Programs & Awards

Programs & Awards

There are several global and community based programs funded and supported by Soroptimist, that allow women and girls to achieve social and economic empowerment through sustainable, measurable change in their lives. The Dream Programs ensure access to needed education and training allowing award winners to reach their full potential and live their dreams. Additionally Soroptimist clubs conduct a variety of local projects providing cash grants, information and resources to assist women and girls in their communities.

Soroptimist Ruby Award

Soroptimist Ruby Award logo
Award Chair:: Kari Hughes

The Ruby Award recognizes and honors the first federation president, Ruby Lee Minar. A ruby is also a deep red gemstone associated with wisdom, importance, vitality, strength, vivacity, power and love: all words embodying the strong and compassionate women who are our award recipients. The Soroptimist Ruby Award acknowledges women who are working to improve the lives of women and girls through their personal or professional activities. Examples of the type of work honored include: spearheading an effort to open a domestic violence shelter, working to secure health services for low-income women, starting a mentoring program for at-risk girls, or lobbing companies to provide on-site child care.

Award Application Deadline & Form
The application period is open now through February 28. Click the button below to download the application. Please send your completed application to the Ruby Award Chair, Karl Hughes at

Live Your Dreams Award

Live Your Dreams Award logo
Award Chair:  Sue Christy, Vicki Franzen

The Live Your Dream Award program is one of Soroptimist’s major program. This award assists women ages 18 or older who provide the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills, and employment prospects. 

Award Application Deadline & Form

The application period is open now through November 15. Click the button below to download the application and reference forms. Fill in each writeable field of the application form completely, and be sure to sign your name at the bottom. Once you have completed your responses to the application questions and your references have returned the completed reference forms to you, you are ready to submit your application. Please send completed applications to the Live Your Dream Award Chair, Pricilla Hutra at

Virginia Wagner Award

Award Chair: Julie Edwards

The Virginia Wagner Award is specific to those states in the Midwestern Region: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Women residing in these states who are attending college/university in pursuit of a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree are eligible to apply. This award is granted to those women who display effort toward education, have done volunteer work in the community, and demonstrate financial need. This award was established by the Soroptimist International Midwest Region in honor and memory of Virginia Wagner, a former Soroptimist club member and physician at Riley's Children Hospital.

Award Application Deadline & Form

The application period is open now through January 15. Click the button below to download the application. Fill in each writeable field completely, and be sure to sign your name at the bottom. Please send completed application to the Virginia Wagner Award Chair,Pricilla Hutra at

2017 Award Winners

2017 Award Winners

Ruby Award

Renee Darrow

Renee was born and raised in Monroe and still resides here with her husband Kurt Darrow. She is a Registered Nurse (BSN) who graduated from Saint Mary Academy, Monroe County Community College and University of Detroit Mercy.

Renee is well known for her generous support of numerous community organizations, programs and schools including: Gabby’s Ladder Family Grief Center, Habitat For Humanity, Heartbeat of Monroe, St. John The Baptist Catholic Church, St Mary Catholic Central High School, Monroe County Community College, The University of Michigan Transplant Department and the international organization Healing Haiti.

Even more impressive than her high level of community involvement is the level of support she gives to friends and family. Renee’s kind heart is apparent from the first moment you meet her. It quickly becomes apparent that she is a person who will do everything in her power to be there for someone in need.

She never seeks recognition for any of her efforts which is why Soroptimist International of Monroe County is so pleased to be giving her this award. It would be impossible to measure the positive impact and ongoing benefit to our community that is the direct result of Renee’s hard work and generosity.

Live Your Dream Award

Renatta A Cunningham

After she became widowed 19 years ago, she found herself becoming a stronger single mother and woman. This led her to pursue her passion of caring for others. She worked at Mercy Memorial Hospital while going to school and obtained her LPN degree. After she began working full time in a sub-acute care facility she returned to school and obtained her registered nurse degree. Her son is now grown. Renatta believes that her son being able to see her pursue her dream led him to pursue his, which he is now doing in California. She has become a compassionate and caring person that has devoted her career to servicing patients.

About a year ago she saw a need for nurses in a rural community up north. She pursued assisting this population through Grayling Provider Network Clinic by being a Triage Nurse for 14 providers. In this position she has had the opportunity to educate the community on preventative care and management of chronic diseases. This northern community is benefitting from this change of care by taking a stand and caring for themselves more independently.

