Tuesday, July 22, 2014

St Jude's Family Fun Day

Two weeks after I came out to support Kids For Kids at the St Jude car wash, I attended the second event for St Jude that I had mentioned in a previous blog - St Jude Family Fun Day! The event was held at Flloyd Bennet Field in the Aviator Sports Arena. I couldn't wait to go because I knew it was definitely going to be something special.
My family and I made our way into Brooklyn and found the venue with no trouble at all. When we entered we were overloaded with everything going on. There were rides, vendor booths, hundreds of baskets, a silent auction, costumed characters and food, food, FOOD! It was awesome! I quickly found Caitlin McFeely, the coordinator of the event, to say "Hello."
We then made our way from booth to booth and event to event, of course, taking pictures along the way! As usual, I saw so many familiar faces. As I always say, one of the best things about supporting such amazing causes is running into the same like-minded people again and again.
Before we knew it, it was lunchtime! I have never seen so many hamburgers and hot dogs in my life! Of course, it was all delicious! After lunch the ceremony began and Jeffrey Pearson, the Chief Financial Officer of St Jude, spoke about the history of the organization. I knew a lot about St Jude already, but I learned quite a few new facts from him.
Afterwards, we listened to stories of families who were helped directly by St Jude. I am still overwhelmed when I listen to how resilient and positive those affected by pediatric cancers are. It always renews my faith in the human spirit and makes me realize how lucky I am to be healthy and to be able to support these organizations as a titleholder in the Miss America system. I am humbled by people who have gone through so much and still spend their time advocating for others.
Later on in the afternoon, baskets were called and a final total for the event was announced. My jaw dropped….$1,000,000 was being donated to St. Jude, with $30,000 of that coming directly from Kids For Kids! It dropped even further when the President of Kids For Kids spoke. He is only 12 years old, but he spoke with the conviction and passion of someone much older. It makes me feel so wonderful that there are kids who are giving and compassionate. I made sure I met him to tell him so afterwards!
Thank you to Caitlin McFeely for including me in both the Kids For Kids and Family Fun Day events. I will be a supporter of St Jude for many years to come. Keep up the amazing work!

Hope & Heroes Comedy Night

Following the Banker’s Association Luncheon, I headed home to take a quick nap (although that didn't exactly happen) and get ready for my second event, a "Hope & Heroes" fundraiser at The Looney Bin Comedy Club. Hope and Heroes Children's Cancer Fund is an organization which raise funds for the Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation at Columbia University Medical Center. I was looking forward to an evening of laughs, and time with my family, and hoping that tons of money would be raised.
When we arrived, my old friend "Soul" Joel showed us to our table. I was starving and couldn't resist ordering mini soft pretzels and cheese. I'm such a sucker for food! As we waited, I chatted with other guests and met the comedians; one of whom is my hilarious friend, and former Performing Arts teacher, Tracy Rosenberg. The night was already shaping up perfectly.
The warm up comedian began and I couldn't stop laughing. He was hilarious, and his impressions were on point. We watched the other comedians and it was clear that my make up was doomed because I was laughing so hard that I was crying. Every one of the performers nailed it. I was nervous that I was going to be a target, but everyone behaved themselves and I was safe…WHEW!

After the show, I introduced myself to the event coordinator from Hope & Heroes. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that she also works with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, so she knew me before I even began to say who I was! We made plans to get in touch and work together in the future. What a great night…but then, again, how can you lose when you’re out having fun, with people you care about, raising money for a great cause?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Richmond County Bankers Association

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Bottega at the Gateway Rotary Club of Staten Island meeting. He asked me if I would like to speak at the Richmond County Bankers Association in June. I agreed and remember thinking how far away June was! But, as it always does, time flew by and the date had arrived.

My mom and I made our way to Giulianna's Restaurant for speeches, baskets and brunch. I was surprised at how big the restaurant was as it looked pretty compact from the outside! We were seated at the head of the table and met many of the attendees, all of whom are in the banking industry.
After appetizers, it was time for my speech. I spoke about myself, the Miss America Organization and my platform. When I was through, several of the bankers had some questions for me. They were very interested in the organization and the opportunities that it opens up for so many young women. When I was through, I was presented with a check for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. What a great surprise!
As we ate, I chatted with several of the women bankers who continued to ask questions about MAO. I was thrilled to explain the Princess Program to them and they said that they would be looking into it for their nieces and grandchildren. I love it when I am able to inspire others to come into this organization because I know they won't regret it. 

