Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The H.O.P.E. Project

It is nearly impossible to put into words all of the hard work and emotions that were involved in planning my benefit for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation - "The HOPE Project." If I tried to write down all of my feelings about the night, I wouldn't ever be able to stop. Instead, I will try keep this blog post short and sweet…but I'm not promising anything!

My platform, "Inspiring Action Against Pediatric Cancer," is something that I am extremely passionate about and hold close to my heart. We all know what cancer is and are not under the assumption that children are immune to it, and yet, very little is being done to help those who are fighting the hardest battle of their young lives. This is why I choose not to "raise awareness" of pediatric cancer, but rather, to inspire action against it. I began thinking about having another benefit during my reign as Miss Greater New York and, after winning Miss Staten Island, the idea came up again. I have to admit, though, I was hesitant as I debated putting this event together – a sequel to my "We Dance For Dreams" benefit in 2012 – because I wasn't sure I'd have the time to follow through with this huge undertaking. Looking back at all that I have gained from this experience, I am so happy I decided to proceed.

I have to say, I was strangely calm the morning of the benefit, which was pretty odd. After a trip to my hair sponsor, Zoe Salon, for a quick blow out (which looked FABULOUS as usual), I was on my way to the venue. The threat of rain loomed, but thankfully we made it to CSI before any drops hit the ground. We were not as lucky leaving the theater…POURING rain is an understatement!

As rehearsal got under way, my mom, dad, brother, boyfriend and awesome pageant sisters helped keep things running smoothly so that I could focus on getting the 201 performers ready for showtime. I am honored to be representing a borough with such incredible talent. 
With rehearsal done, I headed to my dressing room for makeup (thanks, Jessica Spinelli, from Zoe for the incredible job!) and to get dressed in my first outfit. After a quick "Hello!" to my special guest Yesenia, it was SHOWTIME!
I was so overwhelmed seeing a full audience, performers in the wings, family and friends all around, that it was difficult to control my emotions. When it was my turn to perform, I was introduced by the phenomenal Miss Staten Island 2013, Amanda Lee Alicea. Her introduction touched my heart.
Before I knew it, the show was over. I felt a rush of accomplishment and relief. My Star Princess, Natalie LaForgia, joined me onstage to call the raffle winners. I was thrilled that the person who won the 50/50 donated the money back and that my good friend Diane Pilatsky, who does so much philanthropic good for others, won the all-inclusive trip to Cancun! Good things truly do go to good people.
It meant so much to me to have such great people all around me, especially my fellow MAO queens; Alexa Moley, Katelynn Smith, Christina Moore, Kira Kazantsev, Sarah Hreyo, Stephanie Accardo, Jillian Tapper and Dominique Bianco and Star Princesses Amelia Pilatsky and Natatlie LaForgia who came to lend their support. It proves once again that the Miss America Organization is truly a family. 
I am overwhelmed at the support that I received from this amazing borough. Even after the event, donations continued to come in through my GoFundMe page. I am beyond THRILLED to announce that, in the end, we were able to donate $14,050 to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation! I am speechless!

The emails and messages I received after the event were heart-warming. They all meant so much to me. My platform involves not only inspiring action against pediatric cancer, but also encouraging others, especially children, to get involved in their communities and volunteering. So many of the messages came from kids and young adults and their families were inspired to become involved in my cause and asked what they can do to help! To have achieved both of my goals with one event feels great!

"The HOPE Project" was an enormous success, but it wouldn't have been possible without the help of my family, friends, sponsors, and the Miss Staten Island Organization. I would like to give a special thank you to my hair & makeup sponsor, Zoe Salon! They did a fabulous job - I felt amazing the entire night! I would also like to thank my friends and pageant sisters Amanda Alicea, Amanda Rae Davis, Alison DeLuca and Alexa Moley for helping to keep everything running smoothly backstage and for ultimately keeping me calm and sane.
As I said to the audience, this night wasn't about me or the crown, it was about all of the amazing members of our community coming together for a greater cause. I couldn't be more proud. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you've done to help fill that auditorium with HOPE and make my dream a reality.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

