Sara Soules knows March is Women’s History Month, and has been celebrated as such in the United States since 1987. But if you ask her, every month is Women’s History Month.
“I have this passion for helping women,” said Soules, who is a business development manager at Pacific Alliance Title. She created the Let’s Connect — Women’s Networking Group, which meets monthly and helps women in business build relationships, support and inspire each other.
For that and more, Soules was honored by YWCA Yakima in its #52Women52Weeks social media awareness campaign, which features inspirational Yakima Valley women who have made an impact in and beyond Central Washington in countless important ways.
“Being nominated for 52 Women 52 Weeks brought a great sense of accomplishment. My name among so many amazing female leaders in our community is humbling and carries a sense of fulfillment,” said Soules, a veteran who was honored on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Soules was a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, serving from 2006 to 2016.
“I find value in supporting and building women up. We are our best when we have others around us cheering us on,” she added. “The YWCA embodies women’s empowerment and (is) a true testament to what it means to support women in our Valley.”
Every Monday morning for more than a year, YWCA Yakima has honored a nominee with her photo and her answers to four questions in the campaign, which is primarily on Facebook but also includes more recent Instagram posts. Many other YWCA organizations throughout the United States have participated, with some limiting it to a year.
YWCA Yakima chose to continue beyond 52 weeks, with no end date in sight. “We have so many amazing women in our community and we don’t know about them,” said Cheri Kilty, executive director of YWCA Yakima.
The organization, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, has also highlighted its staff and leaders and showcased their work supporting victims of domestic violence. And on Jan. 27, YWCA Yakima honored Emily Harris Escamilla, 30, who was killed by her husband at home in Selah on Jan. 24, police said. The nonprofit wanted to remember her as a loving mother, daughter, friend and coach.
“We know she’s not the only woman who’s been murdered — or man” because of domestic violence, Kilty said. “We’ve talked about posting a candle honoring all who’ve been lost to domestic violence” during YWCA Yakima’s domestic violence vigil in October.
On Monday, YWCA Yakima highlighted Lupita Garcia, a legal assistant at the Northwest Justice Project. Like all the other women who have been honored, Garcia’s profile is on YWCA Yakima’s Facebook page. All of the profiles can be seen by going through the photos.
The four questions Garcia and others answered are, “What is your ‘why?’ What is your favorite inspirational quote? What is the best advice you’ve ever received? and Who inspires you?” When women are nominated, they send their answers and a photo to Lisa Kapuza, the nonprofit’s development director.
“My mother once told me ‘manten la humildad y lunca te olvides de donde vienes.’ Be humble and never forget where you come from,” Garcia wrote in responding to the “best advice” question.
The campaign by YWCA Yakima began in January 2019 with Judge Rebecca L. Pennell. A native of Richland who lives in Yakima, according to her profile on the Washington Courts website, Pennell joined Division III of the state Court of Appeals in 2016. Before becoming a judge, Pennell was a member of a drug court team and helped establish re-entry drug court programs in Yakima and the Tri-Cities.
Since introducing the campaign with Pennell, YWCA Yakima has highlighted well-known business leaders such as Leanne Antonio, president of Yakima Federal Savings and Loan; new Yakima City Council member Soneya Lund; fellow nonprofit leaders like Yakima Greenway executive director Kellie Connaughton, radio personality and YWCA board president Reesha Cosby and animal advocate and Realtor Amy Maib.
Others include respected educators such as Gloria Jones-Dance, assistant professor of education at Heritage University; Pastor Becky Jones of Redeemed City Church and Patricia “Patsy” Whitefoot, a Yakama Nation citizen who has taught and mentored many others and has advocated for missing and murdered indigenous women and their loved ones. Her sister has been missing since October 1987.
Another woman with a powerful voice for missing and murdered indigenous people, Cissy Strong Reyes of Toppenish, was featured in early December. Her younger sister Rosenda Sophia Strong went missing in early October 2018 and her remains were found in early July outside Toppenish, just a few miles from her home.
Reyes’ why is her sister as she continues to seek justice for Rosenda and bring awareness of the many other missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, men and boys.
“I felt very honored YWCA chose me, and very thankful YWCA took notice on what I am doing,” Reyes said. “It made me feel good because I am making sure Rosenda’s voice is being heard and deserves to be heard.”
By sharing her story and many others, the organization not only hopes to highlight those women but also inspire others to work toward their own goals. YWCA officials also want more nominations.
“Every woman has her own amazing story,” Kapuza said.