Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast Volunteer Named the 2021 Florida Big Sister of the Year

The Giving Coast

Pictured: Big Sister Candy Brooks and her Little Sister Aaliyah Passeneau, courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast

This past year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast has served over 1,800 youth across a 10 county footprint–matching kids in meaningful, enduring mentoring relationships with adult volunteers. Yesterday, the Venice-based subsidiary proudly announced one of its volunteers, Candy Brooks, was selected as the 2021 Florida Big Sister of the Year. Recognized as Big Sister of the Year in October 2020 for the Sun Coast, Brooks went on to be considered–along with selected Bigs from the other 10 locations that span 52 of the state's 67 counties from the Panhandle to Miami–for the Florida recognition. "Candy is committed and dedicated to the well-being of her Little Sister Aaliyah, and for this we are grateful," says Joy Mahler, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast. “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."

Aaliyah entered Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program in 2017 when her guardian felt she would benefit by the addition of another caring adult in her life. She was in elementary school with a focus on improving grades and friends. Life changed for Aaliyah as she was adopted into a loving home and ultimately another caring adult, her Big Sister Candy. When Candy became Aaliyah’s match, she recognized Aaliyah’s potential. Together they discussed the importance of good grades, building stronger friendships with her peers, and Candy quickly became a close friend in her life. They share a love for the outdoors including kayaking, fishing, going to the park, walks on the beach and dining out. "Our friendship is equally important to the both of us,” says Candy. “I can’t ever imagine us being apart – we will always be there for each other." 

Now, three years later, Aaliyah is thriving. She enjoys going to school, has made close friends and is on track to pursue her dreams of attending college for art or dancing. “Candy is very sweet, caring and thoughtful," shares Aaliyah. "It is hard to count the times she was there for me through the years, but I can tell you I don’t know what I would have done without her. When I felt lost, she found me. When I struggled in school, she helped me. When I felt powerless, she made me powerful. She helped me find my strength when I was weak. She has helped me with my family issues and gave me advice, talked me through them. I trust her more than I trust anyone. She is my best friend.”

Pictured: Big Sister Candy Brooks and her Little Sister Aaliyah Passeneau, courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast

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