Sunday, November 15, 2009

West Point: Army VS. Vanderbilt

Well, talk about a great time!!!! I had the opportunity to attend the West Point Army football game vs. Vanderbilt. But first, let me give you a little background. In March 2009, I attended West Point for a Wounded Warriors event, as Miss Westchester County and was hoping to have the opportunity to return to West Point as Miss New York.

In the process of planning a trip to West Point, Ken Nelson, my fantastic business manager, :) received an email from Cadet Sergeant, Gavin White, a cow (junior), regarding the West Point banquet commemorating 500 days until his class graduated and wanted to know if Miss New York would be his date. Unfortunately, the event falls during the week I will be in Las Vegas for Miss America. Ken kindly sent his regrets that I would not be able to attend. Since I was flattered to have been asked to attend this special West Point event, Ken and I began thinking of how we could surprise Cadet Sergeant White on another day. 

Soooo, Ken made phone calls and I was invited to attend the West Point-Vanderbilt game. After confirmation we tried to keep my attendance a secret. We attended a breakfast that morning, observed the cadet review, attended the Superintendent's tailgate, and Cadet Sergeant White and I signed autographs in Black Knight alley. Well, this is where I tried to surprise him. Although, he already received word that I was attending, considering the stellar communications of our Army!

After our time at Black Knight Alley, we went into the game!! Talk about a crazy, on the edge of your seat football game--it was fantastic!! The best news: ARMY WON!! woohoo! :)

Army vs. Vanderbilt was a great time and I look forward to attending another game. (Maybe Army vs. Navy, wouldn't that be fantastic--Cadets and Midshipmen!! Oh yea, and great football! )

                                                            (or an Army basketball game)

Building Homes For Heroes--Charity Gala 2009

Building Homes for Heroes provides individuals, corporations and others with an opportunity to help our severely wounded and disabled veterans and their families rebuild their lives.
Many of these young men and women are coming home badly burned, with permanent and unsightly body disfigurements, missing limbs, the loss of sight or ability to walk, psychiatric conditions or paralysis.

Building Homes for Heroes is committed to supporting these extraordinary men and women, with a goal to build homes for families in dire need. They believe that it’s our responsibility to support those who have been called upon to make the ultimate personal sacrifice — to protect and safeguard our country by fighting America’s War on Terror.

A friend of mine, Anthony Grisanti, who also volunteers with me at the United War Veterans Council of NYC, invited me to attend a Building Homes for Heroes fundraiser in support of Iraq war veteran Army SSG William Castillo. William's story is truly heroic and I want to share it with you:

William Castillo survived five bullet wounds – including one that exited through his mouth – after a bomb exploded under his Humvee in Iraq.  He was struggling to get back to the burning truck to help his buddies when a missile cut through the vehicle – and severed his left leg.  He was the lone survivor of the attack.  His recovery was spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and on June 29th, 2007 he was awarded a Purple Heart.

Hearing this story in detail was unbelievable. But actually seeing the man, survivor who triumphed and who was given his life back, standing right in front of me, left me feeling humbled. No matter what life brings it's how you survive and handle your own personal battles. This man is a hero and didn't let his wounds hold him back.

I was able to discuss the conditions and treatment at the Walter Reed Hospital with SSG Castillo. We also discussed another service member, Chris Levy, from Long Island, who I had a chance to meet during my last visit to Walter Reed. Chris was also a recipient of a home from Building Homes for Heroes.

You can read Chris' Story here:

Every encounter I have with a service member who has survived an attack, injury, or combat opens my eyes and reminds me of what strong amazing men and women we have serving our country.

600 military men and women have put their lives on the line and returned from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees. These men and women deserve all of our help and support and I'm honored to be involved and a part of Building Homes for Heroes--helping to improve their quality of life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NYRA, Proud to be an American Day.

A beautiful day at the Saratoga race track brought many different veteran and active duty organizations together to enjoy horse racing, veteran appreciation, and the pride of being an American.

Saratoga Springs has a strong appreciation for our veterans and active duty. Meeting with the families of servicemembers was amazing.

