Structural Integrity: Patching Up Group Homes and Transforming Lives

Building New Foundations has evolved from patching up group homes for disadvantaged youth to helping transform the lives of the people living there.
By Ken Budd
February 14, 2024

This past December, Building New Foundations brought more than holiday cheer to a group home for girls ages 7 to 17. They brought screwdrivers, saws, paint brushes, drills—and even, yes, love.

Volunteers with the Houston-based BNF—including workers from contractors and subcontractors, plus architectural and construction-management firms—planted new landscaping, repainted walls and installed new light fixtures, wall coverings and storage cabinets for the Houston-area home run by the Hearts With Hope Foundation. They also decked the halls with decorations, inside and out, and BNF’s president, Hayden Austin, director/shareholder with Harvey/Harvey-Cleary Builders, even led everyone in a series of Christmas carols.

Since 2009, BNF has worked to transform the lives of disadvantaged youth in and around Houston. The work began informally, when a group of construction industry colleagues and friends offered to help a group home for roughly 40 boys who were in the foster-care system but couldn’t find homes. “Basically, they weren’t placeable,” says John Glaze, a BNF director and president of Fast Track Specialties in Houston. “These are kids that may have been a little trouble—just mad at the world for their situation. They’ve endured a lot of bad stuff.”


Initially, Austin, Glaze and other volunteers did small work such as painting, replacing weatherstripping and plumbing projects. But soon their efforts expanded to include Christmas and birthday celebrations. “We just started doing little things and trying to make life better,” Glaze says. “Many of the kids had never had a Christmas present or birthday cake. And they definitely never had a birthday present. So, we organized a little community, and the community was mostly construction people.”

That community—with members from companies such as BMF Solutions, EE Reed, Tellepsen Builders, Karsten Interiors and MAREK—provided pro bono services for organizations throughout the Houston area. In 2013, the group decided to form a nonprofit. Today, BNF works with numerous organizations but has developed partnerships with several that focus on at-risk youth: Hearts With Hope; Yellowstone Academy, a pre-K-through-ninth-grade Christian school; House of Tiny Treasures, a preschool program for children ages 2 to 5 who have experienced homelessness; and Hope’s Path, a residential program for young men ages 18 to 28 who have aged out of foster care and/or are homeless.

The organization’s work includes making repairs and improvements to facilities, mentoring youth who need role models, developing and implementing reading programs and leading back-to-school drives to provide school supplies and clothing for kids. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, BNF assembled teams to work with both group homes and individual foster-family homes, providing labor and materials.

“We don’t normally work with individual homes, but given the circumstances, we did,” Glaze says. “We wanted to help gut and clean and reestablish a place as quickly as possible. Basically, we wanted to beat CPS [child protective services] from getting there to evaluate the property. Our hope was that the kids could stay. One unfortunate thing about being in the foster-care system is you continually get moved.”


Since then, BNF has continued to serve. During the pandemic, it provided 100 laptops to students at Yellowstone Academy (BNF raises money through events ranging from poker tournaments to golf tournaments). The organization has also introduced teens to the Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation, the educational affiliate of ABC of Greater Houston.

The opportunity to mentor young people in foster programs holds special meaning for Glaze. As he describes the process, it involves helping them make good decisions, and requires not just offering advice but listening. It means recognizing their pain, which is why they sometimes act out, and showing them that they matter.

Glaze keeps a photo on his desk that was given to him by a young man in a group home. In the picture, the young man is with four of his friends and a counselor. The bonds between these youth, who are sharing difficult lives, can be strong. Glaze remembers a motivational rapper who came and spoke to the kids, and asked them a question: What’s the best thing about you?

“One of the kids said, ‘The best thing about me is my family that’s here with me. All these guys that I live with—that’s the best thing about me. Because they understand me, and they make me a better person,’” Glaze says. “It’s one of those one of those moments where you’re like, ‘Oh—that’s what it’s all about.’”

For everyone involved with BNF, their volunteer work is the best thing about them. “For me, the days we go out and work on some of these sites, with all the different subcontractors and architects, it’s exciting to see people come together with their families,” Glaze says. “And then we have a meal together. We’re all Judeo-Christian, so we share those values.”

And yet the projects are also a way to interact with others outside their normal circles. “In these times where everyone is so polarized, it’s good to get to know people on a personal level,” Glaze says. “There are people of all ages, every demographic—basically, everybody’s represented and everybody’s there to serve. That’s what I love the most.”

by Ken Budd
Ken Budd is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of a memoir, “The Voluntourist.”

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