It all started with one gesture of kindness, when early in 1982, a small group of women pulled together to raise money for a high school senior to go to college.
After the task was done, the alliance stayed strong and blossomed into the Service Organization of the Sierra (SOS), an all-women non-profit that has helped hundreds in the Mountain Area in countless ways.
This year, the group celebrates 30 years of giving back to the mountain community.
Since 1982, SOS has raised about $250,000 they have awarded as college scholarships to graduating seniors, mini grants to elementary and middle school teachers, and as donations to area groups including the Oakhurst Library, Heartland, Hinds Hospice, Mountain Area Literacy Council, and the annual Relay For Life event, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
SOS President Linda Seaberg, a former kindergarten through third-grade teacher for 34 years, said the group often receives between 80 and 100 scholarship applications each year from graduating seniors at Yosemite, Minarets and Glacier high schools, and that each year "our students here impress me so greatly."
"The things that some of them have to overcome to succeed and yet they have had such tremendous talent -- oh my goodness, our little mountain community has some fabulous students," Seaberg said.
SOS usually awards between $7,000 and $9,000 a year in high school scholarships, she said.
The SOS teacher mini grants, usually around $5,000 awarded a year in amounts ranging from $200 to $750, have provided crucial assistance to scores of area teachers for classroom activities, projects, productions and school equipment.
Christel Biasell, music teacher at Coarsegold and Rivergold elementary schools for 18 years, recalls the first time she received a SOS mini grant application slip in her school mailbox.
"My eyes started tearing up," Biasell said. "I got this big lump in my throat -- 'There are just people, out of the goodness of their hearts, that put in countless hours to raise money like this and then just give it away?'"
Biasell has received SOS mini grants for more than five years that she's used to buy several school instruments. Over the past few years, she's used the mini grants to pay for instrument maintenance and repairs, because Yosemite Unified had to cut the music program by 50% due to the weak economy, she said.
"None of this could have happened without you, our mountain community," said Seaberg of all the donations SOS has been able to make. "It is with heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation that we reach out to all of you who have supported us for 30 years with your gifts, monetary support, attendance at our fundraisers, and all around encouragement."
Support SOS Nov. 14 at boutique and luncheon
To support SOS so they can keep supporting the community, residents are invited to attend their fall fundraiser, "A Vintage Christmas" boutique and luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the Oakhurst Community Center.
The event is one of two yearly fundraisers for the group, and will include a wide variety of handcrafted Christmas gifts made by SOS members, including things like intricate pine needle baskets, knitted scarves, watercolor paintings, children's items, baked goods, breads and candies, to name a few. A few local vendors will also be selling handcrafted items. The "vintage" theme was chosen to also celebrate Oakhurst's 100th birthday this year.
The boutique opens at 10 a.m. and usually ends about 1 p.m. There is a $15 entrance fee which includes lunch, served at 11:30 a.m. To purchase tickets, call Gladys Cone at (559) 642-6998.
Seaberg said the non-profit has 22 members and is seeking more.
"We are always looking for women who would like to join us in our efforts to help our schools and our community," she said. "Another wonderful thing about SOS is you make life-long friendships. We're very close-knit, almost like family. It's wonderful to have that kind of support in your life."
Along with their fall boutique and luncheon, the ladies host a Bingo fundraiser in the spring. The group meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month, except in November and December, in the conference room of Oakhurst Medical Group.For more information, contact Seaberg at (559) 642-4280.
"People join organizations for many reasons: they want to get involved, meet people, make new friends, explore interests, develop leadership skills and have fun!" Seaberg said. "SOS does so much good for our community, why wouldn't someone want to join? We do our best and make every effort to make everyone feel welcomed, needed and appreciated ... I count it a privilege to be able to work along side some of the most creative, talented, caring, hard-working women any organization could hope to have."