Boys to Men

Son of a Saint offers local boys the guidance they need.
photos by cheryl gerber
(Left to right) Lindsey Romig, Chris Musco, Sonny Lee, Allen Smith and Ty Rhodes

 

There are so many things a father does to bond with his son: going to the barber shop, sharing a hot dog at a ball game, manning a grill, learning to spiral a football or just simply talking and listening. A good father gives his children the confidence to explore their environment and take risks. But the most significant gift of all is for a child to know that their father always has their back.

But what happens when a boy is born without a father, has a father in prison, or loses a father to violence and death?

According to Bivian “Sonny” Lee, III, founder and executive director of Son of a Saint, life for boys who lose their fathers is an uphill battle involving challenges related to self-confidence, anger and feelings of abandonment. He believes that left unaddressed, these challenges manifest in unhealthy behaviors.

Lee’s father, Bivian Lee, Jr., was an NFL defensive back for the New Orleans Saints from 1971 to 1975. In 1972, he led the team in interceptions. In 1984, at the age of 36, he died suddenly from cardiac arrhythmia, leaving behind a wife, a 5-year-old daughter, Tamica, and a 3-year-old son, “Sonny.”  


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Sonny’s mother, Cynthia Lee, who worked as a financial analyst for Lockheed Martin, did her best to make up for that loss by teaching her children good morals, finding them the best schools and creating the best environment she possibly could.

“Sonny was not an easy son to raise,” she says. “You know he was a typical boy —always in one kind of trouble or another. I wanted to keep him from the wrong side. The hardest thing was to watch the boys in the neighborhood who also didn’t have fathers turn to the wrong side. I didn’t want that for him.”  

She says she doesn’t know what she would have done without the help she received from her younger brother, Warmoth.

“He was there for us,” she says. “He helped with discipline and was a mentor. He really made a difference.”

Sonny appreciates the many opportunities he was afforded. He knows the mentoring he received from his uncle and the life his mother created for him helped make him the man he is today. So, it was this model he used in 2011 to create his nonprofit, Son of a Saint, which provides mentorship, education, recreation, cultural enrichment and emotional support to fatherless young men of New Orleans.

“Our boys get a good education, have access to mental health specialists, do things like equine therapy and summer camps,” says Lee. “Once a month we take a trip somewhere — flying to places like Detroit, Washington D.C. or Los Angeles. We just got back from taking 10 boys to Costa Rica.”

Mentors of Son of a Saint now help more than 80 young boys, and the goal is to reach 50 more. Each year, Son of a Saint selects a group of boys ages 10-13 to join the existing kids in the program. Each boy remains an official Son of a Saint mentee until he is 18.

“But the connections remain, and we continue to advise and support him in the years that follow,” Lee says. “Our goal is to graduate self-sufficient, independent thinkers who are leaders and give back to their community. Really, we just try to be there for them. If they need a pair of jeans we pick them up from school and we’ll go get them a pair of jeans or a pair of shoes.”

Each boy is assigned a mentor and a tutor. The tutors are current teachers in the school system and work with each boy at least 90 minutes a week.

“Son of a Saint empowers the boys to have high expectations for themselves, to welcome challenges, to think critically and to use their talents and skills to serve as leaders in their communities,” says Katie Rose Norman, who has been a Son of a Saint tutor since June.

She tutors Mark, a sixth-grader who wants to be a lawyer one day.

“In our first tutoring session, we discussed the power of positive thinking, and he wrote an essay on having the fortitude to overcome challenges and the courage to ask for help,” Norman says. “When he gets frustrated in class or doesn’t understand the material, he takes out his essay and reads it again to remind himself that he will do great things and to never give up.”

Lee continues to improve the program. He is currently working with Flow Digital to create an app that will help with the organization’s calendar of events.

“It will also work almost as the Son of a Saint Uber, making sure the kids who need a ride somewhere are connected to those volunteers who are willing to transport them,” says Lee.

Lee has received many honors and awards from his work and recently was honored at the 15th Annual BET Awards. All of this makes his mother more than just a little bit proud.

