Giving Full Circle

By Zoe Lawhorn

At our final meeting of the year, the Board of Directors for the Women’s Fund of Smith County gathered together under sparkling lights, surrounded by the glittering decorations of our Board Chair’s warm and welcoming home. This meeting doubled as our holiday celebration, and together, we reflected on a year full of remarkable moments.  

As a collective giving circle, the Women’s Fund closely follows the direction of our mission - “to transform our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children.” We combine our resources and then provide impact grants to local nonprofit organizations whose programs are in line with our mission and vision for our grants. And during our final meeting of the year, we celebrated in real life how this type of giving comes full circle.  

Perhaps the most important feature of any great holiday gathering is the food. This year, Board Chair Johnna Fullen – our hostess with the “mostess” - hired the new, local catering company called Lemon Yellow Latin Bites. They brought an incredible spread of delicious, Venezuelan dishes ranging from arepas (steamed and roasted corn dough buns stuffed with different savory fillings) and empanadas, to beautiful, sweet treats like chocolate mousse and Tres leches.  

The food was delicious! But what made it even better was knowing that the work of the Women’s Fund, hard-working educators and volunteers, and other charitable people throughout our community played a small role in making this new business possible.  

How so? Well, that’s how giving can come full circle.  

Years before she opened Lemon Yellow Latin Bites with her partner, Tahidi Perez moved to the United States from Venezuela and knew she needed to improve her English-speaking skills. A friend told her about free ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, and when Tahidi moved to Tyler, she discovered the Literacy Council of Tyler (LCOT). The Literacy Council of Tyler is one of 29 local nonprofit organizations that the Women’s Fund has supported through our grants program.  

Tahidi enrolled in the organization’s free ESL classes. Later, she became a volunteer for LCOT, working in the language labs with other ESL students, not only helping them to learn, but also improving her own speaking skills.  

Tahidi went on to enroll in other programs offered through LCOT, including its Family Learning Center and entrepreneurial program, where her dream of opening her own small business began to take shape. By the Spring of 2021, Lemon Yellow was underway, soon to open to the public. Our giving circle first met Tahidi then, when she came to speak on behalf of the Literacy Council at our Mother’s Day luncheon. All at once, her story inspired us and informed us of how philanthropy – how our collective giving – really does transform our community.  

This incredible young woman was able to pursue her education, all while building the business of her dreams. Not only is the future bright for this family, but we all get to enjoy a piece of her dream – with each delicious Lemon Yellow Latin Bite!  

By giving Tahidi access to education, our small business community expanded, our city’s cultural palate expanded, and Tahidi’s family is positioned to build on her success.  

Oh, and Tahidi’s business partner? Her name is Cris Berlingeri, and she became a member of the Women’s Fund in 2019, inspired to be a part of our giving circle! As we say at the Women’s Fund, together IS better. 

Giving gifts is always a special experience, even if the moment is short-lived. Many of the gifts we give this year will be ephemeral – the immediate joy isn’t long-lasting. After my five-year-old son tears open his gifts, I am sure the excitement he feels about many of them will fade away with time. There’s nothing wrong with that – these gifts bring joy and build memories and make us all feel special and loved. But gifts like philanthropic support have the power to affect long-lasting change, to address complex social issues, to provide institutional change, to increase the capacities of some of our most valued health and educational institutions, to increase and enrich fine arts experiences in our community, and so much more.  

The impact made by giving full circle goes on and on. And so does our own giving circle, in fact, the Women's Fund of Smith County will announce our 2022 grants soon, on January 20th. As another year draws to a close, we are mindful of the lives already changed all around us, and of those families who are waiting for their miracles. And we are excited to see the full circle impact as it unfolds.  

Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 300 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a giving heart is welcome to join our organization. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org for information about membership and outreach. 

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