By Marty Wiggins
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 Women’s Fund of Smith County believes that “together is better,” so much so that those words are in the opening line of our mission statement. As a collective giving circle, our members give together, serve together and help transform our community together through high-impact grants awarded annually. While this unity is at the heart of our work, it’s important to remember that individuals make the choice to make a difference.
This message was recently conveyed emotionally in the words of Trisha Meili, the keynote speaker at the Women’s Fund’s Power of the Purse luncheon held last November. Trisha became known throughout the world in 1989 as the Central Park Jogger, after she pulled into the Central Park woods, then brutally beaten, raped and left for dead. As Trisha notes, her story is distinctly divided, with the incident (while horrific) ultimately being overshadowed by human kindness and love.
“There was an outpouring of support. Every individual who took that extra step was crucial to my recovery,” said Trisha, as she shared illustrative stories of specific people who made a difference. These accounts also are included in her book, “I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility.” As Trisha notes early on in the book, “My story is not essentially about violence in the cities nor the success or failure of our criminal justice system. Nor is it about vengeance or hate. Rather it is about the capacity of the human body and spirit to heal.”
For Trisha, the healing process began while she was still in the emergency room, in critical condition with severe blood loss, a traumatic brain injury and the coma that would last for two weeks. Doctors and nurses provided expert medical care, but also talked to her and told her that should would make it through. One nurse later emailed her to relay “I held your hand until you had to go to the ICU.” Although Trish has no memory for a span of about six weeks, she believes that on some level those communications of kindness surpassed unconsciousness, bolstering her will to live.
Cards, letters and gifts poured in from all over the world through Trisha’s lengthy acute care and rehabilitation from traumatic brain injury, in which she had to re-learn to walk, talk and overall function. Family members read the letters and notes aloud to her, seeing how important it was for her to hear those messages.
Then a FedEx package arrived, just days before Trisha left inpatient hospital care, containing a medal from the New York City Marathon. “This is for you,” wrote the runner from White Plains, New York, who had not participated in a marathon for six years. But Trisha’s story inspired him that year, “so that you could have this medal as you come closer to finishing your own marathon.” Trisha carries the medal with her to this day. “It enabled me to see myself as a survivor – and that itself really did help me to heal,” she says.
Another individual who played a distinct role in Trisha’s recovery was the man who coached the Achilles Track Club chapter for persons with disabilities that met at her rehabilitation center. With his encouragement to run the quarter-mile loop “track” through the Gaylord Hospital’s parking lot, she decided to try. What she accomplished with that first short run seemed monumental. “It felt so good. I felt like I had conquered the world,” she explains. “I was taking back something that had been taken away.”
Before the attack, Trisha was working in corporate finance with Salomon Brothers in New York City. Anyone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury fears the return to daily life and work. For Trisha, other guardian angels appeared in the form of the leadership team behind the extraordinary efforts on the part of Salomon. As Trisha advanced to outpatient rehabilitation, she found that Salomon had arranged for a small cubicle with desk, computer, printer and filing cabinet to be in her room, all designed to give her the sense that she was back at work. They even attached a small sign with the company’s logo and the words “Connecticut Branch.” She noted, “It was a wonderful example of a company truly responding from the heart . . . they gave me hope.”
In her book, Trisha relays how the meaning of power broadened during her recovery: “The power of touch, for example, and the power of intention. The power of the body and the power of the mind. The power of doing. The power of no resentment. All of these were shown to me during my rehabilitation.”
As the Women’s Fund begins a new year, so do each of us. As individual women, we must take the first step to truly see others, to love them and encourage them. As individual women, we have the power to make a difference in our community and world. And, as Trisha Meili’s story shows, when we combine forces, our individual efforts beautifully blend into a tremendous force for serving well and giving well.
The Women’s Fund of Smith County – a giving circle of more than 275 women – believes that “together is better” as we help transform the lives of women and children through collective giving and high-impact grants. Membership is open to any woman with a giving heart, so please visit www.womensfundsc.org or call 903-509-1771 for information. Marty Wiggins is a Past Chair of the Women’s Fund and professionally provides fundraising counsel to charitable organizations.