Helping discouraged families find hope keeps Albert Reyes motivated as he enters his second decade as president of Buckner International.
He thinks about couples like Serapio and Marta Hernandez and their daughter Amanda.
When Serapio lost his job after 17 years, he knew he had to find another way to provide for his family. So, he and Marta started making and selling piñatas to a broker who turned around and sold them for a significantly higher price.
Serapio chopped reeds from the Trinity River bottom to use in creating the piñata skeletons, and then he, his wife and their children spent long hours covering them with brightly colored paper.
“Get used to making piñatas,” Marta told Amanda. “This is going to be your life.”
But staff at the Buckner Family Hope Center at Bachman Lake—where Marta already had benefited from parenting classes—helped the Hernandez family discover another way of life. They learned how to develop a business plan, create a website and market their piñatas directly.
Soon, the couple doubled their income. In time, Serapio found another job, and the piñata-making business provided much-needed supplemental income to help the family improve their housing situation.
Now Amanda attends a program that allows her to earn an associate degree at the same time she is working toward her high school diploma. She dreams of being the first college graduate in her family and becoming an elementary schoolteacher.
When families discover hope, whole neighborhoods—whole communities—change for the better, Reyes noted.
“We’re transforming communities, one family at a time,” he said.
Applying a lesson learned
As a child, Reyes learned an important lesson from his father, a U.S. Marine. When his father called, young Albert was told to come running toward the sound of his voice as fast as possible, saying, “Yes, sir,” each step of the way.
So, when the boy made his profession of faith in Christ at age 9, he applied what he had learned about obedience to his new relationship to God.
“When my heavenly Father calls, I start moving toward his voice. And my answer is ‘yes’ before I even know what he’s asking,” Reyes said.
To fulfill God’s calling on his life, Reyes wanted to begin preparation for ministry at seminary immediately after he graduated from high school. His pastor patiently explained seminary was a graduate school, and he needed to attend college first. So, Reyes earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Angelo State University before going on to seminary.
He served three churches as pastor before accepting the call to become president of Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio. He also was elected to a term as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
‘Signed up to be a servant’
At BUA, he led the school to earn accreditation and certification, to achieve a record on-campus enrollment, and to secure its first multi-million-dollar gift. Then he received a call from Buckner.
Ken Hall wanted to ensure the organization that had greatly expanded during his time as CEO and president would have a smooth transition when he retired. He asked Reyes to consider accepting the presidency of Buckner Children and Family Services, with the understanding he would succeed Hall as president—and later CEO—of the parent organization within a few years.
As he prayed about it, Reyes felt a sense of “accomplishment and release” regarding BUA and excitement about the challenges Buckner offered.
“I signed up to be a servant, not the Master. I never got that confused,” Reyes said. “So, when the Master says, ‘Stop doing this and start doing that,’ get excited about ‘this’ and don’t worry about ‘that.’”
Reyes became president of Buckner Children and Family Services in 2007, president of Buckner International in 2010 and CEO in 2012.
‘God never wastes an experience’
At Buckner, Reyes knew he would face challenges in succeeding “a longtime successful president,” but he was determined “to lead according to how God shaped me.”
“Early on as a youngster, I figured I might be good at organizing things,” Reyes said, based on his experience working in his family’s business.
In retrospect, he saw how God used his varied experiences—in business, as a pastor and as president of an educational institution—to prepare him for his new role at Buckner.
“God never wastes an experience. It’s to prepare you for what you know not of,” he said.
Establish a ‘culture of excellence’
Reyes committed to build on the foundation that had been laid the previous two decades, while adapting to new contexts and continuing to improve processes.
Rodney Henry, chair of the Buckner International board, believes Reyes brought the right set of skills to the organization at just the right time in its history.
“How he thinks about things—understanding the organization and taking a process-oriented approach—has been very valuable,” Henry said.
Reyes helped Buckner carefully examine its varied programs, evaluate their effectiveness and make necessary adjustments, he noted. In the process, he demonstrated both the clear-eyed view of a business administrator and the compassionate heart of a pastor, Henry added.
“He established a culture of excellence,” Henry said. “Albert has stressed that we need to concentrate on doing what we do well, do it with excellence and do it in a way that is sustainable.”
Intervene before there is a crisis
Both Henry and Reyes point to Buckner’s development of Family Hope Centers—first piloted under Ken Hall’s leadership in Guatemala in 2008 as a Community Transformation Center—as perhaps the organization’s most significant contribution in the past decade.
“So much effort through the years has been focused on responding to crisis. The Family Hope Center model intervenes before the kids and the families are at a point of crisis,” Henry said.
Through its long-established programs of adoption and foster care, Buckner continues to respond to abused or neglected children who are unable to continue to live with their families of origin.
However, the Family Hope Center model focuses on building family strengths and helping families reach their God-given potential.
“We’re helping families stay strong and keeping kids in the families where God put them,” Reyes said.
In addition to providing family assistance and sponsoring community events, the centers offer parenting classes, adult education courses, programs to teach financial empowerment and initiatives devoted to spiritual enrichment.
“The secret sauce is family coaching,” Reyes said.
The family coach is a Buckner social worker who meets with a family to evaluate their situation and help them set their own goals based on protective factors—knowledge of parenting and child development, nurturing and attachment, social and emotional competence, resilience and social connections—and spiritual development.
Count the cost
“I asked my staff, ‘What does it cost to keep a family whole?’ It costs $2,000 for one coach to serve one family for one year,” Reyes said.
In comparison, “the cost of doing nothing” is conservatively estimated at $54,000 per year, based on data from Child Protective Services—a ratio of $1 spent on prevention compared to $27 spent on protection, he added.
“But really, how can you quantify the trauma on a child?” he asked. “This is about getting to the root of the issue before it becomes an issue.”
Spiritual development happens naturally, he added. Buckner is not an evangelistic organization or missions society. But because of the nature of the work it does—offering hope and healing to hurting families—the people whose lives are touched begin to ask spiritual questions, Reyes said. He noted about 1,000 people every year come to faith in Christ through Buckner’s programs.
“We don’t have to bring it up. They bring it up,” Reyes said.
Looking ahead, he sees Buckner continuing its emphasis on strengthening families.
“Communities are made up of families. … The smallest building block in human society is the family. God designed the family. … The family is the core,” he said.
Be a model and a resource
In the days ahead, Reyes wants Buckner to “stay in that space and create a model that people will want to imitate” to build strong families.
“To think that Buckner has to be everywhere there is need is prideful and a bit arrogant,” he said. Instead, he hopes Buckner personnel can share what they have learned, consult with other agencies around the world and equip them to strengthen families.
Buckner already is making a significant impact among like-minded service providers. Reyes serves as an officer on the board of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, a coalition of more than 200 organizations devoted to care for vulnerable children.
Jedd Medefind, president of the alliance, praised Reyes for the “rich and godly wisdom” he brings to his coalition’s governing board.
“He is a great listener,” Medefind said. “He thinks before he speaks, and when he does speak, others listen.”
Often, agencies either focus exclusively on protecting children or on restoring and strengthening families, Medefind noted. Under Reyes’ leadership, Buckner has led the way in doing both effectively and set an example for others, he observed.
“It’s a rare combination,” he said.