Magical night celebrates retiring Helping Hands Director

Photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

ROCKWALL/HEATH, TX (Jan. 30, 2015) Helping Hands of Rockwall County bid a final farewell to Margo Nielsen during a special retirement party held Saturday in honor of her 25 magical years at the helm of the organization.

Aptly titled “The Magic of Margo” and emceed by the always-comical Billy Quinton, the event was held at the Hilton Dallas Rockwall Lakefront and featured a champagne reception, a delicious three-course meal and of course, a speech from the lady of the hour herself: Margo Nielsen.

“Just imagine, just for a minute, that when you got up every day you’d be offered all kinds of opportunities to make a difference,” Margo said.  “To make a difference in someone’s life, to make a difference in your community, to make a difference because you work with a social services organization that’s there to serve the community. You wouldn’t have to go looking for a project or something good to do because it’s there for the taking every day. That’s what my 25 years at Helping Hands has been like.”

The event saw many of Rockwall’s great leaders present to see Margo off in style, including the county mayors and the first co-presidents of the Helping Hands Advisory Board Bob Reeves and Claudette Johnson. Reeves, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Rockwall, led a group of volunteers and founded Helping Hands in 1976.

As the story behind the organization goes, Reeves and volunteers gathered items for Christmas for needy children in the area, and whatever Reeves couldn’t store in the trunk of his car, Johnson stored in her garage.

The Helping Hands Thrift Store then acquired its first manager in Ada Mooney after being moved to Bourne and then on to Kenway Shopping Center.

In 1987 United Way of Metropolitan Dallas conducted a campaign in Rockwall and awarded Helping Hands a $17,500 Venture Grant, which allowed the agency to hire its first executive director, Sarah McCormick.

Margo was hired as executive director in 1989, and 25 years later the organization continues to flourish and provide what it coins the “vital essentials” to those in need throughout the county: food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

Under Margo’s leadership, the agency now owns five buildings on three different campuses in Rockwall, has an annual budget of $2.5 million and has become the main provider of social services and financial assistance in the county.

And it’s not at all about to stop there.

According to Helping Hands Board of Directors Chairman and Heath Mayor Lorne Liechty, the organization could see significant increases to its level of services with a fair amount of future growth. With around 60 percent growth, the Helping Hands Food Pantry, which currently serves around 25,000 bags of food a year, would be able to serve 40,000 bags of food a year. The Assistance and Referral program would go from helping 3,400 people a year to 5,500, and the medical center would also increase the number of people it helps a year from roughly 3,800 to 6,100.

“We currently average about 75 drop offs per day for our Thrift Store, which is just amazing if you think about our campus that every day we have 75 vehicles come through there dropping off goods,” Liechty said.

Jon Bailey, who will step in as the new executive director of Helping Hands, is proud to have the opportunity to lead such a successful organization into an even brighter future.

“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be chosen to lead this organization into the future,” Bailey said. “I’ve got a tough act to follow; Margo, thank you for what you have done for Helping Hands and for Rockwall County. Thank you for what you mean to our family. You’re a special lady and it’s going to be very difficult to follow in your footsteps, but I’m humbled and honored.”

While Margo said she will do “as little as possible” during her retirement, she isn’t worried in the slightest about what the future holds for Helping Hands under its new leadership, and is thankful to have had the opportunity to serve her community for the 25 years she spent at its helm.

“This has been quite a ride,” Margo said. “Leading Helping Hands has been a joy, and I want to thank you so much for giving me the honor and privilege of leading it.”

Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News staff writer and reporter. 


Q&A with new Helping Hands Director Jon Bailey

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