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By Brittni Henderson
The Latin phrase “soror optima” translates as “the best for women,” and that is clearly the main objective of the female-focused group Soroptimist International and their inspiring local student initiative Dream It, Be it: Leadership Program for Girls. True to the Latin roots of their name, the California-based Soroptimist International is a 96-year-old mentorship organization that aims to enrich the lives of young women in order for them reach their full potential. The local chapter of the volunteer group, Soroptimist International of Greater Providence was chartered in 2008 and is the only one of its kind in the state of Rhode Island. The group’s pioneer Dream It, Be It Leadership Program for Girls (DIBI) was initiated with an inaugural group of fourteen female students from Smithfield High School.
Greater Providence President Terry Moretti explains that just three years ago she and the local members were looking for a leadership project that would fit the criteria for a Dream It, Be It Program project as defined by Soroptimist International of the Americas sponsorship standards. Around the same time, Moretti came across an article about Town Councilwoman Suzy Alba’s interest in creating a leadership program for girls in Smithfield.
The timing could not have been more perfect for both parties. After discovering this unbelievable coincidence, Moretti quickly invited Alba to the group’s next meeting, and the motivated women laid the groundwork necessary to get the mentorship project rolling. Soon thereafter, they met with Smithfield High School Principal Daniel Kelley and members of the guidance department, all of whom expressed their enthusiastic support for the idea.
According to the Greater Providence Soroptimists’ materials, the goal of the program is “for participants to learn and implement effective leadership skills and strategies. Its three objectives are to increase participants’ knowledge of skills and strategies used by accomplished leaders, to improve participants’ abilities to make proper decisions about present and future choices, and to build a support network of peers, community partners, and Soroptimists.”
The fourteen original young women who joined the group at its inception were brought in as sophomores at Smithfield High School. The remaining eleven participants are now seniors who have completed monthly two-hour sessions organized by local Soroptimists and local community partners. These meetings covered such topics as character traits of good leaders, listening and speaking skills, building positive relationships, assertiveness skills, and much more. The young women met with teachers, nurses, social workers, and bankers—just to name a few. They attended a table etiquette session at The Greenville Inn, 36 Smith Ave, Smithfield and a “Dress for Success” presentation at Fabulocity, 269 Greenville Ave., Johnston, and many other events covering real-world topics.
The majority of the curriculum is presented by Club members, and at the end of each session, each teen receives a memento related to the topic, like a Fabulocity gift certificate or complimentary dinner at the Greenville Inn.
Every member of The Greater Providence Branch of Soroptimists except one, is a current resident of Smithfield including Town Councilwoman Suzy Alba, Ginnie Bowry, Nancy Lancaster, Terry Moretti, Deborah Robitaille, Jan Stimets, and Gail VanGorden.
Students completing the Dream It, Be It Leadership Program in the coming months are Nadia Almuhtaseb, Briscia Aybar, Patricia Bubis, Kayla Exeama, Jordan Jenkins, Eily Jones, Ashley Nicholson, Emily Orticerio, Jordan Peloquin, Sarah Robitaille, and Isabelle Stevens.
“It’s been a joy to follow these girls as they journeyed through high school,” Moretti says. “When we first met halfway through their sophomore year, they were just getting to know the other classmates in the program and were a bit tentative about participating in discussions. Now, they are confident and assertive, and have some new skills to take with them after graduation.”
Town Councilwoman Alba shares a similar sentiment toward her experience over the past two years.
“It has been very rewarding to take part in the creation and implementation of DIBI, volunteering alongside accomplished and experienced women here in our community,” she says. “Our hope is that the high school girls who participated will benefit today and in the future from the leadership and skills learned from the various sessions we offered.”
Upon completion of the program, organizers hope to provide each girl with a small scholarship. Any contributions from the community would be greatly appreciated and tax-deductible, as they are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Those interested in helping fund these scholarships should contact Smithfield Councilwoman Suzy Alba at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (401) 243-5744.