Shore sorors take top state honor

By Debra R. Messick, Dorchester Banner
Posted 4/17/24

“Zeta is a verb, as we are a community conscious, action-oriented sisterhood” – Iota Chi Zeta chapter

The Eastern Shore’s single chapter of historic, international …

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Shore sorors take top state honor


“Zeta is a verb, as we are a community conscious, action-oriented sisterhood” – Iota Chi Zeta chapter

The Eastern Shore’s single chapter of historic, international sorority Zeta Phi Beta brought home the state’s top honor, 2024 Graduate Chapter of the Year, at its annual leadership conference.

“We’re smaller in numbers than many western shore chapters,” Tonya Lewis, Iota Chi Zeta president since 2021, said. But she believes the group’s exceptionally strong commitment to the Zeta principles of service, sisterhood, education and finer womanhood, were deciding factors in earning the prestigious honor.

Lewis initially became a Zeta soror while a student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2006. While growing up in Washington, D.C., Lewis was impressed and inspired by the sorors she knew, including her mother and many of her friends.

“I couldn't wait to join,” she said. “And I especially love the service work we do, giving back to the community.”

Lewis explained the sorority’s programming initiative, The Extraordinary Power of S.H.E., promoting intentional pursuits related to Social, Health and Economic justice for women everywhere, but especially here at home.

Partnerships and programs in the areas of education and women’s health figure prominently in Iota Chi Zeta’s activities.

Participating in the state organization’s Adopt-a-School program, sorors regularly visit the chapter’s adopted school, Choptank Elementary.

In February, sorors Wendy Jones, Mary Thorpe and Dr. Emma Pickett delivered 150 hats and gloves to Choptank. Pickett and Norma Miller also read to youngsters during the school’s Black History Month observance.

In the area of higher education, the chapter awards the Sarah Hicks Jolley Scholarship to Shore high school students and the Mary McEachin Thompson Scholarship open to those age 25 and over for returning to college.

Next year the sorority will award a scholarship honoring one of the group’s many distinguished educators, Dr. Theresa Stafford, who passed away in December 2023.

At the time of her passing, Stafford was serving on the Dorchester County Board of Education and executive director of New Beginnings Youth and Family Services. She recently received the chapter's Triumphant Soror of the Year Award.

A leading activity in women’s health is the Stork’s Nest program, a 46-year-old partnership between Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and the March of Dimes.

The nonprofit Stork's Nest is a community-based, prenatal health promotion program for low-income pregnant women designed to promote prenatal care participation and healthy behaviors during pregnancy via incentives and education.

Class sessions meet the second Saturday of each month at the Dorchester County Department of Health on Cedar Street.

Registered clients can earn points toward incentives, such as maternity or baby care items including cribs and strollers by attending prenatal care appointments, participation in prenatal education sessions, keeping appointments for well-baby visits, etc.

The April 13 class featured a “Let’s Talk” series focused on “The Importance of Breastfeeding” from Lactation Certified Consultant Nancy Hastings, RN. Those attending were eligible to win a free car seat and diapers.

Past classes have discussed asthma and lead in children and immunizations.

Stork’s Nest coordinator Sheila Johnson Jones was another chapter member honored during the state conference with induction to the Maryland Hall of Fame. Jones was recognized for 36 years of “sisterhood and uninterrupted service.”

Upcoming community service initiatives include participation in an Earth Day Highway Clean-up Day at the Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden and The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Those interested in learning more can attend the group’s membership informational event on Saturday, May 11, in Easton. RSVP by May 4 to

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