United Way event celebrates 10 years of women making a difference

Santa Cruz Sentinel
by Jondi Gumz

Sally Arnold, a teacher at Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary School, saw a first-grader arrive from Mexico who developed a streetwise aggression to compensate as his skills fell behind his classmates — until he got extra help, which improved not only his English but also his attitude.

Janas Durkee, who teaches 500 students at Mintie White Elementary the universal language of art and the value of healthy struggle, gets hugs because she brings opportunity.

Victoria Sorensen was considered a troublemaker at high school in Mexico because she spoke out. Now Pajaro Middle School principal, she reports the Math Engineering Science Achievement club, which used to be a lot of boys, has 10 boys and 10 girls with an average GPA of 3.5.

Those are some of the success stories told Thursday night at the Museum of Art & History, which hosted a event celebrating the 10th anniversary of United Way Women in Philanthropy. The group has raised $400,000 in more than 10 years for school programs, and 37 more local organizations of women making a difference locally and around the world.

Cindy Weigelt, Watsonville Community Hospital spokeswoman and chairwoman of Women in Philanthropy, issued a challenge to the 103 women in the room, saying she wants membership, now 45, to grow to 50.

“I’m just a little competitive,” she said.

Each member gives $1,000 a year to fund educational programs.

“You give and you see it in action,” said member Megan Corey, who came with her 7-year-old granddaughter Mariah.

“It’s to fill gaps,” said Martina O’Sullivan, who will be taking on a leadership role for the coming year.

Jan Kamman of United Way encouraged those in attendance to support the other organizations, such as Dining for Women, whose three local chapters with a mailing list of 800, will present a film, “I am a Girl,” 7:30 p.m. March 8 at Aptos Cinema. Tickets at $10 must be purchased in advance at Gathr.us.

“Gender equality is not a women’s issue,” said Cari Class of Dining for Women. “It is a human rights issue.”

Each of the 38 organizations crafted a valentine describing their work, with tiny knitted hearts for the Knitting Guild, a heart made of daisies for the Daisy Auxiliary, and feathers shaped in a heart for Omega Nu.

Vicki Boriack of First 5 Santa Cruz County admired the creative valentines and how they represented the nurturing power of women.

Julie O’Brien of Omega Nu, which presents the annual Ducky Derby to raise money to give college scholarships to local students, was impressed by the diversity of philanthropic efforts.

“So many new exciting things are going on,” she said.