Seven Single Moms Selected for Capitola Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards

Soroptimist International of Capitola-by-the-Sea has selected seven single mothers as winners of its 2024 Live Your Dream program awards. Each received a cash award that they can use for anything that enables them to complete their education, such as rent, medical bills, child care and car repairs.

The winners were honored at a presentation ceremony on March 12.

Women who are enrolled in or have been accepted into a bachelor’s or technical training program, are the heads of their households and have a demonstrated need are eligible to apply for a Live Your Dream award.

“We’re very excited to be able to increase the number of Live Your Dream awards from the five we gave last year to seven this year,” said Laura Knapp, Live Your Dream program chair. “Our volunteer Club members and some very generous donors responded to our fund-raising efforts and made this possible for these deserving women.”

The Soroptimist International of Capitola-by-the-Sea 2024 Live Your Dream winners are:

Serena McCallister of Santa Cruz is awarded the Gwyn Larson Humanitarian Award in honor of our late beloved and long-serving member Gwyn Larson. This award is given to a student pursuing a Human Services career path and is dedicated to helping others. McCallister, 26, is a single mother of one child who has struggled with medical disorders and is now on a path to recovery.  Her primary focus currently is a Substance Use Disorder Counseling Certificate.

“This program is a very direct path to being able to work in the community and help these people,” she wrote in her LYD application. “As soon as I finish this certification it will open many doors into the field of my dreams.”

Lenada Hernandez, 32, of Santa Cruz is a single mother of one child and experienced homelessness for many years. Her educational goal is to work with at risk youth and those recovering from addiction. She is currently studying psychology and communication to better understand how to actively listen.

“I’ve learned if a person is not feeling seen or heard they will shut down and potentially stop seeking help,”  she said.

Victoria Van Voorst, 32, of Capitola is a single mother of one and is studying business administration, specifically in Computer Applications Business Technology. She currently holds a Medical Front Office certification and believes further studies will increase her opportunities for long-term employment. 

“My end goal is a permanent position in a doctors’ office setting,” she said. “This work will give my family the stability we need while also being realistic and meaningful to me personally.”

Bianca Lindahl, 24, of Aptos has one child and is studying for a degree in psychology. She has been interested in psychology as a career path since she was 16. She plans to complete a Master’s degree in order to open her own practice. 

“My biggest career goal is to become a clinical psychologist,” she said. “On top of my interests in the  cognitive aspects of the human mind, I also carry a lot of love for people and helping them is very fulfilling to me.”

Hailey Gregory, 32, of Aptos is the mother of one child and is pursuing a degree in criminal justice. She has dreamed of going to college from a young age, but her single mother with three children meant that the family lived paycheck to paycheck. When she was 14, their dire financial circumstances required her to begin working full-time. After marrying young, having a child and then getting divorced, her educational dreams seemed even further away.

During the pandemic, she lost her job and she felt the panic of not being able to make ends meet. But, her young daughter inspired her to finally pursue her educational dream. She took that as her opportunity to enroll in criminal justice classes, which has opened her eyes to many of the problems in policing.

“My hopes for myself are to be part of the change to help make the world a better, safer place for the generations to come.” She wrote. “I hope to work in the criminal justice system and to help rebuild and reform.”

Marjorie Jackson, 41, of Aptos is the mother of one son and is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She is motivated by the fact that she and her family have experienced trauma, poverty and homelessness.

“My education is putting me on the right path for success in my desired field, by teaching me how to work with survivors and clients,” she wrote. 

This winner, 33,  has asked to remain anonymous and is a single mother of two studying cosmetology. She is dedicated to working with natural hairstyles and is specializing in braiding and loctician services (working with locs, also known as dreadlocks). Her goal is to receive a state license which will allow her to work in a professional salon.

“In pursuit of this goal, I proactively sought out education opportunities, participating in numerous classes led by professionals in the natural hair field,” she wrote in her LYD application. “These experiences enhanced my skill set and also earned me the trust of the natural hair community, allowing me to cultivate my own clientele.

Live Your Dream Journeys: Where are they now…

Live Your Dream (LYD) recipients are tenacious survivors who have overcome huge odds to become independent and financially empowered. Their LYD awards are designed to keep them on their path toward completion of their BA or technical training programs.

All are single moms (or were when they received their awards) with young children. As part of our Beyond the Cash Award program, our club members, Alison McClure and Susan Steely, created a Holiday Giving Event. It’s asking members, their friends and clients to “play Santa” to the children of our 2021 and 2022 LYD winners. The LYD moms are providing wish lists and Steely is sharing them with members, friends and clients who are shopping till they drop to make those wishes come true.

Here are testimonials from previous Live Your Dream winners:

“I greatly appreciate the Live Your Dream award for so many reasons, not only for the financial stability but all of the unforeseen blessings that followed. The amazing ladies at Soroptimist gave me a special gift by lifting me up and celebrating me for my courage and strength to start my life over as a newly single mother in recovery and as a student at Cabrillo. Today my son and I are thriving in Santa Cruz; I transferred to UCSC (during the pandemic) and majoring in Community Studies. Any chance I get to pay things forward to the less fortunate, I take advantage of because I know how special I felt when I received the Live Your Dream award.” — Jamie S., 2019 Live Your Dream winner

“Having the honor of meeting my local Soroptimists was the greatest reward after achieving the Live Your Dream award. They are an amazing group of kind, resourceful, and supportive women who encourage other women to conquer their dreams and goals. The grant was also extremely helpful to my children and I so that we could get by with our basic needs and so mom can continue to step up to the plate and tackle her educational and career goals. Thank You Soroptimists! My children and I are forever grateful!” — Mary D., 2022 Live Your Dream Winner

“When I became the winner of the live your dream award, not only did it help me tremendously financially, but it gave me the hope and acknowledgment I needed to feel confident that this is the path I am supposed to be on and that living my dream is possible. Thank you Capitola Soroptimist’s for aiding me on my path to living my dream!” — Gigi M., 2022 Live Your Dream Winner


Dream It, Be It

The Dream It, Be It: Career Success for Girls program will help girls grow up to be strong, successful, happy adults. This program targets girls in secondary school who face obstacles to their future success. It provides girls with access to professional role models, career education and the resources to live their dreams.

Soroptimist clubs work in partnership with girls in small groups or a conference setting to provide them with the information and resources they want and need to be successful. The topics covered include career opportunities, setting and achieving goals, overcoming obstacles to success and how to move forward after setbacks or failures.

Other Soroptimist of Capitola-by-the-Sea Programs

Stop Human Trafficking—our club partners with the Santa Cruz Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW-SCC) to raise awareness of sex trafficking locally and around the world through workshops and other special events. Online Community

LYDLogoFinalCircleLIGHTorange is an online activist network community of people who wish to support woman and girls in their quest to lead better lives, while gaining inspiration in their own lives. Anyone can sign up, members and non-members!

Check out the YouTube video below, then choose your cause and course of action based on how much time or resources you have to give (e.g., donate, share, pledge, advocate, take action offline).

Sign up today on the website, and become part of a self-motivated online volunteer and activist network that offers flexible advocacy and action opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls and help them live their dreams!

For inspiring articles, personal stories, tips and resources on education, career, finance and lifestyle, visit the blog.

See more exciting fund-raising news on our fund-raising page!