Which of the following is true of 22-year-old Sam Rees?
a) He can milk a cow.
b) He started a company at age 20.
c) He is 1 in 100,000.
d) He’s got life all figured out.
If you guessed ALL THE ABOVE, you’re right… almost!
Sam’s skills don’t include milking cows – but he did master feeding them (and building fences for their safety) as a Little Brother in Cape Girardeau helping out his Big Brother Ken. Though Sam wasn’t initially into the idea of being a Little, he decided to give it a shot after talking with his youth group leader at La Croix Church.
“My relationship with Ken was great,” Sam says. “We met weekly to go eat or watch movies, and I got to learn life skills and work on his farm. Ken was a male figure I could look up to, to teach me things, to be a friend.”
b) Young Entrepreneur
After high school, Sam started college at Southeast Missouri University (SEMO) to get his bachelor’s degree. And one fateful class in his major led to a project that’s lived way beyond that three credit-hour course. “I’ve always wanted to do a business to help people. I started my own clothing company called Eyeconic Supply back in 2018. We give 10% of all our sales to kids who have visual impairments.”
c) 1 in 100,000 Odds
What’s the story with the name of Sam’s company and that 10% donation? You might say it’s something that’s been with him since birth. “I have blue cone monochromacy, so I was born legally blind. I know first-hand what it’s like to have vision problems. I wear contacts so you’d never know I have this condition. But I try not to let my vision get in the way.”
Very open and honest about his challenges, Sam sees value in asking for support for himself. He’s also all about helping others.
“The world is scary when you have a disability… I can’t see my class signs, so I need someone or a teacher to show me where things are. But I’ve found ways to deal with my challenges. For example, I struggle when there are PowerPoint presentations in class, and some professors will send them to me. I’ve also been taking classes online.”
Since graduating from the BBBS 1:1 match program in 2016, Sam’s stayed connected with Big Brothers Big Sisters as an active part of Big Futures – BBBSEMO’s program dedicated solely to being there for alumni ages 18-25 who’re “adulting” and pursuing further education, employment, and/or enlistment.
“Julian is my Big Futures connection, and we talk every couple of months,” says Sam. “He’s always asking if I need help with anything – with school, things like getting information on college scholarships or helping me find a tutor -- or he invites me to different events.”
Sam knows he’s got some ways to go before he gets where he sees himself. But he’s very clear-minded about what he needs – and wants – to do as he owns his future. “I’m still trying to overcome stuff, and I’m struggling with college right now. But I try not to let my vision get in the way.”
That attitude and approach is something Big Futures specialist Julian Brown can attest to. “Sam is a very humble and hardworking young man. Regardless of what issues have come Sam's way, he has continued to find innovative and creative ways of moving forward in life and remaining positive.”
So what does forward look like in Sam’s eyes?
“In the next few years,” he says, “I want to get my degree. I’d like to go around to schools and talk to people about my experiences and so many tools out there. And I hope to build Eyeconic Supply more and help as many people as I can.”
About Big Futures
BBBSEMO’s Big Futures staff work directly with “alumni Littles” from age 18 through age 25. The program offers connections to resources and experiences that support young people as they pursue education in college or trade school, enlistment in the military, and/or living wage employment. By actively partnering with parents, Bigs, and other mentors, Big Futures staff help alumni with planning and serve as advocates.
For more information on how you can share opportunity with alumni Littles and Big Futures, contact Senior Director Tashanna Stanciel (Rucker) at email@example.com.