The Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards assist women 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.

Each year, almost $2 million in education grants are awarded to more than 1,200 women, many of whom have overcome enormous obstacles including poverty, domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol abuse. Live Your Dream Awards recipients may use the cash award to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare, tuition and transportation.

In addition to providing the primary financial support for their families, eligible applicants—residents of Soroptimist International of the Americas’ member countries and territories—must be enrolled in, or have been accepted to, a vocational/skills training program or an undergraduate degree program and must demonstrate financial need.

Since the Live Your Dream Awards program began in 1972, about $30 million in education grants have been disbursed to assist tens of thousands of women achieve their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. In 2007, the program received the Associations Advance America Summit Award—ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership’s highest level of recognition. Like so many Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award recipients, the 2016 finalists have faced unimaginable obstacles. They’ve endured darkness and heartache beyond belief. But despite the inconceivable challenges that would knock most down for good, these women have risen, embodying the true meaning of strength and perseverance.


Though they are on separate journeys in different parts of the world, their courage and unconquerable spirits connect them. Their inspiring stories serve as a reminder of just how much women can achieve with just a little bit of help.

In 2016, Soroptimist of the Americas was honoured to award $10,000 to three passionate, hard-working, strong women: Terriea, Sandra and Esperanza* (not her real name for safety reasons).


Video Courtesy of Soroptimist International of the America’s Live Your Dream Awards

Like many indigenous children in her part of Canada, Terriea Wadud of Vancouver was adopted at a young age. Physically and emotionally abused by her adoptive mother, Terriea was placed back into the child welfare system at the age of 12.

“I seemed to take on the role of the hero among the girls,” Terriea recalls. “If a girl was getting picked on, I would ‘protect’ her by any means, including being abusive with my language and physically threatening the instigator. When this became too much, I would run away to the streets of Toronto.”

A pretty girl with low self-esteem alone on the streets, Terriea was an ideal target for pimps and was trafficked in the sex trade across Ontario. Police searched relentlessly for her, and after a brutal beating by her pimp, they met up with Terriea at the hospital and asked whether she was ready to charge him. Terriea, who had just learned she was pregnant with her pimp’s child, agreed.

At just 16 years old and 8 months pregnant, she testified against her pimp. Portrayed viciously by his lawyer, Terriea’s calm and honest testimony paid off and Terriea’s pimp received six and a half years of jail time.

When her daughter was born, Terriea vowed not to be anything like her adoptive mother, but her traumatic past made being a good mother difficult. She admits checking out emotionally, and sometimes physically, as a parent feeling suicidal and turning to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. With no formal education she wasn’t able to secure employment, so she remained in the sex industry as an exotic dancer.

Image Courtesy of Soroptimist International of the America's Live Your Dream Awards
Image Courtesy of Soroptimist International of the America's Live Your Dream Awards

At age 24, Terriea says she just couldn’t feel her worth. But then an opportunity presented itself and became the first step in turning her life around. She completed a university-entrance program called the Transitional Year at the University of Toronto. Terriea continued with a life-changing volunteer training program at Battered Women’s Support Services, where she was eventually hired as an outreach counselor and then the manager of a women’s safety and outreach program.

Supporting women and girls with similar traumatic histories and experiences of violence and abuse has helped Terriea heal her own traumatic past. Her ability to create and hold a safe space for women to share, counsel and explore problem-solving solutions has ignited her passion to pursue formal counselor training.

But just when things seemed to be getting on track, the program lost funding and Terriea was laid off. At the same time, she went through a painful personal tragedy and she and her children found themselves homeless. Rather than letting these obstacles send her into a downward spiral, Terriea took up meditation and chanting to move through her feelings. She also reconnected with her birth mother, which has helped her learn about her indigenous culture and spirituality, and brings her great comfort. Now staying with friends, Terriea says she is determined to heal this cycle. She has accepted a temporary position with her previous employer, and is hopeful that it will lead to a full-time job.

The Live Your Dream Awards mean stability for Terriea and her family. She is using the awards to pay for her tuition, so that no matter what this next year has in store, she will not have to put her schooling on hold for financial reasons.

Terriea’s dream is to eventually start her own counseling/life coaching business.

“My prayers look a lot different today than when I was a little girl. There were many times being exploited on the streets or in my addiction I thought I was going to die and I didn’t care,” she said. “Now I have a purpose. I will continue to create a safe space for others to do their healing and transformational work. I will use my voice to share my story to inspire others to do the same. The Live Your Dream Awards will help me to further my growth, accountability and commitment to be a transformational agent and end this cycle for my family!”

Read more about the 2016 Live Your Dream Award Winners by clicking on this link.


Local To Global 2016

Local to Global

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