As a nonprofit worker, I can’t wear my heart on my sleeve; but if I did, you’d see the fissures of heartache running across it like a road map. You see, there is so much sadness in this world, so much lack — it seems that every day, my heart breaks at least once for someone I don’t know and may never meet. How can I live mission-driven, knowing I can’t possibly meet the need out there?
It was probably in high school, that I began to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders — the need, the hunger, the lack of opportunity — that so many around me faced, and for a long time, I just lived with that sadness.
When I left home for college, I was suddenly in a community very different from my hometown of Tyler. Need was no longer an idea in abstract, it was sitting in front of me on the curb. It made me uncomfortable at busy intersections, and deliberately got in my way when I walked to class. Need scared me sometimes; it left me feeling helpless, sad and a little indignant about how much I had — why should I feel bad about the opportunities that I enjoyed, that came into my life like a flood?
I remember the first gift I gave, the first time I reacted to the heartbreaking lack that was all around me. I was leaving a restaurant after a laughter-filled dinner with friends, when I noticed a man lying on a blanket near my car. I paused to see if he’d noticed me, curiously intruding his space, but his eyes were closed and he didn’t move. I quietly laid my box of leftovers near his hands and turned to walk away. Then I heard him very quietly say, “Thank you,” and his words seemed to settle right into the space where I carried my sadness.
Had I given a gift?
Was it enough? Was it somehow disrespectful to give a man my leftover food? My simple act of kindness wasn’t enough to soothe the aching feeling I had that my attempt to help was inadequate. And yet somehow, I believed that it was better to act than to pass by another person in need.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that giving takes as many shapes and forms as need does. And it’s true — on my own, I can’t even begin to solve the world’s problems. But doing what I can — no matter how large or small — has become the salve that binds back those daily heartbreaks and emboldens me to believe that even my small portion is changing the world.
There is a miracle described in the Bible where Jesus transforms a child’s humble lunch into a miraculous feast for multitudes of hungry seekers, pilgrims gathered in the desert in search of good news. There were too many of them, and the need was too great, and yet the child’s gift of seven loaves and two fishes conquered the hunger of the crowd.
I have experienced something similar as a member of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. As I give my humble portion, so do 315 other women; suddenly, we have a miraculous, transformative gift to give the community.
Since 2009, when the Women’s Fund of Smith County awarded its first grants, we’ve given $1,672,293 to local nonprofits that are not only dedicated to changing the lives of those in need in our community but are equipped with the expertise and unique body of knowledge to make the most impact and change with our support. I have played a role in providing healthy food to our community’s children through Tyler Day Nursery; helped to rebuild the lives of battered women by preparing them to re-enter the workforce through the East Texas Crisis Center; expanded the Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County’s SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Exam) program; and provided Career Pathways training to women through the Literacy Council of Tyler, just to name a few.
Through my membership with the Women’s Fund of Smith County, I have changed the lives of women and children I will never meet, but I celebrate their untold victories with my friends in this powerful and infinite circle of giving.
The healing power of giving is so great that it’s more than enough to meet the critical need — it’s also enough to heal and transform those of us who give together. Giving empowers us and emboldens us to believe that we harness the great power to change lives. Because, we do.
Zoe Lawhorn is the director of development for Literacy Council of Tyler. She is an active member of the Women’s Fund of Smith County and currently serves on its Membership Committee. To learn more about transformative giving through this grant-making circle of more than 300 women, visit www.womensfundsc.org.