Scrubbing away grime on her hands and knees, Sonya Phillips delights in knowing that her hours of hard work will warm the hearts of one grateful family. Every May, she and the rest of The Zonta Club of Hampton Roads join forces to pull off one of their largest charity events—Samaritan House makeovers.
If you see Sonya getting her hands dirty with the rest of the crew, you might not realize that she is president of the Hampton Roads chapter of Zonta International.
“Charity truly begins at home,” Sonya said. “That is why I hold the Samaritan House so close to my heart. We transition someone’s house into a home, and it feels so good to support women in the Hampton Roads area.”
The Zonta Club of Hampton Roads was chartered on Feb. 1, 1985. It is the local chapter of Zonta International, a global not-for-profit organization of professionals collaborating to advance the status of women worldwide.
The Samaritan House makeovers are just one of many events that the local Zonta Club coordinates each year. Through the support of volunteers and monetary donations, the club supports other organizations like Salvation Army Hope Village, ACCESS AIDS Care, and Brides Against Breast Cancer. Members also stay busy with several ongoing fundraising projects, such as selling floral cards through a partnership with Norfolk Florist and name badges with the Zonta logo. Of the funds raised, about one-third assists with international projects and the rest benefits women in Hampton Roads.
“We are always trying different things,” Sonya said. “It is important to help out in a lot of different ways, so we like to keep our options open.”
In addition to supporting local charities, members of The Zonta Club of Hampton Roads uphold international objectives. Zonta International focuses on two major areas: direct service projects and advocacy to improve the economic, educational, political, and professional status of women. Related initiatives include striving for national peace and goodwill through fellowship and promoting justice and respect for human rights.
Founded in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1919, Zonta International now boasts approximately 33,000 members, with 1,200 clubs located in 66 countries. The United Nations recognizes Zonta as an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization).
“Everything we do at the local level is focused on Zonta’s international mission,” said Lisa Fraser, former District 3 Zonta International Governor. “That mission is all about focusing on women.”
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Patricia Latona, a member of Zonta International’s United Nations committee, will travel to Hampton Roads to talk about the organization’s initiatives and issues that commonly affect women. Members are excited to feature Patricia as the keynote speaker at their monthly dinner meeting at the Norfolk Chop House on March 13. She will speak about The Zonta Club of Hampton Road’s role with the United Nations and how they provide funding for specific projects.
“For this meeting, we expect a particularly large turnout in recognition of Women’s History Month,” Sonya said. “I was invited to a dinner for my first Zonta experience, and I immediately felt like I was at home. Everyone was so warm and inviting. I love passing along that feeling to other young women.”
The chapter invites women and men of Hampton Roads who yearn to make a difference in their communities and in the world to consider membership with Zonta. Club meetings are held at the Norfolk Chop House on the second Wednesday of every month, except for July and August. The public is always encouraged to attend.
“A lot of new members are coming in, which is great,” Fraser said. “Organizations like this can’t survive without younger women making a difference.”
Theresa Culpepper is currently pursuing a graduate degree in New Media Journalism. She works at an advertising agency in Virginia Beach, where she lives with her fiancé and two cats.