TWELVE-YEAR-OLD LINDSEY Bass, aboard American Airlines Flight 3479 as it began its descent into Midland-Odessa airport on June 12, was exhausted. An anxious journey as an unaccompanied minor had been wearying, not to mention the nine air hours it took to get to West Texas from her home in Oahu, Hawaii. But as the plane reached its terminal gate, a flight attendant's announcement inspired an adrenaline surge in the young girl.

Obediently, Lindsey stayed seated as other passengers disembarked. Then, Lindsey, and 17 other girls from across the country who were each traveling alone, was told that someone “very special” waited to greet them in the airport. As she gathered her belongings, the public address message struck Lindsey full-on with a blast of admiration. “Mr. Horton,” she whispered to herself with a smile.

CAMP COUNSEL: D.R. Horton's founder and chairman, Don Horton, grabs a rare minute of relaxation on the lodge's porch with long-time executive assistant and camp director Kathy Lopez. “This program couldn't succeed unless the entire company got behind it,” says Horton. For her part, Lopez, who has managed the day-to-day demands of the camp program since its inception in 2000, jumped back into the 2005 season just a few weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery. To hundreds of children across the country, he's revered as a virtual summertime Santa, doling out an opportunity of a lifetime: a week at “Camp Horton” full of activities on one of two working West Texas ranches. But amid the outpouring of adoration—and in spite of the region's searing heat—Don Horton, founder and chairman of the board of D.R. Horton, seemed as cool as a cucumber as he greeted a wave of 69 campers, converging on the local airport. His apparent ability to not break a sweat impresses, especially when you consider that he's preparing to host more than 400 employee children over the course of six weeks this summer—all on the company dime.

Lucky campers are nominated from every division of the company. For some of the chosen 10- to 15-year-olds, it's their first vacation ever—for all, it's their only vacation this year.

On the 28,000-acre DHI Ranch and the newly acquired 56,000-acre DRH Ranch located 20 miles southeast of Fort Stockton, Texas, kids spend seven days maneuvering four-wheelers through the rough terrain, playing tug-of-war across a giant mud pit, chasing elk, and even riding calves out of a makeshift rodeo chute. Along the way, they'll inadvertently pick up self-esteem, gain a sense of independence, and polish their social skills under the watchful eye of Mr. Horton himself.

ALTRUISM IN ACTION When you hear about altruism in the industry, efforts in the green building arena or Habitat for Humanity typically spring to mind. More recently, the wild popularity of ABC-TV's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition catapulted several builders into the national spotlight for their good deeds. So what do horseback riding and goat-roping competitions have to do with home building? When it comes to its goodwill efforts, the nation's most prolific home builder believes its beneficence is best placed among its 9,000-strong nationwide employee base (see “All In the Family,” page 32).

SADDLE UP: For some, horseback riding is a fear to face down; for others, it's a flat-out thrill. “Not only do we get to ride,” says former camper and first year counselor Candace, “but we get to ride every single day.” “I come from a big family,” says Horton, who fondly recalls Christmases at his grandparents' house, where more than 100 relatives would gather. “The greatest accomplishment of this company has been that we have always been a family. We were a family at 100 [employees], a family at 1,000, and as we continue to grow, we're still a family.”

In Horton's mind, families look after each other. “In 28 years, every goal I have ever set for our people, they have exceeded,” he says, pointing to the company's 111 consecutive quarters of record sales and profits. They've taken care of the company and it's the company's responsibility to take care of them.”

The financial world could hardly dispute the strategy. Though it's difficult to tie a measurable benefit to the expense, which Horton speculates to be in the millions, one top analyst who covers the company calls the program “a pretty inventive and unique approach to retain a smart, well-trained workforce.” The analyst, who asked not to be named, views the camp as an employee benefit, not a charitable outreach. “This makes a lot more sense than donating to outside charities. It's not being used to bolster a CEO's reputation with politicians. It's creating loyal, dedicated employees, and it's a smart way to do it. Even if it's $10 million, that's just wildly immaterial to this company.”

“People are a bigger asset than land in this business,” agrees Tony Avila, a managing director for home building at JMP Securities. “People enable recurring revenue. Land you can only sell once. Putting programs in place to help retain people is critical to maintaining a solid culture and healthy work environment.”