Lowell Schimmel and his Little Brother had their first outing at a small table at a fast food restaurant.
Last week, their accommodations got quite a bit more stylish.
Schimmel, an Anaheim resident, and Brandon, who graduated last month from Edison High School, went to the Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort in Mexico on June 28 as ambassadors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County. The organization chose them to appear in a video montage in which children from different charities held up handwritten cards telling their stories.
With Schimmel sitting next to him on a couch, Brandon ran through his story of the last 10 years: how he missed a father figure growing up, how the nonprofit paired him with a stranger, all the times they shared in the ensuing years. It was the final card that impacted Schimmel, and probably others in the audience in Cabo, the most.
"The card said, 'After 10 years, he's not my friend, he's family,'" said Schimmel, who works in communications for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. "That's basically how it ended."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, based in Tustin, pairs adult mentors with children who lack same-sex role models. Last month, 32 youths in the program graduated from high school countywide — and Schimmel and Brandon, due to their long partnership, got an invitation to appear at the fundraising Stars and Stripes Tournament in Cabo.
Brandon, whose last name is withheld at the nonprofit's request, met Schimmel 10 years ago at Big Brother's county office. At the time, Brandon lived with his mother and rarely saw his father, and his mother urged him to enter the program.
Schimmel, who signed up as a Big Brother after a friend raved about the program, found himself assigned to Brandon. The two had their first outing at a Jack in the Box, where Schimmel brought a scrapbook he had prepared showing images of his childhood: vacations, sports, First Communion and more.
Brandon, as he recalls, was a little quiet and standoffish during the first meeting. Unlike his Big Brother, he didn't bring anything to the restaurant, and he made a minimalist dinner order: a hamburger with nothing but meat, cheese and ketchup.
"I probably was shy at first," Brandon said. "But I opened up."
From there, the two set a regimen and stuck to it for years: one meeting every week, about two hours long. Sometimes, they played soccer or went to movies or museums; other times, Brandon came to Schimmel with concerns about growing pains or girls.
After four years in the program, Schimmel and his wife had their first child, and his meetings with Brandon soon became less frequent. But the two remained close, to the point where, Brandon joked, he felt like the uncle to Schimmel's two children.
"My wife is very supportive of the program and of Brandon," Schimmel said. "She loves Brandon. It was never a conflict."
Even through Brandon's senior year, the two continued to see each other every two weeks — the main difference being that Brandon now picks up Schimmel and drives.
This fall, Brandon plans to attend Cal Poly Pomona and major in civil engineering. His dream is to do engineering work for a city. And he has another dream as well.
That's to someday support a family of his own — one in which, hopefully, a Big Brother won't be required.