AWARD WINNERS - Soroptimist International Central Alberta Award recipients. From left, Brynne Takhar, winner of the Violet Richardson Award; Lizzy Walker, winner of the Ruby Award; Lindsey Riley, first place winner of the Live your Dream Award and Frederique Ouellet, second place winner of the Live your Dream Award. Michelle Falk/Red Deer Express

WATCH: Red Deer awards luncheon celebrates International Women’s Day

Soroptimist International of Central Alberta hosted annual luncheon

Soroptimist International of Central Alberta hosted their annual International Women’s Day awards luncheon on March 8th at the Radisson Hotel.

“The purpose of the event is to celebrate how far we have come in the quest for full gender equality and to force the world to recognize how far we have to go,” said Sherri Smith, master of ceremonies and public awareness pillar for the Central Alberta chapter.

Soroptimist International is a women’s organization that brings awareness to the concerns, challenges and achievements of women around the world.

They fundraise throughout the year to support other local women’s organizations and to provide monetary awards at the annual International Women’s Day Luncheon to upstanding women in the community.

Women are nominated by the community for awards and selected by a committee of non-Soroptimist members.

The Ruby award is named in honour of the organization’s first Federation President, Ruby Lee Minar. The recipient should also represent the attributes of the gemstone: wisdom, importance, power and love.

“Women making extraordinary differences in the lives of other women,” said Diane Gardipy of the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre, who presented the award. Gardipy was last year’s Ruby award winner. She added that it gives the organization the opportunity to say thank you for the contributions made to the community.

This year’s Ruby award recipient was Lizzy Walker. Walker works as a social media manager and often donates her time and skills to support the success of local and international business. She cooks meals to take to picnic areas to offer to the homeless, and does humanitarian work in Mexico annually. She also uses social media to encourage other women to respect themselves and support people, and is a trained doula, donating her time to mothers who need a support person.

In her acceptance speech, Walker told a story of a woman named Myra that she met at the Red Deer Greyhound station who was in need of help to get out of challenging circumstances. She thanked Myra, who was in attendance for changing her life for the better.

“She was like an angel from high above and she was there for me,” said Myra who identified herself as a Blackfoot Native from Siksika.

Myra is now clean 30 years. The single mother is now living a healthy independent life, which she largely credits to Lizzy saying that if she had not been there for her that cold October day she would be among the missing and murdered indigenous women.

Two ‘Live your Dream’ Awards were presented this year. This award is presented to women in post-secondary schools who are the primary breadwinners and heads of their households. The award is given to women who have overcome great odds to pursue higher education along with their careers.

The first place ‘Live Your Dream’ Award was presented to Lindsey Riley, a single mother of two from Penhold. In addition to raising her children, Riley is taking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Red Deer College.

“It’s interesting to see that all the hardship and all the work and everything that you’ve put into an education and bettering your life can actually mean something and encourage other people,” said Riley with emotion in her voice.

“I’m not the only one that can do this, anyone can.”

The second Live Your Dream Award was presented to Frederique Ouellet, a single mother of four from Red Deer. Ouellet is also attending Red Deer College, and is studying to earn a Bachelor of Education.

The first place winner of this award is given $2,500 while the second place winner receives $1,000. As the first place winner, Riley will now be nominated for the Soroptimist’s regional award where she has a chance to win $5,000 for first place or $3,500 for second place. The first place winner of the regional award is nominated for the international award, where the winner receives $10,000.

President Sylvia Bouteiller emphasized that the monetary awards are not scholarships, the winner can spend them on whatever they want from daycare to their children’s sports fees.

The winner of the Violet Richardson Award is selected from nominees who are young inspirations as activists in their communities. The award is given to a young woman ages 14 to 17-years old who is an effective volunteer seeking to better the world through her community action. The winner of this award is granted $500 for themselves and another $500 for a charity of their choice.

Brynne Takhar from Sylvan Lake was the recipient of this year’s award. Takhar is in Grade 12 at H.J. Cody School and is very active in the school’s Interact Club. She is passionate about volunteering and fundraising locally at the women’s shelter and circulating petitions to promote international women’s rights.

“I’m so fortunate to live here in Canada where I have so many opportunities and I’d love to be able to find a way to provide those opportunities to women everywhere,” Takhar said.

Guest speakers at the event included Andrea Lacoursiere and Teresa Cardinal from Red Feather Women, who shared stories about the inception of their advocacy organization and the impact it has had on their lives.

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