By Kev Moyè
DHS Media Specialist/Writer
Nicole Hughes is devoted to helping people.
A Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of County Operations (DCO) Program Eligibility Specialist Supervisor – Hughes exudes happiness while promoting hope for a better tomorrow.
She’s heavily influenced by the compassionate nature of her childhood community of Rockport, located in the north region of Malvern.
“If she sees a need, she’s not going to wait for people to seek her assistance,” said longtime friend Marinda Mitchell. “She’ll do something about it herself, without being asked.”
SERIOUS ABOUT HER DUTIES
Hughes, who works in the Hot Spring County office, has been with DHS for over 20 years.
Prior to working for the agency, Hughes counseled people assigned to the Ouachita Correctional Unit’s Reduction of Sexual Victimization Program. Co-workers say she has a natural ability to connect with people, especially those struggling with difficult life situations. That’s one of the reasons why Hughes enjoys her duties for DHS, she gets a chance to connect eligible individuals to assistance programs.
“I like interacting with the clients. My responsibilities for DCO have made me aware of what people need,” she said. “In fact, each day I assess who I am and why I’m here. The reason I do that is to make sure I never forget that I’m here to serve the people. That’s why we as DCO exist.”
Hughes’ perspective is also influenced by a work-related encounter several years ago.
“I was having a rough day. But everything that particular day, and beyond, changed for me when a client came into the office with two developmentally disabled teenage boys. The boys were in strollers,” Hughes said. “But the client still had a big smile on her face. I was amazed as I heard her beautifully whisper to her boys that they were going for ice cream once she completed some paperwork. Clearly, the lady and youth – despite various obstacles – remained excited about life.
“A few moments later, that amazing woman says to me, ‘You’re either going to get busy living or you’ll get busy dying. Me and my boys … we choose to live.’ I’ve never forgotten that powerful moment. It’s one of the main inspirations I have.”
THE ROCKPORT IMPACT
Hughes, a mother and wife, has lived in Malvern for most of her life.
The University of Arkansas-Little Rock alumna, and her siblings, grew-up in a single-parent home and often benefited from the kindness of their neighbors.
“We were part of a huge community that genuinely cared about each other,” Hughes said. “We had a true sense of camaraderie. I’m happy I was raised in that kind of environment. It made a big impact on my life.”
“I can recall a situation during my childhood, when one of my classmates died in a house fire. Her family’s house burned down. Eventually, as a community we came together and moved the debris so that crews could come and build a new home.
“Out of that tragedy everyone in our neighborhood did what they could to help that family during such a tough ordeal. I’ve never forgotten that situation.”
GIVING BACK PROFESSIONALLY AND PRIVATELY
For several reasons, Hughes has become an important member of the community.
“It’s amazing how so many people just love to see that radiant smile she has,” Mitchell said. “People love and trust Mrs. Hughes.”
She embodies civic pride, according to County Administrator of the Hot Spring County office Rose Page
“Nicole is dependable, kindhearted, thorough, smart, and compassionate,” Page said. “She is always trying to find ways to help the community. Nicole always has a positive outlook on life even during difficult times.”
A devout Christian, Hughes has created a pair of church ministries: Feed the Hungry and the Susie Barnes Abron Centurion Scholarship.
Feed the Hungry provides an opportunity for people to receive a fresh, hot meal.
I was looking at the resources in our community and realized we didn’t have anything that provided people with a hot meal,” Hughes said. “I started Feed the Hungry so the people of our community could have a quality hot meal at least twice a month. And it’s become an anticipated, festive community gathering.”
Feed the Hungry also features a DHS element.
“There are many resources for which people don’t know about because they don’t come into a DHS office. They don’t know that they’re struggling with a situation, we can provide assistance for,” Hughes said. “We at DHS have a lot of great programs. But most people only know about SNAP or the Division of Children and Family Services, foster care. So Feed the Hungry is about more than just giving people a free meal. We invite them to the county office to learn more about our programs. We do our best to improve their overall situation, well beyond just providing a quality meal.”
Hughes also spearheads the Susie Barnes Abron Centurion Scholarship – in honor of a beloved community member who lived to be over 100 years old.
“We desire to help our youth get an education. We want to help them with those small needs,” she said. “That’s what the $500 scholarship is for. We don’t want the students to struggle for anything.”
Hughes also is involved with other civic service entities such as: UNITY Group which gives away bags of fruit; ROSE a food pantry and clothing store in Malvern; Malvern Citizens Live, which keeps residents abreast of community developments, and she’s the lead pianist/musician for the Victory Praise and Worship church choir.
“Nicole’s empathy helps her easily deal with all people,” Page said. “She always sees the positive in a situation and remains calm at all times. Mrs. Hughes is just naturally gifted at making people feel welcomed and like their every need means the world to her.”
(It is for all of these reasons that Nicole Hughes was nominated and featured for the Living the Mission series at DHS, which focuses on individuals who go above and beyond their typical functions. If you know someone who lives the mission of DHS and should be featured for the Living the Mission series, contact Kev Moyè at email@example.com.)