In Celebration of Black History Month, we are supporting the work of Son of a Saint (SoaS), an organization that exists to transform the lives of fatherless boys through mentorship, emotional support, development of life skills, exposure to constructive experiences and formation of positive, lasting peer-to-peer relationships.
They save lives.
Each year, Son of a Saint selects a group of boys ages 10-12 to join the existing kids in our program. The boys must be fatherless due to their father’s death or incarceration. Each boy remains an official Son of a Saint mentee until age 18, but the connection remains until age 21 as Son of a Saint continues to advise these young men into young adulthood. Our goal is to graduate self-sufficient, independent thinkers who are leaders and give back to their community.
What they provide, above all else, is an example.
Son of a Saint equips boys with the tools they need to become productive men. We give them hope, vision and opportunity. We provide a secure and consistent environment for them. But the Son of a Saint mentors’ most important role is simply to be a good example.
How are they #ChangingTheWay we move? Read their stories below.
SoaS through the lens of Sonny, Chris, and Quinten
Bivian “Sonny" Lee III
- Tell us about life prior to Son of a Saint
Prior to founding the organization, I served as chief aide to Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. From there I went on to become Director of Operations for the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA Baseball Team and Director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute. Taking a step farther back than that, I grew up with my mom and my sister in New Orleans, surrounded by a strong family system and community. I graduated from St. Augustine HighSchool and later earned a degree in Marketing and Management from the University of New Orleans.
2. What led you to create Son of a Saint?
I actually witnessed my father pass away at the age of 3 to a sudden heart attack. As you can imagine, that was a tragic loss for our entire family and especially left a distinct void in my life as a young male growing up without his father. From there, I began to see a counselor and continued to for years. As I got older, I realized many of the issues that I experienced being fatherless resonated with other young men who were experiencing parallel moments and milestones. I would also see unfortunate cases and news stories about young men being led down the wrong path and noticed a trend that they were missing their fathers. By 2011, it led me to start something that would provide that outlet and example for fatherless boys. That was the origin of Son of a Saint.
3. How has Son of a Saint transformed over the last 10 years?
Since our start in early 2011, Son of a Saint has grown from one boy to 10 boys in the course of the first year initially focused on mentorship services. Since then, we’ve intentionally expanded and deepened our mission to provide holistic treatment of each young man in our program – from mental health to career development to college preparation to travel and other forms of unique exposure and evidence-based enrichment. By 2020, we were serving 100 boys which represents a tenfold growth since that first year. In 2021, we’re now poised to double in size to serve 200 young men with an operating budget of more than $3 million. We are also in the midst of a capital campaign to revamp and restructure our headquarters facility with a strong partnership from the leading healthcare system in our region, Ochsner Health.
4. What’s your favorite thing about being a part of Son of a Saint?
There are so many things. The first thoughts that come to mind are seeing the smiles from the boys and knowing that I created or developed something that has taken hold in our community, that’s also filling a void in something that was previously missing and is delivering results.
5. What experience/moment have you had that confirmed that this was the right path for you?
There’s been many things. I can vividly remember the very first event we held in June 2011 at the University of New Orleans with our initial cohort of mentees together. The local news came out to cover the event and published a story about a week later. Seeing that story unfold and the positive reception from the public made it real. I knew it was the right path to take at that moment.
6. What’s your mantra in life?
Tough times don’t last, tough people do.
7. How has Son of a Saint changed your life over the years?
This entire experience has provided me with meaning to life. It’s given me purpose and made things complete. I can’t even picture or envision my life right now if I didn’t do this.
8. How do you see Son of a Saint expanding?
We are on the cusp of an unprecedented growth. I see us deepening our services more in our centralized headquarters of New Orleans, and then moving forward into an expansion model that brings us to new cities that are like-minded and have similar communities of young men and populations that are ready and willing to replicate this work.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to the world, what would it be?
Invest early. It’s all about preventative measures with this work and you have to plant seeds.
10. How has wellness helped Son of a Saint?
We treat each of our young men holistically, from education to enrichment to mental health to personal development—you name it, we’re there to help, guide, and support. Wellness folds directly into that and is a mainstay throughout our programming and our core model.
11. Why do you find it important to incorporate/educate mentees on whole body wellness?
We want to build the entirety of our mentees and that includes them learning how to keep themselves in strong health, learn healthy lifestyle practices and teach them the value and benefits of self-care and accountability.
2020 SOAS Mentor of The Year
- Tell us about life prior to Son of a Saint
Before Son of a Saint, I was still becoming acclimated to New Orleans. I moved here from Maryland and wanted to focus on getting my bearings. I work for the Department of Defense and transferred to Louisiana because I wanted to be closer to my granddad whose health was declining. I knew I wanted to be active in the community but did not know exactly where to look.