As of right now, she commutes from Monroe, her primary home, to her cabin up north to fulfill this position. Pursuing her bachelor’s degree was a step to open up more opportunities for her to assist people in this community and expand to other communities. Her goal is to assist as many people as she can to live a healthier holistic life and continue to support her son in his career and personal goals for a great life.

Live Your Dream Award Runner Up

Jill Frederick

Jill Frederick is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Eastern Michigan University. She holds advanced standing in the Children and Families Program. She also works for Catholic Charities as a parent support specialist where she supervises visitation with children in foster care. Jill also teaches nurturing parenting class as part of her work there. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2011, also from Eastern Michigan University. In her spare time Jill does volunteer work. She has been an active volunteer with the March of Dimes for the past 10 years. She was also a CASA volunteer in the past. She has a nine year old son and is a committee member with his cub scout troop. She is the Vice President of Public Relations for the Monroe Toastmasters Club 1661.

Virginia Wagner Award

Huan LaVoy

Huan Lavoy comes from Lianshui,Jiangsu, China. Lianshui is a city located on the north-west of Shanghai, China. She fell in love with her American husband, Landon and moved to the USA in April, 2010, to tie the knot. She has three year old daughter named Sophia and is expecting her second baby in September. She is enrolled full time in the accounting program at Siena Heights University and will earn her bachelor’s degree this summer.

Huan’s journey began at the Learning Bank in Monroe. She met a very special lady, Floreine Mentel, from the institution. When Huan attended the graduation ceremony for her GED at Monroe County Community College in 2013, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do or what major to pursue if she decided to go to college. Mrs. Mentel said this to her, “start with a few classes first and don’t think too much, you will find out what you want to do soon”. Huan remembered what Mrs. Mentel said to her then and now. She took her advice and started her college education at Monroe in the fall of 2013. Since then, Huan has been studying very hard at school and her grades show it. She is a driven, dedicated, focused and goal oriented person. She strives for the best and to be the best performer she possibly can be for herself, family, friends and people who have cheered for her success along the way. She earned multiple honors throughout her journey, such as being on the Dean’s list, member of Phi Theta Kappa and a Laverne B Norton scholarship recipient. She is also a Summa Cum Laude student. 

In the future, Huan has a few goals in mind. Short-term she hopes to get a job in the accounting or finance field this summer and learn as much as she can while working. Her long-term hope is that her experience from work will help her find her greatest strength in a specific area and earn a certification for that area to become an expert. Finally, she wants to support programs like the Learning Bank in Monroe. She believes everyone deserves a chance and the Learning Bank is a place that provides the hope for those in need.

Virginia Wagner Award First Runner Up

Lauren Pillarelli

Lauren Pillarelli has worked as Administrative Assistant to the Director of Admissions and Guidance Services at Monroe County Community College for the last 26 years. During that time she organized honors reception programs for academically successful students, served as a Phi Theta Kappa Club Advisor, raised her daughter, completed her associate degree, and worked on her bachelor’s degree through Siena Heights University. Thanks to this scholarship, she will be able to complete her last four classes and achieve her goal of obtaining her Bachelor of Arts.

Virginia Wagner Award Second Runner Up

Stacey Reaume

Stacey Reaume is a 2003 graduate of Jefferson Schools. After graduating from high school she attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor where she received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. During her junior year of college, her psychology advisor asked her what her passion in life was and she responded, “I enjoy helping others.” This led her to apply to the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Upon graduating with her Master’s in Social Work Stacey received a job as a general education school social worker for Jefferson Schools. This past January 2017, Stacey left the job she loved and embarked on a new journey as a school social worker for the Monroe County Intermediate School District. Stacey is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising at Eastern Michigan University. This additional certificate will allow her to continue to help others as an academic advisor at the collegiate level.

Bill Hutra Memorial Award

Emily Rassel

Emily Rassel has lived in Monroe, MI all her life. She is the youngest child of Mary and Chris Rassel. Her siblings are Kaitlyn (24) and Andrew (22). She is currently in her senior year at Monroe High School. She has a 4.0 grade point average and is tied at number one in her class. Some of her most memorable classes include AP Calculus, Astronomy, AP Literature and Composition, and Introduction to Humanities at Monroe County Community College.

Throughout her high school career, she has been involved in numerous clubs and organizations including her school’s Soroptimist International Club, the school newspaper The Lotus Leaf, Calculus Club, Ignition Mentors, and the National Honor Society. Her primary focus is on The Lotus Leaf which she has been writing for since her freshman year. For the past two years, she has been the Editor-in-Chief and a page designer.

