ST. GEORGE — The American Association of University Women St. George Branch held their annual fundraising gala Saturday evening at the SunRiver Ballroom in St. George.
Part of a nationwide organization, the St. George branch’s mission is to advance equity for women and girls in Utah, particularly through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.
The annual gala serves as the primary fundraiser for the organization which provides scholarships to women entering college straight out of high school and to women who are starting over or getting a late first start, Nan Bujold, president of the St. George branch, said.
In the past, scholarships have been given to students to attend Dixie State University’s associates and bachelor programs, Bujold said.
More recently, the organization has been able to expand their scholarship offerings to include some of Dixie State University’s graduate programs as well as women attending internships and leadership conferences. This year, the organization is also offering scholarships to Mohave Community College in the Hildale/Colorado City area, Bujold said.
In addition to scholarships, the American Association of University Women St. George Branch also offers a work smart program which helps women learn to negotiate a new job, a raise or a promotion, an eSmart STEM camp for middle school-aged girls, mentorships and a senior sister program which provides gifts to women in assisted living facilities on Christmas and mother’s day.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Peg Lloyd.
Lloyd organizes the senior program and said that oftentimes the gifts they bring are the only ones some of the ladies receive.
The local branch also participates in many of the national organization’s programs and policy issues, Bujold said. This year, their focus is on voter registration.
Bujold said that 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 don’t vote. The organization will be going into all the high schools in the Washington County School District in the spring to help register those eligible to vote.
“Our projects are big and small, homegrown and national,” Bujold said at the event.
The gala’s keynote speaker was legendary University of Utah gymnast and gymnastics coach Megan Marsden, whose career as a coach for the winning program spanned 35 years.
As a coach of college women, Marsden said that education was a priority.
Marsden said it was important to both her and her husband, Greg Marsden, who started the University of Utah gymnastics program in 1975 and coached until 2015, that their athletes become independent, strong, smart young women that could take care of themselves.
“We really worked on that through the sport of gymnastics and their time with us,” Marsden said.
It was through gymnastics that Marsden herself was able to receive an education on a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah where she was also helped her team win four national championships from 1981-1984.
And though she said the winning was fun, it was the opportunity to learn through the sport that made her decide to become a coach. Marsden was part of the University of Utah coaching staff from 1985-2019.
In her address, Marsden credited the 1972 federal civil rights law Title IX, with the ability for the University of Utah to start a gymnastics program.
The law, which states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” allowed for some distribution of funding for women’s sports, which in turn allowed the creation of the University of Utah gymnastics program, Marsden said.
Marsden said that for her husband, the coaching job started as a way to earn a little extra money, but it soon became about helping the girls he coached become the best they could be.
When she was asked to speak at Saturday’s gala, Marsden said that she began doing some research on the American Association of University Women and she quickly discovered that she shared many commonalities with the organization.
“A lot of our ideas matched,” she said.
Both Marsden and her husband are champions of gender pay equity, which they successfully worked toward at the University of Utah. Marsden said that for their last eight years of coaching together, the husband and wife co-head coaches were paid equally.
The evening also featured entertainment by Red Rock Flutes, dinner, a silent auction and a live auction hosted by Ed Tracey.
Through the annual gala, along with other fundraising events, the American Association of University Women St. George Branch has been able to give scholarships to over 100 women, Bujold said.
More information about the organization can be found here.
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