Story written by Samantha Baker, marketing and communications specialist at the Greater Waco Chamber, published in the 2019 second quarter edition of Greater Waco Business magazine.
Michael Heins is the Regional Director of Productivity for H-E-B. Born and raised in Gonzales, Texas, Michael moved to Waco in 1989 at the age of 18 to attend Texas State Technical Institute (TSTI), now TSTC Waco, to study mechanical design and computer-aided drafting. Looking for work to pay his way through school, he was hired on at H-E-B to bag groceries.
After graduating from TSTI two years later, Michael was still working at H-E-B when he was called to help a young lady in the parking lot who had left her car lights on and had a dead car battery. He went out to assist the woman, Bridget DeLeon, who would eventually become Michael’s wife.
Michael and Bridget were married the next year, and the young couple moved to Austin. Michael looked for work in his field of study, thinking he would quickly find work in Austin’s growing economy, but at the time the only jobs he could really find were in Houston. The idea of moving to Houston and spending his time drafting wasn’t appealing to Michael, so he continued to learn and grow with H-E-B at a store in Austin.
Bridget Heins is the Director of Community Relations at Rapoport Academy Public School. Bridget was born to a single teen mother at Hillcrest Hospital in Waco. She described her early years as chaotic but she always found stability at school. She notes particular educators who made an impact on her, including Mr. Barksdale at Lake Waco Elementary, Mr. Bables at G. L. Wiley, or Coach Love at Waco High School, Bridget always had influences in her life who made sure that the gaps were filled. “Along the journey of growing up in chaos, there was the steady that was school,” said Bridget. “I literally followed my heroes into my profession, which is education.”
When she was a senior in high school, Bridget received a scholarship from the League of United Latino American Citizens, or LULAC, to attend McLennan Community College (MCC). “That scholarship was literally the difference between going and not going to college,” said Bridget. From MCC, Bridget transferred to Baylor University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree and became a student-teacher at Waco Baptist Academy where she was eventually hired on as a teacher.
Bridget laughs at the memory of her first meeting Michael in the parking lot at H-E-B. “It’s so embarrassing,” she said. “Dead battery in broad daylight.”
Michael and Bridget had lived in Austin for a short stint when they decided to have their first child, their daughter Rebecca. Shortly before Rebecca was born in 1994, the Heins decided to move back to Waco to start their family. The flexibility of working for H-E-B gave Michael opportunities to transfer to different stores in different cities, which made the transition back to Waco easier. Michael started working overnights at the Wooded Acres H-E-B and soon he and Bridget welcomed Rebecca to their family. In 1999, Michael and Bridget welcomed their second child, their son Michael (or Mikey, as he prefers to be called).
Soon after, Michael was accepted into a department management training program at H-E-B and continued to be developed and molded into a leader by his company. “Everywhere along the way, when opportunities from what I had studied in school came along, there was always someone at H-E-B who said, ‘Well, we would really like for you to do this,’” said Michael. “I always had the benefit of getting a better opportunity from within H-E-B than I was finding outside of H-E-B.”
Through his career at H-E-B, Michael managed multiple departments in multiple stores around Central Texas and continued to raise a family and become very involved in the Waco community. Michael eventually was put on track to have his own H-E-B store, which was a big personal victory for him. His store was located in Marlin, a small store in a small community that he loved being a part of. After Marlin, Michael made the move to the store on South Valley Mills, where he was in charge for eight years.
After graduating from Baylor, Bridget student-taught and eventually became a full-time fifth-grade teacher at Waco Baptist Academy where she taught for 15 years, taking off time here and there to raise her children and be a mom. She is passionate about teaching middle school because she remembers how difficult middle school was for her personally and the difference that different teachers and community organizations made in her life. “During middle school years, I was actually living at the Methodist Children’s Home,” Bridget said. “The Methodist Home, as an organization, was pivotal for me, because it was only at that point that I began to have structure outside of school – the structures of chores, of having a plan in place for doing homework, the expectations, the discipline. Learning in that environment was difficult for me because I’d never really experienced structure, but it really set patterns into place that helped me when I was on my own.”
Bridget was hired at Rapoport Academy Public School five years ago as a fifth-grade teacher. Her job now is more marketing and community relations-focused, which she says is thanks to her superintendent believing in her and giving her an opportunity to grow into a new role. “Basically I’m in a support role when it comes to community events, things like Freedom Ball and LEAD, where scholarships are given and students benefit. We make sure we’re giving back and that our students and teachers and parents have opportunities to give back to the greater Waco community,” she said.
During his tenure at the South Valley Mills store, Michael got more involved with the community through H-E-B’s Diversity Council, the United Way, the Greater Waco Chamber, and other opportunities that H-E-B allowed him to be involved with. He and Bridget became more involved in their church, hosting local college students for a home-cooked dinner once a week and providing leadership and mentorship. “That’s always been important to us, to serve,” said Michael. “We’re both servants, my wife and I. That’s been a big part of what we’ve done and what H-E-B has allowed me to because of the serving nature of what H-E-B does.”
