Judy Gallardo De Cisneros takes charge as new Soroptimist president

Judy Gallardo De Cisneros was recently installed as president of Soroptimist International of Downey. Photo by Lorine Parks

Judy Gallardo De Cisneros was recently installed as president of Soroptimist International of Downey. Photo by Lorine Parks

Parking places were scarce but hugs were not, on Sunday afternoon at BJ’s Restaurant in the Stonewood Center.

The welcoming buzz from the Soroptimists of the Downey Club warmed even the stone walls of the private banquet room where the club met to install next year’s officers. It’s like the contributions they make to the community, big in quantity and quantity from a club of 30 members. Relatively small but oh my.

Outgoing president Linda Haines emceed and recited the oath of office for incoming President Judy Gallardo De Cisneros and her new slate of officers.

The invitations had said business casual, but as usual in Southern California that allowed for a wide range. Linda wore a royal blue pants suit with a dramatic black feather print and rows of tiny silver studs and sequins in a medallion design.

Incoming president Judith wore a black dress with a jacket in the same royal blue as Linda, which also matched the big sunflower and blue lupine wildflower bouquet she was presented.

Also seen: Dr. Nina Smart in yellow leggings and yellow sleeveless silk tunic decorated with brilliants, and her friend Aamand, who wore a refreshingly cool white tunic and leggings made of superior Indian cotton.

“My sister gave it to me,” said Aamand, and he showed me the light sheen on the lustrous self-patterned weave, a contemporary take on traditional Rajastani garb.

The installation committee of (from left) Rebecca Reyes, Linda Haines and Dr. Nina Smart. Photo by Lorine Parks

The installation committee of (from left) Rebecca Reyes, Linda Haines and Dr. Nina Smart. Photo by Lorine Parks

Rebecca Reyes wore a stunning cocoa and cream ikata print blouse, and President-Elect Petra Castillo had on a bronze printed silk with the seams piped out. Such a lightweight dress, she says, is great for travel: “Just scrunch it in the suitcase and it never wrinkles.”

Ellie Eck, in a blue ombré blouse, gave the invocation, asking for guidance for the year to come. Another long time Soroptimist and past president, Mia Zimmerman, was also present, and not where she said she’d rather be, Maui. Mia, who designs imaginative floral décor for club functions, wore a hibiscus pink silk tank top.

“An on-going Soroptimist program is Live Your Dream,” said Linda, “an opportunity offered yearly for women in a mid-life crisis to get a scholarship and start back to school.”

This and Dream It Be It awards for needy high school seniors are distributed at the annual scholarship breakfast, and to fund these opportunities, the Soroptimists work all year, turning playful occasions into ways to make money. For example, they have the beer and wine concessions at several Downey functions during the year.

Mia Zimmerman and Christina Ciatti. Photo by Lorine Parks

Mia Zimmerman and Christina Ciatti. Photo by Lorine Parks

Other Soroptimist concerns are combatting domestic violence, and sex trafficking, right here in Downey as well as in the world. Past President Cecelia Goñez was at a women’s conference at the Santa Monica Women’s Club, but she sent greetings.

“If we can reach at least one person,” Cecelia said, “every single day at every single event, we will create the ripples we need to create a change! I am — we are — so determined to create a movement, not a moment. Human trafficking is the fight we all have to fight.”

On a global level, Soroptimist raises money to support clean water projects in Africa, and to improve education opportunities for women and children in third world countries, so they can be freed from demeaning tasks and break the poverty cycle that keeps them for improving their lives and that of families.

Downey Soroptimists have taken an interest in the Star Foundation’s work in Nepal, where women are given a chance to start a small business with the gift of a pregnant goat. Portable greenhouses also help the women to grow crops year round, for their families’ diet and as a cash crop.

Lunch turned out to be a generous pizzas buffet with several kinds to choose from. After sampling several, I remembered why I always come back to Hawaiian pizza: pineapple is so refreshing, with the saltiness of cheese and pepperoni.

Shrimp on angel hair pasta was also served, and Italian-style chicken breast, and an Asian fusian salad with chunks of seared chicken, celery, red and green peppers and twisted pasta spirals with ranch dressing. Dessert was a special treat, reserved till after the installation.

Ralph and Judith Cisneros. Photo by Lorine Parks

Ralph and Judith Cisneros. Photo by Lorine Parks

Soroptomists are renowned for throwing great parties, like their Roaring 20’s Casino Night Fundraiser. But behind the good times and theatricality there is serious purpose. The Downey Soroptimists pledged themselves at the installation ceremony to continue their work in elevating the status of women and girls.

Unlike men’s associations where the members roast and toast their leaders, women’s groups tend to be kinder. The entertainment skit used a poem by incoming president Judith to tell the story of a magic mirror that reflects happiness when one gives service to others. Every new member received her own bright magenta hand mirror and Judith’s leadership mirror was encased in clear carved lucite.

“Once there was a woman,” Linda read from the installation poem-skit, “who wanted to know how to be powerful, valiant, full of life and love.”

“She looked in her mirror and then she saw, as in a dream deep within, all those amazing things that she so badly wanted.

“And as that woman evolved she began to understand why she was always looking in the mirror. Her power was with her all along. The only thing she had to do was to step into her vision and her power.

“Like magic she stepped into all her splendor. The mirror was no longer needed.”

“Your power is with you,” said Linda. “Just take ownership of it!” Mirror gifts were then distributed to all the women present.

Soroptimist was founded in 1928, to give professional and business women the same opportunity to meet and share marketplace experiences that men had. Rotary had been founded in 1905, followed by Kiwanis and other fraternal groups, and the idea of service became paramount.

But women were not admitted into those groups until the Supreme Court Decision of 1987 banning gender discrimination. So Soroptimist became the club of women, for women. Concern for children with the emphasis on girls followed naturally.

Downey Fire Department executive assistant Christy Hedden. Photo by Lorine Parks

Downey Fire Department executive assistant Christy Hedden. Photo by Lorine Parks

Who are the Soroptimists of today? I talked to Christy Hedden, executive assistant to the Downey fire chief. Christy got her start in women’s fashion, creating inbound logistics reports with merchandising, production and operations teams, an unlikely connection until you consider, “I never trained in firefighting,” Christy said. “I went straight into administration.”

“I work with city staff,” said Christy, “crunching the numbers and figuring out, for example, how we can get even faster response times. Although Stations 1 and 3 are temporarily closed, we work with neighboring cities and the Los Angeles County Fire Department for coverage. We help them when they need us, and they help us.”

The city doesn’t have a live-fire practice area anymore, so where do they go to get hands-on experience?

“When a building is about to be demolished,” says Christy, “we ask if we can have it. And when Station 3 building was destroyed recently, to make room for new one, it was burned, and that was live practice. We make use of every occasion.” Resourceful, like a woman.

As President Judith said in her inaugural speech, “We are the women who choose to make a difference. We will go forward in partnering locally with Whittier PHI in women’s health matters, and with Rancho Los Amigos in improving the quality of life for the patients.”

At the end of the installation skit, dessert was served, a giant frying-pan-size freshly baked cookie, topped with ice cream. Each participant also received, in addition to the mirror, a goody bag filled with a pen and a pad “to write down all your wonderful ideas;” a journal “to write your dreams and vision” and a penlight, “to remind you that you are appreciated, as a beacon of light.”

FeaturesLorine Parks