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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

AAUW—Supporting the Education of Girls and Women

Mar 24, 2016 11:00AM ● By Ronda Alvey

The Next Chapter

April 2016
Story by Jordan Venema

When Cyndy McBee and her husband moved from Colorado to Visalia two years ago, “I was looking for a place to plug in,” says the retired teacher.

One of those places might have been a bookstore, except “when I first moved here, I was very disappointed because there were no bookstores in the area,” says McBee. “But our Realtor assured me that American Association of University Women (AAUW) had great books.”

The Realtor was referring to the semi-annual book sale held in Visalia’s Sequoia Mall, sponsored by the Visalia chapter of the national organization. McBee wasn’t unfamiliar with AAUW, to which her mother belonged in the ‘70s, and “I always supported their cause, but I wasn’t involved in it,” she says. The mother, wife, grandmother and teacher had other things to keep her busy.

But retirement and the move to Visalia changed that. “We’d left our four kids and eight grandkids and friends and family so I had a lot of time and energy,” says McBee. Driven by her passions, among which she cites literacy, education “and of course, women’s issues,” McBee connected with the Visalia AAUW chapter.

“They have social groups, but their core mission is to support the education of girls and women,” explains McBee, now the chapter’s co-president. The Visalia AAUW has served women in the community since its first meeting 90 years ago on May 18, 1926.

That may seem like a long time, but consider that women only got the right to vote in the United States just six years earlier in 1920. “It’s hard to imagine how few rights women had,” says McBee, “and in 1926 so few women had an education past high school. AAUW gave them an opportunity to get together and try to support and promote education for young women.”

Though things have come a long way since 1926, there are still subtle inequalities, like financial disparity. As of 2014, women’s median weekly earnings for full-time workers were still only 82.5% of men’s salaries. 

So the work of an organization like AAUW is still very relevant, and necessary. McBee thinks of her daughters and granddaughters. “I want them to have equal opportunities for pay, and I want them paid the same amount as a male in the same capacity. I want them to be able to live and travel the world regardless of which country they’re in, and to have equal rights.” 

The Visalia AAUW chapter has a local and national impact through education and fundraising. The semi-annual book sale generates about $40,000 a year, of which about $25,000 went to scholarship funds for students who graduate from College of the Sequoias to attend a four-year university.

But the scholarships are not just for women. McBee acknowledges that “occasionally there’s a male student” who receives an award from AAUW.

Other than funding students, the organization supports education of young women through programs like Expanding Horizons, which takes about 60 elementary girls to a “sanctuary program” at College of the Sequoias, where they can explore options past high school.

The organization also sends 12 middle school students to a week at Fresno State University for STEM camp, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The camp, held in June, “is a very powerful experience,” says McBee.

AAUW membership is $85, “and a lot of that is spent on lobbying and legislation on a national level,” says McBee (members must also have an associate or four-year degree), but “it’s the interest groups that really capture a lot of people.”  

From knitting groups to reading clubs, volunteer opportunities and bridge games, there’s an outlet for almost every interest. The Knit Wits – a knitting group – meet every Tuesday at Panera. A walking group gathers regularly, and there’s another group called Coffee and California Concerns.

At monthly meetings from September through May, “we might have an author come speak, and we had a member come from China to talk about her experiences” relative to women’s rights.

Basically, says McBee, “the group is a whole lot of fun, and you can have a great time supporting important causes in our area.”

About 170 people belong to the local chapter, but McBee encourages other women to find out how they can get involved. 

American Association of University Women

Semi-Annual Book Sale April 13-18, 10am-8:30pm 

Sequoia Mall in Visalia