Growing the Tree of Life
Guests saddle up for record-setting gala and raise half a million for mental health in Houston
What:Nick Finnegan Counseling Center's 15th annual Tree of Life Gala
Where: Goode Company Armadillo Palace
The 411: Ideal weather and refreshing Ranch Waters greeted the nearly 400 guests that arrived in their best Western wear for this annual gala, which raises funds to provide high-quality and affordable mental health services to anyone regardless of age, finances, or beliefs.
After trying their luck at the tequila and wine pulls, hungry guests then made their way to the Goode Co. fajita buffet, which was topped with all the fixin's.
Rustic and whimsical florals courtesy of Bergner & Johnson topped each table, and guests sipped on ice-cold Topo Chicos and beers wrapped in custom koozies from The Essential Market
Event co-chair Scooter Smith then welcomed the crowd, which included former Texas A&M All-American and 2023 SEC football legend Ray Childress, and premiered NFCC’s 15th anniversary celebration video. As one of the organization's former advisory board chairs, Scooter and his wife Clare have been supporters of NFCC since the very beginning, and co-chaired the event with Carla and Cole Dawson.
“When I think of the Nick Finnegan Counseling Center and its achievements, a couple of things come to mind for me," he said. "The unparalleled growth of an organization like this, finding a need in a community and meeting it so well over what is now a long period of time, you know? Just look at where it started and where we are today — it is an amazing story.”
This year’s event honored NFCC’s executive director, Mary Elizabeth Hand, who has been part of the counseling center since 2013 and is a childhood friend of the center’s namesake, Nick Finnegan.
Nick’s parents, Susan and Bill Finnegan, had the honor of bestowing the 2023 Angels Among Us award to Hand, with Susan saying, “She walks around making the counseling center comfy and cozy because she wants it to feel like home for the clients and her staff; not to mention the amazing work she does. We are just so in awe. She was hand-picked by God, no question about it, and to watch her do her thing is amazing.”
The award was a custom watercolor painting created by Bethany Sauer (@besweetink) depicting NFCC’s exterior, which includes part of the building expansion that Hand oversaw in 2018 and her favorite pink rose bushes that frame the courtyard fountain.
“In my role as executive director, outside of spreading awareness about NFCC, cultivating a healthy and positive work environment has always been my number one goal," said Hand. "I want NFCC to be a place where my team feels fulfilled and inspired in the work they are doing. When we as a team feel that dedication to the mission, it touches the lives of every person we interact with. We believe that when one person receives counseling it can positively impact the way they interact with their family, their friends, and have a ripple effect on how they interact with their community.
"Your support of NFCC has that same ripple effect," she continued. "You are making a positive difference in not just our clients' lives, but also the community through your support of NFCC’s counseling services and outreach programs.”
Nurse Becky Helms, a local Houston influencer (@iwanttoquitmydayjob), then shared a heartfelt message with the attendees. Helms chronicles on social media her daily triumphs and challenges with her mental and physical health as she beats cancer.
Two fun games — Heads or Tails and Paddles Up — came next, with emcees Stuart Ford and Randy Helms reminding participants that in lieu of a live auction, donations would be benefitting NFCC directly.
This helped bring the total raised to nearly $500,000, all of which continue to help provide mental health services to individuals, couples, and children at a significantly reduced rate.
Fundraising efforts like the annual Tree of Life Gala in October and Crack ‘em for a Cause Crawfish Boil in April help offset the cost of counseling, allowing NFCC’s counselors to provide more than 8,000 sessions per year to people in more than 127 ZIP codes in the greater Houston area.
Who:Carla and Cole Dawson, Clare and Scooter Smith, Terrell Finnegan Branch, Scotty Finnegan and Maggie Archer, Susan and Bill Finnegan, Stuart Ford, Mary Elizabeth and Robert Hand, Becky Helms, Chuck Helms, Alice and Randy Helms, Caitlin and Jonathan Sanders, Lindsay Amburn, Amy Robinson, Katie Woodroof, Marti Elliott, Matt Harper, Dylan and Courtney Stout, Heather Timmis, Ray Childress, Amber and Cary Gray, Garhett Wagers, Jennifer Bowen, McKenzie Palmer, Courtney Bassett, Lizzy Bowen, and hundreds more patrons and guests.