three recipients of this award have overcome many challenges in their lives. Each has a unique, inspirational story telling how they struggled, yet had enough strength to make positive changes in their lives. While the challenge of juggling family, work and obtaining a better education continues, the possibility of their dreams motivates them to press forward.

Erin O’Brien, the $500 recipient, holds two part-time jobs, one full-time job and attends classes at Lake Tahoe Community College. Her immediate goal is to get a certificate in medical office assistant administrative, which will lead to her ultimate goal of becoming a medical transcriber. This would allow her to work at home so she can be available when her son needs her. Two of the most inspirational things about O’Brien are her strong work ethic and her commitment to making a better life for her son.

Debra Calhoun is the $1,000 recipient on the local level. She also has been selected as a runner-up for the Soroptimist International of Sierra Nevada Women’s Opportunity Award and will receive $3,000 at the SNR Conference April 27 at Reno. While making great strides in her goal of getting an associate of arts degree in addiction studies, she gives back to her community as an intern at Sierra Recovery Center.

“Her energy seems limitless, her attitude is always positive and her motivation never wavers. She has demonstrated a strong desire to help others and give back to the community that has supported her,” said Miles Minnies, director of the Tahoe Employee Assistance Program and one of Calhoun’s teachers.

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Stephanie Stephens, the $1,500 WOA recipient, sets very high goals for herself and puts a tremendous amount of energy into achieving these goals. She has researched thoroughly all that she will need to do to get into Lifewest Chiropractic School and has mapped out each step. Her dream is to combine medicine, like chiropractic, with diet and lifestyle changes to increase the quality of life for all children, their caregivers and those who suffered trauma such as rape of domestic violence.

“I wish to help those who suffer and those who have caused the suffering. I wish to help repair torn families. I also wish to touch those who would otherwise be unable to afford chiropractic care,” Stephens said.

These are lofty goals, but based on Stephens’ past achievements and her tenacity, she will undoubtedly achieve them.

While the Women’s Opportunity Awards are not considered scholarships, they are cash awards that recipients may use for any expenses related to their educational pursuits. These include tuition and books, housing, childcare and transportation. The program begins at the community level. The local first-place winner then becomes eligible to receive region-level awards, which grants one $5,000 first-place award and two $3,000 awards. These 29 first-place winners become eligible to receive one of three $10,000 finalist awards. Both Stephens and Calhoun advanced to the regional level.

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