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ShelterBox founder visits U.S. HQ

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The founder of the international disaster relief organization ShelterBox is in the area to lead a workshop for about 70 of its volunteers and staff.

Tom Henderson, 59, of Cornwall, England, who described himself Tuesday in an interview as “criminally optimistic,” launched the relief organization in 2000.

He will be leading a ShelterBox meeting at the Comfort Suites hotel to discuss what’s been learned from past efforts, and to plan fundraising and public relations initiatives, he said.

Henderson thought such an organization was needed after he saw a relief operation on television. It showed disaster victims scrambling on the ground for goods thrown from a truck rolling past them. He wondered why aid was given in a way that undermined the dignity of people who had just lost everything.

“I didn’t set out as a one-man effort to change the world,” Henderson said, but conceded he did know his idea of sending a box with a tent and supplies made “a lot of sense.”

He hoped to supply shelter, warmth, comfort and dignity through delivery of green plastic boxes loaded with supplies, he said.

His Rotary Club, a business group, helped him get started. Since then, ShelterBox has become an independent organization with operations around the world.

In 2002, the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club helped to launch the U.S. affiliate, and that’s why ShelterBox’s national headquarters is located here.

“The first time I met Tom and he told me of his epiphany ... I was amazed and in awe how just one person can take a thought and make it a reality,” said Executive Director Veronica Brandon Miller, of Lakewood Ranch.

“He’s amazing and very down-to-earth at the same time,” she said.

Henderson served as a rescue diver in the British Navy for 12 years before leaving the military to retrain as an engineer. He used his diving skills to work in the offshore oil industry, he said.

Later, he ran a consulting business, working for oil companies in the North Sea; however, his consulting business “kind of dropped away” six years after he started ShelterBox, he said.

His wife, Jane, also is heavily involved in relief work. The couple has two grown sons.

After nine years, more than a million people have been housed in one of ShelterBox’s tents.

“Not too shabby,” Henderson said.

For more information, go to www.ShelterBoxUSA.org or call (941) 907-6036.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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