By Marty Wiggins

Guest Columnist

EDITOR’S NOTE:  “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.

“The Ultimate Gift” is a little gem of a movie.  Although a film you’ve possibly never seen or even heard of, its message rings true during the holidays or any time of year.  For moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, I encourage you to watch this movie or read “The Ultimate Gift” book by Jim Stovall, when thinking about the gifts that can make a lasting difference in young lives.

The premise:  Business tycoon and family patriarch Howard “Red” Stevens (played to perfection by James Garner) is only seen on a series of video messages he crafted exclusively for his great-nephew, Jason Stevens.  A reckless trust-fund baby – living in the fast lane followed by “friends” who follow his money – Jason is hoping for a big inheritance upon Red’s passing.  Instead, Red’s trusted friend and attorney plays the first tape in a series as Red begins “talking from the grave” directly to Jason:

“Although your life to date seems to be a sorry excuse for anything I would call promising, there does seem to be some spark of something in you I am hoping we can capture and fan into a flame.  . . . On the first of each month for the next year, you will meet with (my attorney) and be given one element of what I call the ultimate gift.  If you stay the course over the next year, and embrace element by element, at that point you will be the recipient of the most significant bequest I can leave you through my will.”

From there, a resentful Jason begins the frustrating journey to discovery based on the ultimate question:  what is the relationship between wealth and happiness?

When the first day of the next month rolls around, Jason Stevens arrives at the attorney’s office, slumps in a conference room chair and watches the next video play.  Red Stevens talks about the satisfaction that comes from a simple four-letter word – WORK – and the fact that his personal wealth robbed Jason and his entire family from the satisfaction that comes from an honest day’s work.  He instructs Jason that his first task will take place on a ranch outside Alpine Texas.

On his starting day at the ranch, owner Gus Caldwell introduces Jason to Fence Post 101, as he shows him how to dig a post hole, set the post and string the wire in a straight line.  It’s hard, back-breaking work, complete with sunburn and exhaustion. But an amazing transformation takes place over four weeks.

Gus notes, “Your great-uncle and I discovered nearly sixty years ago that if you can do this kind of work with pride and quality, then you can do anything.  I think you’ve learned your lesson.”  That lesson, of course, includes the adage that he who loves his work never labors.

Over the next months, Jason takes on assignments regarding Money, Friends, Learning, Problems, Family, Laughter, Dreams, Giving, Gratitude, A Day and Love.  In the course of the year, he meets a young girl with leukemia (played by young actress Abigail Breslin) and her mom.  Their story becomes his story, too, as it plays an integral role in his journey.

I’ll stop the story there, but hope you will take the time to see the movie or read the book.  By the end, great-uncle Red Stevens does provide Jason with “The Ultimate Gift” that dramatically changes his life.  In one of his videos, Red notes:  “One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was when I gave everyone in our family everything they thought they ever wanted.  Only as an old man did I come to learn that all happiness comes from the gifts that God gives us.”

Writer Jim Stovall adds, “In the end, a person is only known by the impact he or she has on others, and life lived to its fullest is its own ultimate gift.”

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is pleased to help influence young lives through GIVE:  Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts, which is open to high school junior and senior girls.  Over the course of a school year, these young ladies study area non-profit organizations, raise funds and then award a grant after discussion and a group vote.  In 2014, their funding went to Refuge of Light and in 2015 to The Magdalene Home.  We are proud of the GIVE girls as they journey towards “the ultimate gift.”

You have a chance to support the GIVE program on Dec. 14 at Raising Cane’s located at 4186 on S. Broadway.  The restaurant will donate 15 percent of the sales from all patrons who mention “GIVE” when ordering. 

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Membership in The Women’s Fund is open to any women who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle that leverages women’s philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change.  Visit for more information.