This year we are honoring Danielle Aiello and her mentee, Samantha with the Lifetime Friendship Award. So we asked Danielle to tell us about her story, here’s what she had to say…
I first learned about Walk with Sally about 7 years ago from a good friend of mine, Wimberly whose husband Randy was old friends with Nick. I guess that’s one of the amazing things about the South Bay, we’re a connected community and support each other and really care to do so. Wimberly invited a group of friends to her house for Sunday brunch to learn about this organization that she recently started supporting, Walk with Sally (WWS).
Walk with Sally… hmm. Who was Sally I wondered, on my drive over? Oh, it must be about Dogs – sure, I love animals, happy to learn more about how I can help! As I arrived to the brunch with my twin sister Jen, she turned to me and said “this is going to be pretty emotional for us?” Really? Why? “You know what this is about, right? It’s about cancer”.
There was that word – like a knife. My sisters Lynne, Jen and I were approaching the 9 year anniversary of our mother’s passing that same month. April. April 27, 2000 – now 16 years ago. I will never and can never forget what Cancer has done to my life and my family. My mother, Kathy, was amazing. Funny, smart, quick-witted, caring and supportive. When she passed at only 51 years old, my twin sister and I were 26 and Lynne was 29. We were fortunate to have had her in our life as children and as we became aspiring young professionals. She taught me many life lessons, and I am thankful for those.
So that Sunday afternoon became a very important day for me. The mission of Walk With Sally spoke to me, and I knew I wanted to give back, and help a young girl who is going through one of the most heart-breaking and frustrating experiences ever.
And at the age of 35, I certainly had some life lessons to share. I can relate to living with a parent who has cancer and how that tears you apart. I wanted to be a mentor. I signed up immediately for mentor training, which took place that summer. And then I got the call – you’ve been matched! It was very exciting and I couldn’t wait to meet Sam.
It was Halloween, 2009 – almost 7 years now. I was meeting Sam for the first time, who at the time was 8. I knew she had an older brother Patrick, so I arrived with two pumpkins filled with candy. Which was a big hit! This is when I first met Georgina, Sam’s Mom. Georgina helped Sam feel comfortable with me, and encouraged her to open up to me… as it turned out, we both love the color pink, and also love music. We were off to a good start… and that was only the beginning!
6 ½ years later… Sam is now in high school and celebrating her quinceañera in September. She’s also inches taller than me, which is really funny to me. Through the years we’ve done so much together, from the LA Zoo, which was our first outing, to the beach, the movies, bowling, surfing events, batting cages, the Grammy Museum and lots of visits to LA Live, Dodger Games – many of which were arranged by WWS – other times it was just me and Sam.
People have asked what my favorite experiences have been with Sam. There are really too many to name.
The nights we watched the Downtown MB fireworks as a family, with her Mom Georgina.
The day I took Sam to the Santa Monica Pier for the first time, and low and behold, Dave Matthews was playing ski ball right next to us with his daughters. He even commented on how good Sam was at Ski Ball!
We went to Griffith Park once for a picnic and then walked up the Observatory together. She didn’t think she could make it up the hill – but we pushed and pushed, and then when we got to the top, she high-fived me. And as soon as we got back to her house, she ran in to tell her Mom. She was so proud.
What has my friendship with Sam meant to me?
My friendship with Sam has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I was able to create a bond with Sam at such a young age, while she’s going through something so scary. I provided an outlet for her, and her family. As many of you know, I became friends with Georgina. Georgina sadly passed away 3 ½ years ago before reaching her 45th birthday. She would have been 48 last week and we miss her terribly. One of her last requests was that Chris and I, Patrick’s mentor, help her tell the kids that she was given 6 weeks to live. I committed to Georgina that I will always look out for Sam, and we will always be in each other’s lives. I have been incredibly honored to have a family trust me and welcome me as part of their family. Sam has brought so much joy and light to my life and has in turn helped me better cope with the loss of my mother.
Next month we will be at WLWN together to accept the Lifetime Friendship Award, and I look forward to bringing more awareness to WWS, and celebrating Georgina, Kathy, Sally and all of you that night.