Decades have past since Jeff Cowan and Joseph Robinson met via Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City.
Cowan, who was 27-years-old at the time, introduced Robinson to a variety of new things after they met in 1987 when Robinson was just 7-years-old, but the one thing that stuck was the love of food. Robinson credits Cowan with planting a seed in him that eventually blossomed into proprietorship of the Outback Steakhouse in Lee’s Summit.
The duo gathered at the restaurant at 1731 N.E. Douglas Rd. to reminisce about their past and talk about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mission 350 push to take 350 kids off of the organization’s waiting list and match them with a mentor by the end of the year.
“It was everything,” Robinson, managing partner of the restaurant, said of first connecting with Cowan. “That was a life-changing event to have that strong mentorship. That changed every aspect of my life for the positive. It really set the tone for who I am today.”
Added Cowan: “Not only for him, but it was a great experience for me. I got to be involved in a child’s life and help him mature and serve as a role model. It did wonders for me.”
Robinson and Cowan spent the early years of the mentorship forming a relationship that would grow as Robinson reached middle and high school age. Cowan was a constant at Robinson’s activities, including the latter’s exploits on the high school football field.
The relationship continued into Robinson’s adult years, and now the two consider each other more than mentor/mentoree.
“I can not stop reflecting on our lives as brothers, ” Robinson said. “It’s been a tremendous journey and I feel like its about to take another turn and just get even better.”
Back in ‘87 Robinson’s mother was looking for a way to keep her son occupied. She enrolled him in the Big Brother program and a match was found in Cowan, who used a somewhat familiar quote from a motivational author to relay why he signed on as mentor.
“I was listening to a lot of different music and reading Zig Ziglar and he said, ‘If you want your life to turn around, start doing things for people that can’t pay you back,’” Cowan said. “So, I got involved with Salvation Army and various things, then started to do this. I said, ‘I can’t keep all the kids off drugs, but if I can keep just one of them off, I’ve done my job. I was real fortunate I got a good kid, with a good mom. It worked out great.”
“I grew up in a single-parent home and I think we all know that story,” Robinson said. “I was a bad kid and I needed something. I needed guidance. I just needed male companionship during that time. Somebody that I can walk like. Somebody that I would want to be like. It was a very, very interesting experience.”
Both Robinson and Cowan support the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and offered testimony on how the program changed each of their lives.
“We both got a little busy of the years,” Robinson said, “but we never stopped talking.”
Added Cowan: “There was one period there where I lost my job and lost my vehicle and his mom made great effort to bring him to my house every week during that time.”