“The first time I met him, I asked him if he could do a backflip,” says Devon with a sly smile looking up at his Big Brother Dan. We’re standing on the side of a dirt road on a farm in Leicester, flanked by a hogwire fence that’s encapsulating at least two dozen newly-sheered alpacas—several of which are milling about on the other side expecting dinner soon.
“And he said ‘No,’ and then I said ‘Oh’, Devon continues.
It’s a Thursday evening—but it’s also spring break—so Devon has come over to join Dan for dinner on the alpaca farm where he and his partner live.
“And then I asked him if he liked to play games and he said ‘I’m not really into shooting games’” Devon continues, “I said ‘Oh’, and I tried to give him the controller to play Saints Row, and that’s when he said ‘I don’t know how to play it—” Devon stops short in the middle of his story as he become distracted by an altercation on taking place on the opposite hill: the rooster and one of the hens are “fighting.”
Before they sit down to eat, Dan and Devon have a host of chores that they’re carrying out together: feeding the alpacas, feeding the two red clay-stained Great Pyrenees dogs who are slumped next to the alpacas and nearly drowning out our interview with their deafening panting. The final chore will be luring the flock of chickens back to the safety of the coop.
Dan and Devon have been matched for almost a year, yet they both explain that it feels like they’ve known each other much longer than that. Together, they share a comfortable bond in which they both feel they can authentically share with each other whatever is ‘up’ for them.
As we meander about the farm, carrying out tasks before night falls, they exchange glances, grins and laughter that alludes to some kind of ongoing inside joke or special understanding that only they share.
“He’s the most fun-loving person I know,” says Dan, “He’s always eager and excited—up for anything, up for trying new things. He’s fearless: he’ll talk to anybody and he’ll try any task—and he’s also a super friendly guy. Whenever we’re out, he’s always making a friend.”
Meeting Dan has opened up Devon’s life to a number of experiences that he had never had before—helping out on an alpaca farm being just one example. Other memorable activities include: attending a Harlem Globetrotters game, regular dodgeball face-offs at Launch Trampoline Park, a tour in search of Asheville’s best BBQ (Buxton Hall won, by the way).
“I learned how to swim with Dan,” Devon adds, “at the Y.”
“And now he’s an awesome swimmer. We go swimming all the time,” says Dan.
Devon and I hop in the back of the pickup truck as Dan drives us over the hay barn to get a couple of bales for the alpacas. White dogwoods are in bloom out along the windrows that intersect among the Leicester hills and the sun pierces moving clouds that threaten rain. Devon eagerly jumps out when we get to the barn, and as Dan throws down a couple of bales from the loft, he struggles to drag the hulking masses toward the back of the truck—after all, the hay rivals his size.
Like many, this mentoring relationship hasn’t just opened up experiences for Devon—but it’s vastly expanded Dan’s experience and relationships as well. In a town that often finds itself divided and estranged along racial and socio-economic lines, Dan explains that being Devon’s Big Brother has connected him with a whole side of Asheville that he likely would not have had any relationship with otherwise.
“Devon and his family have shown me a side of Asheville that I never would have seen,” says Dan, “And it just gives me a more complex picture of the town that I live in.”
Though mentorship for boys is so direly needed, for every female volunteer application received, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC receives only a fraction from males. When boys first apply for a Big, they are told to expect at least 10-12 months on the waiting list before a match is completed. Devon was fortunate—his wait was only nine months. In March Big Brothers Big Sisters of Buncombe County had 56 boys waiting for a match.
For Dan, mentoring young males is extremely important, “Especially for young men that may not have any male figures in their life,” he says. “Just having that guy to look up to makes a huge difference—and I don’t think people realize that sometimes. They might think—‘Who am I do mentor somebody?’ But everybody has things that they can teach young people.”
For his part, spending time with Devon puts the onus of accountability on Dan for being the kind of man that he wants to be in the world—because someone’s watching, someone that he cares about.
“He’s made me a better person in that way,” says Dan.
After the alpacas and the dogs are fed, the sun’s gone down and we head over toward the chicken coop. The dozen or so hens are scattered about at the edges of the forest still scratching for one last bug score. Equipped with a bag of dried mealworms, Devon approaches the hens and leaves a path of the desiccated little crisps leading through the grass and to the coop entrance. The hens oblige and Devon steps back chuckling to himself.