During a drive around 76104, Andy Williams sees two workers in front of a house recently built with a sign bearing the name Rehab Warriors, his career-training program. After learning that they are roofers, Williams makes a call and passes the phone over to one of the workers.
Within a few minutes, the two workers are lined up to work on Rehab Warriors’ next construction job, should they need it.
“It’s really important that we circle the dollar locally,” Williams said. “It’s very important to me that we are local — we recruit local and we build local.”
Williams grew up low-income in a small town outside of Waco and decided to join the Marine Corps after high school as a pathway to the middle class. He even turned down a full-ride scholarship to play football at Texas Christian University, he said.
“I felt that playing football would be a big risk. Coming from a small town, going to a college like TCU — I would be gambling my ability to perform on the football field for higher education,” he said. “Where the Marine Corps offered me the ability to learn a really good skill, get an income while I’m learning that skill, and then be able to go to the college of my choice after four years.”
After his five-year service and some time with the State Department, Williams returned to civilian life and started out in real estate. He approaches his work with a mindset learned from his time serving — never leave a place worse than you found it.
“America doesn’t have problems that can’t be eliminated,” Williams said. “America runs on capitalism. If there’s no capital flowing, there’s no opportunity.”
Williams’ name may sound familiar to most from his previous house-flipping show, “Flip or Flop Fort Worth,” on HGTV with his wife, Ashley. During that time, he was flipping houses in parts of Fort Worth but quickly realized that this experience was not the right fit for him and his mission. The show ended in 2018 after just one season.
“When I did the show, we were flipping houses here and there. But we were really trying to rebuild a neighborhood. And that’s when I realized that my efforts of doing one house at a time, or two houses at a time, was never going to address the problem,” he said. “I’d seen the developers that really just were looking for yield, and the way they transform these neighborhoods with no real compassion for the community, it struck a chord with me.”
After the end of his show, he worked on developing Rehab Warriors, a career school with an apprenticeship program based in Fort Worth that teaches veterans the principles of real estate. The goal is to show them local solutions that build homegrown talent in their local area.
From finding properties to redeveloping them into low-to-moderate income housing while managing a workforce, veterans who go through the program get hands-on experience that they can take back with them to their local communities.
“The overall goal is to show the veterans that they can create change locally, whether they’re in rural America, or whether they’re in urban America,” Williams said. “Every veteran has an opportunity to become a small business. And every neighborhood that gets new housing stock increases the tax base.”
Jerry Tello, 26, completed the Rehab Warriors program over the summer of 2022. The former force recon Marine from Arlington connected with Williams on LinkedIn just as he was transitioning out of the military.
Tello was trying to figure things out and had just gotten a job. Hesitant at first, he then fell in love with everything Rehab Warriors and Williams stood for.
“The hands-on is a huge thing because I’m more of a hands-on learner,” Tello said. “It also kind of opens up your eyes to the bigger picture, which as soon as I got into that, I realized my dreams were big enough… And now I want to be a developer, which is one of the things that I didn’t even know existed until Rehab Warriors showed me.”
Williams’ program has gathered the attention of cities and universities. Rehab Warriors even received accreditation from the U.S. Department of Labor. Rehab Warriors partnered with the city of Arlington in November 2021 to train local veterans with real estate development skills while reinvesting in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
He has also worked with the city of Hurst, where the organization helped revitalize Olive Street’s neighborhood and the city of Balch Springs.
“He has shown true success as an entrepreneur and he’s a dreamer and a visionary and energetic personality,” said Clay Caruthers, Hurst city manager. “He’s shown the ability to pull together different groups of people to accomplish the mission, so to speak, for whatever you’re working on.”
Most recently, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore announced it will also be partnering with the organization through its business school to develop a capstone course focused on revitalizing disadvantaged communities.
“He has a dynamic personality and a passion for this (veteran) population,” said Nikky Lewis, grants manager for the city of Arlington. “It shines through every meeting that you have with him.”
For Williams, Rehab Warriors is about addressing the problem head-on by doing the hard work. That’s what real leadership is all about, he said, although he doesn’t consider himself one.
“’I’m not a leader. I’m just a person that says, ‘I’m going to speak up and I’m going to stand up for change.’ And then I expect other people that have some type of moral compass, to stand in line and follow,” he said. “If we as a community create the change, then at some point, we’ll have a community that is sizable so that our voices can be heard.”
On the corner of Evans and Myrtle streets, Williams recently purchased a vacant building that will soon house a content creation studio for future projects. On the side of the building is a mural of a tree. One side is a dead tree with a road leading to Fort Worth. The other side has a similar image but with a thriving tree.
“You look at that mural: We have two roads. And I’m just taking the high road,” Williams said. “I’m leading from the front. But I’m not leaving anyone behind. And who I have an affinity for is the veteran, and the veteran has an affinity to their country. We share that compassion.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Andy Williams Bio
Birthplace: small town outside of Waco
Moved to Fort Worth: 2006
Family: His wife, Ashley, and their two children
Education: American Military University, bachelor of entrepreneurship; Argosy University, master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.
U.S. Marine Corps; security service for the U.S. Department of State in Baghdad Iraq; internal entrepreneur at Noble Capital; president of business development at Infinite Services, Inc.; executive at B2R Finance; founder and president of Recon Realty; founder of Rehab Warriors.
Board member of the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation; chairman of the board at CDFI Friendly Fort Worth.
First job: Started his own landscaping business at the age of 9 and ran it for four years.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: If you see a problem, you try to try to solve it.
Best advice ever received: If you want to see change, go make money. Don’t ask people, and don’t beg. Capitalism is the biggest driver of change. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Build yourself a balance sheet. But don’t let your britches get too high, because you always gotta reach back down.