JAR Of Hope Roller Derby

Throughout my time in the Miss America Organization I have met so many amazing, philanthropic, community oriented people. As is usually the case, most of them are interconnected in some way. A while back, I learned of a little boy named James Raffone who had just been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. His parents happened to be friends of Kim Leo, the owner of Dock's Clam Bar & Pasta House, who I walked with at the St. Jude Walk. Both Kim and Jamesy's parents happen to know Rob Capolongo, whom I met through Michael’s Cause. Soooo, when I found out about the JAR of Hope fundraiser for "Team Jamesy" at Roller Jam, I was happy to attend and lend my support.
After racing through the parking lot so as not to have a chance encounter with the "Staten Island Clown," my Mom and I made our way through the crowd into Roller Jam. Staying with my “interconnection” theme, the first person I saw was Dominic's grandmother collecting donations. What a surprise! We made our donation and walked right into another friend, Carla Murino - all around superwoman and swimsuit designer extraordinaire! I told you that everyone is connected in the world of philanthropy...especially on our little island! 
As we made our way around, we saw several other familiar faces and I got to meet Jamesy and his family. This little boy is absolutely adorable, even though he wouldn’t look at me at first! I was thrilled to watch some incredible dancers from LA Dance perform and speak to them about the Miss America Organization. 
Of course, I had to get some basket tickets. I had my eye on a Michael Kors clutch bag, which to my surprise…I won! My mom won a photography session and pizza for a year from Jimmy Max, which I'm looking forward to enjoying after Miss NY! Jamesy and Michael Capolongo called some of the prizes and it was great to see these two together. The support from the community was overwhelming as everyone came together to work towards a cure for DMD.
It was great meeting the Raffone family and I look forward to supporting them in the future. Together, we will find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Anthony of Padua Talent Show

Some of the most enjoyable events that I attend happen quite by accident. A few weeks ago, while I was teaching at Gigante Dance Center, I happened to notice a flyer on the front desk advertising a talent showcase to benefit Anthony of Padua, an organization that serves under-privileged inner-city children. Their website says it all - "We show them that they are special, unique individuals that can always make their own choices in life... and that they can make a difference in their own lives, and others." I remembered that I had performed at one of their events about 7 years ago and contacted Francesca, who was helping to organize the event, to see if they needed any assistance. She was thrilled to welcome me on board and we made plans to touch base over the next few weeks to see what she needed.
It was later on that I found out that most of the performers were Gigante dancers, including 3 of my soloists! Francesca asked if I knew any other performers and, of course, I told her about one of my good friends and pageant sisters, Amanda Alicea - A.K.A. the most ridiculous singer I know.
My mom and I made a few baskets and ordered some cupcakes to donate...YUM! Although the space was a bit tight, the event went off without a hitch. Amanda kept me laughing and I got to spend some time with my Princess Natalie.
There were so many talented young people and it was great to see them giving up a Sunday afternoon to help others who are not as fortunate as them. That's what it's really all about; coming together to help. Thanks Francesca and Vicky (event coordinators) and Leslee Penny for having me! It was a blast!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Michael's Cause: "Believe In Miracles"

After a great morning and a delicious breakfast at the Boy Scout event, I ran some errands and went home to get ready for a very special night. I was invited to attend the Michael’s Cause "Believe In Miracles" Dinner Dance, an enormous dinner/dance fundraiser hosted by Rob and Theresa Capolongo, whose son, Michael, suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Rob is St. John’s alum and a fraternity brother of my Uncle George. I knew that this event was going to be special but nothing could have prepared me for the spectacular evening I was in for.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the leading fatal genetic disorder worldwide. It effects 1 in 3500 boys. Duchenne results in severe muscle wasting . By age 12 boys are usually wheelchair bound. Ultimately, Duchenne effects the heart and lungs thus leading to death by the early 20's. It is caused by the bodies inability to make a protein called dystrophin . Dystrophin is an essential ingredient in muscle cells that acts as a shock absorber. Without this protein the muscle cells become weak and eventually die. To date there is no cure for DMD.

