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Zonta Club committed to empowering women and girls

Toni Teuschler and her team participate in the 2018 Amazing Adirondack Race along with a young Zonta Club of the Adirondacks assistant, Zoe Hadden, at the John Brown Farm challenge. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — The Zonta Club of the Adirondacks has only been in existence for three years, but its members have done a lot to help out local women and girls.

The club uses fundraising events to help pay for programs such as providing duffle bags to STOP Domestic Violence. It hands out R.O.S.E. (Recognition of Service and Excellence) Awards to local women on International Women’s Day. It holds a Mardi Bra event in late winter, collecting donations of new bras, underpants and feminine supplies for distribution to local nonprofit service providers and food pantries. It collects gently used bras during the Free the Girls event to help women escaping sex trafficking. And still, members do much more — even holding a Halloween house decorating contest this month.

Zonta International was founded in 1919 in Buffalo. With a mission to empower women and girls around the world, the organization has more than 28,000 members in more than 1,100 clubs in 62 countries.

The Zonta Club of the Adirondacks was founded in 2017.

“Ever since then, we kind of have hit the ground running and sometimes can’t catch ourselves as we’re going,” said Nicole Bureau, president of the Zonta Club of the Adirondacks. “It’s been a fun experience.”

Membership is open to women and men.

“All people have to do to belong is be believers in the mission, that women’s rights are human rights,” said Amy Quinn, of Lake Placid, who co-founded the club. “Sort of akin to the way racism won’t be solved by people of color alone. People of color need white allies. And women need male allies in order to advance the cause.”

Zonta is not political. That said, it was politics that sparked the beginnings of the local club.

“To be really honest,” said Quinn, an attorney who works in Elizabethtown, “I found myself sort of upset about the state of things after the election of Donald Trump. …

“When I got here, there were only two attorneys that were women practicing in family court and all the rest were men. By that point, I had been practicing law 22 years. … While the majority of the men I practice with were wonderful colleagues, I also had things said to me like, ‘How old are you, anyway?’ And ‘I tell you what I would do if I were you.’ And a lot of times, it didn’t really feel to be mentorish. It felt like it was sexist. So, just the way I’m concerned about systematic racism, I’m concerned about systematic sexism.”

With no women’s rights organization in the North Country, Quinn began wondering what kind of organization she could help start in the Adirondacks that would be a voice for women.

“And I recall that there was a Zonta Club in Glens Falls where I grew up,” Quinn said. “I wasn’t really that familiar with what it was, but I knew that it was a women’s organization.”

Quinn reached out to the Glens Falls club, and it became the sponsor for the Zonta Club of the Adirondacks. For more information, email adirondacks@zontadistrict2.org.

The Lake Placid News spoke with Bureau and Quinn by phone on Saturday, Oct. 3. Below is a part of the interview.

LPN: A lot of your events have fun, interesting names. It sounds like the group is having fun, but doing some really serious stuff.

Bureau: We find ourselves at meetings, someone just asks a question and it’s like, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if, instead of giving our products to the food pantry, we have our own type of pantry?” And then, within 10 minutes we have this event outlined with a fun, catchy name. And it’s a group effort. We couldn’t do it with one or two people. So it’s fun to see that process happen throughout meetings. …

Quinn: I think we have a really creative, energetic membership. We actually are to the point with our events that we can get really carried away with the breadth of them and we find ourselves sometimes needing to step back a little bit and say, “OK, let’s not wear ourselves out trying to make this so big.” One perfect example is the Amazing Race, which we did for two years, which was styled after the Amazing Race game on television, which is basically a several townwide scavenger hunt that culminated in finding the finish line and being the first team to find the finish line. … Those are some of my best Zonta memories. …

LPN: What are some of those events where people can help out?

Quinn: Free the Girls (in December). We did not come up with that catchy name. Free the Girls is an organization that collects new or gently used bras, which we did not know until we found this organization that they are actually a commodity for resale in many nations. This organization collects gently used bras and distributes them to women who have been freed from the sex trafficking trade. They give the women a crash course in entrepreneurialism, and they use the bras that are sent from the United States as stock for their own little boutique. It allows the women a chance to make money.

We do new bras at Mardi Bra and used bras at Free the Girls.

LPN: Do you ever have a moment when you can step back and say, “OK. That was worth it?”

Bureau: I think one of the most recent times I had that aha moment was when we did a Popup Period Pantry And the women stopped and kind of told their story.

This one woman, she was like, “I just gave birth. I didn’t realize I could have my period. So, therefore, I don’t have any supplies. We’re in the midst of the pandemic.” They didn’t know anything about the event. They drove by, saw us and pulled in. So I think it’s in those more intimate moments that you get that moment. …

We do STOP Domestic Violence duffle bags to the shelters whenever they need them. The bag has any essential need that they can use on Day Zero when entering a shelter.

So I think every time we donate and they call and say, “We only have one left,” I think it’s like, “OK. We’re not thrilled that people are having to use them, but at the same time, we’re happy that they’re being beneficial to the people.

Quinn: The duffle bag project was the first one that we did in the fall of 2017, and we’ve done it annually since. …

The items that we would put in the duffle bag would be shampoo, soap, a razor, deodorant, a brush, a calendar planner for court dates that a woman might have or appointments with a counselor at STOP Domestic Violence, to get utilities set up, to get an apartment. Postage stamps. Basically we try to put in there a lot of personal need items that a woman would perhaps not be able to buy with food stamps, which they might be getting as a form of emergency aid when they leave with nothing but the clothes on their back.