We hear it often or have said it ourselves, “Tyler is such a great place to call home.” What is it about our city that makes it so special? Of course, there are many answers - the size, the beauty, the history. I’m certain most of us would agree, though, that the best answer is the people.
Our family moved to Tyler in July 1976. Coming from the Midwest, we first were overwhelmed by the heat, then by the friendliness. I remember my mother being almost startled the first time she went to the grocery store. She was greeted with boisterous hellos from complete strangers as she was given her shopping cart. Aside from my sister, I did not know a soul when I walked into Hubbard Junior High School. Before homeroom period ended, I had a locker partner and friends I hold dear to this day.
Our city is indeed a place of good, kind people doing good, kind deeds. Together, we build community. In 1986, social psychologists McMillan and Chavis formed a theory as to how communities work. They called it “Sense of Community.” Their theory is described in one sentence: “Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”
According to McMillan and Chavis, there are four elements that contribute to a sense of community: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. Membership is sharing a sense of personal relatedness. Influence speaks to the concept of giving first before asking for anything. The theory states that “people who acknowledge that others’ needs, values, and opinions matter to them are often the most influential group members.” Integration and fulfillment of needs create a feeling of being rewarded for participation in the community. The definitive element for true community is shared emotional connection. All healthy communities have a story - a history of experiences together and a belief there will be more experiences together in the future.
I love the sense of community in our town. We do have a feeling of belonging here, that we matter to one another, trusting that our needs will be met. Ours is a story of strength and benevolence. Real life characters share an emotional connection and understand that no gift is too small or too ordinary. Both the giver and the receiver are integral to the solution, as the gift goes on to make a difference in a life today and in a life tomorrow.
Members of the Women’s Fund are proud to be a part of the story. At our upcoming Power of the Purse luncheon, we will celebrate the impact of our grants and the close relationships we have forged with nonprofit agencies to create positive change in the lives of Smith County women and children. Internationally recognized speaker and author, Carol Weisman, will bring the keynote address “Live the Give – How Women Are Raising Charitable Communities.” This event will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how philanthropy adds vibrancy and purpose to our sense of community.
Deep down, we all yearn for a place to feel safe and secure. When we give, we help others, and ourselves, find home. There really is no better place to be.
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle. The Women’s Fund will celebrate its ninth annual Power of the Purse Luncheon Tuesday. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for details on this event and for information about membership.