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San Clemente Journal

Offering Women Greater Opportunities - The AAUW

May 01, 2010 09:40PM ● By Brian O

by CeCe Darakjian

Just a few short years ago Crystine Gill was a fulltime working mother of three young girls. Life was good, but something was missing. In the back of her head Cryss could hear a little voice that told her that she should be doing more with her life, a little something more … like becoming a Doctor.

Sure, she had no college credits to her name and had never studied at a secondary level but somehow she knew that she was meant to one day be of service to others through studying for a medical degree. So she and her husband decided to bite the bullet. They sold their home, he took on a second job and Cryss enrolled at Saddleback College.

After three long, arduous years Cryss completed an exemplary community college career and sent out applications to various Universities. At the same time she sent an application to the AAUW (American Association of University Women). She was looking for a financial scholarship, but what she got was so much more.

When Cryss was chosen to receive a financial scholarship from the AAUW she not only received a check to help pay her tuition at the University of California at Berkley, she received the moral support and well wishes of a group of women who had once walked in her shoes and knew the importance of an educated society. These local women work tirelessly throughout the year to raise money to help women return to college and fulfill their educational dreams.

Today Cryss is studying for her Doctorate while also pursuing a minor in Global Poverty and Practices. There is no doubt that Cryss will one day make a great contribution to our world, and the women of the AAUW will be proud to have been even a small part of that success.

The AAUW was started in 1881, with a group of 17 women who had defied society’s expectations and earned college degrees. These women decided to start an organization that would help open doors and expand opportunities for women everywhere.

From that core group of 17 the organization would continue to grow in numbers and to expand its mission. By the early 1900s the group would be advocating for such things as child labor laws, establishing juvenile courts, funding for public schools and libraries and compulsory education for all children. In 1917 a group of college age members stood outside the White House to protest the fact that women were not allowed to vote, and became the first group to ever picket the White house for a political cause. And in the 1920s the AAUW awarded a Nobel Prize winning scientist a grant for over $100,000 allowing her to purchase one gram of radium.

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As the century continued the AAUW remained active in working for women’s education and rights in the workplace. In the 1960s the organization launched the African Educators Program to provide opportunities for women from newly independent African nations to study in the United States. In the nineties the group held a National Education Summit on Girls to coincide with the release of the AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls. It brought commitments of support to end gender bias in schools from leaders of education organizations, associations and government agencies. Today, the organization continues the fight for equity both in the workplace and in the schools. Support of such policies as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act are just two examples of the AAUW’s far reaching advocacy for women.

Of course, the AAUW is not an all work and no play organization. While all the members are dedicated to advancing women’s causes, AAUW is a group of diverse and dynamic women who enjoy the social aspect of the club as well as the philanthropy. Just one look at the website for the local San Clemente-Capistrano Bay area branch and you can see that this is a group of interesting active women who like to have a good time. Interest groups include book clubs, movie clubs, opera appreciation, art appreciation, international relations, and the list goes on.

As longtime member Diane Thomas explained, “It’s wonderful to have a group of like- minded people who have been exposed to education and want to continue to learn”. Diane attends the International Interest group monthly to keep up on current world events and enjoys sharing her knowledge with friends and family who can sometimes be surprised by her in depth understanding of complicated Foreign Policy issues.

Member Marilyn O’Brien served as President of the organization for many years and always strove to make the group something to be proud of. She encourages younger women who would like to share in the understanding of the differences and the similarities of the ages and to gain an understanding of what those who came before them worked so hard to achieve and to know that “we made it and so can they.”

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The major fund raising activity for the local group is a spring home tour. Spotlighting homes in the community that are unique in architecture, historical relevance or décor, the tour raises more than $10,000 annually. These monies are then used as scholarships for returning women students attending Saddleback College, making the AAUW the second largest scholarship granter at Saddleback College this last year. Monies are also used to sponsor local 7th grade girls to attend Tech Trek, a math and science camp at UCI each summer. This gala event is supported by the talents, time and effort of all members and is the culmination of a year of fun, learning and hard work.

As for Cryss, she recently wrote to the members, “I am, and will be forever, grateful to AAUW for my scholarship award. I have learned so much about the dynamics of culture and perception through my minor, and I am thrilled about my new opportunities in the laboratory and to study under brilliant professors! Please share my sentiment and gratitude to the women of the AAUW.”

If that’s not a reason to be proud of their organization, I don’t know what is. b 

Check out the San Clemente-Capistrano Bay chapter of the AAUW at their website: