KRISTEN SEEBER, Women’s Fund of Smith County
Now that our boys are grown and gone - one a college graduate working in Austin, the other a junior at the University of Arkansas - our house feels very different. While there is a lot less laundry to do and fewer meals to prepare, there is too much space and too much quiet. My head tells me this transition is natural and healthy, but my heart will always miss our togetherness.
I think most would agree, sharing experiences with others is much more meaningful than going alone in this world. There are many paths to forge in a lifetime, and the journeys become richer if traveled with a companion or two. When the companions are those we trust, we can expect to learn, to grow and to find joy along the way.
The members of the Women’s Fund of Smith County understand this notion. Ten years ago, a group of women gathered around an idea to find structure for growing and encouraging women’s philanthropy in East Texas. Those women were willing to dream and to invest time and energy in a project that had no preset goal or guarantee of success. They created a pool of charitable capital with the gifts of women, designed to be distributed back to our community in the form of grants to projects benefitting women and children.
The concept was simple: each woman would pledge a financial gift. The power of their purses would be leveraged by pooling their money and then granting it back to the community for projects voted on by the membership. One woman, one gift, one vote - each giving some, the “sum” adding up to a lot.
In their first year of giving, 126 charter members awarded $100,000 in grants to three nonprofit organizations and an endowment was established for the future. Since that time, the Women’s Fund of Smith County continues to grow its membership and move forward its mission, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary by announcing a cumulative total grant funding amount of more than $1 million, impacting 24 agencies and countless lives.
How does this huge impact happen? It happens because of women coming together. The members of this organization are diverse, with diverse giving capacities. For many, their financial commitment to the mission is a stretch. Yet they understand the significant difference between providing an individual gift of $100 and being a part of a $35,000 or $100,000 grant to a cause that makes a lasting difference - women coming together, giving together and transforming communities in the process.
Philanthropy done well is creative, collaborative and compassionate. At its best, it is welcoming and inclusive, innovative and courageous. The results of giving can be phenomenal, especially if there is a sense of trust and openness and a willingness to shed barriers, share the credit and look for partners.
At its recent annual board retreat, the Women’s Fund of Smith County directors spent time bonding, planning and visioning for the coming year and for the future. Board members Marilyn Abegg-Glass and Nancy Lamar led our leadership through a team-building exercise, based on Simon Sinek’s book, “Together is Better.”
This amazing group of wives, mothers, grandmothers and sisters, educators, attorneys, homemakers and accountants came together to evaluate core values and discovered, as Sinek said, “The value of our lives is not determined by what we do for ourselves. The value of our lives is determined by what we do for others.”
When we want something significant to happen, to make a life matter, we connect with one another and we put our hearts and minds together. If we each do a small thing, and we do it collaboratively, anything is possible. In his book, Sinek quotes an African proverb, “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.”
I love the feeling of closeness and camaraderie, just as sure as I love the moments when my boys are home, filling up the space and dispelling the quiet with my favorite sound in the world: the sound of them laughing - together.
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. Membership is open to women who would like to learn more about collective giving. Community members also are invited to the Women’s Fund 2017 Annual Grants Announcement Reception, 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for more information.