From a boy to a man: How Bigs empower potential | Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City

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From a boy to a man: How Bigs empower potential

Leroy, a.k.a. "LJ,” was a 12 year-old, soft-spoken, but very inquisitive young man when we first met.

Over the last six years, LJ and I have explored Kansas City, tackled DIY weekend projects around my house, traveled back home to my family farm, and tried to stop at every well-known Kansas City eatery at every chance we could.

While going to the movies, arcades, swimming pool, amusement parks, and other fun events has created hours of laughter and jokes, my favorite thing hands-down has been to watch him develop into the man he is today.

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Finding a job

When LJ was 14, he came to me and wanted to find a summer job. Obviously, at 14, that created some challenges. There were limited viable options given his junior age. However, his mom and I were determined to find something. At the time, my current employer had just announced their endowment to sponsor a place called Boys Grow.

Boys Grow is a two-year program that instills pride, identity, discipline, and an understanding of the business world through agriculture entrepreneurship in our youth. As a kid who grew up on family farm and was employed in the agriculture industry, I was ecstatic to see this opportunity for LJ to not only learn about where his food comes from, but also help connect him to my background.

After working together, we developed a cover letter and resume and submitted his application. He got a phone call from the Executive Director and was called in for an interview. We practiced his interview skills and discussed they reasons “why” he was qualified. Ultimately, LJ was selected to the Boys Grow graduating class of 2018!

During his time with Boys Grow, he’s been interviewed on FOX 4, cooked alongside world-renowned chef Lidia Bastianich of “Lidia’s” Italian restaurant, spoken at fundraising events, and helped developed a locally-grown Boys Grow condiment sauce that’s sold across KC.

Learning to drive

After graduating Boys Grow and feeling the gratification of a paycheck, he wanted more. After attending an employment workshop at BBBS , LJ applied for a part-time position at QuikTrip and was hired soon after. At that point, LJ was 16, and he mentioned his aspirations for having a vehicle and living on his own.

There were just a few problems: He didn’t have a savings account, and he hadn't ever driven before.

Shortly after, with the approval of his mother, LJ & I set up a savings account where a percentage of his paycheck went toward a car savings account. He also started studying for his driver’s exam.

After passing his driver's exam, we started the process of learning how to drive. On our first trip out, we got pulled over — luckily, we were practicing in an empty parking lot, and it was only security. Since then, LJ has gone on to pass his driving test and is an excellent driver.

Earlier this year, LJ was able to purchase his first car and graduated high school in May. Soon after, he entered the work force with a focus in carpentry.

A lifetime of memories

This summer, LJ & I officially graduated from the BBBS program. Looking back, at first the thought of being a Big was a little intimidating. I was worried I wouldn't have the available time required or fresh new ideas to do with LJ every time we hung out.

Both were quickly dispelled. For LJ and I, it didn't necessarily matter what we were doing or the amount of time we were spending together — just the fact that we were together hanging out, talking, and exploring KC meant the world.

If you're thinking about becoming a Big, don't let the time commitment scare you. Sometimes LJ & I spent an entire Saturday together, other times it was just an hour or so on a week night just for dinner. I can't say it enough: You don't have to always do something elaborate. The fact that you're spending time with your Little means the world to them.

Being a Big and seeing the impact you can have on someone's life is truly a great thing.

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