Ten Quince Orchard High School and six Gaithersburg High School scholarship winners were recognized at the Soroptimist International of Upper Montgomery County (SIUMC) 55th Annual Gala Fundraiser on Sunday, April 28, held at the Gaithersburg Hilton. The young women were all part of the Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls program.
“The Soroptimist Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls program targets girls in secondary school who face obstacles to future success,” explained SIUMC President Johann Dretchen. “It provides girls with professional career education and the resources to live their dreams. The topics covered include career opportunities, setting and achieving goals, overcoming obstacles to success, how to look forward after setbacks or failure, and how to manage stress.”
After three years at Gaithersburg High School (GHS), the program was expanded to also include Quince Orchard High School (QOHS) and Watkins Mill High School (WMHS) for the 2018-19 academic year. School-Based Nonprofit Youth Grants funded two eight-week sessions at GHS and QOHS, and a grant from IBM made a one-day program possible at WMHS. In total, 38 girls from GHS, 43 girls from QOHS and 50 girls from WMHS participated in this year’s program.
In addition to the grants, SIUMC contributed 40 percent of funds raised through last year’s gala to the Dream It, Be It program.
“For the past four years, more than 200 girls have participated in the program, and SIUMC has provided scholarship awards totaling $39,250,” Dretchen said. “One hundred percent of the Dream It, Be It girls who have graduated high school have gone onto college, and all of our scholarship winners have been awarded additional scholarships—in many cases receiving a full four-year ride.
“I believe it is safe to say that the return on investment of the Soroptimist Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls program has the potential to be exponential,” she noted. Counselors and administrators at GHS and QOHS agreed.
“It’s a wonderful program. We’ve seen so much success,” said Geri Sliffman, GHS college/career counselor. “Our girls (in the Dream It, Be It program) have earned three times the amount of scholarships as other girls in the school.”
She guides all students at GHS toward college and career readiness, but the girls in the Dream It, Be It program “have this definite drive that they develop.” The program shows them “that there are people out there, and they seek assistance.”
Educators at GHS have been “amazed,” she said, at how the girls “have taken their dreams and turned them into reality.”
She is thrilled with how girls in the program have gained confidence in themselves. “We’ve seen such a turnaround. I’m so excited.”
Maripat Moloney-Johnson, QOHS college/career information coordinator, said that in addition to empowering girls to achieve their college and career dreams, the program connected girls who would not otherwise have known each other. “That to me is one of the more valuable things they gained, I’ve seen them helping each other,” she said.
The program is run by Dretchen with the help of eight to 10 volunteers who are “super dedicated,” Moloney-Johnson said. “Each week is a different topic. They also bring speakers in toward the end—someone from financial aid, someone from a corporate environment to share their story.”
“I’ve done educational programming for a long time, she added, “and this is really quality.”
“It’s a really well-thought-out program,” echoed Caitlin Moriarty, QOHS assistant school administrator. “What the girls have been able to do, their plan of action,” has been amazing.
The Dream It, Be It program will continue in all three high schools for the 2019-20 academic year.
Gaithersburg City Councilmember Ryan Spiegel said, “The mayor and I are very fortunate to be sitting at the table for lunch with the young women who are scholarship recipients this year and they are really impressive. … All I can say is with young women like these, the future of our city and our community is very, very bright.”
Mayor Jud Ashman thanked SIUMC for all the organization does to support the community, which includes volunteer efforts with Rainbow Place, the city’s Holiday Giving program, Interfaith Works, Nourish Now, Women Who Care and Comfort Cases. “This is an amazing group, and on behalf of the City of Gaithersburg, we are so proud and we’re so grateful for what you do,” he said.
SIUMC Vice President Danielle Bograd explained the Soroptimist mission: “We women of Soroptimist International are trying to educate, enable and empower women and girls in our communities and around the world while at the same time we are trying to teach our daughters, granddaughters and now great-granddaughters to be confident, thoughtful and caring individuals.”