Time with Big Sister Dani has Aaliyah looking to the future

Aaliyah Little Sister of the Year 2024 with Dani Lovejoy

Aaliyah has always been a good student – smart and attentive. She is a good daughter, and has a great relationship with her mom, Malynda – who calls her daughter her best friend.

She has always been capable of big things, but during her time with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and her match with her Big Sister, Dani Lovejoy, Aaliyah has excelled.

Malynda signed Aaliyah up for Big Brothers Big Sisters when she was nine years old. Malynda was a single mom, and she worried that she wasn’t giving her kids as much time as they needed to be confident and successful, so she wanted Aaliyah to have another adult in her life for support – another friend.

When Dani and Aaliyah first met, Aaliyah was creative and smart, but very quiet and shy. That didn’t stop the pair from hitting it off right away thanks to their love of crafts and reading. Very quickly, Dani realized that Aaliyah had incredible potential – and the heart and resiliency to accomplish anything she set her mind to. Now, Aaliyah is the 2024 Central Minnesota Little Sister of the Year.

Early in their match, Aaliyah was struggling at school because she wasn’t feeling challenged in her work. Her classmates were distracting, and often rude to the teacher. Later, when her family moved from St. Cloud to Eden Valley and Aaliyah started at Eden Valley-Watkins High School, she dealt with bullying and drama in her friend group. Thanks to her relationship with Dani, she was able to overcome the drama and learn to focus on herself, not what other kids in the classroom were doing.

Dani helped build up Aaliyah’s self-confidence, and now Aaliyah surrounds herself with people who value her for who she is. Dani’s patience and consistent presence has helped Aaliyah become more comfortable with herself in both who she is now and who she wants to be in the future.

In her first year at Eden Valley, Aaliyah played volleyball, but she found herself not enjoying the sport anymore – or being around that set of teammates. As a sophomore, Aaliyah made the decision to go out for football. She was the first girl to play on the EV-W varsity football team, which resulted in a lot of attention – both good and bad. Thanks to her sense of self-confidence and self-worth, Aaliyah was able to see herself as a trailblazer, and knew she belonged on the sidelines with her teammates.

Aaliyah’s mom was a nurse when her kids were young, but gave up her career to raise a family. Aaliyah knew she wanted to be a nurse – and that goal only became more important when she met Dani, who was an RN in the ICU at St. Cloud when the two first met. With Dani’s help, Aaliyah has worked to build a course schedule that will help her reach her new career goal – to become a Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse (SANE). The two have sat down together on multiple occasions to look at college courses and majors, talk about college visits, and work through Aaliyah’s career path. This fall, she took PSEO classes through St. Cloud State to get a jump start on that future career.

Whether it was car rides or coffee runs, talk of the future or working through a current issue, Aaliyah has flourished during her time in Big Brothers Big Sisters – and in her match with Dani. Aaliyah says she doesn’t know where she would be without Dani, and Dani – who asked Aaliyah to be a bridesmaid in her wedding in April 2023 – shares that sentiment.

“Aaliyah has been a great friend to me over the years, and watching her develop, learn, and become the smart, brave, talented individual she is, is extremely inspiring,” Dani said. “I am so happy that I get to call her my friend.”

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