It Takes a Village
Sacramento Soroptimists adopt a City Farms school
By Jessica Laskey
Trish Levin and Carol Voyles have nearly 600 grandchildren. No, they’re not all biological.
Most of the kids are students at Ethel Phillips Elementary School in the City Farms neighborhood south of Sutterville Road. But that doesn’t mean Levin and Voyles love them any less.
The women are co-chairs of a project they call “Ethel’s Village” at the K-6 school through Soroptimist International of Metropolitan Sacramento, the local chapter of a global service organization for women.
Through this partnership, Soroptimist members work with the school to provide resources such as books, programming, access to field trips, art classes, family assistance and more.
“The Ethel Phillips relationship spoke to me because I’ve always had an interest in children and families and helping in our community with a focus on education,” says Voyles, a retired psychotherapist who joined Soroptimist as a way to put service in her life.
She adds, “I have a degree in social work, so I’m sensitive to different cultures, but the reality of whole communities whose children don’t even begin to have the benefits of wealthier neighborhoods was no longer theoretical—it was very personal.”
When Voyles got involved with Ethel’s Village, she wanted to make sure students were given access to the same field trip opportunities as her son, who went through Crocker Elementary.
When she learned Ethel Phillips students didn’t go to Sly Park in sixth grade every year—an experience she considers “a rite of passage”—she and her group fundraised to send the whole class. They’ve now sent sixth graders to Sly Park for three years, which she considers a “huge accomplishment.”
Levin, who is CFO for a local commercial real estate firm, has a long-standing relationship with the school and its students. She brokered the Soroptimist partnership. Nine years ago, she was fundraising for Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit that integrates running into experience-based curriculum for girls in grades third to eighth.
When tasked with selecting a Title I school to sponsor, she picked Ethel Phillips. (Title I schools have at least 40 percent students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. More than 90 percent of Phillips students qualify.)
“I met the kids, the parents, the teachers, the principal, and they were so enthusiastic,” Levin says. “I thought to myself, this is a group we can invest in.”
In December 2012, Levin emailed Ethel Phillips Principal Danny Hernández and asked to meet about partnering to bring the school programming through Soroptimist. The first project was Reading Partners, where volunteers read to students to increase literacy.
In nearly a decade since that first project, the Soroptimist group has made many contributions. Thousands of free books have been distributed through Lunch Library. Countless classes have taken field trips to Sly Park, SMUD’s Camp Curiosity and Discovery Museum. There are careers days, tutoring (including online math and reading programs) and after-school art clubs. Families have received gifts, clothes, food, school supplies and more.
In addition to Ethel’s Village, Soroptimist members work with other local nonprofits, including WEAVE, My Sister’s House, Food Literacy Center, Mustard Seed School and many others.
Voyles hopes the success will inspire others to pitch in. She encourages service clubs to “really get down in the weeds and adopt a school—not just give money for a one-time thing, but really engage and become part of it.”
Levin agrees, saying, “When you want to have an impact, you have to think globally and act locally. We’ve had the opportunity to do that at Ethel Phillips. It’s a tremendous partnership.”
For information, visit sacmetrosoroptimist.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.