Editor’s Note: Scott Collins, vice president of Buckner Communications, sat down for a video interview with Dr. Albert Reyes to mark Reyes’ 10 years as the sixth president of Buckner. The interview has been edited for length and for print. To see the video, go to buckner.org/blog.
BT: How would you summarize the last 10 years as the sixth president?
Reyes: I would say the last 10 years have just flown by. I want to ask the question: “Where did the time go?” I guess you don’t think about that; you’re just going to the next thing and trying to serve people and get things done, so it didn’t even cross my mind.
BT: What are some favorite memories for you?
Reyes: When I was in Kenya for our 10th anniversary, I was coronated with the title that has stuck with me now for 10 years. We were in a small village where everybody came out and the leading pastor, who was not authorized to say what he was about to say, stood and introduced me as “His Excellency, The Reverend Doctor Albert Reyes.” I’d never been referred to like that, so I thought, “Wow, I’ve been promoted. I’ve been elevated.”
His next sentence, of course, was, “And we wish to take this opportunity to air our grievances.” I found out afterward that the other pastors were upset with him because they didn’t agree. But I was up in the pinnacle and then down in the ditch in a matter of 10 seconds.
I had to figure out how I was going to recover from that. I had donors with me and of course, staff, city leaders, government leaders, pastors, people from the community.
I just prayed, “Lord, help me out of this. What do I say now after – how do I recover?” And I remembered something my pastor Charlie Johnson used to say. Charlie Johnson used to say, “Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.”
BT: What have been some of the joys?
Reyes: There is great joy in knowing the brand called Buckner means something, that people come to expect a certain level of quality and excellence. I would say not perfection because we don’t really aim for perfection. We try to do our best and we sure aim for excellence. The quality and caliber of individuals that want to work at Buckner just amazes me.
BT: Let’s say you were sitting around a table, just having coffee with your five predecessors. What would you say to the previous five presidents of Buckner?
Reyes: I would probably say that I’ve come to learn, through experience and through research I’ve done on leadership, that every president had only one chance to do the best they could with what they had to work with at that time.
I’d really want to ask questions. “Tell me about, you know, major decisions that either were positive or negative, because I’m a student of leadership. I want to learn what were you thinking, what was going on, what happened, and what can we learn to carry forward?”
BT: How has your thinking about the organization changed?
Reyes: When I first was elected in January 2010, one of the things that marked that day was a ceremonial passing of a photograph and a book. The book is R.C. Buckner’s Life of Faith and Works.
And then there was also a framed picture of the chapel he built on the historic campus after a wrecking crew went in and began to tear it apart. It was sort of a sacred thing to tear it apart. And what Dr. Ken Hall said to me that day was, “Buckner is still here because we’ve never been afraid to change.” And that just really anchored in my mind that we’re still here because we’ve been willing to adapt and be flexible and to change and to ask what time is it and where are we and what’s needed?
That thinking led us to ask the question, “What if we could begin to bring solutions to help struggling families to help them get stronger and more successful and to the point where they don’t need our help anymore and children could remain where they belong, in their own family?”
We called it the Community Transformation Center and later we changed the name to the Family Hope Center and we’ve been doing it now for a little bit better than 10 years. We just did it because we thought it was the right thing to do, no government funding, no previous plan of success, no proof of concept other than we’ve got to do something than just wait for the damage to happen.
We have it down to $2,000 for family coaching for one family for one year, to keep the family and the children together, versus allowing abuse to happen or not reacting until the abuse happens. Then you’re talking $54,000 for one child to be placed.
BT: What are the strongest assets Buckner has today?
Reyes: You know, people probably get tired of me saying it, but 140 years is 140 years. I think, probably the strongest asset is that we’ve been doing the same thing for 14 decades and we’re good at it. And I think we carry with us, with our style of service and ministry, a global standard that’s really hard to match. The brand, the quality, and of course, the consistent commitment to our faith, trying to imitate our leader Jesus and relating to people, that’s the secret sauce of Buckner.
BT: Why did you choose Hope Now as the title for your new book?
Reyes: Our tagline is “Hope shines here®” and we’ve focused on hope as what we offer to people with real solutions and difference-making experiences, and we’ve said, “You know, families need hope. Children need hope.”
So, taking off from Hope shines here, I started thinking about it and I thought, you know, the book title ought to be Hope Now. I’ve never met anybody in 13 years who was willing to reschedule hope or defer or delay. No one has ever said “later;” they’ve always said “now.”
