April Community Connect – Bivian “Sonny” Lee III
Happy Spring from Witry Collective! We are extremely honored to introduce our April Community Connect feature, Bivian “Sonny” Lee III, President and Executive Director of Son of a Saint. Witry Collective connected with Sonny and Son of a Saint through our co-working space, The Shop at the CAC. Sonny has dedicated himself to enhancing the lives of fatherless boys. His story is inspiring, his organization is comprehensive and momentous, and his boys defy every stereotype that is bestowed upon them due to their circumstances.
Sonny has a personal connection to the organization he started in 2011. His father, Bivian Lee Jr., was an NFL defensive back for
the New Orleans Saints from 1971-1975. Sadly, at the age of 36, Bivian died from a heart attack and left behind his wife, 5-year-old
daughter, and 3-year-old son, Sonny. As an adult, Sonny understands the challenges that his mother faced, but also appreciates the opportunities that most boys in his situation would not have had. Sonny recognizes that having access to mental health professionals, participating in sports, and forming relationships with teammates and coaches, together beneficially impacted his future. Prior to founding the organization, Sonny served as chief aide to Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans. He was also Director of Operations for the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA baseball team and Director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute. In honor of his late father and single mother, Sonny founded Son of a Saint on January 1, 2011.
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 formation of positive, lasting peer-to-peer relationships.” Each year in December, Son of a Saint selects boys aged 10-13 to join the program. The boys find out if they have been accepted into the program on Christmas morning. Sonny emphasizes the importance of reaching “his boys”, as he refers to them, at a crucial age. Studies show that poor reading skills at a young age can later cause students to drop out of school before receiving a diploma, which is linked to a higher likelihood of incarceration. Prevention of this possible chain of events is very important to Son of a Saint and highlights the gravity of getting involved early in a fatherless boy’s life.
Son of a Saint makes a point of carefully and thoughtfully matching mentors with mentees. Mentors must train for 2 months and attend at least 6 program events. It is during this time that they get to know the boys and the boys get to know them, creating connections that will facilitate a good match. Once a match is made, weekly phone calls and monthly in-person meetings are required to sustain a positive and impactful relationship. Son of a Saint curates 25 events a month for the boys, including museum tours, horseback riding, yoga, and music classes. The boys also have access to mental health services, tutoring, educational support, and tuition assistance. Son of a Saint truly provides year-round, daily services for its boys, ensuring that they fight the risks that they are susceptible to, which include poverty, depression, substance abuse, and incarceration.
Sonny’s main goal for his boys is for them to become productive members of society, to maximize their potential, and to stay out of trouble with the law. The organization currently has 4 graduates who are first-generation college students and all other boys are either in school or have jobs. Sonny stresses that his organization is not just an after-school program, it’s a family that aims to support the boys for as long as they need. As a native-born New Orleanian, Sonny appreciates the uniqueness of New Orleans and identifies that the city needs an organization like Son of a Saint.
You can help Son of a Saint by donating here. To learn more about the importance of mentorship, watch Sonny’s TEDx talk. Witry Collective is a proud supporter of Son of a Saint and will be attending their Pathways to Africa Soirée on April 17that Audubon Zoo. We would love to see members of our community there!