Through the newspaper, she had the opportunity to write a feature on charity during the holidays. When she went to shadow at the Godworks’ soup kitchen at Solid Rock Church on a Monday night in December of 2014, she fell instantly in love with it and never left. Currently, she runs the inventory for pantry, handles all recycling, and is involved in prep and cooking. 

One of her favorite pastimes is playing tennis. She has been on the Varsity team through Monroe High for four years and became a team captain during her junior year. She plays year-round through the YMCA and prefers singles over doubles. In addition to all the extracurriculars, she holds a part time job at Public House Food and Drink as a Hostess and Waitress where she has been employed for a year and a half.

Once she graduates in June, Emily has plans to attend either the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor or Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo to major in Aerospace Engineering. Once she gets her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to attend graduate school out of state and possibly join the United States Peace Corps.

Helen Applin Award

Deborah Davenport

Deborah Davenport moved to Monroe in 1993 after her husband Frank retired from the Army after 20 years of service. During his enlistment she volunteered at each military post they lived on helping with support for military families. During his deployment for Desert Storm she ran a family support group helping to take wives shopping, assisted them in paying bills, baby sitting and being there as moral support.

When Frank retired they moved to Monroe where Deb started working with the American Red Cross and worked there for 19 years. She was very involved working with the local fire departments and Monroe County Emergency Management, recruiting and training volunteers for the Red Cross.

Deb retired 3 years ago and started volunteering with the United Way on fundraising events. She also is involved with the following agencies: 

  • Kiwanis Club of Monroe
  • Salvation Army Christmas Party
  • Salvation Army Bell Ringing
  • Lords Harvest Pantry
  • Low Income Meals
  • Vice Chair of COAD (Community Organizations Active during Disaster)
  • Monroe County Anti Human Trafficking Coalition
  • Director of Volunteer Recruitment Center (Used during a large disaster)

Deb is a firm believer in volunteerism and helping others. She has recruited her husband, children and granddaughters to volunteer and has taught the grandkids how important it is to volunteer and to give back to our community. Your reward is hugs, smiles and thank you for your help.

“Volunteers are just ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. They offer the gift of their time to teach, to listen, to help, to inspire, to build, to grow, to learn. They expect no pay, yet the value of their work knows no limit… They’ve known the unexpected joy of a simple hug. They’ve planted tiny seeds of love in countless lives. Volunteers are just ordinary people who reach out and take a hand and together make a difference that lasts a lifetime.” 
Author Unknown

Helen Applin Award

Jennifer Sell

Jennifer is a lifelong resident of Monroe County. She is a graduate of Monroe High School and a 2001 graduate of University of Toledo, College of Pharmacy. She is married to Steve and they have two children, Emily, 10 years old and Carter who is 7.

Currently, Jennifer is the Director of Pharmacy Services at ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital (PMRH). She began her career at PMRH in 1996 as a volunteer when she was a freshman in college. She briefly left the hospital to work in a retail pharmacy but returned as a Manager of the Macomb Outpatient Pharmacy. She was promoted to her current role in 2016.

Volunteering within the community has been a way of life for Jennifer. She is currently in her third year of her first term as a United Way Board member, currently serving as the Fund Distribution Chairperson. In that role she is responsible for organizing all the agencies applying for funds, organizing the allocation panels as well as working with the United Way Board in distributing the funds.

Jennifer has been involved in the Substance Abuse Coalition since 2005. She currently serves as their treasurer and for three years has been co-chair for the Medical Work Group, targeting the prescription drug and heroin epidemic in our communities. During the three years of her term as co-chair, physician office protocols have been developed to assist physicians when prescribing opiates. The guidelines help then make appropriate opiate prescribing decisions. The Medical Work Group has worked with state legislators to propose changes to the MAPS program (prescription monitoring program) for the state of MI. The group was asked to provide input on legislation that now provides schools the ability to stock Narcan. This is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, specifically in overdoses. The Medical Group has also been instrumental in developing a treatment and resource guide for substance abuse services in Monroe County. Jennifer has personally made numerous trips to Lansing to work with Senator Dale Zorn and Representatives Jason Sheppard and Bill LaVoy to work through the Coalition’s legislative “wish list”.

Jennifer was invited to be a key note presenter at the 2016 Michigan Pharmacist’s Association Annual Convention, speaking to pharmacy professionals about the importance of being involved in community-based substance abuse coalitions. She was also recognized as a Generation Rx Champion by the Michigan Pharmacist’s Association in February 2017 for her community efforts relating to substance abuse.