By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County

 Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. We are pulled in a thousand different directions and so much clamors for our attention – wish lists, naughty or nice lists, Christmas card lists, advertisements for the must-haves, recipe and decorating tips, end-of-year appeals. Sometimes, it’s hard to listen to our own voice, when everyone and everything else speak so loudly. The Yuletide message becomes deeply personal, though, as each of us longs for something meaningful – a true gift of the season.

“The Greatest Gift” is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 about a man who is dissatisfied with his life and contemplates if it has any real meaning at all. After reading the publication, Frank Capra immediately saw potential and turned the story into a screenplay which he renamed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The iconic movie premiered in New York on December 20, 1946 and will celebrate its 70th anniversary this month.

Because it is so moving and inspiring, watching this film is a holiday tradition for many. A central theme of the plot is captured by George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” If we were to look at Tyler, just as George Bailey looked at Bedford Falls, we would discover how very different this city would be without the lives of many visionaries.

Can you imagine our city without an art museum that draws renowned exhibits from all over the world? It’s hard to picture our community without a hospice program providing compassionate care to patients and to their families. What if there weren’t a place for children in our community to have opportunities to explore their imaginations and expand their knowledge in math and science? Can you fathom our county without a regional blood center whose mission is to provide life-saving resources to area hospitals?

Beginning in 1950 as the Tyler Service League and later becoming the Junior League of Tyler, members of this organization have responded to the needs of our community and worked to make life brighter and better for all citizens. Because of their efforts and foresight, the Tyler Museum of Art, The Hospice of East Texas, The Discovery Science Place and Carter BloodCare all exist and serve with purpose today.

The soul of our community would also feel very differently without the East Texas Symphony Orchestra and the Women’s Symphony League of Tyler, both of which were founded by Gertrude Windsor and others who wanted to bring the gift of music to our area. Mrs. Windsor came into this world with a servant’s heart. Often, she gave food from her back door to the homeless and hungry. In 1984, her vision to create an organization destined to be a safe place for people in need led to the establishment of People Attempting to Help (PATH). Over 30 years later, PATH continues to serve Smith County with programs that empower our neighbors.

Dr. Michael Massar was senior pastor of First Baptist Church Tyler in 1999 when he received a call from a local physician interested in setting up a community clinic at the church. Dr. Massar was inspired. He reached out to other clergy in the area and soon a more ambitious idea developed – a multi-congregation, shared health ministry. Bethesda Health Clinic was born. By the end of 2004, the clinic had logged nearly 4,800 patient visits.

We may not ever be transported through time by a guardian angel, but it is nice, now and then, to be reminded of how meaningful one life is to another. Because of others, our lives are richer – filled with significance, value and even music. That’s what philanthropy is all about. Especially during the holidays, if we look and listen carefully, the love of humanity comes alive. There is a sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing what it means to be human.

Dr. Massar shared the following excerpt with me from a poem by Ernest T. Campbell:

“To be young is to study in schools you did not build.

To be mature is to build schools in which you will not study.

To be young is to sit under trees you did not plant.

To be mature is to plant trees under which you will not sit.

To be young is to dance to music you did not write.

To be mature is to write music to which you will not dance…”

As we give and receive during this time of wonder, may we know what it is to be young and to be mature, and may glad tidings bring meaning to all.

Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. The mission of this collective giving circle is to leverage the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change. The Women’s Fund will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2017 and welcomes new members. Visit for details about membership opportunities and outreach.