Give Well: The heart of our mission | Lifestyle

The heart of the Smith County Women’s Fund mission is our grant program. Each member makes her pledge and then votes for projects that enrich the lives of women and children in Smith County. Together, our individual donations can have a big collective impact, and this year, the Women’s Fund awarded $247,500 to four nonprofit organizations whose innovative work is changing the lives of our neighbors and friends.

The WFSC was created in 2007 as a collective donation circle. As members of the organization, more than 300 women benefit from education on community issues and best practices in philanthropy, in addition to participating in the annual grant process. Since 2007, we have awarded more than $2.5 million to 30 different Smith County agencies through the simple yet powerful concept of crowdfunding.

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

Teens in foster care have unique needs, especially when faced with the challenges of what happens when they must leave foster care. In too many cases, these teens leave the system only to suffer dire 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 Adolescent Foster Youth Project, CASA will provide consistent and reliable support to these children as they make their way to adulthood and the world beyond the foster care system.

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Our second prize of $50,000 was awarded to the Cook Children’s Health Foundation to fund their Tyler Specialty Clinic Infusion Space. While Smith County has a large medical community that provides outstanding medical care, this community lacked an area that provided critical care for pediatric patients. Today, children who need infusion treatments must travel to other cities for care.

Traveling creates significant challenges for families who must take time off from work, organize childcare, and overcome other obstacles, including travel expenses for repeated trips, not to mention the physical strain traveling puts on children.

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

Our third $50,000 grant funded the integration of social emotional learning through the Mentoring Alliance. The Women’s Fund believes that an effective way to change the community is to address the needs of children; over time, by improving their lives, our entire community improves. The Mentoring Alliance provides child care during critical periods of the day, including after school, when so many parents are at work and unable to pick up their children.

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

Increasingly, “Social Emotional Learning or SEL” is being recognized as a critical tool for early care educators and specialists. SEL helps children learn how to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, and much more. We are proud that the Mentoring Alliance is able to use the funds from this grant to integrate SEL into their existing programs for children.

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Our final 2022 grant was awarded to Next Step Community Solutions. Research shows that a growing number of people of all ages are facing significant mental health challenges and need support to lead healthy lives. Up to 20% of students have behavioral, emotional and mental health problems that require counseling or treatment. Of these youth, more than 80% never receive mental health care for their problems and 10% drop out of school.

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

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

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— 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 to transform our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a generous heart is welcome to join our organization. please visit www.womensfundsc.org for membership and outreach information.

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