Tyler Tomorrow: Maria Kariampuzha – Passion for Philanthropy

by Zoe Lawhorn

When I first met Maria Kariampuzha, it was at one of my first GIVE (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts) meetings, and in the aftermath of the COVID-19) pandemic, our meetings bore all the fingerprints of an era that sent us home in isolation. We chose a large meeting space – indoors, so we moved tables away from each other, we socially distanced, and we wore masks. 

But Maria’s striking beauty and confident joy was obvious. She was excited to be at the meeting with other girls her age, on a Sunday afternoon – focused and genuinely interested. 

As the President of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of my job is working with GIVE, which is a group modeled after the Women’s Fund model of collective giving, designed for high school girls. We meet monthly during the school year to learn about the nonprofit community, the needs and clients they serve, how to fundraise, and how charitable giving makes the work nonprofits do possible.

Maria joined GIVE as a high school sophomore, after her second grade teacher Lisa Ellis encouraged her to join (yes, she’s still in regular contact with her second grade teacher – Maria stays close with the people in her life who’ve impacted her). 

Even earlier, in middle school, Maria’s passion for charitable service was blossoming. She became actively involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) along with her Cross-Country teammates through its annual Great Strides event. Her involvement with CFF was inspired by an older student at her school, Bishop T.K. Gorman, named Grace Knight. Grace has Cystic Fibrosis, making the cause feel personal and close to many in Tyler, especially her fellow students. 

By the time Maria finished high school, she had helped raise over $100,000 for research through fundraising activities that included team t-shirt and popsicle and ice cream sandwich sales. She went on to serve as an advocate for CFF, traveling to Washington D. C., and meeting with members of Congress at Capitol Hill to discuss the needs of Cystic Fibrosis patients. 

Maria says that these early experiences with the nonprofit world began to form her passion for helping others through service. However, the nonprofit world is just one of many interests and experiences that have helped shape this young woman’s life and personality. 

She is currently a freshman at Texas A&M University, majoring in Business Administration in Business Honors, with a Pre-Medical Minor. During high school, Maria ran cross country and track, played basketball, and achieved a lengthy list of academic accomplishments, including graduating as the class Valedictorian. She loves storytelling and earned the National Scholastic Art and Writing Silver Key and Honorable Mention. 

Although she has a substantial academic load as a freshman at Texas A&M, Maria works as a Chemistry Supplemental Instructor, leading an average of 80 students each week by introducing “active and collaborative learning strategies.” She has served as interns for both Merrill Lynch and the University of Texas at Tyler Health Sciences Center, and she also continues to work as a private tutor. She is Director of Philanthropic Events for Delta Gamma sorority at Texas A&M.

Her passion for advocacy remains a priority, alongside her academics. Maria is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ripple Effect, which is still in its early phases but was inspired in part by Maria’s experience with GIVE. 

She explains that over the summer of 2023, she enjoyed an opportunity to spend some time in a quieter atmosphere. Maria was attending summer classes, but the activity level on campus was less hectic; there were fewer people around, and she had time to reflect on her goals beyond academics. She was inspired by the women who mentored her through GIVE, and she still felt compelled to start her own organization that could inform and inspire other girls. 

One night, she shared her vision with a friend over the phone. “This organization would encourage philanthropy, inspire young girls, and show them how to put actions in motion to give back to their community,” says Maria. “I wanted to create change, and I wanted to do it not because it was required or looked good on a resume. I wanted to do something I was passionate about for the good of others.”

After her friend encouraged her to start her own nonprofit, Maria (always a collaborator) asked her friend to help co-found Ripple Effect, and the two are well on their way. 

“Although we are still early in our endeavor, we have taken significant steps, including filing for our nonprofit corporation status, building a team, initiating outreach, and crafting a plan to educate the next generation. The name refers to positive actions that no matter how small, have the potential to touch many lives. Throughout this process, I realized the importance of purpose and authenticity, especially in acts of charity. There should be a thoughtful motive and sincere desire behind acts of service.” 

Focused on the future, Maria is acutely aware of how her past informs her decisions and activities today. She has been greatly influenced and inspired by her family, especially her mother,  father, grandmother, and her siblings. She says that this strong family bond is a big part of why she wants to help mentor others. 

In addition to her developing work in the nonprofit world, Maria hopes to combine her love for business and science by finding a career path forward that enables her to help others through policy work and advocacy. She says she loves the collaborative nature of business and also feels a desire to help others through the healthcare system. 

Maria is also the first GIVE member to become a member of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. In her own words, Maria acknowledges that her path forward may be an innovation in the traditional world where business meets medicine. 

“In reflecting on my endeavors, it was imperative for me to recognize that the greatest accomplishments aren’t always measured by traditional standards of success–a realization that was hard for me to come to terms with. I know that my most significant achievement in college doesn’t fit the conventional mold. Rather, it is rooted in the deeply personal and introspective process of reevaluating my motivations—making sure that my actions stem from a genuine love for others.” 

Everyone who knows Maria Kariampuzha is excited about what tomorrow holds for this impressive collaborator who genuinely leads with love.