At 9 years old, Xavier Crow has been through a lot.
He was placed in foster care at 1 1/2, due to abuse and neglect, including a tumble out of a YWCA window, recalls his mother, Renee Crow, who adopted him in 2014. A year later came a diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer, leading to months of chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s.
While Xavier is quick to smile and full of energy — he’s been cancer free for nearly four years — the second grader struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, including angry outbursts and nightmares of being punched, according to his mom.
But any negativity melts away during a recent visit between Xavier and his “Big Brother,” J.D. Aylward at PRO Club in Bellevue, where J.D. manages an auto-detailing service for clients of the swanky athletic club.
Xavier’s eyes light up when he spies J.D., who was matched up with him through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, one of 12 nonprofits boosted by reader donations to the Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. He and his younger brother, Andy, bounce and giggle and cartwheel around. J.D. hoists the grinning boys in the air. They tour the health club, with J.D. proudly introducing the Crows to coworkers before shooting some hoops with Xavier and Andy on a hardwood court.
As a single, white woman raising two adopted boys of color, Renee, a Renton school teacher, knew she wanted a positive male role model of color in their lives, and J.D. has been a great match since he was paired with Xavier in 2019.
J.D., 31, helps Xavier “get some energy out” and receive positive feedback about his behaviors, says Renee. “I want them to know what it is like to be a responsible adult that’s giving back to the community,” she says. “He [J.D.] really fits in with our family. My mom’s met him. She loves him. We met his girlfriend, you know, so he really feels like part of the family already.”
Xavier gives his Big Brother a rave review. “He’s amazing and awesome and he’s just like me — that’s why I like him,” Xavier says, counting “wrestling and playing with Andy and J.D. together” as favorite activities.
J.D. knows the value of such relationships, having had his own Big Brother through the program when he was growing up on the Eastside. He credits the local organization with finding him a great Little Brother in Xavier. “I didn’t know it would be this cool of a connection. I got the perfect match, and I got a bonus brother, too,” he says.
Their get-togethers typically are a mix of sports and games and serious talk.
“He’s definitely a smart kid and he knows what life’s about, he knows he’s been through some things… I think he’s gonna grow up into an awesome young man, and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” J.D. says.
While cherishing J.D.’s interaction with both her boys, Renee hopes to get 6-year-old Andy a Big Brother match of his own.
Big Brothers Big Sisters expects “Bigs” to commit to four hours a month with their “Littles” for at least one year — with many of the relationships lasting much longer. Parents, kids and potential mentors undergo background screening and interviews to connect them with the best matches. And the organization provides regular coaching as well as other support, such as handing out passes to museums and other activities.
“Our vision is that all youth achieve their full potential. And it’s easy to say, but really hard to then follow up on that vision, because there’s a lot of barriers that are put in kids’ lives through no fault of their own, whether it’s systematic barriers, or race and equity issues, poverty, mental health issues or homelessness,” says Louis Garcia, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.
The nonprofit, now in its 63rd year in the region, focuses on the one-on-one relationships between volunteer adult mentors and youths ages 6 to 18 in King, Pierce and Kitsap counties. Most of those seeking out the program are single mothers and three-quarters of the children are people of color.
More than a quarter of the 1,300 kids served annually have experienced homelessness within the past five years, according to the organization’s most recent annual report, which shows the charity spends most of its annual budget on services in support of the children, families and volunteer mentors.
The need for additional mentors is vast, with 1,000 kids on a waiting list, most of them boys of color.
“We do track that, and we have very intentional efforts to attract relevant mentors… It’s so valuable for kids to see role models who look like them, who come from similar backgrounds,” Garcia says.
In between tossing a Nerf football around with Xavier at a Bellevue park last month, J.D. says he’d encourage other men and women to get involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, because there are so many kids who could use a little help.
“It only works if a lot of people start volunteering and doing it, giving back, because this kid could grow up to be, who knows what, right? And if no one’s there to help them and guide them through that, other than his mom, he might fall through the cracks,” he says.