To Listen is to Learn

By Kristen Seeber
Women's Fund of Smith County

The calendar reminds us – fall, officially, is here. Football season is well underway, schedules are settling into a different rhythm, and local retailers are counting down to the holidays. But it’s back-to-school that really marks the beginning of autumn.

As a young girl, I could not wait for the first day of school. I loved the smell of new crayons and mimeograph ink. I loved picking out a new lunchbox, a new outfit and brand-new shoes. With fingers crossed, my best friends and I would hope to be in the same class with the favorite teacher. Like many of my friends, I would spend hours playing school at home. Our basement became my classroom, complete with a chalkboard and dolls and stuffed animals sitting in rows. One year for Christmas, all I wanted was an overhead projector.

Excitement for the first day of school turned to dread, as the fall of 1976 loomed. My family moved from Carroll, Iowa to Tyler, Texas in July of that year. Aside from the oppressive heat, I was most overwhelmed by the realization I would be attending Hubbard Junior High School knowing no one but my younger sister. As we anxiously climbed out of the car that morning of the first day, our father gave us one word of advice, “Listen.”

Eighth grade began for me in a homeroom that felt nothing like home. It was a portable building, filled with unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar voices. There was not a trace of Texas in the way I dressed, nor in the way I talked. So, I was relieved to follow my father’s counsel and simply listen, not wanting to draw attention to myself.

With no assigned seating, I found an obscure desk toward the back of the room. The pretty girl in front of me turned around and, with a bright smile, asked my name. I remember replying with barely a whisper, and then our teacher began to call roll. As Ms. Williams went down the list, she asked each student who their locker partner would be. For once in my life, I was thankful to be at the end of the alphabet – Witt, Kristen. Susan Gottshalk’s name was called early. She answered, “Here,” turning around to me again with her bright smile and said, “I’ll share a locker with Kristen.”

Though I’ve told her many times over the years, I don’t think Susan will ever fully understand how her smile has stayed with me, how her kindness still gives me courage. To this day, I can feel loneliest in a place surrounded by people. It’s there I remember her gentle gesture. Susan listened to me. She heard me say more than my name. She heard my hope for a friend and a wish – not just to fit in, but to belong.

I am grateful, now, to live in a community that listens. I am grateful to belong to the Women’s Fund of Smith County, an organization which values the meaning of philanthropy – love of humankind. Through an impactful grants process, we are committed to transforming the lives of women and children - all of whom long to be heard. Presently, we are listening to project requests from area nonprofits striving to answer the call by expanding their services or by launching new and innovative advancements. In our circle of givers, we listen to one another. Each of us has a vote for which grants we award annually, and it is through our grants we hope to give voice to others.  

 Susan Gottshalk is a treasured friend, along with many others I met that year at Hubbard Junior High School. Then, and now, they have made me feel less alone. My dad always did offer the best advice. It’s when we listen – to the word spoken or to the sound of silence - that we learn to love and to give well.

Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 300 women. The current grant cycle is underway. Member voting begins in October for the 2020 grants to be awarded to area nonprofits whose projects will impact the lives of women and children in our community. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for information about mission and outreach. 

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