She said that payment is optional and is only there to ensure that people show up to spend time with her son, Christian Bowers.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 3, 2023. It has since been updated.
The CDC reported that in 2008, approximately one in every 1,200 individuals residing in the United States had Down syndrome. Despite advancements in inclusion and employment opportunities, some individuals with Down syndrome face difficulties while maintaining a social life after graduating.
Christian Bowers, a 24-year-old man from Missouri, was one such individual who longed for friends but struggled to connect with people his own age. In response, his mother, Donna Herter, devised a solution: she offered to pay $80 to men between the ages of 20 and 28 to spend a couple of hours with Christian twice a month, playing video games and socializing.
Herter told TODAY, "Christian is a social bug and when we're in public, he'll invite anyone to join us." Her heart was shattered when her son asked her, "When will my friends come over?" She was at a loss for words and didn't know how to address the situation.
To remedy the problem, Herter took to Facebook and made a post seeking a young man aged between 20 to 28 who would be interested in earning some additional income. She offered to pay him to be her son's companion for two hours, twice a month, stating that Bowers lacked friends in his age group.
She said, "Obviously he won't know you are getting paid, but that you are there for him those two days." Herter further specified that getting paid is optional. It is just to ensure that the person shows up. Herter had hoped to attract a few applicants from her social media post before going to bed.
However, when she woke up, she was surprised to find that her post had been shared over 6,000 times, reaching people as far away as Ireland and Japan. Her message not only resonated with parents of special needs children but also with individuals from all walks of life who wanted to befriend Bowers.
As a result, their original plan came to fruition, with at least four young men visiting Christian to play video games and watch movies. The best part was that, according to Herter, they all declined any payment. Furthermore, he spent Valentine's Day hanging out and snacking with a group of officers while receiving care packages from the St. Louis Blues and the New York Fire Department's Station 32. Bowers' schedule is currently full until July. Herter has provided her Facebook followers with a P.O. Box and a physical address to send any fan-mail or care packages.
She said, "The love being shown to our son is amazing. 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."
Meanwhile, she said, there have been allegations from some individuals accusing her of "selling" Bowers. She said addressing these allegations, "I'm not selling my kid; I'm selling two hours of his time. Unless you have a child with special needs, you won't understand the pain they go through every single day. My hope is that a few of these young men will want to stick around for years to come."