“I am so impressed with him,” she says. “He’s such a good person. Both my children are blossoming; I must have done something right.”

Success Stories
Miles is a junior at Lusher Charter School and one of the first boys enrolled in the program. His mother, Marla, is very thankful for the program. “The Son of a Saint organization has been a true blessing to my son Miles as well as to me,” she said. “He’s been able to do a lot of activities and go a lot of places that he would not have been able to do otherwise. He learned how to do things that only a man can teach him, like tie a tie. He’s also grown to appreciate performing community service as well as being rewarded for good behavior and grades.”

Jaheim is 16 years old and attends St. Augustine High School, where he plays basketball and football. “Not only has the program helped me but I think it helps other young men in the city because when they see us succeeding, they want to try and be better too,” he said. He also believes the mentors are important. “It’s good to have someone to talk to when you are down, someone who helps you get back on track.”

Julio has been with the program for seven years and now at 21 he remains in the program as a mentor. He also helps to fix technical issues around the organization’s office and often picks up boys who need transportation. He works three jobs and is attending Delgado, where he’s taking courses in business. He plans to become an electrician. “The mentors are there to have fun and play but it’s so much more than that,” he said. “They are there when it gets down and dirty, when you have a problem like getting suspended from school. They can give you guidance that really helps. They show you what to do and what not to do.”


Son of a Saint, provides mentorship, education, recreation, cultural enrichment and emotional support to fatherless young men of New Orleans

THE BASICS

Son of A Saint

 

MISSION
Son of a Saint exists to enhance the lives of fatherless boys through mentorship, emotional support, development of life skills, exposure to constructive experiences and the formation of positive, lasting peer-to-peer relationships.

INFO
2803 St. Philip St.
New Orleans, 70119
(504) 561-7508
SonofaSaint.org

ANNUAL BUDGET
$937,000,
plus an additional $275,000 in scholarships

ONGOING PARTNERSHIPS
Son of a Saint has many valuable partnerships, such as River Rock Stone Works, Republic Business Credit, the University of New Orleans, King and Jurgens law firm, Rycars Construction and Dat Dog.


RESULTS

Success of Services

 

The boys in the program have become more self-aware and self-disciplined

Their grades have improved

And there has been a significant decrease in detention in schools

They have logged hundreds of hours in community service

95 percent of the boys 15 years old and older, are employed.

The other 5 percent are looking for work.


Son of a Saint provides mentorship and a wide range of educational and enrichment opportunities — including etiquette classes — to boys age 10 through 18.

GET INVOLVED

Major Fundraising Event

 

Friday, Nov. 30
Son of a Saint will host its 2018 fundraising gala on Friday, Nov. 30, beginning at 7 p.m. in partnership with The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Attendees will be welcomed with a patron cocktail party, which precedes the main event. Gala guests will experience musical entertainment with live performances from The Roamin’ Jasmine, silent auctions, a three-course dinner, an open bar and an after party.

Oak Street Po-Boy Festival
Also in November, the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival donates 20 percent of its proceeds to Son of a Saint.


HOW TO HELP

Ways Businesses Can Partner with Son of a Saint

 

Let Son of a Saint pitch the program at your office to recruit volunteers and mentors to the program

Create job-shadowing opportunities

Offer paid internships

Provide cultural experiences for current kids

Donations to Son of a Saint Scholars are also being accepted through the Louisiana Tuition Donation Credit (TDC) program. It offers young men access to great schools and transforms the lives of kids in need. Every $100,000 tax credit donation funds 20 students for an entire school year.  Donate 100 percent of your Louisiana income tax liability and you’ll receive a 95 percent state tax credit at the time of donation and 5 percent of the donation may be eligible for a federal tax deduction, making the TDC more favorable than movie and historical rehabilitation credits.

 

Current Needs

Books for adolescents

Gift cards for groceries

Tickets to events and entertainment

Access to educational enrichment programs

Sponsorships for summer camps


 

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