Soroptimist International of Ashland (SIA) is delighted our signature program, Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women (SSGSW), at Helman School is still going strong after nine years! By enhancing problem-solving skills and self-esteem, this multi-faceted program develops confidence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for girls in Kindergarten through fifth grade.

SSGSW has five components, which operate from October through April. They are:

• Lunch Buddy mentors once a month for grades 2-4 girls;

• Book distribution (with positive female role models) to promote reading among kindergarten and first-grade girls;

• Science study and experiments;

• Career awareness field trips; and

• Environmental stewardship projects.

SIA coordinates and staffs the Lunch Buddy program. We greatly appreciate the adult volunteer mentors who join us from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the community.

The girls have recently completed the Career Awareness Field Trips. Fourth and fifth grade girls visit businesses, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies. They meet women owners, managers and employees to learn about various careers. The female professionals give short presentations about how and why they selected their career, entry requirements, educational backgrounds and their responsibilities and duties. The girls pose questions and there are guided tours of the facilities.

This year SSGSW Career Awareness Field Trips visited Julie Reeder, vice president and commercial loan officer, and staff at Ashland’s People’s Bank. They met with Stephanie Korerella, education coordinator at Ashland Food Co-op, who is a former ship’s captain and marine biologist. Next the girls visited Kathrin Platt Gonzales, owner of YALA Designs (Dreamsacks & clothing) and Marion Moore, co-owner of Ashland Yoga Studio, and Windy Leonis, Hilltop Station Manager. The field trips culminated with a meeting with Director Barbara Thalbert and Sunny LeGrand, volunteer photographer at Jackson County Animal Shelter. After the presentations, everyone had fun viewing the dogs and cats and touring the area where the animals are photographed for adoption ads.

SSGSW is funded by SIA and receives a generous annual book donation from Highlights for Children. SSGSW has been featured on a May 2016 RVTV segment of “Girl Talk." Regina Ayars and Carol Voisin interviewed Kathy Garrett Canape, SSGSW co-chair, and Sophia Cox, a Helman student. We were also recognized in the Dec. 28, 2014, Daily Tidings editorial as one of three items considered, “Good News this Week” as follows: “We were heartened by a special after-school program sponsored by Soroptimist International of Ashland that works to get girls interested in STEM careers and college majors. Girls are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math fields, but it's not for lack of ability. Bravo to Soroptimist for stepping up to the challenge.”

This year 64 girls have participated in SSGSW and enjoyed a unique educational opportunity to be strong girls and eventually to become strong women. For more information, contact President Janie Burcart at 541-910-0235 or, or Bea Bacher Wetmore, co-chairperson, at 541-708-3835 or

Kathy Garrett Canape & Janie Burcart are co-chairpersons of the current Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women program. Joy Dobson Way is chairperson of the Soroptimist International of Ashland Public Awareness Committee.