Three years ago, in the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Oklahoma City, a family and a volunteer sat together nervously. The future was uncertain.
That day Scott Lesser, a Big Brother, met 8-year-old Dezmond and his mother, Zakiyyah Borkins, for the first time. The questions were plenty. Would Lesser, a 2008 Oklahoma State University graduate, be the right fit? And would Dezmond, who was enrolled in the Amachi Program for children with an incarcerated parent, accept the mentorship of someone he just met?
Fast forward to April 16, and those questions would be answered with a resounding yes.
In a small banquet room at Nonna's European-American Ristorante and Bar, Lesser was honored as the 2013 Oklahoma Big Brother of the Year. He was selected through a nomination process that required Dezmond, now 11, and his mother to write letters of recommendation. Letters that expressed a deep appreciation for Lesser's impact on Dezmond's life.
“Just to see how his face lights up and Scott's face lights up when they see each other, knowing they have so much in common, I couldn't have asked for anything more,” Borkins said. “My son has blossomed. He's coming into his own identity. He's so outgoing, his grades have improved and his confidence has improved.
“Scott is well deserving of this award. I can't imagine anyone else deserving it more than him.”
But Lesser — who works at Life Church in Edmond — and Dezmond's connection didn't flourish instantly. It took years of support and interaction to develop their relationship. It began with watching episodes of “Dragon Ball Z,” a cartoon show Dezmond loves and Lesser grew up watching.
After breaking the ice, Lesser took Dezmond on adventures that brought him out of his comfort zone — like dinner at a sushi restaurant, scavenger hunts and bug spotting on summer afternoons. But the most important growth through their connection happened in the classroom.
“The true teachable and building moments were when we spent time at the library reading books,” Lesser said. “Those events were much more important in our relationship than going to a movie, getting popcorn and Coke.”
It didn't take long for those lessons to show up in Dezmond's home life. When Dezmond came home with a high grade on a spelling test, he told his mom the great news.
“The next person he wanted to call was Scott,” Borkins said.
To this day, that continues to happen. When the recent string of earthquakes hit Oklahoma, Dezmond told his mother: “I need to call Scott to make sure he's OK.”
Once Dezmond established confidence in the classroom, his social skills followed suit. He's already made long-term goals that will potentially carry him to a successful future — thanks in large part to Lesser's mentorship.
“I want to be a cartoon artist,” Dezmond said through a shy grin.
“All the famous artists, I want to be the next generation.”
To close out Tuesday's banquet, Big Brothers Big Sisters' national CEO, Charles Pierson, commended Lesser for his commitment and extraordinary efforts in the program.
He also laid the groundwork for the future of the nonprofit, which includes taking a slightly new approach.
That means adapting to the digital world with weekly online interaction between mentors and mentees, while maintaining a traditional physical presence as well.
“We're honoring our history, but we're defining our future,” Pierson said.
“This mission is so critical to so many at-risk youth in America, that it's our responsibility as an organization to position Big Brothers Big Sisters, so that it remains relevant for the next century.”
But no matter what changes are ahead for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Lesser just hopes his relationship with Dezmond, a fifth grader, continues for many years to come.
“He's been a blessing to have as a little brother,” Lesser said.
Just to see how his face lights up and Scott's face lights up when they see each other, knowing they have so much in common, I couldn't have asked for anything more. My son has blossomed. He's coming into his own identity. He's so outgoing, his grades have improved and his confidence has improved.