In My Own Backyard

The Texas Story Project.

A native of McAllen, Texas herself, Melissa Smith has had quite a successful career. Melissa is a retired co-owner/Vice President of Frank Smith Sales, Inc. and a former educator. She has served and continues to serve on multiple boards to give back to her community.
A native of McAllen, Texas herself, Melissa Smith has had quite a successful career. Melissa is a retired co-owner/Vice President of Frank Smith Sales, Inc. and a former educator. She has served and continues to serve on multiple boards to give back to her community.

According to Texas Oncology, approximately 10,590 U.S. children are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2018. In Texas, more than 1,700 children under the age of 20 are diagnosed with cancer and almost 200 die annually.

In the border town of McAllen, Texas a small clinic was built with the sole intention to respond to the critical and unmet need for pediatric cancer care and treatment in the Rio Grande Valley. This clinic is the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic. This clinic serves as a branch of the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas and treats children all the way from Rio Grande City to Brownsville, and even Corpus Christi. In her adult life, Melissa Smith has made it her mission to do everything in her power to bring awareness and donations to this clinic. A native of McAllen, Texas herself, Melissa Smith has had quite a successful career. Melissa is a retired co-owner/Vice President of Frank Smith Sales, Inc. and a former educator. Melissa has served and continues to serve on multiple boards to give back to her community. These boards include the Make A Wish Foundation Board, the Vannie E Cook Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic/Foundation Board, and the Sharyland ISD School Board where she currently serves as President.

Melissa feels as though God has called her to “be a servant, and to help others.” One day she received a call from the Vannie Cook Children’s Cancer Clinic that wanted her to be a member of its board. At first, she questioned, “Why is this little clinic asking for my help? What can I possibly do for them?” After accepting the position, Melissa found out that the Rio Grande Valley had some of the highest pediatric cancer rates in the entire country, specifically leukemia in Mexican-American boys. As a mother of four herself, this news was shocking. She immediately began looking for new ways to attract donations to this clinic. She wanted to utilize the network she had to bring awareness to the critical need for pediatric cancer care. She wanted to help fund the research that helps find better cures and treatments for the children in her own backyard. Over the past 17 years, the Vannie Cook Clinic has helped over 9,000 families get the care their children need without having to leave home. Melissa takes immense pride in the clinic’s ability to perform the same procedures Texas Children’s Hospital does, with the exception of a bone marrow transplant, right in the clinic itself. The passion she expresses for the benefit of this clinic is inspiring. Melissa serves as a role model, not only to me, but to the entire South Texas community. Her never-ending desire to help those around her exemplifies what it truly means to be a servant leader. Her passion, dedication, and commitment to her work inspire those around her not only to do better, but to be better.


Angela is currently a freshman at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in order to attend law school with a focus in immigration law after completing her undergraduate degree. She is in the Honors Program at StMU, the Pre- Law Fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, and the Faculty Academic Mentor Program for first-generation college students.

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