Many women in Clovis are fortunate. We have supportive families, the opportunity to pursue higher education, good job prospects and nice homes. For some, though, these things don’t come so easily.
Everyday, women throughout the Valley endure tremendous hardships. Some are estranged from or have lost their families, others have had to overcome abusive relationships and drug addictions, and others struggle with finding viable employment and face homelessness.
Each year, Soroptimist International (SI) of Clovis, a non-profit that seeks to improve the lives of women, recognizes women who have persevered through such obstacles with the Live Your Dream Award.
On Tuesday, April 19, SI presented Live Your Dream awards to two such extraordinary women at the non-profits annual awards luncheon. SI also honored one San Joaquin College of Law student with a Women’s Advocate Award and one special woman with the Woman of Distinction Award.
SI Clovis president Frances Devins said the Live Your Dream awards are given to women who are the primary wage earners in their family and are seeking additional training and education to improve their employment status.
“The group of women that apply for this award are some of the strongest women I have ever read about and I don’t mean strong physically, although some are that too, but they are the strongest in strength, in character and in resilience because these ladies are overcoming things that many of us have never had to experience or will experience,” Devins said. “They live an inspiring life despite all of the obstacles they face. They have fought the good fight and they are moving forward to improve their lives for themselves, their families and their children.”
The first woman honored with the Live Your Dream award was Victoria Rocha. Rocha, who had five children, struggled with drug addiction and other bad decisions but turned her life around after coming to the Evangel Home in Clovis. There, she met other women who cared and was able to open up. Rocha is now determined to make a better life for herself and is attending Fresno City College, pursuing a degree in drug and alcohol counseling so that she can one day help others who are struggling with addition.
“Coming into recovery, it was really different for me to learn a new lifestyle and I met a lot of beautiful people and God really changed my heart toward who I thought I was and who I am becoming,” Rocha said. “I love myself today, I love my family, I love my friends and there have been so many people who have been very instrumental in my recovery. My friends Jenny and Joyce have pushed me and encouraged me to be a role model for my kids. Getting sober is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life…My life is just different today, really different and full of positivity and when you come from a childhood of negativity it is really hard to even think that exists so when God really opens your eyes to that positive life and positive people, it is a blessing.”
Caroline Guerra was also honored with the Live Your Dream award. Guerra is a single parent and decided she wanted to turn her life around after having her son. While she is grateful to have a job in the Hudson Gift Shop at Yosemite International Airport, her goal is to complete her education and go into social work.
As a returning student in 2014, Guerra participates in the welfare to work program through Cal Works, the public assistance program in Fresno County. She recently completed her third semester in the program with a GPA of 3.65. She is graduating from the program with an associate’s degree with spring. Her next goal is to get into Fresno State and earn a bachelor’s degree—which will be more difficult as the welfare to work program only supports students through their associates. No matter how difficult, Guerra said this is goal she will strive to achieve, as she believe education is the key to success that will lead to a better life for her and her son.
“Being a single parent, it was very difficult to work with little education so I decided to go back,” Guerra said. “I want to go further and I appreciate the opportunity that education has given me to rejuvenate my self-esteem and self-worth, which is so much more valuable than anything else.”
SI Clovis also honored Shannon Wallen, a student at the San Joaquin College of Law with the Soroptimist Women’s Advocate Award. Wallen is a first generation college student and college graduate who put herself through college and law school. She is the current president of the San Joaquin College of Law Student Bar Association, a volunteer for various charities and a member of the Delta Theta Phi law fraternity. She will be receiving her Juris Doctorate degree this spring and hopes to pass the bar exam in July. After passing the bar, she plans to obtain a job with the Fresno County Public Defenders Office.
“This is the difference between me being able to pass the bar so this means the world,” Wallen said of the award. “I can promise you that I will give back to this community.”
Joyce Williams, the volunteer coordinator for Evangel Home, was also honored at the luncheon. Williams presented with an award for the Soroptimist Woman of Distinction. The award recognizes a woman in the Clovis area who, through personal and professional activities, works to improve the lives of other women and girls.
“I believe in what Soroptimist does and you don’t know how proud I am to receive this,” Williams said. “I’m so proud of the live your dream recipients. This lady (Rocha) has five children in an apartment that you can barely breath in and yet it is immaculate and she has brought up a family that is loving and give hugs and I’m so proud that you honored her…My heart is filled right now and I just want to thank the Soroptimist Committee and I will do for you as you have done for me.”