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Manteca Soroptimists award $12,500 in scholarships
Judy Vasquez, the recipient of this years Soroptimist Ruby Award, is flanked by Womens Opportunity Award recipient Harjeet Kaur, left, and Violet Richardson awardee Kristy Van Gelderen. The annual awards program was held Tuesday night at the Manteca Senior Center. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Soroptimist International of Manteca gave away $12,500 in special awards and scholarships Tuesday night at the Manteca Senior Center.

The annual event honored 14 outstanding Manteca Unified high school seniors plus three women who have made, and continue to make, a difference in their community. Along with the honors were cash awards and certificates of recognition presented to each recipient, with Manteca Unified Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Don Halseth as the special guest and presenter.

The recognition awards were given to Judy Vasquez, Harjeet Kaur, and Kristy Van Gelderen. Vasquez, a longtime member of the Manteca Soroptimist, was chosen for this year’s Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women, which was formerly known as the Making a Difference for Women award. It honors “women who have worked to improve the lives of women and girls through their professional and/or volunteer work,” explained awards chairperson Sharon Cunial. The award recognizes and honors the service club’s first federation president, Ruby Lee Minar.

“Judy Vasquez is a woman we can all look up to. As a nurse with a family to raise, she still found time in her life to volunteer and help others in many ways,” said Gayl Wilson who presented the award to her fellow Soroptimist. The service club donated $500 to the Manteca Boys and Girls Club in honor of Vasquez.

The Women’s Opportunity Award went to Harjeet Kaur, a certified nursing assistant at Manteca Rehabilitation Center in Manteca and a single mother of two young children. Her goal is to attend the nursing program at Modesto Junior College and become a registered nurse. She received $500 along with a certificate of recognition.

The Women’s Opportunity Awards program has been funded since 1972 by the Soroptimist International of the Americas, explained Sandi Rebeiro who introduced Kaur to the gathering of family, friends and Soroptimist members at the Senior Center Tuesday night.

“This program was created to help women improve their ability to provide for their families. It provides more than $1 million each year to women who serve as the primary wage earners for their families, to offset costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education or additional skills and training,” Rebeiro said explaining the intent of the award.

“(It) can be used for tuition, books, childcare, car fare, or any other education-related expense,” she added.

Rebeiro further explained that club-level winners like Kaur become eligible for additional awards at the organization’s regional level, including one of the three $10,000 finalist awards given each year. Since 1972, the program has given away $15 million and has assisted about 25,000 women.

Receiving the Violet Richardson Award was East Union High senior Kristy Van Gelderen, a straight 4.0 student since her freshman year, and a volunteer for the California Transplant Donor Network. She became the organization’s Donate Life Ambassador after her brother, Matthew, succumbed from a brain injury in 2005 while playing high school football. The young athlete’s family decided to donate his organs which saved the lives of four people.

Brook Taylor Mejorado, who is ranked 8th in her senior class of 328 at Manteca High, was selected to receive the $2,000 Betty Bergthold Memorial Scholarship. The award honors the memory of the late Soroptimist member and longtime Manteca businesswoman.

Below are this year’s scholarship winners, along with their schools and cash awards:

• Luz Aguirre and Angelique Cardoza ($1,000 each), East Union High School.

• Jenny Yu ($1,000) and sisters Wendy and Weley Lin ($750 each) of Manteca High.

• Ashley Chu of Lathrop High, ($1,000).

• Angelica Rodriguez ($1,000) of Sierra High.

• Nicole Silva ($500) of Calla High.

• Bianca  Rosas ($500) of New Vision High.

• Nicollette Rayray ($1,000) of Weston Ranch High.