2. What led you to become a mentor of Son of a Saint
The wife (my girlfriend at the time) knew that I wanted to give back to the community and suggested Son of a Saint. She knew about the organization because she went to school with Sonny’s sister.
3. What’s your favorite thing about being a part of Son of a Saint?
My favorite part of being a mentor with Son of a Saint is getting to spend time with my mentee, Malcolm, teaching him the same things my father taught me. I enjoy just being there for him whenever I can.
4. What’s an experience/moment you had growing up that contributed to your decision to become a mentor?
Just having my father in my life. I am sure I took it for granted somewhere along the line of growing up because you know teenagers. As I have grown older though I can look back and see what a huge positive impact he had on my upbringing and helped shape me into the man I am now.
5. What’s your mantra in life?
Just keep swimming. I have found in this life that the universe will present you with the opportunities that you desire most in one way or another.
6. How has Son of a Saint changed your life?
Son of a Saint has given me the opportunity to make a tangible difference in a young boys life. The organization has opened opportunities for me to give back to the community of New Orleans in ways I could not imagine.
7. How do you see Son of a Saint expanding?
I can see the organization expanding hopefully into other cities in Louisiana. This mentoring organization is needed in every city in this state. Each community could use an organization like this. One that helps young boys discover that the sky’s the limit for them and they have potential to be whatever they want to be in life.
8. If you could give one piece of advice to the world, what would it be?
Listen to people who do not look like you. Listen to the disenfranchised, disregarded, and those who come from a different background. You will find that you have more in common than you realize.
9. How has Son of a Saint helped you in personal life?
The organization has helped me get out of my comfort zone of being an introvert. The organization has helped me meet new people, given me an opportunity to become a leader on The Son of a Saint Leadership Council and given me the confidence to pursue professional leadership goals.
10. Why do you find it important to incorporate/educate mentees on whole body wellness?
It is extremely important to educate our mentees about whole body wellness. Teaching the boy to take care of more than the physical will assist them later in life when they encounter obstacles that life tends to throw us. Emotional and Mental wellness is just as important as taking care of one’s body
11. How do you connect with your mentee?
Malcolm and I connected from the first time we met. I sat next to him at a Son of a Saint Dinner Etiquette class sponsored by Cochon. It was organic the way we connected and it is another reason I love Son of a Saint. They allow for an organic relationship between mentee and mentors.
12. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in this work? In life?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that it is important to be there for the boys. You may think something you are doing for the boys does not mean much but to the boys it means the world. It is something they will never forget. Therefore, my advice is be available and approachable to the boys. You will see the difference you make with these kids. The biggest lesson I have learned in life is to listen and to do better each day.
2020 SOAS Mentee of The Year
1. What’s your favorite part about being in the Son of a Saint family?
You honestly answered your own question right there. Being a part of the Son of a Saint family is my favorite part. Growing up as a single child I never had that brother that I would bond and fight with. I was alone for the most part. Then with the SOAS family I got that brotherhood I never had and I cherished it and I still do til this day.
2. How has Son of a Saint helped you in your life?
Honestly, I think the biggest way it helped me was having someone in my corner that would never give up on me even if I wanted to give up on myself. Also giving me many opportunities that I could take advantage of. For example through SOAS I got my first job back in 2017 and I stayed with the company ever since. Also they have given me huge opportunities to travel places I never thought I would go to. The trip we took to Ghana, Africa was a life-changing and eye-opening experience.
3. What has been your favorite moment so far in being a part of SoaS?
My favorite moment with SOAS was on March 23 2012, at the inaugural SOAS Gala. It was the beginning of my public speaking career with Mr. Sonny.
4. What’s your favorite activity that you do with your Son of a Saint family?
My favorite activity isn’t anything in particular just simply being around everyone having fun is more than enough for me honestly. Really being a family is my favorite thing to do whether we are playing knockout in the parking garage or playing a game of football in city park, being with everyone and just having a good time is my favorite activity to do with the SOAS family.
5. If you could give one piece of advice to the world, what would it be?
I would tell the entire world to be more transparent. Simply all people and leaders to be more honest with each other from the beginning. I’ve always believed that “Honesty is the best Policy".
6. What is one of your goals in life?
I wish to live a full, successful, and stress free life.
7. What are you most proud of in your life?
I graduated from Lusher Charter School after almost getting kicked out of the school back in 5th grade.
8. What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy playing video games as well as playing the sport of football.
9.What inspired you to seek mentorship at Son of a Saint?
The one person that inspired me to seek mentorship was Coach Doremus. She approached my mother and I with the information about joining a mentorship program called SOAS back in 2011. She did this knowing nothing more than what a small little flyer told her.
10. Do you see mentorship in your future?
Yes, because I want to give back into the program that gave so much to me.