A Collaboration for Change: The Women's Fund of Smith County

Cover Story
2017
May/June

The Women’s Fund of Smith County was created in 2007 as a collective giving and grant-making circle, with a mission of leveraging the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change. Kristen Seeber began her role as President/CEO of The Women’s Fund in January of 2016. “Learning more about philanthropy and the deeper impact of giving is one of the reasons which drew me to the Women’s Fund,” Seeber says. 

“There’s really nothing quite like a group of women, we are stronger together.” And The Women’s Fund has proved this to be true throughout all of East Texas. Their philanthropic efforts have raised millions of dollars, created opportunities, and touched the lives of many. 

“Women have always been invested in family and community. To that end, we have always been philanthropists committed to working together for the welfare of others,” Seeber says, and this commitment has undoubtedly given opportunity to others with a passion to serve. Celebrating their tenth year of giving with a cumulative total economic impact on Smith County of $1 million. The Women’s Fund has only just begun their journey to impact East Texas. 

“Philanthropy done well is creative, collaborative and compassionate,” Seeber says, “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.” Through their members’ annual giving, the Women’s Fund awards grants to nonprofit agencies for specific programs that will better the lives of women and children in Smith County. Each member of the Women’s Fund participates in the grants process, through her giving and her vote regarding the grants to be awarded each year.

One of the four grants awarded to The Women’s Fund for the year 2017 is to Meals on Wheels Ministry to initiate and implement their program “Sunrise Senior Servings”. This grant will go to delivering breakfast meals to female clients of MOWM living in Smith County. By providing shelf-stable breakfast items, these most nutritionally
at-risk clients are assured the physical and emotional comfort of having enough food each day and remain living independently in their own homes.

The mission of Meals on Wheels Ministry is to deliver nutritious meals, safety checks and other services that enable seniors and disabled citizens to remain in their own homes. Meals on Wheels Ministry does this by delivering a hot, freshly prepared lunchtime meals directly to the homes of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Zoe Lawhorn, the Vice President of Development and Public Relations for Meals on Wheels, directs fundraising efforts, manages grants, manages publicity efforts and oversees the volunteer department. “For a person living alone, Lawhorn says, this simple visit is a barrier between an independent life at home and one spent in long, nursing home care.”

When Meals on Wheels began planning the breakfast food program, they knew that the East Texas Food Bank had a donor that generously gave funds in support of senior nutrition. “We knew that Sunrise Senior Servings would be the perfect fit”, Lawhorn says. Therefore a beautiful collaboration between The Women’s Fund of Smith County, Meals on Wheels and the East Texas Food Bank was formed. “Not only has funding from this grant helped kick start the program, we are also able to buy the contents of the breakfast boxes from the East Texas Food Bank,” Lawhorn says. 

How will this breakfast program impact the East Texas community and it’s residents? “Imagine waking in the morning to the crushing pain of hunger; for many of our most vulnerable clients, the morning brings with it the discomfort and despair of an empty tummy.” Although the meals already delivered are designed by a dietitian to meet the nutritional needs of the population Meals on Wheels serves, these meals only satisfy 1/3 of the Recommended Daily Allowance. This is simply not enough for those who have no other nutritional resources. “We imagine our clients waking with hunger pains, awaiting delivery of their meals,” Lawhorn says. “We hear them when they describe rationing their meals to last throughout the day, and we can only imagine the struggles they face over the weekends. As a part of our recent strategic planning process, Meals on Wheels Ministry identified breakfast as the most cost effective and convenient was to meet this crushing need.”

Meals on Wheels Ministry of Smith County has been a catalyst for giving back in East Texas for decades, but they are continuously evolving and growing to better serve the community in need. Lawhorn discussed just a few of the upcoming projects Meals on Wheels has in store for the future. “We are excited about expanding our programming to include more meals, higher quality food and better tasting menus, and also adding new events and building our pet food program, called “Meals Fur Pets.” 

 

With two of the most steadfast and generous organizations in East Texas growing  rapidly there is a whole new excitement for what is to come. How can more East Texans get involved to show their support? One of the greatest ways to get involved with Meals on Wheels is by becoming a volunteer. “Our volunteer drivers donate their time, their fuel and the use of their own vehicles and deliver meals directly to the homebound elderly and disabled clients. Most of our volunteers say that they believe the blessing they receive makes volunteering for Meals on Wheels an experience unlike any other.” 

The Women’s Fund welcomes new members with open arms as well. New membership to their Giving Circle is open to any woman who would like to be a part of collective giving and grant making.

Two signature events of The Women’s Fund are the Mother’s Day Luncheon (Honoring Women Who Inspire Us) which will be May 11th this year, and the Power of the Purse Celebration Luncheon which will be November 14th. The Power of the Purse Luncheon is one of the largest gatherings of women in Smith County, focused on giving back to the community and supporting nonprofits that help women and children. Proceeds from these events benefit the mission of the Women’s Fund and outreach to women and children
in Smith County.  

In addition to their signature events, The Women’s Fund has developed a new initiative that is sure to keep the philanthropic spirit alive and growing throughout East Texas. This initiative is G.I.V.E. (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts). This unique program teaches area high school girls (grades 10-12) about philanthropy – its purpose and its impact. The girls work, together, to raise their own funds, research local agencies, review grant applications and vote on the organization that will receive their annual grant award. Patterned after the Women’s Fund model, this is an opportunity to mentor young ladies as they work together to experience collective giving and grant making.

 Since 2014, these girls have raised and given over $17,000 to deserving nonprofits in Smith County. Seeber and the Women’s Fund of Smith County could not be more thrilled about this initiative and what it means for the future of our community. “Because of what they learn through this program, these girls become givers for life! We are proud of our
future philanthropists!” 

As separate organizations, The Women’s Fund of Smith County, Meals on Wheels Ministry and the East Texas Food Bank already touch the lives of so many. Their day-to-day operations may look a little different, but their ultimate goal remains the same: to make a difference. Just imagine how great of an impact this collaboration between the three growing, giving organizations can be. Kristen Seeber says it best, “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.”

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