This year marks the 60th anniversary of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona. To commemorate this momentous milestone, we are spending the year sharing impactful stories from individuals who have been impacted by or connected to our agency. One such story is that of Jason Kepner and his Big Brother Louis Di Donato.

Margaret “Peg” Kepner remembers sitting with her 8-year-old son’s elementary school principal and being told, “Peg [Jason] needs a Big Brother from the Big Brother Big Sisters program!” Peg was familiar with the program and knew her son could benefit since he had lost his father at the age of 4. However, considering his disability, she was hesitant to sign him up, believing that "no one comes in to be a Big Brother that wants a kid that is disabled."

Jason's birth was complicated, and his early development was delayed, leading to an autism diagnosis later in life. As a single mother, having just moved to Tucson in 1980, Peg became an advocate for Jason and other children with disabilities seeking equal rights and access to equal education. 

About this time, as Peg tells it, a young man had just moved back to Tucson after graduating from Northern Arizona University. His family had settled in Tucson when his father retired from the Navy.

This young man was Louis Di Donato. Louis was born with mild cerebral palsy. His condition made day to day life challenging, however Louis took each moment in stride. When he was inspired to apply as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, he did not let his family’s concern dissuade him.

Louis’ application to volunteer was accepted and not too long after he was provided a few options BBBS staff considered as potential good matches. Peg recalls that Louis took note of Jason’s disability and “saw that Jason’s dad was a career service member, killed in active duty, and Louis said – Oh this boy, this boy needs me!” 

Peg recounts, “Amen! It was the most glorious relationship you could’ve ever seen!” “Their relationship was beyond verbalizing. You had to see it to believe it.”  Peg remembers Louis was “a fabulous gentleman,” and so patient and calm. Jason was “very hyper!” “Louis would pull up to the house, Jason would bolt out the door, jump in the passenger side of the car and impatiently wait for Louis,” Peg laughs. “Jason would sit there and say - C’mon Louis - lets go Louis - lets go Louis - let’s go!” “They had so much fun, they bowled together, went to the movies, and spent many holidays together, with both Kepner and Di Donato families. Peg even remembers when she wasn’t well and able to take Jason to church, Louis stepped in to attend Mass on Sundays with his little brother. The two were matched and were friends for over 20 years. “It was an immediate bond. They genuinely cared for and appreciated each other.” Peg recalls.

The pair were only separated by the sudden passing of Louis to a monsoon related vehicle accident. “The news to Jason was more than devastating,” recalls Peg. “Louis exemplifies what the words Big Brother means. He went above and beyond the call of duty for being a big brother. That’s why I love this organization so much!” 

Jason and Louis’ story was so moving, that shortly after Louis’ passing, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona created a special award in his honor, The Louis Di Donato Award. This honor has been given to dozens of Bigs over the years who go above and beyond supporting their Little in thriving in their day-to-day life despite the individual challenges they may face due to a disability. To this day Jason assists in presenting it to each awardee, making the award even more honorable and special. Jason also continues to bowl as a Bowl for Kids’ Sake participant every year with Big Brothers Big Sisters, in memory of and in the spirit of his favorite activity with Louis.

Jason is now 52 and looking forward to participating in the 42nd Annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake coming up April 8th. He, along with his mother Peg, anticipate having a wonderful time in memory of Louis. Peg says, “I’ve taught Jason that when you die, you go to heaven.” Jason, having lost his father at age 4, has very little memory of him, however he had Louis for more than 20 years of his life. Peg asks Jason, “When you die and go to heaven, who are you gonna see?” Peg says the first word out of Jason’s mouth is always, “Louis!” she then asks, “and?” to Jason’s reply, “oh my daddy!”

Jason & Louis’ story is just one of many that shows how becoming a Big is more than just volunteering, it's changing and making a lasting difference in a child’s life and possibly even your own.

Pictured L-R: Dave Greene, Marie Logan, Jason Kepner, Peg Kepner, David Simpson


Marie Logan

CEO, Donor, and Big Sister