November 2011

Zonta: Gaining Voice in the Community

Author: David Tobias

If you’re trying to decide if you’re optimistic enough to be an Optimist or you’ve been around the on-island/off-island roundabouts often enough to be a Rotarian, consider for a moment Zonta.

Clearly not intuitively named, Zonta (a Lakota Indian word meaning “honest and trustworthy”) is not one of those service clubs that roars like a Lion or stomps like an Elk.

It definitely is not your typical old boys club—mostly because it’s not about boys, old or otherwise.

Zonta is about women. More specifically, it’s about women helping to advance the cause of women, both globally and locally. And while it may not be as high profile or as politically connected as some of the other more entrenched, mostly male service clubs, Zonta has been around. You just may not have heard of it—or maybe you have, but you’ve been keeping it to yourself.

There’s really no need for that— not that Zonta has been lurking in the shadows, although some women’s issues are decidedly low profile. Human trafficking, violence against women and other issues that involve women are sometimes not pleasant to talk about in public or in mixed company. But increasingly these issues have been adopted as causes by Zonta, and as membership grows, they are being talked about publicly and in mixed company.

Zonta International has a history that dates to 1919 and aims to improve the status of women through service and advocacy. On the local level that takes the form of speaking out on behalf of women when opportunities arise and organizing fundraisers to benefit programs and services like the Hilton Head Island Children’s Center, Hope Haven of the Lowcountry and CODA (Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse). Events like the Take a Stand in the Sand walk, planned for Saturday, November 5 at Coligny Beach, help build awareness of the issues; and Zonta women even engage Zonta men to encourage other men to take a pledge, called the “Unite—Say NO to Violence Against Women” pledge designed to help men acknowledge that these are serious and pervasive concerns.

While all these causes are critically important, Zonta also inspires. Programs like the Z-Club, an offshoot of Zonta, encourage and mentor girls and young women and provide up to two college scholarships in the community per year. The focus of the Z-Club is to help high school students develop leadership skills, promote career exploration and encourage members to participate in community, school and service projects.

The Hilton Head Island Zonta Club has been around for 32 years, founded by the island’s first (and only) female mayor, Martha Baumberger, who passed away October 2 at the age of 92. Baumberger was a force, said current Zonta president Linda Warnock, and she was an inspiration who will be missed. Baumberger, was active in public service her entire life and served as Zonta International president before retiring to Hilton Head Island.

“She was an incredible lady and a larger-than-life leader,” said Warnock. “We will miss her so much.”

Since it was founded, the Hilton Head Island Zonta Club has spawned clubs in Bluffton and Beaufort, and membership continues to grow. Hilton Head Island’s club numbers 42 active members, and the clubs are stepping up their visibility in all three communities.

“I think we do a lot in the community behind the scenes,” Warnock said. “That’s always been our focus. We’re just now learning how to describe to the community the work we do, and we’re learning how to do a better job of self-promotion.”
The club honors a Woman of the Year at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s annual Chamber Ball. Last year’s recipient was Kimberly Duke-Clarke, owner and director of Lowcountry Day Preschool in Bluffton.
Duke-Clarke is the vice-president of the Child Abuse and Prevention Association (CAPA) and also donates pro bono hours as a social worker to the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

“She is involved on so many levels with area children, with her church, with her family, and with friends,” said Robin Boozer, CAPA president. “She is always reaching out to people. For children in not so great situations, she is the main proponent for getting a child to safety.”

Former winners of the award span a wide range of business and community involvement. “Our ‘Women of the Year’ illustrate that we are busy,” Warnock said. “Women who are involved in Zonta are in many cases women in charge of getting things done in their businesses—women who make a difference in an organization. That doesn’t mean that someone who isn’t the head of an organization can’t make a difference and have a role in Zonta. They can.”

One example is Zontian Ansley Grogan, a bank employee and single mother who was inducted as a member in January 2011. Grogan has led the effort to develop the “Take a Stand in the Sand” event on November 5.

“She said yes to serving as chair and the next month, gathered a committee and made it happen for the first time in May 2011,” said Warnock. “She gives all credit to the committee. She’s made her mark—in the sand—and on our club.”

For Pam Wells, recording secretary for the club, it’s events like these and the opportunity to speak on behalf of issues important to women that are critical pieces of what makes Zonta meaningful.

“Your strength comes from your voice,” Wells said, “especially when you exercise it and share it with others.”

For Warnock, that pretty much says it all—advocacy, adopting causes, benefitting those women in need—it all takes commitment and a willingness to speak up, which is something those in Zonta are learning and sharing with fellow committed members of a club that’s obviously increasing in voice.

For more information on the Take a Stand in the Sand event, visit zontahhi.org or e-mail Ansley Grogan at agrogan@atlanticcommunitybank.com.

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