Big Brother finds enrichment in giving back
By Angelina Casarez, AFIMSC/Public Affairs
/ Published August 20, 2018
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- He was only 3 years old when he unexpectedly lost his father to a heart attack in 1986.
Although too young to understand how to grieve for his dad, Richard Cooper’s life changed in an instant. After the loss of his father, he experienced more upheaval when he was separated from his three older brothers and raised as an only child by his mother.
His father figures came primarily in the form of coaches and teachers.
Today, Cooper, a marketing specialist with the Air Force Services Activity, has become a father figure himself as a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Antonio.
After the mortgage crisis of 2008 caused a career change, Cooper began pursuing his bachelor’s degree in marketing which required 120 hours of community service. While his classmates volunteered at local food banks and pursued administrative opportunities, Cooper wanted to do something more meaningful.
He remembered driving past Big Brothers Big Sisters and wanting to see what it was about. He applied, interviewed and was selected as a “big” to be matched with a “little.”
On Dec. 9, 2012, Cooper met his new five-year-old little brother Rashawn. The youngster was only 3 months old when his father, Army Capt. Darrell Cornelius Lewis, deployed to Afghanistan in the winter of 2006. Six months later on June 27, 2007 he was killed in action while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Rashawn’s widowed mother, Liz Lewis, an advocate for Wounded Warriors and Gold Star families, found herself focused on providing opportunities for Rashawn to connect.
She reached out to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in 2012 and a few months later Rashawn was matched with Cooper.
Lewis says one of the greatest gifts she could give her son is the opportunity for him to have an amazing man such as Cooper in his life.
“The program is so worth it. It’s no cost to the parent and for single-family homes it’s a blessing,” she said.
Prior to his match with Rashawn, Cooper didn’t have a direct connection with the military.
“(Being matched with Rashawn) gave me a better appreciation for our armed forces,” Cooper said. “Sometimes we hear about good and bad things happening but a lot of people don’t really see or understand the day-to-day sacrifices military families make.”
When Cooper and Rashawn, or RJ for short, became brothers, they connected instantly.
“Becoming a big brother was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Cooper said. “At first I figured I’d volunteer a little on the weekends and give back like so many of the male role models did for me as a young boy, but RJ truly enriched my life and I immediately became invested in him. It was a humbling experience. RJ inspired me to be a better man.”
According to its website, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas’ vision is that “all children achieve success in life.”
In an effort to help children succeed, Big Brothers Big Sisters recommends mentors provide a minimum 12-month commitment in an effort to provide consistency, trust and mentorship to a little brother or sister. However, there are many bigs and littles who stay connected far beyond a year.
“RJ has been in my life for nearly six years. We are family. We will always be a part of each other’s lives and share a special bond,” Cooper said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has been connecting mentors and children for more than a century. The organization matches children ages 6 through 18 with adult mentors, operating in all 50 United States and in 12 countries around the world with the belief every child has the ability to succeed and thrive in life.
The program offers an opportunity to connect adults and children together, however, with a shortage of mentors and such high demand, male mentors like Cooper are especially crucial to the organization.
“We develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people. At any given time, there are up to 1,000 children on our waiting list,” said Christina Martinez, vice president of external relations and Big Sister of the organization. “It is critical for us to continue to recruit, train and match caring adults, like Richard Cooper, to children in our community who need the support. Most of the children on our waiting list are boys of color, and the majority of volunteers who enroll are female. We are always trying to fill the gap by intentionally recruiting caring and committed men, like Richard.”
Cooper remains a committed part of RJ’s life and is excited to see what his future holds.
“I never imagined the impact I would have on a child, but I also never realized the impact this resilient little boy would have on me,” he said. “I am proud to be part of this military family, I am proud to be part of Big Brothers Big Sisters and, most importantly, I am proud to be here for Rashawn.”