By Marty Wiggins
Guest Columnist
Women’s Fund of Smith County

Silence – it’s the sound most often heard when a child is abused.  On August 25, 2016, the Women’s Fund of Smith County used the power of community education to recognize that silence and to help give a voice to children placed in prostitution and sexual trafficking.

More than 100 individuals filled a conference room to hear about this real and growing tragedy:  the prostitution and trafficking of children and teens in Smith County.  The “Out of the Darkness” community issues forum was groundbreaking in its subject, but also in its ability to convey the importance of education in women’s philanthropy.

The Women’s Fund – through its annual grants program that benefits women and children – interacts with a multitude of area agencies.  Within these discussions and grant applications, important (and often heartbreaking) social issues in our own community are continually identified.  This information is vital to the Women’s Fund’s mission of leveraging women’s philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change – and to its 240 members participating in this collective giving and grant-making circle.

Colleen Willoughby, one of the national mentors in women’s collective giving has said:  “You can’t respond if you don’t know.  Our goal is to move philanthropy beyond charity – give it purpose and reason.  Education is at the core of what the women’s collective giving movement is all about.”

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is faithfully working to advance this philosophy.  Due to the success of the “Out of the Darkness” forum on child sex trafficking, the Women’s Fund will extend that topic on Sept. 21 in its next community issues forum.

“Internet of Darkness” will shine a light on how the Web is ensnaring minds and destroying lives in Smith County and what can be done to protect children, teens and adults.  The event will feature Marisa Miller from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Texas; Brenda McBride, LCSW, from the ETMC Behavioral Health Center; and Kenny Rigsby with For the Silent.  In addition to these speakers, “Internet of Darkness” will supply participants with resources to help them identify and respond to the many hazards associated with the Internet.

“We know that clear change cannot occur until concerned individuals understand the issues and how we can take targeted actions to make a difference,” said Tiffany Kirgan, chair of the Women’s Fund’s Education Committee.  “The Women’s Fund is committed to offering educational programs for our members, their guests and the community-at-large – so that together we can be informed and inspired.”

She added that education is essential to effectively growing charitable giving.  Along with community issues forums, the Women’s Fund offers seminars on best practices in philanthropy for women and families, as well as other opportunities to learn about community challenges and see solutions at work.

“In addition to collectively giving of their personal resources, our members align by voting each year regarding the high-impact grants for programs that will benefit women and children,” said Kristen Seeber, president/CEO of the Women’s Fund of Smith County.  “The grant-making process requires hours of study on the part of the Grants Committee, as well as agency site visits and extensive discussion.”

As the time comes for the grant priority votes, all members receive education on the areas of need and proposed grant programs.  Then, in the years following a grant award, the Women’s Fund strives to measure long-term outcomes through the Community Impact Committee’s work.  This February, the Women’s Fund’s cumulative total in grants awarded reached and exceeded the $1 million milestone, accomplished in just nine years of grant making.

Education can be credited as central to this dynamic circle of learning, giving and charting change.  As Colleen Willoughby’s words continually remind us:  “You can’t respond if you don’t know.”  For members of the Women’s Fund, this means seeking to break the silence, to know the issues that impact our community and to then share what we learn in a spirit of collaboration and hope.

The Women’s Fund of Smith County invites you to “Internet of Darkness,” a community issues forum set for Thursday, Sept. 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the ETMC Pavilion conference center.  For information and registration, call 903-509-1771 or visit  Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and is the Immediate Past Board Chair of the Women’s Fund of Smith County.