By Georgia Gillette

Growing up in the 1970s half-way between Houston, TX and New Orleans, LA in a small town on a nondescript stretch of Interstate 10, I learned to love Houston. Every year, we’d pack into a station wagon and drive 2½ hours to do our Easter clothes shopping. Back then, the Galleria was one of the first urban upscale mall/hotel/retail complexes in the country, complete with huge hanging chandeliers and the only indoor, year-round ice rink I’d ever seen!  For me, it was a small window to a wider, fancier world and today The Galleria remains a fabulous place to shop-- just ask Houston native Beyoncé, who shops there when she visits home. 

Ten years ago this summer, Houston gave me another reason to appreciate it--this time for a far more important reason than its retail options. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Houston showed its community spirit by taking in more than 200,000 Louisiana evacuees during their time of crisis. Busloads of families arrived in Houston, and the city greeted them with open arms, treating its neighbors like guests. From hospitals to homeless shelters to higher education, Houston’s institutions adapted and responded selflessly and strategically, taking care of its neighbors and changing the face of the city forever.

True, Houston is a sprawling city with record-setting traffic and long commutes.  But that’s only because it’s a happening place that’s growing fast. Consider this:

  • Houston is home to more Fortune 500 company headquarters than any other US city other than New York City. Some of the more recent companies to move in and run significant operations include Occidental Petroleum, Exxon, Phillips 66 and Dow Chemical. 
  • It’s got one of the busiest seaports in the country, leading in terms of foreign tonnage and imports in the US—and to think that some people think Houston’s land-locked!
  • Census data from 2010 show that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country (and yes, this means it has fantastic food options!)
  • And Houston is home to Volunteer Houston, which has been connecting volunteers with their passions to help the community for 40 years!

And Houston is fun. There’s a good reason the NCAA Final Four are being held in Houston next year, and the Super Bowl in 2017.  Need culture? Houston’s home to one of the largest museum districts in the country with 20 museums and institutions within walking distance.  Craving country? Every spring, Houston hosts one of the country’s largest rodeos ever, a massive expo of agriculture, cowboy, bulls and broncos that’s run by more than 30,000 volunteers.

This year, Points of Light’s annual Conference on Volunteering and Service will take place October 19-21 in Houston.  To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we’re planning a Texas-sized gathering of thousands of nonprofit and business leaders.  Some of Houston’s hidden strengths will make for an excellent backdrop to our conference. Inspired by NASA, we’ll be forward-thinking.  Like the stars of the Houston rodeo, we’ll take risks. In one of our country’s largest ports and most international cities, we’ll think globally. There’s more to Houston than humidity, and we hope you’ll experience it for yourself by joining us in Houston.  Discounted pricing for registration is available through Friday, August 14, so act fast!

Georgia Gillette July 15, 2015