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Women empowering women in the Lower Mainland

The Soroptimist International volunteers are helping to improve the lives of women and girls in the Lower Mainland
Julie Knisley (left) and Bea Kelly (right) with Soroptimist International Tri-Cities.

Throughout her 10 years as a volunteer with Soroptimist International, Julie Knisley has received many letters of thanks written by local women—each with a heartbreaking story.

"Many women come to us after leaving abusive relationships, sometimes leaving their home with their children in the middle of the night," Knisley says. "Now they are ready to move into their new home and we help provide everything from blankets, to dishes, pots and pans, towels, kitchen items and small appliances."

Knisley is a member of the Tri-Cities chapter of Soroptimist International—a global volunteer organization that focuses on helping to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. (The charity also has chapters across the Lower Mainland.)

Since the Tri-Cities chapter opened in 1999, the 100% volunteer driven all-women team—currently consisting of entrepreneurs, accountants, nurses, teachers, police officers, and even an environmental biologist—have rolled up their sleeves and shared their talents to help lift thousands of women out of challenging situations.

"Some women who reach out to us for a hand up come through Bea’s Kloset—a Soroptimist-run ‘free store’ for women and young girls transitioning to life on their own—as they are recovering from an addiction, climbing out of poverty, or aging out of foster care and need help setting up their new place," Knisley says.

While the stories behind the letters are born out of hardship and trauma, the messages provide a renewed sense of hope on a path to triumph. One reads: "Dear kind, generous people who helped me start a new life in Canada, I appreciate all your efforts and kindness. I wish I can do the same job for those who need (help) when I am able to in (the) future."

Another woman who received help writes: "It means the world to me because I'm starting my life over from scratch and literally had nothing! I'm so very grateful and thankful for your program. From the bottom of my heart —thank you!"

Each story has had a huge impact on Knisley and the volunteers who often stay in touch with the women they help.

"Being a Soroptimist in the Tri-Cities has been rewarding in so many ways; meeting new women in our community, understanding the gaps in our community for women and girls and creating relationships/friendships with members and the women we help," Knisley says.

Allison Chen has been volunteering with Soroptimist International for more than 15 years and got involved with the Tri-Cities chapter since 2018. An employee at TD, she recently won the bank's Advancing Together Community Showcase Award and was able to direct charitable giving to the Soroptimists chapters in Tri-Cities and Westshore Victoria, where she first volunteered as a teenager.

"It's a full circle story," Chen says. "I'm honoured to have been able to showcase Soroptimist International through this award at TD, and to be part of an organization that is committed to inspiring and empowering its employees to make a difference in their local community."

TD has supported Soroptimists Tri-Cities for a number of years, providing funding through the TD Ready Commitment to help support many programs run by the charity including Bea's Kloset and Warm Place.

"In the year of a pandemic, we have been so blessed to have the financial commitment from TD to help us run our programs," Knisley says.

Soroptimist Tri-Cities has recently put a call out for applications for the Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women, which helps to provide upskilling for women who are the primary financial support for their families. Applications are due by Nov. 15, 2021.

It is yet another way Soroptimist International is helping to empower women to confidently take control of their own life—an example of how the volunteers demonstrate how they are, as one letter reads, "a great blessing for women starting anew."

For information on how to donate to the Soroptimists, visit For information on the TD Ready Commitment, visit

This article is sponsored by TD.