Derrick had no shortage of company. “I am one of six kids: four sisters and two brothers,” he explained. Add in his four stepsiblings, and his hardworking mother had her hands—and her house—full. She was determined to help all her children find their paths, especially the second-youngest of her brood: football-focused, hip-hop-loving Derrick. “My older brothers weren’t making great choices at the time,” said Derrick, “and my mother thought I could use a positive example.” Since Derrick’s sister Sherry had a terrific Big Sister, Derrick’s mom sought him a match.
Pat was poised for change. Around this time, Pat left his corporate job to work for a healthcare startup. “There was a shift in my life,” said Pat. He felt grateful for his comfortable home, supportive family, education and career opportunities, but he wanted to give back. After connecting with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Pat said he “had these big ideas about changing one kid’s life.” He laughs at the recollection. “Talk about ego! It was all about me on my high horse, thinking about what I could give.” Little did Pat know how much he would receive.
They met after school on an ordinary weekday. “I was really nervous, but so excited,” said Derrick. “It’s a thin line between those two emotions!” Pat remembers walking into a living room packed with family members. “They were all there to meet me—to grill me, really,” said Pat. After introductions were made and nerves were calmed, they decided to play it low-key and hit the local McDonald’s. “It was a little rough at first,” said Derrick, recalling the awkward silences. But then, over burgers and fries, they discovered their common ground: sports. “We’re still both big sportsheads to this day,” said Pat.
During their first few outings, shyness was a third companion. “When you’re just getting to know someone, you can feel really insecure,” said Pat. “You’re thinking is this a good idea? Does this person like me?” They continued to connect around sports: talking about their favorite athletes, going to games, playing football. In addition to time on the field, Derrick remembers doing homework, playing video games, and just hanging out with Pat: “Whatever we had planned, I looked forward to it.”
Their friendship hit a turning point over pizza. “After a number of months, Pat took my friends and me to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate my birthday. It was an all-day party with games, food, everything,” said Derrick. On the way home, one of Derrick’s buddies called shotgun, and jumped into the passenger’s seat in Pat’s car. “Derrick’s mom called me later, thanking me for the party,” said Pat. Then she gently mentioned that Derrick felt very sad that he didn’t get to ride up front, right next to Pat. “With that single conversation, my whole mindset about mentoring changed. I started really investing myself and opening up,” remembers Pat. “When Derrick’s mom told me that one simple thing, it opened my eyes. I realized that this relationship is for real. It matters.”
They kicked off Derrick’s teens with travel. “I had free flights and we went to California,” said Pat. “It was Derrick’s first time on an airplane, and first look at the ocean. His eyes were like saucers. I don’t know who loved it more, me or him.” A few years later, Pat and Derrick’s mom agreed that Derrick could use a man-to-man “birds and bees” talk. Pat and Derrick now recall the conversation with humor and horror: “It was so awkward! Derrick probably already knew everything I was telling him,” said Pat. “It was the worst,” agreed Derrick. “We both stared out the car window, then talked over one another, then sat there in silence, just so, so embarrassed.” Both men roar with laughter at the memory, noting that if their friendship could survive that episode, it was definitely for keeps.
They hung out through high school. During these years, Pat worked with Derrick on goal setting and managing money. “Pat always gave me ideas, not instructions,” said Derrick. “He’s not like Mr. Know-It-All. He’s more like hey, you have your opinions, here are mine. Take it or leave it.” Derrick, who characterizes himself as stubborn, says that Pat’s advice made all the difference.
That shy third-grader is now 26 years old. Derrick, articulate and smiling, talks about music; he is an accomplished lyricist, composer and performer, and has even played the celebrated South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Derrick’s passion for cars has him rebuilding a classic Mustang, and he hopes to start a medical training program to become a nursing assistant. He says his mother helped him make this positive progress—and so did Pat. “I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without him,” said Derrick. “Pat has been there through good times and bad times. It’s this bond. He is 100% family to me.”