Haley retires after serving GRACE for 21 years

07/14/2014 5:34 PM

07/14/2014 5:35 PM

For more than two decades, Debbie Haley was a passionate member of and advocate for GRACE, where her leadership was most evident in the resale department.

Her world revolved around GRACE, a Grapevine-based non-profit relief agency that provides food, clothing, financial assistance and other vital necessities to people who are struggling with a limited income or recent emergency.

She was a tireless promoter of the philosophy of GRACE that encourages self-sufficiency, knowing that in turn it encourages community cohesiveness.

“I love GRACE and and knew from the first moment that I was supposed to be involved in it,” said Haley, 54. “I knew this was where I was supposed to go.”

Haley’s last day was June 30, an event filled with tearful goodbyes, heartfelt good wishes and reminiscences of a career given in service to those in need.

“The impact Debbie has made to GRACE has truly stepped up this agency and the impact we have been able to make to shape this community,” said Shonda Schaefer, executive director. “Her leadership has been an inspiration to all she’s worked with.”

Haley’s catalyst to leave was discovering she had breast cancer. After two mastectomies, she is “cancer free,” and wants the world to know that “you can survive and go on after such a life-changing event.”

But she decided that life would involve retirement where she and her husband, Chuck, would travel. She also plans to get back into painting and writing poetry and is considering taking a cooking class.

“The hardest thing about retirement for me is remembering what day it is. It’s nice,” said the Keller resident and mother of two girls, Rachael Haley, 31, and Heather Haley Baker, 26.

In 21 years, Haley has been a driving force throughout GRACE. But she is best known for operating a successful resale program that funds a large portion of the organization’s annual budget.

“I tell people that you are getting something at a great bargain and helping the community at the same time,” Haley said. “It is all guilt-free shopping. It is a win-win situation.”

Donations are received and sorted at its two donation locations, then distributed to GRACE programs.

Items not needed for other programs or ones that will provide more client benefit by being sold are taken to GRACEful Buys, the organization’s upscale resale store, or Style & GRACE, its boutique for women’s designer fashions. A third site Haley used to oversee was the GRACE Donation Station.

Haley has seen many changes over the years.

“Back in the day, GRACE was in a small house on Smith Street,” she said. “The pantry was in the kitchen and the covered back porch. The clothing room was in the garage. As you could imagine, we ran out of room very quickly and never had much money. Seriously, we couldn't event afford peanut butter sometimes.”

Haley recalled how they only provided clothing at that time but received donations of many other things.

She often thought, “Why don’t we have a garage sale and see if we could raise some money?”

The first one went well, Haley said, netting about $4,000.

“We were thrilled,” she said.

The charity discovered the regulations allowed them to have two garage sales each year.

“For a few years, we made more money each time we held one,” she said.

In 1995, Johnny Esparza called with “a wonderful offer,” she said.

“His mother had recently passed away and Johnny wanted to donate her house to GRACE,” Haley said. “We moved the house down Main Street to the back lot at Shady Brook.”

The building is now the cottage that houses GRACE’s administrative offices, including offices for the executive director, finance director, development director and other staff members.

The thought was that garage sales were so profitable that the next step would be a resale store that would be open year round.

In 1997, the GRACE resale store opened for business.

She also became “official” — the assistant to then-executive director Tricia Wood.

“We would completely restock and rearrange the store on Mondays, so every Tuesday morning a line of people would be waiting to get in,” Haley said.

Haley became the GRACE business manager and began managing the resale store, overseeing the staffing, budget, skills, ads, production and other areas.

“Support from the community was amazing,” Haley said. “We ran out of room to hold and process the donated items.”

In 1999, GRACE rented the building next to the current Donation Station on Scribner Street and started collecting and processing all donations there. As a staff member, she supervised the Donation Station, but most of the workforce was volunteer help just as it is today.

Meanwhile, GRACE had outgrown the cottage space.

“More customers were coming than we could hold,” Haley said.

In 2001, a space became available at 201 North Barton Street.

With GRACE growing with more programs, Wood asked Haley if she would officially take over all of resale while she would handle programs. In July 2002, she officially became the resale director.

“We hit an all-time high in revenue in August,” Haley said proudly, adding, “We still have some of the same customers who shopped at both the cottage and Barton stores.”

In 2002, GRACE Board Member Dan Green offered to let the charity use a small space for free for furniture storage and sales. For several years, Wood and Haley traded Saturdays and opened the location to the public.

In 2005, the GRACE Christmas Cottage operated at a location on Northwest Highway. After multiple forecasts, the board of directors agreed to rent the space and the organization opened A Touch of GRACE in February 2006.

Both the Barton Street and Northwest Highway stores did well.

“We saw about a 20 percent growth of revenue each year until the economy turned in 2008,” Haley said. “Revenue went down, and we lost our drive-by traffic because of new construction nearby.”

The charity knew it needed to re-evaluate. The result was its acceptance into the Center for Nonprofit Texas Wealth Ventures for Nonprofits program. After a year-long process, the charity came up with a five-year business plan and decided to consolidate the two stores, GRACEful Buys and A Touch of GRACE.

The business plan also recommended that the charity open another store, an upscale women’s boutique. Style & GRACE boutique opened in June 2011.

All stores are dedicated to offering great items at great prices with exceptional customer service.

“Even as I move on, I know that GRACE remains committed to these principles, and is working on new marketing ideas, including price reductions and customer appreciation discounts so that the resale program can continue to support GRACE programs to an even larger extent than in the past,” Haley said.

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