After dinner, raffles were called and…you guessed it…I won one of the four baskets! Movie tickets and candy…PERFECT!
Dessert was served and we said our good-byes. Thank you Joe for having me and for your generous check. I know that they will be able to do so much with it!

Cystic Fibrosis Walk

Although my platform is "Inspiring Action Against Pediatric Cancer," I advocate for and support quite a few other causes including fighting for a cure for cystic fibrosis through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As I mentioned in a previous blog, cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States.
Last month, I joined my good friends Donna and Louis Valentino at the CF Walk in Clove Lakes Park. This year's walk held special meaning as less than a week prior, Kim Busacca, a 22- year old "CFer," lost her battle to the disease. This struck something in me when I realized that she was my age. It made me realize the devastation this disease causes in such young people and strengthened my conviction to do whatever I could to support and raise some awareness.
As usual, I saw so many familiar faces including Lou's cousin Gerard, Kamryn and her family, and Stan Mikos whose son Matthew also suffers from CF. I was honored to be introduced to Kim's parents who, in spite of their tragic loss, came to walk to help others. I was humbled to meet such a selfless woman. Kim's spirit was undeniably evident in everyone who I spoke to who knew her. 
Before the walk began, my sister queen Stephanie Accardo (Miss Richmond County) joined me. Together we judged the CF t-shirt contest. All of the shirts were so creative, but in the end the prize for the winning shirt was awarded to Team Matt for their Hunger Games inspired design. 
Before I knew it, the walk began. I walked for a bit with Team Kaitlyn (Lou and Donna’s Team) and then I regretfully had to leave to attend a family event. 
Thank you Lou and Donna for inviting me to be a part of this monumental event. I know that the cure for CF is not far off and I hope to continue to assist you in your efforts to raise awareness for this devastating disease. I can’t wait until your Halloween Party!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Break The Silence at Ink Couture

Stop #3:

My final event of the day on June 7th was a fundraiser for Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence at Ink Couture, a local tattoo parlor. Break The Silence is committed to breaking the cycle of domestic violence through education and individualized services. This tattoo event was coordinated by my friend Lauren Parks, whom I had met at another Break The Silence fundraiser - "Evening Of Inspiration" - back in May. I was happy to attend this event and lend my support, but a tattoo was NOT going to happen!

I was a little nervous even going into the event because, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I am terrified of needles. However, I took a deep breath and walked inside. I have to say, Ink Couture is not what I had envisioned a tattoo parlor to be. Although I had met Frank (the owner) previously, I had never been there. The place was gorgeous with beautiful white walls and floors, glass enclosures and lots of merchandise to peruse.
Lauren, who was getting ready to get her tattoo, happily greeted me. She is a former victim of domestic violence who has taken her own experiences and is using them to fuel her fire to help others. I admire her for taking back her life. She's also pretty funny and always makes me laugh.
There were a few other people getting tattooed and I sat outside Lauren's cubicle chatting with her and trying not to look as she got her tattoo. Before long, she was done. She had chosen a quote from Maya Angelou and it really was beautiful. My mom convinced me to sit in the chair after Lauren to take a picture of me "getting my tattoo."  Even though I knew it was just a pretend shot (the tattoo gun wasn't even plugged in!), I was so nervous that I was shaking. I couldn't wait to get out of that chair!
Interestingly enough, the tattoo artist told me that he was also a magician who had worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation at one time. We went outside where he amazed me with a pretty gross, but awesome magic trick. So cool!
Before we left, Lauren’s 2 year-old niece Ava came by. We had met at the last event and she remembered me only as the princess. She is absolutely adorable.
Thank you, Lauren, for everything you do to bring awareness to and help victims of domestic violence. I look forward to helping you in the future and I'm so happy that we have gotten to be friends…even though I refuse to be tattooed EVER! : )