The poet Maya Angelou once said, “As you grow older, you will find you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
That quote summarizes well the guiding principles of Zonta International, which aims to empower women through service and advocacy.
Derived from the Sioux language, Zonta means “honest and trustworthy.” The group was founded in 1919 in Buffalo, N.Y., and today touts more than 30,000 members in 67 countries.
The Zonta Club of Hershey-Harrisburg was chartered in 1980 and meets monthly to strategize ways to achieve its goals, both at home and abroad.
Members participate in fundraising projects throughout the year, with 70 percent of the proceeds benefiting local organizations like the PA Coalition against Domestic Violence, New Hope Ministries, the YWCA and Harrisburg’s Shalom House. The other 30 percent goes to help women worldwide and provide funds to help with natural disasters.
Karen Shirey, a long-time member of the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey, describes it as a group of professionals dedicated to giving back to the community.
“Our members include retirees, educators, business owners, government employees, former military, with ages that range from 30 to 80,” she said.
Modern society hasn’t been kind to service organizations, most of which have been steadily losing members for decades. Yet the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey has managed to maintain its numbers, said Shirey. That doesn’t mean that she’s satisfied with the status quo. She’d be delighted to witness a growth spurt, especially among younger women.
“We want the energy,” she said, with a laugh.
Recently, the group hosted Aiyana Ehrman and Michelle Kime of Lancaster-based “Imagine Goods” to learn more about the business of helping female artisans create items in exchange for fair wages. During the meeting, the entrepreneurs shared a PowerPoint presentation on human trafficking. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 100,000 youth are forcefully engaged in prostitution or pornography and that one in three runaways are lured into prostitution after just 48 hours on the streets.
Zonta is also focused on violence prevention.
“Violence is a worldwide pandemic that crosses every social and economic class, every religion, race and ethnicity, with one out of every three women worldwide experiencing violence during their lifetime,” Zonta International President Sonja Honig Schough said. “We in Zonta cannot accept this.”
In December, the local Zonta chapter gathered on the steps of the state Capitol as part of their, “Say No to Violence Against Women” campaign, an effort to spread awareness about the issue and work with legislators to combat the problem.
Nancy Fodor, president of the Harrisburg-Hershey club, said that she became involved because she is committed to helping women who are marginalized, lack advantages or may be involved in abusive relationships.
Her goal is to provide members with monthly meetings that are enlightening, informative and interesting, while supporting causes to advance Zonta’s mission.
Denise Britton, executive director of Shalom House, described Zonta as a “blessing.”
“They raise money, contribute dollars to scholarships to young women going into business and help us with access to trainers and professional life coaches and occupational therapists who work with us for personal discipline,” she said.
Club members also help the shelter by donating their time through personal mentoring and by buying Christmas presents each year for the women and children housed at the shelter.
“They are able to break down preconceived ideas and barriers by sharing how they’ve overcome obstacles in their lives, which provides encouragement for our women,” said Britton.
Working for such worthy causes is heartwarming, but there’s also an important camaraderie among Zonta members, said Shirey.
“We’ve watched each other’s kids and grandkids grow up, and we’ve developed close bonds as a result of our commitment,” she said.
As for Fodor, she’s glad that she has been given the opportunity to serve as president and leader to such a dedicated group of women.
“What I like most about it is how hard everyone works to accomplish what we accomplish,” she said. “It takes time and commitment and everyone in the club participates. They really give it their all.”
For more information about the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey, visit www.zonta-harrisburghershey.org or their Facebook page.