Altadena-Pasadena Soroptimists Empower Women to Live Their Dreams

Soroptimist member Jane Harris and WOA winner Miriam Garcia.Soroptimist Marilyn Commodore and Ruby Award winner Dr. Mikala Rahn.Soroptimist Phyllis Howard and VRA winner Gillian Ferguson.(From left): Gina Baffo, VRA winner Nicoletta Baffo’s mother; Miriam Garcia, WOA winner; Dr. Mikala Rahn, Ruby Award winner; and Gillian Ferguson, VRA winner – showing off handbags presented to them by Hazel’s Bagz.


3:35 pm | April 2, 2014

Four special women were in the spotlight at the “Live Your Dream” luncheon, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Altadena-Pasadena. This annual event, held this year on March 26th at the Women’s City Club, celebrates the power of women who have made a difference in their community.

The Soroptimists began the presentation ceremony by honoring Dr. Mikala Rahn with the organization’s Ruby Award (named after Soroptimists’ first president, Ruby Lee Minar). This award recognizes women who have enriched the lives of women and girls through their professional and/or volunteer work. In 2008, Dr. Rahn founded Learning Works Charter School, which focuses on students who are often underserved by the mainstream educational system, including dropouts, youths on probation, and pregnant teens. She also serves as Executive Director of Public Works, an educational research firm focused on pre K-12 education, with extensive experience in the areas of school reform, and is a co-founder of artWORKS, which offers the opportunity for youth to participate in the visual and performing arts.

Two high school seniors, Gillian Ferguson of San Gabriel and Nicoletta Baffo of San Marino, were recognized with the Violet Richardson award, named after the Soroptimists’ founder. This award honors young women between the ages of 14 and 17 who have made the community a better place through their volunteer efforts. Gillian’s love of music and her experience as a drummer in her high school marching band inspired her to create “Notes of Glory,” a community service project that expands and enriches music opportunities for students at Eliot Middle School in Altadena. Gillian, who is also a Girl Scout, collected and donated gently used instruments from local families, and raised $400 in cookie sales to purchase band uniform pants. She stated in her acceptance speech, “I wanted to earn my Gold award on percussion, because that’s my passion.”

Nicoletta Baffo chose to give back to her church community by bringing her love of dance to help young people express and explore their faith and to introduce the tradition of liturgical dance to the church community – thus, her project, “A Soul’s Two Feet” was born. She established a dance scholarship at the Pasadena Civic Ballet Studio, which provided financial support for needy students attending Holy Family School. This scholarship enabled them to participate in dance classes and the opportunity to perform in two productions. Nicoletta was out of town at a dance camp and couldn’t attend the luncheon, but her mother Gina accepted the VRA award on her behalf. “Nikki couldn’t be here today because we sent her to meet her artistic dream,” said Ms. Baffo.

Miriam Garcia was honored with the Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award, given to women who are overcoming personal difficulties and who provide the primary source of financial support for their families. WOA recipients are returning to school to better their lives, and the Soroptimist award money helps them improve their education, skills and employment prospects. Miriam’s past involves poverty and abandonment by a previous boyfriend. Today, as a single mom and sole provider for two daughters and an ailing mother, she works full-time as a clerk at the Los Angeles County Probation Department. She plans to use the Soroptimist award money to further her education at the University of Phoenix, where she is pursuing a B.A. degree in Criminal Justice. When accepting her award, she noted, “In the past, I have struggled to make ends meet.” However, Miriam is working towards a degree that will allow her to move into a position that will provide her and her family with greater financial security and stability. Miriam thanked Altadena-Pasadena Soroptimists for helping to turn her life around.

Each of the honorees received cash awards, as well as special recognitions from the offices of Congresswoman Judy Chu, Assemblyman Chris Holden, and Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. Soroptimist member Hazel Salomon-Jimmy also presented each of the ladies with a stylish handbag.

Soroptimist is an international volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and around the world. For more information, visit