Randy Henry has been involved with Rebuilding Together Houston since 1987. He became co-chairman of the organization with founder Rob Mosbacher, Jr., in 1999, and presently serves as president of the organization’s board of directors. He has also served as vice chairman of Rebuilding Together's national board of directors in Washington, DC.
A native Houstonian, Randy describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur" having managed or invested in almost 50 different companies in his career. He is currently board chairman of SoftNAS, LLC, a storage software company that manages business data.
Randy has been active in Chapelwood Methodist Church for many years, serving on its board of directors and as chairman of its building committee. He's been chairman of the Board of Visitors for the University of Texas Astronomy Department and McDonald Observatory; chairman of the board of the Post Oak School; an advisory committee member of New Foundations for Neighborhoods; advisory committee member for LISC; and founding president of the Uptown Houston Association. He's also been active on numerous committees with the Greater Houston Partnership.
Randy graduated from Southern Methodist University; received a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England; and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Janis have two grown sons, Vernon and Clark. Randy takes pride in the fact that his entire family has served as volunteers with Rebuilding Together Houston.
He shares his perspective on Rebuilding Together’s history in Houston and what makes the work of the organization vital in the local community.
Q. What prompted you to first get involved with Rebuilding Together Houston, or "Private Sector Initiatives" as it was known at the organization's founding in 1982?
A. One of my good friends and former classmate in the Wharton MBA program, Dennis Murphree, was on the board at the time. He told me about how much good they were doing using volunteers to help low income homeowners stay safe, warm and dry in their homes, all at no cost to the homeowner. At the time I was in commercial real estate development and very much involved in construction. I immediately felt that I had something to contribute because of my love for construction and my desire to be of service to others in need. Dennis invited me to join the Housing Committee and things just progressed from there.
Q. Founder Rob Mosbacher, Jr., helped launch the Reagan Administration's Private Sector Initiative Task Force. How much of that endeavor was included in the establishment of the Houston organization?
A. Rob was the absolute key to starting Private Sector Initiatives in Houston. He had worked for President Reagan in the White House and Private Sector Initiatives was one of the Presidents ideas to encourage volunteerism as a replacement or supplement to inefficient government programs. He wanted to bring back the concept of neighbors helping neighbors, as we we had done as a nation since our founding. Rob moved to Houston and started the Houston chapter of Private Sector Initiatives. Because of Rob's stature in the community and his enthusiasm and energy for the program, he was able to enlist a board of the top business and community leaders in Houston. This board was able to fund the organization, get it started and lay the groundwork for long term success.
Q. Initially Private Sector Initiatives involved itself in issues beyond home repair for the aging. What were the other areas of emphasis?
A. In the early days the board developed several initiatives where they thought the organization could make a positive impact. The Volunteer Home Repair program was the centerpiece of a neighborhood revitalization program. We ran a job fair program at the George R. Brown Convention Center for high school seniors desiring to enter the private sector workplace. We started a "latchkey" after-school program with the YMCA, and later the Houston Independent School District. This was to allow children with working parents to stay at school or the Y after school in supervised programs - so they would be in a safe and constructive environment until their parents could pick them up. We studied starting an early-to-learn program for preschoolers.
Q. At what point and why did the emphasis become home repair?
A. One of our goals in the beginning was to be an incubator for these community programs. We would start them, get them going and spin them off to other organizations like the YMCA. Established organizations with strong financial backing could take over the programs and grow them from our start. As time went by we spun off the job fair and the after school programs. It became obvious that the Volunteer Home Repair Program had become the program that we did best and it was growing rapidly. We just decided to focus on, and keep, what we did best.
Q. In your mind, what were some of the early highlights and achievements of the organization?
A. The job fairs and latch key programs were certainly successes, but in the long run, the real success was our ability to attract so many volunteers from corporations, churches, schools, Boy Scouts, etc. to do home repair projects. The excitement for the program was so strong because people could form a bond with the homeowner and really see how their labor was making a positive impact on the lives of those homeowners and in the communities where they lived. I remember when we passed the 1,000 home milestone and had a big celebration in one of the neighborhoods where we worked. We were all amazed that we could have reached that number, of course that is old history now, since we have surpassed over 20,000 home repair projects since our inception.
Q. What brought about the change of name to Rebuilding Together Houston?
A. In 2003 Houston was preparing to host the 2004 Super Bowl. A national organization named Rebuilding Together had formed a bond with the NFL. The NFL commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue and his wife Chan, went to church with Patty Johnson, the founder of Rebuilding Together. Patty had a magnetic personality and she got the Tagliabue's to volunteer for some of the home repair programs. They decided that Rebuilding Together was a good fit with the NFL because many of the payers had come from neighborhoods like we serve and many had grown up with elderly relatives in the home. The goal was to have a Rebuilding Together affiliate in every NFL city. They did a big home repair project in every Super Bowl city as part of the celebration leading up to the game. NFL players worked with local volunteers to repair several homes before the game in a neighborhood near the stadium. Rebuilding Together initially wanted to start a new affiliate here, but because of our close connection with the Texans, and Bob McNair, we decided to join forces and become the Houston affiliate for Rebuilding Together. This new affiliation brought us a much higher level of financial support and exposure to the community. Rebuilding Together also brought us new partnering organizations and new programs, all of which helped us grow into the success we are today.
Q. How does the organization today differ from the early years?
A. Our basic principles are still the same but we have become so much more professional as we grew. In the beginning it was one and a half paid staff and some volunteers running the organization. We have grown to become a mature organization with professional management, audited books, sophisticated systems and controls, four different programs, a warehouse and great community relations. We are the number one producer of the almost 200 affiliates of Rebuilding Together across the nation
Q. In what ways has the work of Rebuilding Together Houston had a positive impact in the community?
A. We have touched thousand of lives in Houston in such a positive way. We bring back hope, help and safety to elderly, very low income homeowners. These homeowners can age in place without having to move into subsidizing nursing homes. The elderly hold the community together. You can drive down the streets of the neighborhoods where we have worked and see the difference the freshly painted and repaired homes make. It lifts the whole neighborhood and gives everyone a sense of pride in their city and the goodness of its people. Volunteers get the satisfaction of doing something really tangible and meaningful to help others.
Q. Your son, Vernon, received an award for his volunteer service to Rebuilding Together Houston. It has to be encouraging to see him follow in your footsteps, not only in A. doing community service, but also in support of Rebuilding Together.
A. I am a very proud father. Many times when Vernon was a boy I would bring him along to help me, as the team captain for our church, to work on Rebuilding Together houses. I wanted to instill in him the desire and the responsibility to help others in need in our community. Vernon is a married Dad now with two babies and a demanding job with Apache Corporation. Last year Vernon organized a team from Apache to work on a home in east Houston. Of course I went along also, to help him just as he had helped me many years ago.
Q. You've been a leader for much of Rebuilding Together Houston's first 33 years; what aspirations do you have when you think about the next 33?
A. There is no reason that Rebuilding Together Houston could not grow to twice as big as it is now or even bigger. Growth in itself is not really the goal, it is just that the need is so great and we as an organization have proven for many years that we can do this job very well. I believe that we will expand into new programs that I can't even envision now. As my period of leadership winds down I am confident that this organization will continue to grow and prosper. Houston is a great city and our community spirit is outstanding. We are "can do" people, no challenge is too great. Let's continue to make Houston a great place to live and care for one another.