Pulling up to the Hilton Garden Inn, I found myself in a line of cars that stretched across the parking lot. There were over 650 people in attendance! I knew then that I was in for a great night. Inside, there were more baskets, prizes and silent auction items than I had ever seen at a single event. My mom and I got some appetizers, took a few pictures and made our way to our seats.
Rob and his wife spoke about their son’s illness and a slide show focusing on some of the young boys who are similarly afflicted was shown. I was emotionally overcome by the daily hardships faced by Michael and his family. It made me fully realize just how strong this little boy, and all those affected by DMD, need to be every day of their young lives.
After several other equally inspirational speakers, the music began, dinner was served and basket frenzy began! We caught up with some old friends, found my Uncle (who is a big contributor to this event each year) and made quite a few new connections for future fundraising projects and hospital visits.
I feel privileged to have been in attendance at this huge fundraising event. I am honored to know Rob, Theresa and their beautiful family. They have been able to take their life-altering circumstances and focus their energy in a positive direction to one day finding a cure for their son and all of the boys who have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. With this event, Michael's Cause was able to raise over $150,000 -- how incredible is that!? For more information on how you can help please go to www.michaelscause.com.

Pack 5/Troop 5 Breakfast

A little over a year ago I became involved in the Staten Island Giving Circle, a large community outreach group dedicated to assisting the disadvantaged and/or underserved in our community. It was then that I met Evelyn (the group's leader) and Tina (an active group member). Both of these women do incredible things for Staten Island and I am proud to know them. At a recent meeting, I learned that there would be a pancake breakfast to benefit Boy Scout Troop 5/Pack 5, of which Tina’s adorable son Pierce is a member. I knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to meet these young gentlemen.
Early...verrry early...on March 22nd, my whole family and my boyfriend Nick accompanied me to Our Lady Star of The Sea prepared to eat! The boys were so cute and they seemed to have everything perfectly under control. There were not only pancakes, but French toast (which was awesome), bacon, eggs, coffee and juice, as well.
Pierce came right over to see me and made sure that he told me how he missed me. I swear, I think he’s really 35! We finished our food, mingled with the boys and their families and caught up with some old friends. 
What a great way to spend a Saturday morning! Thanks for having me, Troop 5/Pack 5! Full and happy, which is usually the case for me, I made my way home to get ready for my second event of the day.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Stuck With de Bill"

One of the things that I have always loved about being a part of the Miss America Organization is the opportunities it affords me to meet incredible people. Michael Scholl is one of those people. He is an avid pageant fan who friended me on social media about a year ago. Michael is a constant supporter and promoter of all events presented by the Miss NY Class of 2014. If he is available, he makes sure to attend them, as well.
A few months ago Michael contacted me to invite my family and I to the dress rehearsal for the Inner Circle's annual performance, which is a time honored NY tradition at the New York Hilton. The Inner Circle is an American parody group made up of seasoned reporters, bloggers, web journalists, and television and radio personalities. It hosts an event every year in March at the New York Hilton, and each year the show has a different theme. There is a strict "no professional talent" rule. This year's theme was "Stuck With de Bill."

The dress rehearsal - which is open to friends and family - is free. The actual show has many politicians and celebrities in attendance and tickets can cost over $700! Where does all of this money go? Well, the Inner Circle's members get to pick their own charity to donate a portion of the proceeds to and I was more than honored when Michael told me that he would like to donate to one of my organizations.
My family and I were not quite sure what to expect but what we got was something that far surpassed anything we might have conceived. When we arrived at the venue, the line to get into the ballroom was insane! There were at least a thousand people there! We quickly found some seats, which, I might add, were awesome!
While we waited for the show to begin, I mingled with the crowd, took some pictures and met some of the cast. People must have thought I was part of the show because I was asked several times if I was "the REAL Miss Staten Island!"
The show began and all I can say is WOW! From start to finish, it was nothing but incredible; professional, hysterically funny and completely entertaining. I was even able to pick out several television reporters I knew!
To make the night even more spectacular, we were invited back to a private party for the cast and their families after the show. I was able to meet and speak with news anchors and reporters, including NJ Burkett and Dan Mannarino, and Beth Karas (the President of the Inner Circle). I was beyond honored to also meet and speak with legendary newsman Gabe Pressman, who just turned 90 this year!
After the night was over, I spoke with Michael about who I would be choosing to receive the donation. I am thrilled to announce that the Inner Circle will be including "Gianna Nicole's Heart Of Hope Foundation" on this year's donation list. This organization does incredible work assisting families affected by pediatric cancer. They believe that "no family should ever have to endure the burden of financial difficulty while fighting for their child’s life" and I completely agree.

Thank you, Michael, for always supporting the Miss New York Organization and its titleholders. We are all so grateful for your assistance in all that we do. I would also like to personally thank you for allowing me to take part in this New York City tradition, while helping a worthy organization along the way! Congratulations on a wonderful show!