This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to an entrepreneur who says Big Brothers Big Sisters turned his life around. He's now trying to do the same for kids in the program.
Sabin Lomac describes himself as "a kid that could have gone either way." As one of the co-founders of the Shark Tank-featured startup, Cousins Maine Lobster, there's little doubt which way he ended up going.
But growing up on the coast of Maine, life started off rough.
"My parents were never married. Dad was never around, and at the age of probably twelve, thirteen, fourteen, I started to get in a lot of trouble." Lomac says. "I ended up spending a night in jail, and really was at a crossroads in my life. My mom had applied for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, hoping that I could find a male mentor."
On the waitlist for two years, Sabin was finally paired with a big brother: a 22-year-old stationed in town with the Coast Guard.
"It really, really helped turn my life around. He was an awesome guy. I could relate to him. I could talk to him about sports. I had someone there now at my games." Sabin describes.
With his big brother, Sabin found a male role model, as well as a man he could confide in about everything going on in his life. This could be seen as the moment he moved from being "a kid that could have gone either way" to a kid that's got potential.
"I ended up graduating high school with honors. Graduating college with honors. I was the best man in his wedding. He named his son after me." Lomac says.
Time to Pay it Forward
Over twenty years later, Lomac is now closer to his big brother than ever before. After finally settling in Los Angeles, he felt it was time to pay it forward. He enrolled in the program and was paired up with a 13-year-old named Lawrence.
That was about around four years ago, says Sabin. Lawrence is now getting ready to graduate high school.
This act of giving back may have been enough for some, but Sabin--along with his cousin and business partner Jim Tselikis--had bigger philanthropic ambitions.
The duo appeared on Shark Tank and secured a $55,000 investment from Barbara Corcoran. That established a relationship with the show that eventually let Lomac and Tselikis organize events in which Big Brothers participants could meet Daymond John and other celebrities.
"We felt really lucky to have been contacted by Shark Tank. We felt like we needed to do something to give back. So we kind of set up a program where we would work directly with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and started holding events where we would give back a piece of our proceeds of our profit to Big Brothers, Big Sisters." Sabin says.
Big Brother of the Year
Thanks to the success of their business, Sabin and Jim--who is also now a big brother--have brought national attention to the program. All of this work did not go unnoticed by Big Brothers, Big Sisters, as Sabin was recently nominated and named the National Big Brother of the Year.
Sabin's story will no doubt be used to inspire little brothers and sisters for many generations to come. But for him, this is only the first step in more work to be done with the program.
"This summer we are doing a lot of events, where we're partnering with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and you can come, you can sign up, you can learn about the program. We're going to be giving proceeds back." Sabin says.
Now a board member of the Los Angeles branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Sabin finds it hard to imagine where he would have ended up without the program's support.
"I know I wouldn't be where I am now, and I probably would have, I don't know if I would have made it to college." Sabin says. "I think it really put me on the right path."