Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Borough President

On January 5th, our new Borough President, James Oddo, hosted an Open House at Borough Hall to meet and greet the people of Staten Island. Although I have met Mr. Oddo several times before, I felt that it was important to greet him in his official “home” as he started his year.

The snow was pretty much cleared from our snow storm the week before, but the sidewalks were slippery with ice. To be safe, Alexa and I put on our boots and bravely ventured off - making quite a fashion statement I might add!
Once we arrived, we quickly put on our heels (to the amusement of several bystanders who thought it was pretty funny watching two girls with crowns balancing on one foot) and made our way inside. There was already a crowd gathered, so after we signed in we stopped to take pictures and chat. The security guard Keith, whom I had met on a previous visit, graciously offered to hold our coats for us. Thanks Keith!
We entered Mr. Oddo’s office where we spoke with him, offered our future support and posed for pictures. As we exited his office, we met a little girl who was very interested in our crowns. Alexa and I stopped to explain the Star Princess Program to her and her mom. Judging from her excitement, I think it’s safe to say that she is most definitely a future Star Princess!
We saw several familiar faces including Assemblyman Mike Cusick, Former Commissioner Fred Cerullo (a long time friend of my mom), Vito Fossella and of course, the Executive Director of the Miss Staten Island Pageant, Jim Smith.
We came across Charista Mroczek (Miss Richmond County’s Outstanding Teen) and her mom who had just arrived after a swim-meet. We posed for some fun pictures and before we knew it, the event came to a close. We forfeited the boots on the way out and braved the ice in our heels because, after all, we titleholders are pretty fearless! ; ]
I wish Borough President James Oddo a wonderful a successful term serving the Staten Island Community. His kind, genuine, and caring nature is just what our borough needs. I know that he will do great things, just as he has in the past. Thank you, Mr. Oddo, for welcoming us with your Open House!

From a Firehouse to a Winter Wonderland

December 21st, with Christmas just around the corner, I took a break from my holiday shopping, (which was not even close to being finished) to attend two very special events.

In the early afternoon, my little sister queen Alexa and I made our way to Richmond Town to visit Richmond Engine Company No. 1, which has been providing firefighting and emergency services to the Staten Island community since 1905. It is one of the ten remaining Volunteer Fire Departments in New York City. I was invited to the house by Steve White, a volunteer firefighter and photographer whom I had met at several other Staten Island events. Alexa and I were excited to take a tour of the house and visit with the firefighters during their annual holiday party.
We were greeted by Steve and given a VIP tour of the house, which included a vintage fire engine, a huge collection of old pictures and documents and a look at the view from the top floor overlooking Richmond Town Restoration.
After the tour, we met some of the volunteer firefighters and got to climb aboard the truck, which I am proud to say, I accomplished in 6-inch heels!
Though we were not able to stay long enough for the party or the ride with Santa, we made sure to try on some fire gear before we left! Just the coat weighed pretty much what I do! It made me realize just what these guys go through to protect us every day. I am so proud to say that in a few short months my boyfriend will join the ranks of these awesome individuals, as he starts the academy on Jan. 27th!
After a quick change (something I’m getting very used to), Alexa and I were off to Eve Ultra Lounge to attend Winter Wonderland - a party to support Autism Speaks and Gianna Nicole’s Heart of Hope. When we arrived we were greeted by so many familiar faces including Tammi D’Antoni, Kelly Quinn and Gianna’s family. There were so many people having such a great time! Alexa and I dove right in, chatting with the kids, speaking to vendors and giving out gifts.
There was food, face painting, music, dancing and, of course, raffle baskets! The performers included a magician and 80’s superstar Brenda K. Star’s daughter Gianna.
I was thrilled that a dear friend, Lauren Lam, was volunteering at this event. Lauren is a brain cancer survivor and I have become very close to her and her family during the past few years.
Once again, it was amazing to see so many philanthropic people coming together to help out their community. This is what makes Staten Island great - the people. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this inspiring event! What a great day!

Million Reasons To Believe

Every year, Macy's hosts the "Million Reasons To Believe" campaign. For each stamped letter written to Santa, Macy's donates $1 (up to $1,000,000) to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It based on the story of a girl named Virginia:
"In 1897, a girl named Virginia wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun asking if Santa truly existed. The editor, in response, published a letter that assured her that Santa exists as surely as beauty and joy exist. One must simply have the courage to shun cynicism and have faith in things that can't always be seen. And for those spirited ones, Santa will always exist."
I've participated in this campaign for many years and, though I started a new job this year and didn't get to visit schools as I normally do, I knew I wanted to collect letters again.

Thanks to the help of Our Lady Queen of Peace School, Zion Lutheran Pre School, and some very dear friends (Kelly Lam and Diane Pilatsky), I was able to collect over 1,000 "Dear Santa" letters! I was very happy to have been able to visit Our Lady Queen of Peace to thank them.
Right before my double-event day on December 21st, I delivered the letters to Macy's in the Staten Island Mall. While I was there, I met a little girl named Daisy. I invited her to help me put the letters in the mailbox and she happily agreed. It meant so much to me to see the joy on Daisy's face because it is exactly what the entire campaign is about - holiday joy and making children smile.
In total, Macy's donated $1 million to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. At an average cost of $7,500 for one wish, around 133 wishes can be granted across the country with this money.
Thank you, Macy's, for your annual support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and thank you to everyone involved for your letters! You really did help make a child's wish come true. Always believe because "nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world."

