The Zonta Club of Columbia was organized in July 1963 by then International Field Representative Mrs. Willette Joiner of Harlington, Texas. The club charter was presented to the club on September 10, 1963 by Mrs. Ruth S. Knight, Zonta International First Vice President.
Mrs. Elma G. Merry was elected to serve as the first president, an office she held until her untimely death in February 1965. Under her leadership the club focused on service and adopted the Friendship Center as its major community service project. Between 1963 and 1974 the club added other service projects including the Prerelease Home for Girls which was an extension of the Juvenile Corrections Division (now Department of Juvenile Justice) and the Capitol Convalescent Home which cared for elderly citizens who were without resources. The club also donated a new wheelchair to Richland County Hospital (now Palmetto Richland Memorial).
Annual contributions were made to Zonta International service projects including the Amelia Earhart Fellowship Fund; the Ramallah Jordan Projectfor displaced Arab girls; the Anne Frank village; mobile pediatric care units in Uganda; and the GROW fund for extension of Zonta clubs around the world.
In 1969 the club organized a “Z” Club at Dentsville High School which subsequently became Spring Valley High School. This “Z” Club remained in existence until the early 1990s. The club participated in area meetings and district conferences.
In the mid 1970’s the club began its scholarship programs. In conjunction with the South Carolina Lung Association, the Zonta Club of Columbia gave a $400 scholarship annually to a student training in the field of nursing or respiratory therapy. In 1984 as a tribute to deceased charter member, June Brown, the club established a scholarship program to include women of all career aspirations. The joint program with the Lung Association ended.
Throughout the 1980s the club contributed to Zonta International programs such as Amelia Earhart, the International Service Fund, Eva Mowbray Hostess Fund while maintaining its local “Z” Club. Fundraising projects included performing direct mail services and candy sales. And during this time the club membership grew.
In 1989 the club began to provide service to Carolina Children’s Home. The project focused on the older girls who were transitioning from the home to being own their own. Club members participated in special occasions and served as “older sisters and mothers” by helping the girls adapt to their future outside of the Children’s Home by teaching them banking, grocery shopping, buying their first car or whatever the need.
Other projects throughout the 1980s and the late-1990s included Thanksgiving donations to John Fling Ministries; participation in Richland Memorial’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s annual birthday party; and volunteering with the Greater Columbia Literacy Council. Club members engaged in fun activities such as participating in a Poker Run in April 1994 to raise funds for the Literacy Council.
In 1992 the club began publishing a newsletter. And in 1994 the club adopted Harvest Hope Food Bank as a service project. In October of 1994 the club amended its bylaws to allow men to join. Throughout the 1990s the club participated in the Breast Cancer Walk and continued its projects with John Fling, The Literacy Council and the NICU birthday party.
In 1995 the club began to focus on issues related to violence against women; as part of that focus, in 1996 the club hosted an educational conference called “Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Women in Crossfire.” In 1997 we worked with Sister Care, local domestic violence shelter, to purchase billboards to educate the public about domestic violence. The club’s focus on violence against women has led us in the 21st century to working on human trafficking by supporting victims of human trafficking as they transition into freedom and by advocating for passage of laws that will protect victims and punish traffickers.
In the late 1990s the club began revamping its service projects to ensure all club projects were mission appropriate which was to advance the status of women. The club developed an ambitious plan. While continuing to make service fun by providing Easter baskets for children identified by John Fling Ministries we began to work with a local shelter for women in transition – Killingsworth. We formed a partnership to sponsor and implement a program called “Enhancing Your Assets.” These programs teach job and job preparation skills as well as provide information on legal and tax issues related to the residents’ needs. The Zonta Club of Columbia became an equal partner with the United Methodist Women in supporting Killingsworth and its goal of transitioning women into productive members of society. Since the adoption of this project, club members have participated in the annual fundraising event by serving as fashion show models. The club sponsored a table each year for this event, and is in the process of expanding our role.
As the new century began the club realized the need for larger scale fundraising efforts to support our service projects. In the fall of 2002 the club launched Bowling for Zonta. This annual event seeks corporate sponsors and bowlers to participate in a fun half day event that includes door prizes. This event is still in existence at the time of this writing.
In the early 2000s the club participated in the Cinderella Project in partnership with the South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyers Division. We solicited donations for evening wear and opened a “shop” during the prom season for young women without resources to “shop” for their prom clothes. We also collected drink tabs for the Ronald McDonald House.
In 2006 and 2007 the club held an unprecedented role with District #11. Three club members served on the District board in the roles of Governor, District Secretary and Area 02 Director.
In 2007 the club reached its maximum number of service projects by continuing its Enhancing Your Assets program at Killingsworth; adopting a new service project for Latino children through an organization known as LEER; two scholarship programs – Jane M. Klausman Women in Business and Young Woman in Public Affairs; the sponsorship of a language tutoring class for a social worker to assist victims of human trafficking; funding for Five Points Wheels, local agency providing transportation for seniors and adults with disabilities; and supporting an HIV-AIDS program for World AIDS Day.
In 2008 the club expanded the “Enhancing Your Assets” program to The Women’s Shelter with a focus on women’s health and nutrition, recovery and addiction issues, legal issues related to child custody, and job skills. The club also began to serve as a table sponsor for the shelter’s annual Souper fundraiser; and provided donation of items listed on the monthly wish list.
The “Enhancing Your Assets” was also expanded that same year to LRADAC Women’s Community Residence. The club also worked with the Women’s Leadership Institute to provide service, training and presentations to young women at the Department of Juvenile Justice. The club worked with Communities in Schools of the Midlands to purchase “Back to School” supplies for young women who are in CIS programs. Individual club members also worked with students on an anti-bullying project.
In 2010 the club renamed the two scholarships to honor charter members Vivian Hudson and Katherine Matthews, both of whom remain as members at the time of this writing. Also in 2010 the club reviewed its annual contributions to Zonta International to rebalance donations to focus more on international service and violence against women issues.
The new millennium brings new challenges and opportunities for growth and development. The Zonta Club of Columbia remains strong and focused on its efforts to play its part in advancing the status of women worldwide.