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Why Belfor CEO Sheldon Yellen heads into hurricanes when disaster strikes

Belfor Holdings CEO Sheldon Yellen, who has partnered with TODAY to help hurricane victims, has spent 33 years helping people rebuild after natural disasters.
/ Source: TODAY

Sheldon Yellen has been traveling into disaster zones for three decades with the goal of rebuilding more than just physical structures.

As the CEO of Belfor Holdings, Inc., which includes Belfor Property Restoration, the world’s largest disaster restoration company, Yellen has been involved in the cleanup after everything from the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City to Hurricane Katrina.

Belfor Holdings CEO Sheldon Yellen donated $100,000 to families in the Houston area recovering from Hurricane Harvey and another $100,000 for school supplies in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Nathan Congleton/TODAY

"We can put a nail into a 2x4. We can put sheetrock up on a board. That's not what puts the family back to where they were or where they need to be," Yellen told TODAY. "It's being able to restore some of those pictures, those family heirlooms, to find items that they thought were lost forever and be able to restore them and be able to bring an emotional high to these people who have been so devastated."

Yellen has partnered with Al Roker and TODAY as part of this week’s "Lend A Hand" initiative to bring supplies to those in need as they rebuild from the catastrophic damage caused by hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Belfor has donated $100,000 each this week to families in northern Houston and students in Puerto Rico to assist in their recovery.

"These kids are without supplies," he said of the students in Puerto Rico. "They're without structure in their lives right now because their moms and their dads are struggling to put a semblance of order back.

"We haven't forgotten about them. We're here to help. We're here to encourage."

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Yellen has helped grow Belfor Holdings, a private company based in Birmingham, Michigan, into one worth $900 million that brought in $1.5 billion in revenue last year, according to Forbes. He prides himself on treating employees like family and prefers phone conversations on his flip phone instead of texting in order to get a more personal connection.

In 2012, he and his wife, Iris, founded Kots for Kids, a Belfor Cares initiative partnering with non-profits to provide beds and bedding to kids in need of all ages.

Yellen helped Al Roker give out much-needed school supplies to students in Puerto Rico as part of the "Lend a Hand" series. Nathan Congleton/TODAY

"We're in the helping people business," he said. "Every day we get to approach people in need and give them something that they need to help them put themselves in a better place. It's an emotional job and it's an even more emotional rollercoaster ride for us because we do get emotionally attached to the people we serve."

Yellen views helping others as a calling as much as a business.

"We don't have to serve,'' he said. "We get to serve."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.