Walk This Way

Through their shared experiences of loss, a Walk With Sally mentor and an 8-year-old girl solidify a six-year relationship built on trust and support.

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  • Written by
    Amber Klinck

Sam Sovalbarro and Danielle Aiello met on Halloween. “Sam had just turned 8,” Dani – elle notes. “She’s going to be 15 this year, and she’s already taller than me.” Sitting in Sam’s living room, Danielle was introduced to the 8-year-old with Sam’s mom, Geor – gina, and her older brother, Patrick, serving as a buffer. For added backup, Danielle brought two orange plastic pumpkins full of candy for the kids to enjoy. 

“I was sort of nervous because I was meeting some – one new,” explains Sam. “But after a while, Danielle made me feel really comfortable.” Sam and Dani – elle’s pairing was put together by Walk with Sally, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing free mentoring support programs and services to children of parents, guardians or siblings who have cancer or have succumbed to cancer.” 

The desire to team up with the organization was instant for Danielle. “I had been introduced to Walk with Sally about six months prior to meeting Sam through a good friend of mine who was a volunteer on the board,” she explains. “I thought it was amazing and wanted to be a mentor. So that summer I went to training, and a couple months later they told me they had a match.” 

Danielle, who lost her own mother to cancer in 2000, understood the value and support a men – tor could offer a child coping with having a parent diagnosed with cancer. “It’s weird to talk to someone who doesn’t know what you’re going through because they don’t know what to say,” Sam explains. “Having someone to talk to that has gone through the same thing is really helpful because we can talk about our feelings together.”

Guiding Sam through her mother’s illness and serv – ing as a source of strength after her passing, Danielle has provided Sam with a level of support made pos – sible only by her own experiences. “I lived through my mom getting sick, going to the hospital with her, watching her go through chemo and then being there when she passed,” Danielle notes. “It was a very sad time; it’s still sad. But that’s what Sam was going through, and I wanted to give back and help.” 

What perhaps Danielle didn’t expect was how much her time with Sam would help her cope with her own loss. “There are things you suppress that are painful and that you don’t want to think about,” Danielle explains. “But being there for Sam helped me deal with that.” 

Guiding them both through the process was Sam’s mom, Georgina. “With our match, Georgina was very involved,” Danielle notes. “It really was a double match because she and I were so close in age, and we became friends too.” 

With such a multilayered relationship that has solidified its bond over the years, it’s no surprise that Danielle and Sam are being honored with the Lifetime Friendship Award at this year’s 10th annual White Light White Night event in July. The event, which raises money and awareness for Walk with Sally’s cause, has been the organization’s largest source for funding—though individual contributions can also be made at Walk with Sally’s website, walkwithsally.org.

Plaza Bank will also be honored with the Beacon of Light award for their longstanding financial contributions and support. And Linsey Godfrey will be celebrated as a celebrity honoree. 

With 62 current matches of mentors and mentees, Walk with Sally has clearly made an impact on managing the grief of our local youth affected by cancer, but they’re not done yet. “Our goal is to reach 75 by end of the year,” says Page Sacks, Walk with Sally’s community relations and special events manager. 

Now a high school student, life has gotten pretty busy for Sam, with her goals for the future at the forefront. “I was kind of thinking about getting out of California for college,” she says. “Maybe New York; I’d love to try something new. I’d like to be an ER nurse, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.” 

And while Danielle and Sam don’t spend as much time together now as they did when Sam was younger, their bond continues to grow. “I think this that will last a long time,” Sam says. “We get along so well, and we always have something to talk about.” 

When asked to share her thoughts about Walk with Sally as an organization, Sam takes a moment and says, “This program helps a lot of people, a lot of kids. I think I would like to be a mentor one day.” By easing even one child’s pain through the love, support and experiences of another, Walk with Sally is certainly making a lasting mark on the hearts of its community. 