Meaningful Relationships Lead to Meaningful Community Impact

By Johnna Fullen
Women’s Fund of Smith County

Simply stated, Mother’s Day is a hard day for me.  The turning point in my life, or the so-called fork in the road, was when I lost my mother unexpectedly days after her 51st birthday.  At the time, I was 26 years old.  We were close and she was (and still is) the most influential woman in my life.  When she passed away that dreaded Saturday morning, I was shocked and devastated. 

Eight years later, I lost my Daddy.  Without going in to a lot of detail, I may mention it was a tough eight years!  I experienced several other significant life events during this time, including inheriting a business with my brother, having a spouse diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, experiencing a divorce from that spouse, supporting a child losing her father at age 8, and the loss of my sweet grandmother, Nonnie.  My Nonnie has also been very influential in my life.

At a relatively young age, I felt a hefty dose of grief and sadness – including all that comes with it - through circumstances and losing influential female role models in my life.  I recognize that I am not alone in loss, grief or sadness. Many have traveled down this unwelcomed path but, if I am honest, it sure seems unbearable and lonely when it’s happening to you! 

Because I can now reflect back on this portion of my personal journey, I believe I know what true joy and appreciation can mean in life.  I thank God and the many kind and supportive people that carried me through this time, and I am especially humble and grateful for the gifts I have in my life today. 

As I look back at that challenging eight-year period of my life, my burden was lessened by the fact that I had been blessed with resources which allowed my daughter and me to get the help we needed.  For example, I had received a college education and had a good job with supportive coworkers.  I had financial resources to move out during my divorce and provide a safe home for us.  Additionally, I could afford to seek counseling for both of us, as needed.  All of these were beneficial and helped ease the sadness and suffering I was experiencing at the time.

As I have learned through my involvement with the Women’s Fund of Smith County, many women and children need help getting additional support to get through tough circumstances.  Unlike my experience, they may find themselves with no support system or resources at all.

Once I was in a good place in my life again, I spent some time praying and searching my heart for how to give back and how to help others.  I wanted to share the resources I had been given in a meaningful way.  Women and children were on my heart.  I kept thinking, what if I had not been able to get the help I needed along the way?  What if I had not had the resources?  Although still tough, perhaps the journey would have been even harder?  Perhaps my story would be different today?

For me, the answer came through my involvement with the Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Through my membership, I was able to help women and children in the community which I live.  By participating in the grants process, grants-in-action visits, and listening to brave speakers at events, I have seen firsthand that many women in our community are experiencing much tougher circumstances than I ever have, and I am thankful to be a small part of making their lives easier. 

Because of my membership, I was able to be part of giving a grant to East Texas Crisis Center for a job preparation program for women.  A grant to Habitat for Humanity of Smith County provided women and children with safe housing.  And, a grant to Next Step Community Solutions helped expand a counseling program for children.  These are only a few examples.

In addition to participating in a collective giving circle that gives impactful grants to benefit women and children, I also get to share the experience with the over 300 women that are also members of the Women’s Fund of Smith County.  This is important to me.  You see, I have an emptiness having lost the most influential women in my life. And, because of my involvement with the Women’s Fund of Smith County over the last several years, I have built amazing and inspiring relationships with some of the strongest and most generous women of all ages and backgrounds.  They have taken me in and cheered me on.  Together, we have laughed and cried, as we join our hearts to share our time and treasure to help others.  The members of the Women’s Fund of Smith County have been my inspiration to continue to pay it forward.

Due to the recent pandemic, we will miss being together for our annual Mother’s Day Luncheon in May. At this Luncheon, we traditionally have the opportunity, as members, to honor or remember some of the most influential women in our lives.  I am proud to share……. the membership of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, collectively, are some of the “most influential women in my life.”

Thank you to the membership of the Women’s Fund of Smith County for being my inspiration and an inspiration to each other and to our community.  Thank you for working hard for nonprofits and individuals in need.  Thank you for speaking loudly for important causes through your treasure, words of encouragement and positive actions.

Mother’s Day is a hard day for me.  After almost 17 years, I still feel the impact and sadness from losing my mother; however, my family, friends and the work I am blessed to be a part of through my membership with the Women’s Fund of Smith County, helps to fill the void.  I desire for something good to come from what I experienced.  I desire to inspire and help others.  I desire to pay it forward.

I want you to know that any woman with a giving heart is invited to join the Women’s Fund of Smith County.  My membership has changed my life for the better.  Please join our giving circle and let it change yours.

Johnna Fullen, Financial Advisor with The LMT Group of Merrill Lynch, serves as Board Chair of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org to learn more about this collective giving circle which transforms our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children.

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