Monetary awards help education, career goals for those facing family crisis, addiction, abuse.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Jazzmine Alcala, left, and Maria Guadalupe Clemente. Soroptimist International of Gresham honored four extraordinary women who are pursuing career and education goals during its award and sponsor gratitude luncheon Thursday afternoon, Feb. 22, at the Gresham Elks Lodge.

The Soroptimist Live Your Dream awards are given to women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families. The winners are provided the resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects. This year a total of $10,500 is being awarded to the winners.

"This is one of my favorite events because so many people in this room do so much for Gresham," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "It's important to recognize and support folks in our community who are working hard and need a little help."

The winners overcame daunting barriers like family crisis, addiction, abuse and poverty. This year, thanks to unprecedented support from local sponsors, the Soroptimists were able to recognize an additional woman. The winners were Jazzmine Alcala, Maria Guadalupe Clemente, Alejandra Flores and Nicole Coffman.

The money given doesn't have to be used on books or school tuition, as it can be used to offset any costs preventing them from succeeding in school. That includes things like childcare, transportation or electricity bills.

It was an emotional afternoon for those who attended, many of whom were the sponsors who made the awards possible. The presenting sponsors were Weston Buick Kia GMC, Mt. Hood Community College and Riverview Community Bank. The winners were chosen by the judges — Bess Wills, general manager and co-owner of Gresham Ford, Lynn Snodgrass, CEO of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce, and Barbara Yerke, administrator at Kevin R. Minkoff CPA. The family and friends of the recipients were also present.

Jazzmine Alcala

• First Place recipient — $4,000

Alcala is on her way to finishing her accounting education, with a dream of starting her own small business, after stumbling because of family drama. Although she was a well-practiced goal setter, athlete and achiever, Alcala had to sideline many of her goals because of family and poverty.

She withdrew from the University of Portland to help her sister through drug addiction and support her 2-year-old nephew.

"I discovered her addiction problem, so I focused on supporting my nephew," Alcala said.

Recently, she became her nephew's legal guardian.

A program at Warner Pacific is letting Alcala continue her job as a cake decorator while finally completing her education through an adult degree program. Finally, graduation is right around the corner.

"I'm finally where I should have been a long time ago," she said. "Now it's my turn, and thanks to this opportunity my graduation is in sight."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Alejandra FloresMaria Guadalupe Clemente

• Second Place recipient — $3,000

Clemente is completing her prerequisite schooling at Mt. Hood Community College and working toward her dream of becoming a nurse. Her instructors at the college describe Clemente as brave, hardworking and dedicated.

"Since I was a child I have wanted to be a nurse," Clemente said. "As an immigrant, I am the first to go to college."

That passion for helping others sparked when she became her grandmother's caregiver at 10 years old. At age 16 after her grandmother passed away, she escaped an abusive and alcoholic parent, finished high school while working to support her family, and helped her mother also escape the dangerous environment. The fear she experienced at the hands of abuse was turned into strength and conviction to create a better situation for others.

"I want to be a better example for my sisters and community, and achieve a better life for my son," Clemente said.

Alejandra Flores

• Third Place recipient — $2,000

Flores is also attending MHCC in the Transiciones program with a goal of becoming a nurse. She proved her commitment to obtaining an education by completing her GED and working full time to care for her children after her husband was deported to Mexico.

"I am very dedicated to my children, I want them to be proud of me," Flores said. "My dream is to help my community, working in a hospital because I have the capacity and attitude to do it."

Flores volunteers at her children's school, helping many children with reading skills.

"Thank you very much to the Soroptimists," she said.


• Fourth Place recipient — $1,500

Coffman is pursuing her dream after spending the past 20 years caring for her ailing mother and other family members. As a young girl, she was molested and abused, suffering depression and anxiety. Her mother's fight with cancer taught Coffman to be strong, and she excelled in school en route to becoming the commencement speaker at her high school graduation.

"I learned to be a fighter, strong woman and mother while watching my mom — even though she was sick for most of my life," Coffman said. "Losing her was hard on me, I let my grief control my life."

After a bad car accident, she became addicted to pain medications, requiring time at a recovery center. She divorced her husband to become an example to her own daughters to stand up against abuse.

This past Mother's Day Coffman made a promise while sitting at her mom's grave. She told herself nine years of grief was enough.

Coffman is now working to achieve her dream of working in early childhood education.

"I am excited to obtain the degree I so desperately want," Coffman said. "I want to show my daughters who I truly am inside."

Teddy Bear Parade

The awards banquet would not have been possible without the support of the Soroptimist's popular Teddy Bear Parade.

The parade, which began in 1982, has grown into a Gresham tradition with more than 100 entries — from school marching bands and colorful floats to civic and cultural organizations. Last year organizers estimate there were more than 1,900 participants marching, with almost as many lining the streets to watch.

The Soroptimists also unveiled a new bronze sculpture of a teddy bear sitting on a bench at the corner of Main Avenue and Third Street. It commemorated the 35th anniversary of the parade.

The annual celebration helps raise money for the Live Your Dream awards through generous sponsorships and parade fees. Last year more than $25,000 was raised.

"It is because of the generous sponsors, the many volunteers and our dedicated Soroptimist members that we have made this event so successful," said Connie Philibert, Soroptimist president.

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