Making a difference

By Di Lyn Larsen-Hill, president of Soroptimist of La Grande Foundation March 26, 2009 01:56 pm

Times are tough. It’s plain to see everyone is cutting costs and doing without some basic necessities. We hopefully look ahead to better times.

Regardless of those cost-saving measures, citizens of Union County remain generous to a fault when it comes to others in need. Recently, Soroptimist International of

La Grande hosted a reception to distribute the net proceeds from our 21st annual Festival of Trees to 12 extremely appreciative local agencies and organizations. The festival, a mainstay in our valley’s holiday events, garnered close to $20,000 to award in grants.

Representatives from each group shared amazing stories about the clientele they serve. Sleepytime Story Hour, Union County First Book and Read to Succeed are diligently working to stamp out illiteracy among young and old alike.

Bob Thomas and Bud Scoubes of Elgin-based Read to Succeed shared their innovative approaches to introducing youngsters to the love of books and reading. Evenings with firemen reading to children, encouraging parents to read to their children and free books for area children are a few of this program’s ongoing outreach activities.

Sleepytime Story Hour began on campus several years ago, and once the Cook Memorial Library was built, it was a perfect new home for this successful program. Guest readers select books, and everyone attends in their pajamas. At the end of the evening, children select books to take home. Volunteer readers are always needed.

Union County First Book volunteers also dedicate themselves to getting books into the hands and hearts of children. Story after story prove how delighted children are with those first books, and once you have that level of devotion, their love of reading is set in stone.

Nancy Knowles and the Eastern Oregon University Writing Project take the love of the written word to the next level. Her program works with young students who spend a busy and productive day on campus honing their writing skills.

Another program geared toward young students is the Girls in Science program, also headquartered at EOU by dedicated professionals representing all of the sciences. Students from around Oregon immerse themselves in the fascinating world of science. Each year a special curriculum is designed to provide hands-on experience for these young girls at EOU.

One program that has thrived in spite of being shifted from one administrative group to another is the Union County Children’s Choir. Now under the auspices of Arts East, this program was created several years ago by dedicated music enthusiasts who wanted to share that love of music with youngsters. Soroptimist funds will be used as scholarship fees for children who might not otherwise be able to participate.

New this year as a grant recipient is the Girls Circle Program sponsored by the Mount Emily Safe Center. This is a research-based, highly effective program proven to decrease self-harming behavior and alcohol use, and to increase attachment to school and community, and increase self-efficacy in girls ages 9-17. Currently the program, offered to middle school students, exists in the Union, Imbler and La Grande school districts. The center provides two facilitators working with up to 15 girls in each location.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) will use funds to recruit, train and support an additional six to 10 volunteers. Currently there are advocates working an average of 40-50 cases per year. Volunteers work closely with youngsters who find themselves embroiled in courtroom and legal issues. At our reception we heard emotional stories about the youngsters they work with and how these advocates helped them wade through the maze of legalese to come out the other side into more stable and loving environments.

The Kids Club, sponsored by Community Connection, is designed for elementary age students, promoting health and safety while providing activities that enhance social, cognitive and physical development. That’s a fancy way to describe an upbeat and positive place where working parents can be assured their children are safely involved in learning and fun activities designed by educational experts. The program serves more than 40 children each day, five days a week.

The La Grande Swim Club will use the funding to offer scholarships to young swimmers who might not otherwise be able to participate. Association President Dave Felley said swimming is a relatively expensive sport, with training, travel, insurance and coaching, and the swim club does not turn away interested young swimmers.

Cove Preschool was begun in 2005 after members of the community saw a need and made it happen with a lot of help from the Cove Community School. There are currently 23 youngsters involved in educational and social activities geared toward preparing them for their next level of education. One full-time teacher is assisted by volunteers and a Cove High School student working on her senior project. Soroptimist funds paid for numerous scholarships, as well as a circle rug for activities.

Soroptimists probably has the longest running professional relationship with Shelter From the Storm. In addition to financial support, Soroptimists have designed and outfitted rooms at the safe house and offered assistance in other ways over the years including serving at the shelter’s annual fundraiser, The Soup Supper. This year’s festival grant will fund 104 counseling sessions to women and men in need.

Applications are now available for next year’s Festival of Trees proceeds. The deadline is April 1. For more information call me at 963-3104 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Di Lyn Larsen-Hill is president of Soroptimist of La Grande Foundation.