Heartbeat of Brevard: Claire Ellis
Like each heartbeat pumps life throughout its body, we are proud to celebrate the people and organizations infusing life into our community. Separately, they sustain people in their circles, but together, they are the rhythm and lifeblood of the Space Coast.
EverythingBrevard magazine honors the people and organizations building a legacy of honoring those with the strongest impact on the Space Coast. We are proud to introduce Claire Ellis, who leads the Women Against Violence Education Committee for Zonta Club of Melbourne.
Name: Claire Ellis
Organization: Zonta Club of Melbourne
Position: Chair, Women Against Violence Education Committee
Time with Zonta: 17 years
Vice president 2005-2007, president 2007-2009
As chair of Zonta’s Violence Against Women Education Committee, Ellis leads the mission to educate the public about modern-day slavery and violence against women and girls.
In addition to serving as co-vice chair of the Space Coast Human Trafficking Task Force, Ellis also is on two other nonprofit boards: Native Heritage Gathering, Inc., which recently presented its 13th Annual Native Rhythms Festival; and Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos Society, which promotes philanthropy, fellowship and faith in action.
The task force is a network of governmental and non-governmental organizations on the central east coast of Florida, working together to end modern-day slavery through education and training. Ellis helped facilitate the first training for medical personnel in Brevard County to identify signs of modern-day slavery.
“We have spoken to many organizations, associations, schools and churches in Brevard and surrounding counties about these issues, as well as provided training for hotel employees, dental associates, Brevard County Schools and pharmacists,” Ellis said. “We work closely with Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, who supports our efforts.
“When speaking to groups, I always say: ‘If it wasn’t for child slave labor, we would all be naked and starving,’” Ellis said.
As a member of Zonta International, the mission is to advance the status of women through service and advocacy. The local club provides five scholarships to women and girls in high school, college and weVenture’s ATHENA Leadership program.
Zonta will be hosting its 17th Annual Chocolate Festival on March 13, its main fundraiser and education event. Local chocolatiers compete for “Brevard’s Best Chocolate Fix,” as guests taste and vote. It’s where Zonta raises much of the funds it donates to nonprofit organizations fighting domestic violence, homelessness and modern-day slavery.
“During the Festival, we educate visitors in regards to child slave labor in the chocolate industry and what symbols to look for in purchasing slave-free chocolate, as well as other foods,” Ellis explained.
Ellis embraced Zonta’s cause to fight violence against women and modern-day slavery 17 years ago at her first district meeting. The first Zonta International Project was presented to fight human trafficking in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“I had just returned from there on a trip with my sister to visit her daughter doing missionary work. It was after the Bosnian Wars and there was abject poverty,” Ellis said. “Many women and girls were homeless and begging in the streets. I realized if any of them had been promised a better life anywhere else, they would have taken it without question, as that is what traffickers professed. This was the beginning of the great influx of women and girls to the West as many borders during that time became ‘soft.’”
Ellis would like to see Zonta grow its membership in the next five years and continue its outreach to organizations providing immediate and long-term help to women and children.
The community can support Zonta’s mission by supporting the Chocolate Festival; and by purchasing Historic Brevard County ornaments available year-round at Meehan’s in Downtown Melbourne or online at zontaspacecoast.org.
Ellis and other members are available to speak to groups about modern-day slavery and/or domestic violence.
“We are all about bringing awareness about these subjects and any donations will go to our education efforts, the organizations needing our support, our scholarship fund and Zonta International projects,” Ellis said.
Ellis’ favorite quote: “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best.” — Henry Van Dyke
Her advice to girls and women concerning love: “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.”
17th Annual Zonta Chocolate Festival
Melbourne Auditorium, 625 E. Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne
Tickets and more info: zontaspacecoast.org
Zonta Club of Melbourne
“January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. I urge everyone to go to the U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs website and read the International Child Labor and Forced Labor reports.”