Soroptimist International Downey

Patty Kotze President of Downey Soroptimist Club

March 20, 2010

Their mission is making a difference in women’s and children’s lives “one service project, one fundraiser, one meeting, and one member at a time.”

Last week, Soroptimist International of Downey honored five women and a teenager for making a difference in the community and distinguishing themselves in the process, even as the club celebrated downey-soroptimistsInternational Women’s Day. (Founded in 1911 and observed on March 8, IWD will celebrate its global centenary next year).

The four accorded Women of Distinction awards for 2010 were: former city clerk Judy McDonnell, True Lasting Connections (TLC) coordinator Luz Perez, Downey Unified School District board president Barbara Samperi, and musical artist Jannel Rap.

Receiving the Soroptimist’s Ruby Award was Dr. Yaga Szlachcic, chair of the department of medicine and chief of cardiology at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

The Violet Richardson Award, given to a girl between ages 14 and 17 “whose volunteerism demonstrates an effort to help others,” was conferred on Warren High School’s Christina Carrera.

The ruby, noted Women of Distinction committee chair and presenter Dianne Lumsdaine, is a “deep red gemstone associated with wisdom, importance, strength, vitality, power and love, traits you will find in our Ruby Award winner today, Dr.Yaga.” Renowned for her work on behalf of women with spinal cord injuries, Dr. Szlachcic has also created a Lipid Clinic at Rancho Los Amigos to further her work in the area. She also serves as an associate professor of clinical medicine at USC where she lectures medical students, interns, residents, and fellows on hypertension, heart failure, and myocardial ischemia.

The Ruby Award is named after the first federation president, Ruby Lee Minar.

Retired since 2001 but remaining active with the club and devoting her time to pursuing her favorite projects (helping raise funds for scholarships, the Women’s Opportunity Awards, etc.), McDonnell has received multiple honors from various organizations in her 20 years with Soroptimist, but never expected to receive one from the club. She said she was privileged to serve the city at one stretch when the city council majority was women (3-2).

Perez’s 10 years of service at TLC includes “responsibility for the welfare of students referred to TLC by district principals and others. This can range from providing medical exams to psychological counseling to hearing exams; TLC also provides assistance to parents who need to enroll their children in health insurance.” Indeed, the work that Perez does, said Lumsdaine, along with her staff, is “lifesaving to some, and needed by many.” Amidst all this, in the meantime, she earned her bachelor’s in social work.

Rap, whose musical accomplishments include five solo CD’s so far (she’s currently working on her sixth), is also a woman with a mission to find her sister Gina who disappeared in 2000. Her GINA for Missing Persons FOUNDation was instrumental in her being listed as one of the experts on call for missing persons cases on such national TV shows as Nancy Grace, etc. She has shared the stage with John Waite, Sophie B. Hawkins, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Money, etc.

The Violet Richardson Award given to Carrera is named after Violet Richardson Ward, who was the first president of the first Soroptimist Club. Hailed as an inspiration throughout the years, she was described as someone “committed to creating opportunities for girls and young women through her affiliations with Soroptimist, the Girl Scout Council and the American Association of University Women.”

Carrera has volunteered at Downey Regional Medical Center, at a retirement center with the Key Club, belonged to the Linkcrew, and volunteered to help students in track and field and special ed. She was the founder of the “Lunch Bunch,” who mentor and spend time with autistic students at Warren High.

Speaker Michele Memmott, governor-elect of Soroptimist’s Camino Real Region (to which Soroptimist of Downey belongs) noted the many advances women have made over the years and said, “Women now have more choices [than ever before].”

Club president Patty Kotze, who is president and managing partner at Diversified Risk Management, Inc., at the same time enjoined everybody: “Let’s make every day International Women’s Day.”