By Beth Filla
Women’s Fund of Smith County

It is now December, crunch time for my gift-planning. Like so many others, I find myself getting stressed and running all over town (and all over Amazon), looking for just the right gifts to give to family and friends. After all, I want presents to be meaningful. But, it’s hard to really know how a gift will impact a person. I used to think that gift cards were so impersonal, until watching my own children get excited about picking out something from the store and using their own card to pay for it!

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is just as focused on making sure our gifts of grants are meaningful for partner organizations and the clients whom they serve. We want our grants to be transformative.  We want to know if and how our grants have made changes in the lives of people in our community. We love to talk with our nonprofit partners and hear about the gifts that had significant impact.

In our first round of grants in 2009, the WFSC partnered with TISD to expand the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program to 4th and 5th grade students at elementary school campuses.  Today, AVID is on every middle school and high school campus in TISD, as well as four elementary schools (Jones, Clarkston, Dixie, TJ Austin). Additionally, Hubbard middle school is a national AVID demonstration campus – the only one in East Texas!! Educators from all over the country come to Tyler to visit Hubbard and see how AVID programming is integrated into all aspects of campus life. When asked about the role the WFSC had in this program expansion, Ms. Jones stated, “It is so important to have community partners who share in the mission of the program, and who ask insightful questions that hold us accountable to program outcomes.”

In 2013, Young Audiences of Northeast Texas received a grant from the WFSC to expand their “dance for life” program for middle school girls. This program continues to be hugely popular at Moore and Hogg middle schools. Before Dogan middle school was closed, they also hosted the Young Audiences dance program. One of the captains for the TJC Apache Belles is a former student of this program. She started with Young Audiences as an activity in middle school; she loved it so much that she continued with drill team at John Tyler high school and now in college. Without Young Audiences, she would not have had the chance to obtain the incredible leadership, academic, and athletic opportunities afforded to her through dance and drill teams.

Young Audiences is also now implementing a dance program at Winona middle school because of the WFSC. The principal in Winona was an assistant at Moore middle school when YA received funding and began the program at Moore. He saw the impact the dance program had on girls and asked them to replicate it in Winona. Funding from WFSC has given Young Audiences a platform from which other schools and school districts can see the benefits of arts in school curriculums.

Another example of unanticipated impact is from the after-school program of the Salvation Army. Started in 2012 with a grant from the WFSC, this program had continued for 6 years before being cut due to budget constraints. Throughout this time, the program benefited the kids at the SA shelter, as well as kids from surrounding neighborhoods, providing them with safe after-school care, homework assistance (with tutors from TISD), chorale/music lessons, and adults that cared about their success. A couple of the kids even became involved with the Salvation Army Command Center’s band (in Dallas). Students in the program were able to improve grades, namely because of the tutoring and mentoring provided by the program – outcomes that one would hope for from an after school program. One of the surprise impact stories from this program was of a grandmother who came in to sign up for the Angel Tree program, as she had become the caregiver for her grandkids. She mentioned to staff that she was not able to find a job because she needed to be home after school was out for her grandkids. After enrolling the kids into the after-school program, she found a job and has been able to provide a stable environment for her grandkids.

All of these stories are wonderful illustrations of how you may never know the true significance of a gift or the impact a gift can have. In this time of holiday stress, rejoice in just sharing with others – maybe it’s just a coffee with a friend or a gift to a child through an Angel tree program. No matter how big or small, your gift will have ripple effects that you may never anticipate, which truly is the joy of giving!

Beth Filla, Donor Relations Specialist at East Texas Communities Foundation, has been a member of the Women’s Fund of Smith County since 2009 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. For more information about mission and impact, please visit