SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – For the past 33 years, Margaret Ackerman has dedicated herself to helping South Plainfield residents who have fallen on hard times. As director of the borough’s department of social services, Ackerman has helped provide more than just food, clothing, and financial assistance. She has been a voice and a trusted advocate for families and individuals in need.
In June, Ackerman, a resident since 1972, announced she would be retiring. Her last day is Aug. 31 and, at the last borough council meeting her successor, Heather Barry, was appointed to the part-time position.
“Since I started telling people I am leaving I’ve gotten hugs, flowers. They are sad that I am leaving and so am I, but on the other hand, I want to enjoy my time,” said Ackerman. “It is bittersweet but it is time. I want to travel with my husband and spend time with my grandchildren.”
As social services director, Ackerman has helped thousands of residents in need and/or dealing with illness or other situations that caused financial hardships. She has worked to provide housing and utility assistance, secured emergency prescriptions, held food and clothing drives, provided agency referrals and more while also ensuring that the shelves of South Plainfield Food Pantry, located at the senior center, are fully stocked.
“We are a self-sustaining department that relies solely on donations. Everything we do is thanks to donations and the generosity of our community. We try to do as much as we can with what we have,” said Ackerman, adding, “There are things that may not fall under the realm of social services, but you just go out of your way when you know people need help.”
During her tenure, Ackerman said she personally always made a point to show appreciate to anyone who supported the department and the food pantry, including sending personalized, thank you notes to anyone who donates. “I always felt it was important for people to know they were appreciated. I hope the person who takes over will do the same,” she said.
Ackerman, who initially earned a business degree from Rutgers, began her career with the borough in 1984. Back then she worked as a part-time social services director while attending night classes to earn a social work degree. In 1989, Ackerman took on the position full-time, but a decade later, the Middlesex County Board of Social Services changed the program and her position was scaled back.
She returned to Rutgers yet again, earning her tax assessor’s license and, from 2002 to 2012, continued to split her time between social services and the borough’s assessor’s department. Ackerman began as a clerk and worked her way up first to deputy assessor and then assessor.
“The borough has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities and I am extremely grateful,” said Ackerman, who in addition to working for the borough has given back to the community she calls home. Since 1997, she has been an active member of South Plainfield’s Domestic Violence Response Team, serving as co-coordinator for the past decade.
In 2012, Ackerman retired from the assessor’s office but chose to remain with social services for a ‘little bit longer.’ “My heart was always with social services. I wanted to go back to helping the families of South Plainfield,” she said. “I planned to stay with social services a couple of days a week for a year or two; now it is five years later and I am still here.”
The decision to retire - completely this time – said Ackerman took more than five years to make. “The saying goes ‘when you have a job you love, you haven’t worked a day in your life,’” she said. “I can honestly say that, although the days have been challenging at times, I truly feel this way about the experience.”
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