REDMOND — Sometimes, it’s about two guys putting together a gingerbread house kit. At age 11, a boy like Heaven Lowe is soaking up all those new experiences.
You never know — when he’s an adult, when he’s got his own family and it’s holiday time, he might remember this afternoon.
Heaven is at the family home in Redmond of Adi Weshler, 52, a software guy. They’ve been Big Brother, Little Brother since April 2019.
A gingerbread house needs frosting, and to make frosting, a guy needs to know how to separate the egg white from the yolk, Weshler explains.
Like this. You crack the egg, let the yolk settle in the lower half of the egg shell, while the egg whites run off the sides of the shell into the bowl.
It’s not an afternoon of any big, major doings, but it’s all about building blocks, isn’t it?
Big Brothers Big Sisters sets up matches like this all around the region, working with 1,200 children — almost evenly divided between boys and girls — who have mentors. During the pandemic, the agency has even started virtual mentoring. “Now more than ever, our children and their parents need emotional and social support.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound is one of 13 nonprofits that benefit from reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund for Those in Need.
Heaven’s mom, Miranda Cady, 31, has three sons in the mentoring program. Heaven has a twin brother, Dez’Irre, and an older brother, Clinton, 13. Cady is also mother to a 2-year-old girl, Honesty.
She was 17 when she first got pregnant. “I struggled a lot,” she remembers. “I was in six to 10 foster and group homes.”
On her own, Cady worked at a retail store, at a Supercuts. Things happened. “We were teenagers. The pregnancies were not planned,” she says.
The boys’ father provides child support, but isn’t very involved in their daily lives, she says. She receives financial aid while taking online classes at Washington State University’s Global Campus, studying psychology and human resources management.
“A lot of my family never went to college,” she says.
Cady’s goal is to open up a group home for foster children. With her background, she says about being a foster child, “I know how bad it can be.”
And she knows she wants things better for her kids. Nearly five years ago, she moved from Federal Way to Sammamish.
“I did research online. They had a really good school district [Issaquah] and the crime rate is low. I liked how green it was. A neighborhood where people jog and walk their dogs!”
The U. S. census this year noted the dramatic increase in children living with their mothers only: 21% of children in 2020, compared with 11% in 1968.
Cady’s next step was to line up male mentors for her sons.
“There is only so much a woman can do. They need a man that likes basketball, football, somebody they can open up to and bond with, to guide them, other than just Mom. Women and men speak a different language,” says Cady.
A number of studies show the importance of father figures in boys’ lives.
A 2011 paper published in the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research looked at absent fathers and juvenile delinquency. “Adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives,” it concluded. As for adolescent girls, the researchers said their behavior was independent of the presence or absence of their fathers.
Big Brothers was started in 1904 by Ernest K. Coulter, a former New York City journalist who had been a war correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He quit newspapering to organize the first Children’s Court in that city, working as its clerk while earning a law degree.
When he died at 80 in 1952, his obituary in The New York Times said the Big Brothers movement began when he challenged the men’s club at Central Presbyterian Church: “If each man would take a personal interest in just one boy who has come into conflict with the law, he would be doing something.”
Coulter would tell of the desolate conditions for children in that era at the turn of the century.
The New York Times quoted him, “There are pickpocket dens in the basements of poolrooms where boys are lured and better trained in their profession than boys in the high school. … They have lay figures to practice with. These have bells in pockets and chatelaine bags [a chain for suspending keys worn at the waist by women] and the boys learn to do their work without ringing them.”
That night at the church, more than 40 men volunteered.
In 1977, the group joined with Catholic Big Sisters to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
“Being there for me”
Weshler and his family came to the Seattle area 18 years ago from Israel. Working in software, he’s done the digital route here — T-Mobile, Microsoft, Amazon, now the tech company Smartsheet.
Married, with two daughters in college and a 16-year-old son at home, Weshler knew of Big Brothers Big Sisters because his sister back home worked for the agency.
He went through the application process, filling out the form, having his background checked, being asked what kinds of activities he liked, going through a 90-minute interview. Less than 1% of mentors are turned down.
Weshler likes outdoor stuff like inner tubing in the snow at Snoqualmie Pass. He likes listening to pop music while driving his car. He likes electronic things like flying a drone.
In other words, pretty much connecting just great with an 11-year-old boy.
This year, the Puget Sound agency is working with 1,200 children — almost evenly divided between boys and girls — who have mentors.
The waiting list is 403 children long, and 72% are boys.
“Many men don’t think that working with kids is their calling,” says Tanisha Davis-Doss, who oversees the mentoring programs. “Many feel like if they’re not involved in a certain career or in a certain lifestyle, they can’t offer anything to youth. That’s not true.”
It’s not somebody’s big-time occupation that matters.
“When we ask our kids what’s the best thing that helps you the majority say it’s being there for me,” says Davis-Doss.
While there is a shortage of male volunteers to be Big Brothers, there are lots of women waiting to help out young girls.
Davis-Doss says the agency is “actually recruiting for girls” to be mentored. It has 630 women on a waiting list to be Big Sisters.
Maybe, says Davis-Doss, it’s as simple as, “They don’t know about all that we provide.”
The help is there for girls, says Alonda Williams, CEO of the agency.
“An example is being bullied or cyberbullied. She can talk to a Big Sister about it, but might be uncomfortable talking to her parents,” says Williams.
Then there is just being around a Big Sister who has a career. Williams says the agency has had career women of color, such as an engineer, who have applied to be Big Sisters because growing up, “They didn’t meet anyone who looked like them. If little girls see it, they can be it.”
The national Big Brothers Big Sisters cites a 1995 study of 959 10- to 16-year-olds who applied, at eight local affiliates. Seattle was not included, but Williams says the conclusions mirror what her agency sees.
That study said boys and girls of all races who had been mentored were helped in many ways. Specifically for girls, though, the study said the impacts of Big Sisters on girls of color “exceed those on the overall sample.”
These girls with mentors had significantly higher grades, felt more confident of their ability to do schoolwork, skipped fewer days of school and classes, lied to their parents less often and were less likely to start using illegal drugs or alcohol, said the study.
Heaven gets together with Weshler every two or three weeks, more frequently than the other Bigs meet with Cady’s other two sons. Weshler also organized an inner tube outing for all the boys and their mentors.
When it’s just the two of them, driving to some adventure, Heaven plays DJ on Spotify. “We enjoy the latest Billie Eilish a lot,” says Weshler.
He’s taught Heaven the basics of tennis. “He had to show me how to hold a racket,” says Heaven.
They’ve gone to a Halloween haunted house, ice skating, put up a tent in Weshler’s backyard and had a barbecue.
They’ve talked about how Heaven should handle a girl at school who was “saying something mean, something mean about my mom,” says Heaven.
Weshler recommended not to escalate things with the girl but to talk to an adult at the school. Heaven did that and whatever the issue was, it was resolved.
In the big picture, it wasn’t a major deal.
But little by little, building blocks.