Stafford House Holiday Party

On December 21st, I visited the Stafford House, on Stafford Avenue, for the second time. The house is home to men and women with disabilities. In this environment, they are able to live independently, while under the supervision of volunteers. Every year, the Stafford house has a holiday party for the staff and families.

The Miss Staten Island Organization has a very close tie to the Stafford House. One of the residents, Frankie, is the son of Felicia and Carmine DeBetta, who work tirelessly for the Miss SI Organization. This is why the titleholders are invited to attend the Stafford House Christmas Party every year.
I could tell that all of the residents look forward to this event. They were enjoying themselves and so were Alexa (Miss Staten Island's Outstanding Teen) and I. We even got the chance to catch up with Carmine and Felicia's granddaughters - I love them!
The party was a lot of fun. It was just one big family getting together to celebrate - and what more can you ask for during the holiday season? Thank you to Carmine and Felicia for always including your pageant girls in your family and for having us at this party!

Rotary Visits: South Shore & Gateway!

In the past month, I have visited two rotaries on Staten Island as a guest speaker; South Shore Rotary and Gateway Rotary. Since I have been preparing for my upcoming benefit for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, "The HOPE Project," my hope was that these two groups would be able to assist me with sponsorships. Before I tell you about my visits, let me share a little bit of background information.
The Rotary is an international service organization whose stated purpose is "to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world." Their motto is "Service Above Self."

I started my journey as a local titleholder in the Miss America system with a specific platform, “The Make-A-Wish Foundation: Kids For Wish Kids.” It was through my support of other events that I became educated about the more extensive needs of children with critical illnesses – specifically cancer. Of the already small amount of federal funding for cancer research, only 4% is allocated for all childhood cancers combined. The number of pediatric cancer cases has risen 29% in the past 20 years. Still, treatments have not changed significantly in more than a decade and cure rates for some pediatric cancers remain below 50%. It is because of these eye-opening facts, that I expanded my platform to “HOPE: Inspiring Action Against Pediatric Cancer.”

"The HOPE Project" - a variety show - will be held on March 29th at the College of Staten Island and will benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s mission is to find a cure for childhood cancer. Founded in 1970, this 501(c)(3) non-profit charity raises money for research, state of the art equipment/instruments and parent/patient care for world-renowned doctors at the hospitals PCF supports. These hospitals include:
• New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital
• Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
• Cohen Children's Medical Center of NY
• NYU Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders
• Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center
At each of the rotary meetings, I spoke about my experiences in the Miss America Organization, why I chose my platform, "The HOPE Project," and the facts about pediatric cancer, as well as the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. I had never visited Gateway Rotary before, but the South Shore Rotary had previously given me a $250 sponsorship for "We Dance For Dreams" (a Make-A-Wish Foundation benefit). I had a great time at both meetings, and look forward to hearing back from the Rotary Presidents.
Thank you to Joseph Longobardi (rotarian) & Tom Tyburczy (president) from the South Shore Rotary and Bobby Walsh (rotarian) & Mark Colella (president) from the Gateway Rotary for having me!

** If you are interested in sponsoring "The HOPE Project" visit the link on the right side of this page OR click here! **

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ronald McDonald House Toy Drive

The holidays are a time for giving and for the second year in a row I was honored to assist my friend, Carla Murino, and her son, Vincent, in their Annual Toy Collection for the children of the NYC Ronald McDonald House.
A Ronald McDonald House is a “home-away-from-home” for seriously ill or injured children and their families for little or no cost. Within this house there is a uniting sense of hope, a common search for health and healing, and camaraderie for parents struggling with their child’s diagnosis. These services are provided to families at a nominal fee that is no more than $35.00 per night. The RMH in NYC is self-funded. It is also the largest facility of its type in the world!

Each year since Vincent was born, Carla has celebrated his birthday by collecting toys and bringing them into Manhattan. With the help of my family and friends (shout out to the guys of the SIUH Electric Shop!), I was able to collect several bags of toys to add to Carla’s haul to donate to these brave children. We met at Carla’s house, armed with donuts for Vincent and coffee for ourselves. We played for a bit and then had a mini photo shoot. Vincent only had eyes for his donuts, but that was OK because I was able to get a kiss and a hug from him anyway!
Thank you, Carla, for all that you do - not only for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, but for Staten Island in general. It is always a pleasure to team up with you!

Borough Hall Tree Lighting

On December 12th, right before the major rush of pre-Christmas panic shopping, I had the honor of attending a traditional Staten Island event (for the third time); the Borough Hall Tree Lighting. The weather was brutally cold, but my sister queens and I bundled up in our coats, scarves and gloves and joined the crowd outside. In hindsight, I don’t think the high heels with no socks were the best idea. Thank goodness for the radiator just inside!
Before the event began, I had some time to chat with the performers, families and officials who were in attendance. We even got some time to share a few jokes with the outgoing Borough President, James Molinaro, and his Deputy Borough President, Ed Burke. I wasn’t surprised to see Tracey Rosenberg, a friend, former teacher and mother of a Miss SI OT contestant there with her Theater Brats (who, by the way, were fantastic).
After the show, we hurried inside to help Santa give out the gifts - and warm up. On hand to help us was Amelia Pilatsky (Alexa's Princess), as well as her mom and sister. The children were thrilled to receive their gifts and take a picture with Santa. Before we left we got a second to catch up with Jim Smith, the Executive Director of the Miss Staten Island Pageant.
I am so proud to live in this borough and to have been involved in this event for three years as a special guest. It was even more special to have been a part of the last public event for our now former Borough President, James P. Molinaro. Thank to everyone who participated and those who celebrated with us!