Island resident and her ‘little’ bestowed with biggest honor in the state of Florida

March 13, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – It seems as though a local pair we reported on last year named Candy and Aaliyah have exceeded all expectations of the “Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast” program in 2021. Within the last week they found out that they have been named the top “Big and Little Sister,” not only of the Sun Coast, but of the entire state of Florida.
A truly great pairing that comes naturally to them has been noticed by even the highest-ranking administrators of the nationwide program. After last year’s announcement that they were named as the top pairing in the Sun Coast group, this statewide honor has left even the girls amazed.
“This is an unforgettable honor for both us,” Candy said. “I never thought it would happen, not in a million years. There are so many pairings of big sisters and little sisters in the Florida program, we felt like little tiny drops of water in a giant bucket that was overflowing. It was already a great feeling to be recognized by the Sun Coast program last October, but this … this is something I will never forget. Not in my lifetime.”
Candy, who works as a real estate agent for Paradise Exclusive, was volunteering as the president of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce at the time she started thinking about volunteering in another manner, perhaps in a way she could make even more of a difference. As her time at the Chamber wrapped up, she reached out to Natalie Anderson, the senior quality assurance manager for the Sun Coast branch of Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
In 2017 Candy was matched with a young girl named Aaliyah, a girl who wasn’t even into her teens yet and struggling to find her place in life. Before their first meeting Aaliyah admits she was quite nervous and wasn’t sure exactly what a “big sister” could do for her. Only a few minutes into meeting Candy, though, she felt more comfortable than she ever thought she would.
“To find someone who suited my personality so well, it was an amazing thing,” Aaliyah said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but it all just fell into place. She just understands me. I don’t know what I would have done without Candy. We have so much fun every time we’re together, and I feel like I can talk about anything with her.”
Candy feels the same way.
“At first I thought it was all about instructing a younger girl on how to live life in the best way she could,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s not part of it, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about sharing experiences, it’s about admitting that no one is perfect, and it’s very much about learning to deal with life and everything it can throw at you. Of course, it helps a lot that we have a riotous good time together. Joining this organization was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I would suggest anyone with the drive to make the world a better place should do this.”
Now that three years have gone by, the two are inseparable. Aaliyah’s grades have improved, she has more close, good friendships with her peers, and she is on her way to recognizing life goals that she didn’t necessarily feel were attainable prior to meeting Candy. It isn’t uncommon for them to “hang out” even three or four times a week. Whether it’s to drive Aaliyah to a school function, to go shopping and out to dinner, or to just sit and talk in the car while running errands, the pair have found a simpatico feeling that wasn’t expected by either of them at the beginning.
“I never thought I would love someone this much who wasn’t my own child,” Candy said. “She is truly part of my family now, and I will always be there for her.”
Joy Mahler, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, is very proud of the duo.
“We know that when a child has an adult in their life committed to their well-being, their self-esteem soars, school attendance improves, risky behavior decreases, graduation rates climb and families thrive. Candy is committed and dedicated to the well-being of her Little Sister Aaliyah, and for this we are grateful,” Mahler said.
For more information about the Sun Coast program you can go to their website, bbbssun.org.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Florida works to increase resources and create opportunities that sustain and grow program services at each of the 11 locations that span 52 of Florida’s 67 counties, from the Panhandle to Miami. Each of these agencies provide strong, safe, and nurturing mentoring relationships for at risk youth and trained, adult volunteers.