Scripture says, “We are the hope of glory. Christ in us.” That’s the hope of glory. That’s the hope we offer people we encounter. And I think they can tell the difference. I think people know given a little bit of time, they can tell we’re different. Maybe not better, but we’re different. And it’s – well, the difference is Jesus in us that comes out.
BT: What’s next? What’s the most important thing in certain terms of vision that lies ahead for Buckner?
Reyes: I think the most important thing that lies before us in the next 10 years is to become crystal clear about what we do, and you would think after 140 years we should know, but we still are always trying to define it so it’s contextually appropriate and it matches the 21st century now into the third decade we’re beginning in 2020.
With the idea of being real specific about who we are and what we deliver and how we do it, lasering those approaches that then make it irresistible for donors to say, “I want to be a part of that. I want to sign up to help make that happen.”
Albert Reyes President and CEO Buckner International. Visit my blog at AlbertLReyes.com
Visit Buckner.org/volunteer to learn how you can not only improve your state of mind and health status, but positively impact the life of a child in your community.
*American Psychological Association
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, building a fruitful business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 strength 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.
“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 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.
In the days ahead, Reyes wants Buckner to “stay in that space and create a model people will want to imitate” to build strong families.
“To think 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 is already 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.
“It’s a rare combination,” he said. BT
So many children and families are trapped in a relentless cycle of addiction, poverty and abuse.
And all too often, these destructive behaviors are passed down from one generation to the next.
Those entrusted to the care of Buckner International are the most acutely at risk — and without intervention, they have little hope of ever escaping this downward spiral.
Give today to help provide professional counseling to children and families Buckner International serves — and bring Complete Hope from the Inside Out. Thank you for your generous support.
Taking a leap of faith changed Allencia Washington’s life – twice. Struggling to juggle school, work and raising her then 3-year-old daughter Kimber, the Houston native applied to the Buckner Family Pathways programs in Houston and Conroe in December 2015. With the only availability in Conroe, Allencia took a risk, leaving the comfort of what she knew and moved.
“Conroe is not close. It was very intimidating because I just don’t know these people. It seemed like a lot of rules,” Allencia said. “It seemed like a lot to uphold. And I was still attending Houston Community College, so I drove Monday through Friday from Conroe to Houston, but God made it happen.”
Coming to the program in early 2016, Allencia carried a lot of emotional pain and trauma and had never been open to counseling in the past. After choosing to dive completely in, she found counseling made a huge impact in her life. Moving away from Houston, she chose to see Conroe as an opportunity to take a step away, to focus on healing and redefining who she wanted to be.
“I wanted to get out of my own way. I wanted to see what else was out there,” she said. “I wanted to see what God had in store for me. I wanted to heal and get rid of the trauma. I wanted to get rid of the hurt. I wanted to be a better parent. I wanted to be a better person, not just for me, but for my daughter.”
After two years of settling in at Family Pathways in Conroe, Buckner offered her a program extension in Houston. Tears fell, she said, as confusion and frustration enveloped her.
But as she cried out to God about her hurt and the sacrifices she made to come this far, she felt the truth that God was testing her. She called Anna Rodriquez, program director for Family Pathways in Houston, confirming she would move to Houston. “I felt like I was being torn. Was I still supposed to go?”
“So I was able to move my housing to Houston. I’m here in the flesh now and I’m so glad I did. It was the best decision I could’ve made and I’m glad I was obedient,” she said.
Since moving back to Houston in 2018, Allencia can’t deny what God has done in her life. Graduating with an associate degree from HCC and now nearing graduation from an undergraduate program at the University of Houston, she finds herself continuing to ask God what’s next and is confident in his will for her.
Through the mountains God has moved in Allencia’s heart and life, she chose to utilize her testimony as a launching point to begin her ministry, Pillow Talk. It began in early 2019 as a vision of a place where mothers can have a safe place to share, ask questions and be empowered.
“It’s all about self-care, self-love, getting in tune with yourself is important,” she said. “Knowing that you are worthy, that you are loved, that you matter, that you are important. I needed something like this growing up and there’s so much pain and so much hurt out there – and I know as women we don’t always want to let people in. So just allowing somebody to have this safe place.”
Allencia invites women of all ages and walks of life in intimate groups of eight to experience sticking together, lifting and building each other up. They gather twice a week for prayer, laughs, tears and a time of sharing.
Not only has Allencia excelled in school and created her own ministry, she is also now a business owner. Her brand, ANK Organic Body Butter, is not something she expected to do, but she enjoys making the beauty product herself and sells it through social media.
