Soroptimist International of the Sierras recently held their Making a Difference for Women awards recognition program and honored three Mountain Area women for their efforts in their personal lives and their community.
Those three women were: Beth Villaneuva, Jill Althizer, and Ann Topham.
Soroptimist Sandy Brinley said these awards have been a part of the club since they were formed.
"It's just part of what Soroptimists is -- to honor women and girls in our community that have performed services like our mission says to," Brinley said.
The Soroptimists stand for, according to their pledge, "friendship, the joy of achievement, the dignity of service, the integrity of profession, (and) the love of country."
Beth Villaneuva - Women's Opportunity Award
Soroptimist President Elfie Slayton said this award is intended for a woman who may otherwise not be able to continue her education to better provide for her family.
"I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity," Villaneuva said after receiving the award. "The financial part of the award will definitely help me and I'm humbled by what this group does for the community."
At the age of 21, Villaneuva married a man with no reservations after dating him for five years and planned to spend her life with him and raise a family. However, 18 years later, Villaneuva found herself with not only a broken marriage but also a broken family, and trying to break a cycle of abuse and violence not only in her life, but also in the lives of her three daughters.
Villaneuva said she's spent the last several months developing a plan that will create self-sufficiency and give her the ability to provide a stable home life for her children. She said her plan includes furthering her education so she can better provide for her family. She not only wants to provide for them financially, but also through counseling and therapy to empower them to overcome their past filled with domestic abuse.
Sharon Cioffi of Victims Services was right at Villaneuva's side, supporting and congratulating her.
"I have a lot of people come through my office and there are very few success stories," she said. "I'm so happy for her."
"It is very rewarding to us to have these people come back a year or two later and show us what they have achieved and know we had a small part in it," Slayton said.
Jill Althizer - Women Helping Women
Slayton said this award is for someone who is helping women and girls in the community on an every day basis.
"It may be part of their job, but the recipients of this award go far above and beyond the job description to help out women and girls in need and we think they should be recognized for their extraordinary efforts," Slayton said.
Althizer, executive director at Helping Hands, began working there six years ago as a volunteer. Helping Hands is a pregnancy and parenting center located in Oakhurst. Before she knew it, Althizer was involved in a variety of capacities including fundraising and book keeping and three years after that was named executive director. Always busy, she instituted the baby dollar program that awards clients for classes attended. Through that program, clients are able to obtain baby items which are donated by community members.
"I was really surprised and honored to receive it," Althizer said about receiving the award.
Althizer hopes to expand the Helping Hands ministry to Mariposa and is currently working on making that vision a reality.
Ann Topham - Women of Distinction
Topham is the founding member of the Soroptimist of the Sierras, which was founded in 1968.
"They can't get rid of me," Topham said. "I was so surprised. I was just thrilled and it was unexpected. It was quite an honor. This club is very caring and giving."
Slayton said the award is special "because it is given to a woman who does things behind the scenes and sometimes doesn't even realize how much the things she does mean to those around her.
Patti Frith-Smith, who presented the award, said Topham, her late husband Fred and their sons, have been an integral part of the community. They once owned and ran the only local pharmacy for many years and were always helping out neighbors, friends, and customers.
"Ann is one of the strongest women I know, who can hug like there is nothing else in this world that matters or can't be solved with a smile and that great laugh of hers," Frith-Smith said. "We are so fortunate to have her in our lives."
Topham was chosen for the Women of Distinction Award, Frith-Smith said, because she over exceeds the criteria; made outstanding achievements in her professional, business and voluntary activities; and demonstrates exemplary character and integrity along with outstanding ability and leadership.
"Our community and our Soroptimist of the Sierras are so fortunate to have her as a role model and friend," Frith-Smith said.