These stories originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly as part of our cover feature, Giving Back

In the late sixties a self-made CEO was troubled by the plight of American POWs in North Vietnam, so he chartered a plane, packed it with medicine, mail, and meals, and tried to have it delivered to imprisoned servicemen. In the eighties, he became disturbed by what he considered rampant mediocrity in public schools, so he pushed a massive education bill through the Texas Legislature. By the nineties, he’d gotten hot under the collar about incompetence in Washington, so he ran twice for the White House.

Ross Perot wasn’t always successful—his presidential bids failed, of course, and that plane full of provisions never actually reached the POWs—but his red-tape-be-damned, DIY approach resonated widely. By not waiting around for others to fix a problem, he embodied something essential about the Texan character.

This impulse was nothing new in the Lone Star State. Back in 1911 Jovita Idar, a journalist and teacher from Laredo, founded La Liga Femenil Mexicanista, which, among other services, provided free education for poor children in the area. After serving in the Army in World War II, Hector Garcia started a medical practice in Corpus Christi for indigent patients and later launched the American GI Forum to press for the rights of Mexican American veterans. Lady Bird Johnson revolutionized the role of first lady, actively taking up such causes as the Highway Beautification Act and Head Start.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this brand of ambitious problem-solving is a thing of the past. Owing in part to the technology we carry in our pockets, the constant deluge of bad news can be overwhelming. Reasons to despair are plentiful. It’s always been easy to be a critic, but nowadays it’s perhaps even easier to be a cynic.

Sources: Americorps, Understanding Houston, Internal Revenue Service

And let’s face it: publications like Texas Monthly are partly to blame. Flip through the pages of this magazine any given month and you’re likely to encounter tales of corruption, greed, fraud, environmental carnage, bloodshed, and (this being Texas) all manner of tomfoolery. News organizations have long had a bad-news bias, and some of that is justified. We are duty bound to hold the powerful to account; to shine a light on problems so they can be addressed.

Still, a bit more balance would be refreshing. Spend a little time out in the world and a fuller picture emerges: reasons to hope are abundant. There are all sorts of folks, from all walks of life, who understand well the bad stuff happening around us and who, rather than give in to despondency, have chosen to give themselves over.

These folks are no mere do-gooders; they’re dreamers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. Unlike Lady Bird and Perot, they’re neither powerful nor famous. Many have experienced firsthand the problems they’re now trying to solve. The battles they’re waging are far from won, of course. These are hard problems—some you’ve likely never considered. Lasting, scalable solutions don’t come easy. But in the pages to come, meet just a few of those who have put us on the path: a Dallas photographer and her friends, a superintendent in West Texas, a former teacher in Houston.

Consider this a wake-up call of sorts, a cannonball fired right to the heart of despair—a call to action. We’re Texans, after all. 

The Folks Who Act

Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, at Yellowstone Schools, in Houston, on October 20, 2023.
Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, at Yellowstone Schools, in Houston, on October 20, 2023.Photograph by Michael Starghill

Lots of Help Is Available for At-Risk Students, but Few Know How to Get It

After his experience as a teacher in an underperforming school, Adeeb Barqawi founded the nonprofit ProUnitas, which helps connect social, health, and education services with the students who need them most. as told to J.K. Nickell

Chris Baker, of the Other Ones Foundation, at the Esperanza Community, in Austin, on October 23, 2023.
Chris Baker, of the Other Ones Foundation, at the Esperanza Community, in Austin, on October 23, 2023.Photograph by John Davidson

Providing Shelter, Job Training, and Community for Those in Need

The Other Ones Foundation, a scrappy nonprofit led by Chris Baker, transformed a state-run encampment site for Austinites experiencing homelessness into a welcoming refuge. by Robyn Ross

Leon and Leticia McNeil and their son, LeeCharles, on South Padre Island, on September 3, 2023.
Leon and Leticia McNeil and their son, LeeCharles, on South Padre Island, on September 3, 2023.Photograph by John Davidson

A Powerful Introduction to Nature for Kids Who Rarely See It

San Antonio’s Leon and Leticia McNeil have introduced generations of Black and Latino youth to the outdoors through their nonprofit, City Kids Adventures. by Ryan Krogh


Great Moments, Great Texans

Lone Star State residents found ways big and small to lend each other a helping hand.

Illustration by Celina Pereira

Eight Texans Who Are Taking on Some of Our Biggest Challenges

Whether helping prevent military suicides, providing free vehicle repairs, or reversing a childcare desert, these Texans are finding creative solutions to big problems.


If Nothing Else, Coach

Teaching kids how to play soccer made me a better person. So why don’t more Texans volunteer? by Josh Alvarez

These stories originally appeared as part of the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly’s cover feature “Giving Back.” Subscribe today.

Photo credits: Urbanczyks: Taylor Walker; Barqawi: Michael Starghill; Headshots for the Homies: Courtesy of Headshots for the Homies; Baker/McNeil: John Davidson; Rinehart: Jaylynn Celaya