Allencia and Kimber, now 7, have found a life of success and stability through Family Pathways. This environment has also given Allencia the opportunity to pour faith and knowledge of Jesus into Kimber, making their strong mother-daughter bond even stronger.
“Buckner has given me the opportunity to redefine who I am. Trust in this process. If I would have stayed in Conroe, I wouldn’t have taken this leap of faith and been able to witness and experience any of this.” BT
Early on a hot August morning in 2018, a local farmer was driving down Hwy 73 near Port Arthur, Texas when he spotted cars in front of him swerving to avoid something ahead of them in the road. Alarmed, he slowed down to see the cause of the commotion.
What he saw shocked him. They were swerving to miss a baby boy in the road.
Alayna George, now his adoptive mother, gave the details of the morning that eventually led the baby boy to be her son: “So he pulled over on the side of the road and decided to pursue him. He was nervous because he thought, ‘This kid’s going to run away from me, and I’m going to push him into traffic instead of getting him to come to me.’”
But the boy “came right up to him and with no hesitation at all, let him pick him up and thank goodness he did,” she said. “He was in just a diaper. He was filthy, and he was malnourished. He had a speech issue and several other health issues.”
By that afternoon, a Saturday, Buckner had called foster parents Alayna and her husband Kenneth, asking them for an emergency placement. Alayna will always remember how she met her third son.
“They brought him to us, and they opened the car door and he looked at me with his bright blue eyes and his blonde hair, and they said, ‘Here’s Elijah.’”
She instantly had a few questions. “He was supposed to be a 2-year-old. And I looked at him and said, ‘Are you sure he’s 2?’ He was so tall and big, he looked like a 4-year-old. But he’s just been a bigger personality and outgoing and advanced and, looking back now, how he looked then is just the perfect depiction of him.”
It didn’t take Elijah long to bond with the family. “As soon as he got out of the car, it took us five minutes to coax him inside because he immediately was just wanting to play with everything and see everybody,” she said. “We live next door to my parents and so of course, they were there and he immediately ran up to my dad and gave him a hug.”
He also found the refrigerator. “He helped himself right to the fridge and … handed me the chocolate syrup saying he wanted ‘choc milk.’ He fit right in from the beginning.”
The Georges live in Orangefield, Texas, where Alayna’s lived her whole life. They have three boys, Hayden, 11; Parker, 8; Elijah, who’s now 4; and four-month-old daughter, Andi. She describes her family as a “typical country family. We love to go to the lake as a family, we love to play outside, go for walks. All the normal, typical outdoor things that you do together. We ride bikes, we like to tube on the boat. We like to just enjoy swinging and playing in the pond. Fishing, hunting.”
Running away from home felt like Mary Romero’s only option. When she found the Buckner Transitional Home for Women in Lima, Peru, she had the opportunity to choose a new path – a path of hope.
Growing up in Calca, Peru, Mary was surrounded by strife. Her parents separated when she was young and she lived with her aunt for a few years. But in high school, Mary spent seven years living with her father in an unhealthy, abusive environment. She’d always dreamed of furthering her education and enrolled in a local university.
“When I started attending university, everything happened. It was really hard. At some point I just decided that I was OK with dying. I was depressed. So I decided to leave the university,” Mary shared.
Her decision was not made lightly. She had always seen school as the way out of her home life. When she left school, Mary saw suicide as her only option. Mary connected with a friend who told her about Buckner’s Peruvian services, and she was determined to seek out help from Buckner. With an uneasy heart, she left home with only a backpack and lived homeless until she found a temporary resting place with nuns at a local convent for a few months.
During that time, Mary felt God softening her heart. He had her where she needed to be, complete with food and shelter. The possibility of becoming a nun started to run through Mary’s mind but the nuns stopped her.
“They all told me, ‘You don’t have the passion for this – you have the heart to go somewhere and do something else, something big,’” she recalled.
Her chase to find the door to Buckner began again. Searching for direction, a chance encounter led her to one name: “Claudia,” a Buckner staff member from Cusco, Peru.
With her money running low, she took off to Cusco on her Buckner quest. Mary was scared, but the words the nuns told her gave her peace: “Don’t worry, God will take care of you.”
Claudia Leon took Mary into her home until there was an opening at the Women’s Transitional Home in Lima.
“Whatever money I had made in Cusco was already running out. So I went to Lima expecting to have an interview, but they sent me to another orphanage. After a few weeks, I met [Buckner staff member] Jenny and there was an opening at the transitional home.”
Mary lived at the Buckner home for three years – excelling in school and learning more about how to love herself.
