Perfect match recognized: Boca Grande resident and Englewood girl are named as 2020 top ‘Big Sister/Little Sister’ pair

October 30, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY MARCY SHORTUSE- Life is funny sometimes, especially in the fact that many of us find friendship under the most unusual circumstances. So it was for one Boca Grande woman, when she signed up to become part of the “Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast” program, and she met a young girl named Aaliyah. The pairing worked out so well, they were recently honored with being named the 2020 Big Sister/Little Sister of the year.
The program’s motto – “We inspire, ignite and empower potential in our youth” – has truly been proven in a girl like Aaliyah. When she spoke with us regarding this honor, it was hard to believe she is only 14. She possesses a strong, clear, authoritative voice that is unusual for someone her age. Her thoughts are communicated clearly and confidently, especially when she speaks of her “big,” Candy Brooks of Boca Grande.
“Candy has made my being in this program an easy transition,” Aaliyah said. “She is very sweet, very thoughtful, very caring. I can talk to her about anything, and she just listens or gives me advice when I ask for it. She has really helped me.”
It was Aaliyah’s grandmother who first got her into the program. The girl was hesitant at first, not knowing what to expect from a “Big Sister,” and felt a little awkward. When she finally met Candy one day three years ago, though, the hesitation disappeared and they forged a bond right away.
Candy, a Boca Grande resident and real estate agent with Paradise Exclusive, is also the board chair for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in the Englewood area. She said she became involved in the program while she was with the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce: Her time there was ending, and she wanted to branch out and find a new, meaningful way to volunteer and make a difference. The program had always interested her, so she reached out to Natalie Anderson, the senior quality assurance manager for the Sun Coast branch of the program. 
Aaliyah is her first, and only, little sister. Candy admits she wasn’t sure what it would be like to mentor someone she had never met before, but the instant they spoke she realized the connection was strong.
“It took several months for Natalie to match me with Aaliyah,” she said. “They look at the background of the adult and the child, and try to make it a meaningful match. We were a perfect fit from the first time we met – we never skipped a beat. We hung out two days after our first meeting, and it was always just comfortable … like we had always been friends.”
For Candy, this has become much more than a volunteer opportunity – it’s more a matter of the heart. When she was 16 she and her younger brother, Kevin, lost their father, and the impact that made on their lives was enormous. A few years ago Candy lost her brother as well, to suicide. To this day she wonders if Kevin had been given an opportunity to have a male mentor, someone outside the family he could trust and confide in, if things wouldn’t be different today.
Now Candy sees other family members struggling with some of the same issues she and Kevin went through when they lost their father, and she has even more perspective on what that loss means to children.
“With everything that had gone on in our lives when we were younger, if my brother had a mentor that was apart from our family I think things might have been different,” she said. “Then seeing my family members, who had some adversity in their life like that, I thought I had some life experiences that could help a child get through it. I felt like I had something to give.”
Aaliyah’s parents are not in the picture for her, but she has a grandmother who helped raise her when she was younger, and two years ago her mother’s best friend, Casey Poston, adopted her. Casey, who has four children of her own, never batted an eye when it was time to adopt Aaliyah. Now, Aaliyah has a whole houseful of siblings, including a 2-year-old and 4-year-old who will always remember her as their big sister.
“Casey has been a steady person for Aaliyah when she needed it most,” Candy said. “Without even a thought, she took her in as one of her own, and welcomed her with open arms. She never even questioned the situation. She has been unconditional in her love for Aaliyah.”
Aaliyah is currently taking classes online at Lemon Bay High School, but hopes to go back in person for the second semester. Candy helps her with her schoolwork when she can, and is always a presence at school functions. The majority of their time together, though, is spent just hanging out. Walking the beach, shopping, getting their nails done, going out to dinner and just enjoying each other’s company is how a majority of their time together is spent.
“This honor, to be chosen as Big Sister/Little Sister of the year, is Aaliyah’s story, not mine,” Candy said. “I’m grateful to be here for her. I’m completely humbled by the honor, but I was blessed to be paired with such a good girl. 
“She is truly like my little sister.”
Aaliyah encourages other girls who need an objective mentor in their lives to seek the program out.
“It’s a good idea,” she said. “You just need to find someone who suits your personality, that you’re comfortable with, someone who understands you. I don’t know what I would have done without Candy. When I felt lost, she found me.” 
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast is a program that has been around for 50 years. The program matches children in meaningful, enduring, professionally supported mentoring relationships with adult volunteers who defend their potential and help them achieve their biggest possible futures. This past year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast has served more than 1,800 youth across a 10-county footprint. 
If you are interested in volunteering to be a big brother or big sister, or know of a child who might need a mentor, go to bbbssun.org for more information.