According to the CDC, in 2008 about 1 out of every 1,200 people living in the U.S. had Down syndrome. While inclusion and job opportunities have increased over the last decades, some people with this condition struggle to maintain a social life once they graduate from school. This was the case of Christian Bowers, a 24-year-old man from Missouri. After seeing him long for friends but not getting to hang with people his age, his mom, Donna Herter, came up with an idea. She'd offer $80 to men between the ages of 20 and 28 to visit him and play video games for a couple of hours twice a month.
“Christian is a social bug and when we're in public, he'll invite anyone to join us,” Herter said. That's why it broke her heart when he asked her, “When are my friends coming over?” She didn't know what to do or say.
Determined to fix the situation, Herter made a post on Facebook. “I’m looking for a young man, between the ages of 20-28 who would like to make some extra money. Two days a month for two hours, I’ll pay you to be my son’s friend,” she wrote, explaining that Bowers doesn’t have any friends his age.
“Obviously he won’t know you are getting paid, but that you are there for him those two days,” she said, adding that getting paid wasn't optional—the money was to guarantee that the person would show up.
Hoping to get one or two applicants among her feed, Herter went to bed. When she woke up, her post had been shared over 6,000 times, reaching people as far as Ireland and Japan. Her words resonated not only with fellow parents of special kids but people from all walks of life who wanted to be friends with Bowers.
In the end, their initial plan came true, and at least four young men visited Christian to play video games and watch movies. The best part? According to Herter, they all have declined the payment. On top of that, Christian's story has inspired more people to make him feel included. He spent Valentine's Day hanging out and eating snacks with a group of officers, while he received care packages from the St. Louis Blues and the Station 32 of the New York Fire Department.
The family has gotten so many requests, Herter had to buy a planner to keep up and schedule everything. The mission has been so successful that Christian is booked until July. “The love being shown to our son is amazing,” Herter said. “Christian says having friends over feels like heaven. He goes to bed with a smile on his face and when he talks to himself, I know he is replaying everything.”