The Heart of Our Mission

by Zoe Lawhorn

The heart of the mission of the Women’s Fund of Smith County is our Grants program. Every member makes her pledge and then casts her vote for projects that enrich the lives of women and children in Smith County. Together, our individual gifts can make a big, collective impact, and this year, the Women’s Fund awarded $247,500 to four nonprofits whose groundbreaking work is changing the lives of our neighbors and friends.

The WFSC was created in 2007 as a collective giving circle. As members of the organization, over 300 women benefit from education on community issues and best practices in philanthropy, as well as by participating in the annual grants process. Since 2007, we have awarded over 2.5 million dollars to 30 different Smith County agencies through the simple and yet powerful concept of collective giving.

This year’s grants include an award of $50,000 to CASA for Kids of East Texas for its Teen Foster Youth Project. When a child is removed from his/her home and enters the Child Welfare System, a judge may appoint a CASA advocate to become a support system for that child. In most cases, the goal is to facilitate safe reunification for children and their families; when reunification isn’t possible, the child may grow up in foster care. 

Teens in foster care have unique needs, especially as they face the challenges of what happens when they must leave foster care. In far too many cases, these teens leave the system only to endure terrible outcomes including homelessness, drug dependency, sex trafficking, and criminal activity. 

CASA for Kids of East Texas is uniquely positioned to address the needs of these teens. Through the Teen Foster Youth Project, CASA will provide consistent and trusted support to these kids, as they make their way into adulthood and the world beyond the foster care system.

Our second award of $50,000 was given to Cook Children’s Health Foundation to fund its Tyler Specialty Clinic Infusion Space. While Smith County has a tremendous medical community that provides outstanding health care, this community was lacking an area that provides critical care to pediatric patients. Today, children who need infusion treatments must travel to other cities in order to receive care. 

Travel creates significant challenges to families who must take off work, arrange childcare, and overcome other obstacles including travel expenses in order to make repeated trips, not to mention the physical strain traveling places on the children.

By creating the Tyler Specialty Clinic Infusion Space here in Tyler, children will soon receive the care they need close to home.

Our third grant of $50,000 funded Social Emotional Learning Integration through the Mentoring Alliance. The Women’s Fund believes that an effective way to change the community is by serving the needs of children – over time, by improving their lives, our entire community improves. The Mentoring Alliance provides childcare during critical periods of the day, including after school, when so many parents are at work and not able to pick up their kids.

Currently, 26% of Smith County households are single parent. A growing number of the children in Smith County are considered “at-risk”, in fact 65% of children in Smith County fall into this category. 

Increasingly, “Social Emotional Learning or SEL” is recognized as a critical tool for educators and childcare specialists. SEL helps children learn how to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, and so much more. We are proud that the Mentoring Alliance can utilize funding from this grant to integrate SEL into its existing programs for children.

Our final 2022 Grant was awarded to Next Step Community Solutions. Research shows that growing numbers of individuals of all ages face significant mental health challenges and need support in order to lead healthy lives. As many as 20% of students have behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues that require counseling or treatment. Of these youth, more than 80% never receive any mental health care for their issues and 10% go on to drop out of school.

Next Step Community Solutions offers a wide spectrum of services including comprehensive counseling in local schools. The Women’s Fund of Smith County is proud to partner with Next Step in expanding its Suicide Prevention and Resilience programing with a grant of $97,500 to address the needs of younger students to change unhealthy norms, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying, and substance abuse.

The 2023 Women’s Fund of Smith County grant cycle will begin in May, with a newly updated training seminar for area nonprofits to learn more about the funding criteria and applicant guidelines. We invite nonprofits to join us and learn more about our grants process on May 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at The Genecov Room in Tyler. You can learn more about the Women’s Fund and our grants process on our website, www.womensfundsc.org.

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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