Throughout those years, God was not only moving in Mary’s heart but in the heart of Buckner volunteer Lanie Williams of Plano, Texas.
Lanie had started her volunteering journey with Buckner through a friend’s urging to participate in buying Christmas gifts. “I really had never thought about Peru in my life, but I know now there was a reason God sent me there,” Lanie shared.
In 2011, she started going on annual mission trips with Buckner to visit the orphanages, transition homes and deliver Christmas gifts to those in Peru. She remembered meeting Mary at the women’s transitional home and began communicating with her regularly. Lanie knew Mary dreamed of coming to the U.S. to further her education and was determined to figure out how to help make that happen.
“I remember thinking there’s got to be a way, but I don’t know anything about this process. With visas, anything – so God, you’re going to have to just lead me and show me,” she said.
The pair began working together to find a school that could teach Mary English near Lanie’s home in Plano and apply for her student visa to finish her education, because it had “felt like a failure to me,” Mary said.
With the Williamses’ children grown and out of the house, Lanie and her husband felt like this was divine timing. They had plenty of room and felt called to support this young woman in the next steps of her life.
Within a few weeks, Mary was in the U.S. attending school again and living with Lanie and her family. After completing an associate degree in North Texas, Mary applied and was accepted to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
In December 2019, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering – marking a major milestone in her life.
“I never thought I would finish, but now I’ve completed this and it feels really good. I’m looking for jobs and life is hard, but I’m so very happy,” Mary said.
Lanie beams with pride when she thinks about the time Mary has spent in the U.S. with few English skills to now earning an engineering degree and looking to enter the job field. Lanie said she’s seen Mary grow in maturity and spiritually.
“They helped me without even knowing me,” Mary explained. “I feel so blessed. God is giving me these times and I am really thankful for it. And as soon as I have the opportunity and the resources, I want to give back – like what Lanie and what Buckner did for me.”
Mary never thought she would get to where she is today. In Peru, she truly thought her best option was to end her life. Now, Mary is overwhelmed with the joy of being alive.
“I feel like Buckner was a door, each new person placed in my path. I wouldn’t be here if that hadn’t happened. I would’ve never met Lanie,” she said.
When Mary began her journey, she carried trauma and hurt. Through the ministry of the Buckner Transitional Home, she learned how to talk about those things and ways to heal. She shared she has more healing ahead of her, but feels more prepared and supported than ever before.
“Buckner gave me this career and all the resources – and a light to keep going.” BT
For Bethany, Jeffrey and Avery, they were home from the minute they came into Jessica Sosa’s home.
Bethany, 5, and Jeffrey, 3, were Jessica’s first foster care placements – and a few months later, Avery, 2, joined them. Adopting a sibling group all under the age of five might seem like a big undertaking for some, but for Jessica, she couldn’t imagine not doing it.
“I saw the need in foster care when I was doing a lot of volunteering and had some friends who worked for CPS, and also a lot of friends who have fostered or adopted. I was always very aware of the need,” explained Jessica.
Once she was licensed for foster care in January 2018, it only took 24 hours for her to have her first placement – Bethany and Jeffrey.
Avery, the youngest brother, was placed in another foster home in the area. The two families would do outings together, and it was apparent Bethany longed to see him more often. Over the next six months, they would visit frequently and then Avery’s foster family asked Jessica if she would take him too and keep the three siblings together.
“I think having them grow up together is really important. As they get older, they’ll have this connection and they can look back and see … I’ve seen so many cases where the siblings didn’t stay together.”
Fostering as a young single woman has brought many joys, but also many challenges. Jessica laughs as she shares how much she’s learned about patience and grace in the past year.
“We mess up, but that doesn’t define us,” she said. “I want the kids to learn that as they’re getting older.”
Once quiet and timid, the three siblings now love to play and laugh and exude so much joy. When Bethany first came home to Jessica, she didn’t even know her own name and now she’s excelling in school. Jeffrey arrived primarily nonverbal, with tantrums and the inability to really be around people, but now Jessica is getting to experience how smart he is and slowly improving his ability to speak and be around new people. While Avery was just a baby when he came to Jessica’s home, he has grown into the loud, fun-loving boy that doesn’t stop playing.
Jessica encourages any that are looking to walk this journey to find their support.
“Find your circle,” she said. “We’ve had people show up with groceries – just for whatever reason. I always have someone there to support me and to support them.”
Jessica never imagined her first foster placement would turn into an adoption case. But from the first time they stepped into her home, she opened her heart and loved them with all she had. BT