Bridget says that her servant’s heart was fostered by the organizations that helped raise her. “The giveback part of me really does come from the fact that, if you can name an organization in Waco, they somehow or another helped me,” she said, “whether it was through school or through community events or just even giving us books at Christmas. The Junior League of Waco was a group I saw, I remember seeing the name over and over again, not knowing what it was. As an adult, I became a member of the Junior League. That desire to be involved with the community stems from the fact that this community was there for me and provided the path that otherwise, I don’t know where I would be right now.”
Michael’s current job is regional, so he works in both Waco and Austin, traveling about once a week to his Austin office. His job is innovative and analytic, finding, testing and implementing processes that are most efficient and cost-effective for the company. “The biggest piece, what I’ve always loved most about my job is the ability to help, mentor and train people and see them become successful,” said Michael. “I have a lot of people who I mentor or who reach out to me for help or with questions, so that’s very rewarding. I also get to see a lot of the new things that we do from a technology standpoint, or behind-the-scenes things that are coming to better serve our customers and partners [employees] — those are all exciting to me that I get to be a small part of and help roll out.”
When it comes to living in Waco, Michael and Bridget say there’s nowhere else they would rather live and work. “Having lived and worked in Austin, the biggest thing that really keeps us here is our small group of friends and the small-town feel,” Michael said. “I’m able to live and serve both the community and work at H-E-B.”
Bridget has always been rooted in Waco and has deep connections to a community that she says basically raised her. “When I was a student at G.L. Wiley, our teachers would take us periodically to Paul Quinn College, which is where Rapoport Academy is now,” she said. “So I’ve actually been on the campus when it was Paul Quinn College, and all of those people I named, the heroes that I followed into the teaching profession, went to Paul Quinn College. When I look at what we’re able to do for students, I see a lot of myself in them. That’s why I continue to love my job, because I see the difference-maker that a quality education can be to a child, I am a life that is changed.”
Both Michael and Bridget work to build leaders and prepare them for the workforce. At H-E-B, Michael says there is often internal promotion and strong family culture. “H-E-B is a privately-owned family business that’s been around since 1905. The culture of H-E-B is all about people, it’s always been that way. You will be taken care of by your team and by your company, and that’s really hard to find,” said Michael. “The other benefit is that we have so many opportunities at H-E-B that are available for you, whether it be manufacturing, logistics, information systems, human resources, and more, anything you could possibly want to do.”
Rapoport Academy Public School, a public charter school, was founded 20 years ago by Dr. Nancy Grayson with the intent that all students, no matter where they lived, deserved to have a quality education that prepared them for post-secondary, for college, career and life. Rapoport Academy has the same accountability as traditional public schools, and each charter school has a unique look, feel, and focus. Bridget said, “We don’t have a one-size-fits-all for every student — we have a specific degree plan for each student.”
Rapoport Academy focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, entrepreneurship and providing students the opportunity for tuition-free access to college. “The work that’s being done in our district is with that focus of getting students ready for college, career and life,” said Bridget. “We would like for them to stay in the Waco community, and we have events that are geared toward showing students what’s available in Waco. We hold our STEM Pathways event in the fall, and we invite local industries along with all of the colleges – MCC, TSTC, the University Center, and Baylor – so that students and parents can learn about industry needs and college degree programs providing a local pathway from education to career.”
With kids grown and moved out of the house and careers that allow for a flexible work-life balance, Michael and Bridget enjoy spending their free time with their close-knit circle of friends or on their family farm in Gonzales. “We have a small place that Bridget and I go to on the weekends where there’s nothing but cows and pastures,” said Michael. “It gets us out of the ‘rat race,’ so to speak.”
The two are also actively involved in organizations around town, including the Greater Waco Chamber. They attend as many events as they can to network professionally and give back to the community. “I try to make every Chamber event that I can,” Bridget said. “The benefit for me coming to these events is getting to be in front of people that normally I wouldn’t encounter, people who are valuable resources for my students. I’m always in the mindset of ‘how do I get resources to my students?’ And the Chamber allows me to do that.”
Michael and Bridget particularly enjoy being involved in Freedom Ball and the LEAD Program. Michael currently serves on the Chamber’s Board of Directors representing H-E-B. “Getting to connect more with community members and provide input on things going on in Waco are both benefits of being involved with the Chamber,” he said. “The most fun thing is the TRC Campaign. Not only do you get to meet new people and connect, you get to have fun doing it.”
Bridget and Michael exemplify what it means to love one’s community. They give back to Waco in so many capacities, both personally and professionally, and continually seek out opportunities and avenues through which they can connect, serve and grow.
During his career, Michael has learned three pieces of advice for professionals working to grow in their careers:
1. Treat people right.
2. Follow the process.
3. Have fun.
“If you don’t have fun and just enjoy what you’re doing and treat your people right, it can be really overwhelming,” he said. “Those are the things that are core for me. Follow the processes — since 1905, H-E-B has put steps and processes in place because they work. So to me, if you follow those things, it’s not a job, it’s just what you get to do.”