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Soroptimist Opportunity Awards empower women

Chain of compassion continues with Rocklin grant winner
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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Stories of families struggling during the long economic downturn often come a dime a dozen.

Finding a resolution for the everyday fight to stay above water added a twist to Latanya Hampton-Johnson’s story, creating an exceptional new chapter. The single Rocklin mother of two was working full-time, raising her sons while diligently pounding the pavement in search of scholarships to help finance her college education. With her eye on a bachelor of science degree, Hampton-Johnson applied for an opportunity award through Rocklin’s Soroptimist International South Placer Club.
 
“I remember crying while on the telephone with Jo Lewandowski (when) she informed me that I had won the grant,” Hampton-Johnson remembered. “The women of SI of South Placer embraced me, my children and my family from our first contact, and they have continued to be an encouragement and support to me.”
 
Hampton-Johnson won the first Women’s Opportunity Award from the South Placer group and the Sierra Nevada region also selected her as one of the top three finalists in 2011.
 
“Believe it or not, I didn’t even have gas money to get to the award celebration,” Hampton-Johnson shared. “The award money was like a breath of fresh air. It helped to ease the burden I felt as a single mother, working full-time and attending college. I was able to put gas in my car, pay a couple of bills, pay on my school tuition, pay toward my child care expense and take my children to do something fun.”
 
Today, Hampton-Johnson works as a full-time senior administrative clerk and is the proud founder and chief executive director of Working Women International, a nonprofit supportive services organization for working women and women seeking employment. With only six classes remaining toward her bachelor of science degree in communications technology, Hampton looks forward to pursuing a master’s of public administration in nonprofit management and leadership.
 
“She is a dynamic young woman who has overcome diversity and always looked forward, never backward,” said Lewandowski, SI South Placer club membership director. “We’re very proud of her. Latanya is so determined. We’re really excited about the nonprofit she has created.”
 
Hampton-Johnson’s most recent focus has been developing a wardrobe program to provide interview suits and business apparel for women seeking employment or who are already in the workforce. She works with eight community leaders on a part-time basis with the dream of managing Working Women International full-time and becoming an inspirational author.
 
“I dream of being the voice of women who are left behind or forgotten about, the helping hand for women who are struggling to make it day to day,” Hampton-Johnson shared. “I dream of women coming through my organization, leaving empowered, inspired and ready to move into their next level.”
 
The Soroptimist International dream began in 1921, when the first club came together in Oakland as a volunteer effort to provide the best for women and girls. Today, more than 3,000 clubs exist around the world, giving more than $ 1.5 million in cash awards at various levels of the organization. Many Opportunity Award recipients have escaped traumatizing situations such as domestic violence, drug abuse and the underground sex trade. The Rocklin club is in its third year of granting Opportunity Awards, encouraging women who are the head of household and have overcome adversity to apply at www.soroptimist.org for help with educational expenses.
 
“All the clubs around the area and throughout the world award these grants,” shared Trina Laird, SI South Placer public awareness director. “We are really trying to increase our membership and get more people on board because the more people we have, the more we can do and the more we can give.”
 
This year, Hampton-Johnson will head up the judging panel for the third annual SI South Placer Opportunity Awards. She encourages women who are struggling to keep working toward their dreams.
 
“Opportunity does not always knock, sometimes you have to go get it,” she said. “That’s my realization, and that’s what I would say to women of Rocklin and women everywhere. Resources exist, but they are not going to come to you. You have to look for them, sometimes dig for them, and when you cannot locate them, create them.”
 
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Women’s Opportunity Awards
What: A $1,000 cash grant for a local winner to help with educational expenses. Winners apply to the regional level for a $5,000 cash grant. The program culminates with three finalists selected to compete for a $10,000 grant award.
Who can apply: Women who serve as the primary wage earner for their family, have overcome adversity with a proven drive to succeed, seeking educational assistance.
Deadline: Dec. 15
Application Information: www.soroptimist.org or sisouthplacer@aol.com
Submit applications to: SI South Placer, P.O. Box 2137, Rocklin, CA 95677
 
To support the programs of Soroptimist International South Placer contact Jo Lewandowski, membership director, at 214-4004, sisouthplacer@aol.com,  www.facebook.com/sisouthplacer or on Twitter, @sisouthplacer.