I attended the event with the lovely Miss America 1998, Kate Shindle and some of my Miss New York sisters and Outstanding Teen titleholders. (Miss Mohawk Valley 2009, Lynn Tryon, Miss Staten Island 2009, Kimberly Cantoni, Miss Empire Rose 2009, Katie Birchenough, Miss Forest Queen 2010, Allison Carlos, Miss New York Outstanding Teen 2009, Kara Jae Kowalski, Miss Empire Rose Outstanding Teen 2009, Shannon Ryan, and Miss Staten Island Outstanding Teen 2009, Jordan Lane Kowalski) Kate started the event with a fantastic performance of The Star-Spangled Banner, and I later presented the award for one of the races: "Miss New York Honors Veterans".

At the "Big Red Spring", my Miss New York sisters and I shot video greeting cards that will accompany care packages that are sent to our troops overseas. These are very much like the "Thank You For Serving DVDs" that I host through the United War Veterans Council.

We were set up close to the rock climbing wall which all of us were tempted to climb. After waving through every eight-year-old who wanted to scurry up the wall, the Marines told us that we could not follow shoes are a big no-no on the wall. But we posed anyway!!

                                (see that's me on the right...I borrowed the camo and the boots) :) jk

My favorite part of the day was the Music Studio Performers. These children sang a beautiful song and I had to record it...enjoy:

The Making of a Parade....

This year is the 90th anniversary of the 5th Avenue Veterans Day Parade in New York City. This parade is produced by The United War Veterans Council (UWVC).

"The United War Veterans Council of NYC (UWVC) works to ensure that the public is constantly reminded of the sacrifice and service of our veterans and military. Our initiatives play a crucial role in achieving public support for the many important programs that benefit these men and women and their families."

I am proud to be the official spokeswoman and ambassador for their organization.

This year's parade theme, drawn from the preamble of our Constitution, is "The Blessings of Liberty."  Our goal is to encourage the public to not only support our veterans and military, but to show their appreciation for the good things in their own lives that they owe to those in uniform.

Last year, our parade was coupled with the return of the USS Intrepid to NYC's harbor. I had the honor of hosting the crosstown march (from the Intrepid crosstown to 42nd street onto 5th Ave). This year I am excited to get the plans under way and make it the best parade possible. I look forward to a full day of honoring service and recognizing those who have stood in harm's way--our dear veterans.

So far, the day looks like this:

10:00 - 11:00 A.M.
Eternal Light Monument, Madison Square Park
Fifth Avenue @ 24th Street

11:30 AM - 3:30 PM
Fifth Avenue parade, from 26th Street to 56th Street

Also in the works is a concert for all of our participating active duty, veterans, servicemembers, and volunteers. We are currently putting the acts together to have an enjoyable show after the largest Veterans Day parade in the country. 

This year, The UWVC is again putting together its commemorative newspaper, which will be distributed throughout the city.   If you would like to add a message to our troops or advertise your local business in the paper, please visit:

For more information regarding the parade please visit:

or you can always email me at

New York City Loves Our Troops--Care Package Drive

On August 28th I pitched in at a care package drive for our troops. This was a humbling experience for me, as is always the case with military work. I was reminded not to take any of the simple necessities for granted. There were many volunteers, ranging from school children to Iraq veterans.

The room was full of boxes that contained different items--soap, shaving cream, deodorant, magazines, dvds, snacks, toilet paper--basically any necessity one may need.

As I packed my boxes, I thought of things I would like to receive and tried to add as many of those items as possible. They even had melba toast--and if you know me well enough, you know I was adding plenty of those!! :) 

Many of the servicemembers I've met have shared with me the items they need and enjoy receiving. Items like baby wipes for their hands and face along with magazines and Sudoku books (which are a big favorite).

I am proud to announce that with the help of many, we packaged 2,500 boxes. These packages are desperately needed and I know the items go very quickly. We plan on having another event at the end of September. If you are interested in helping, please let me know!!

The shipping room holding half of the final packages....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Miss America's Outstanding Teen Pageant--Orlando, FL.

My trip to the Miss America's Outstanding Teen Pageant (MAOT) was the first time I would be meeting my Miss America Class of 2010. I was so excited to meet all of the girls!! I knew there would be a few of my friends from the National Sweetheart Pageant 2008 and I couldn't wait to see those girls again. My excitement was rising and I was ready to check into my hotel and start a fun-filled week.

Upon arrival, Miss Utah, Whitney Merrifield, (my MAOT roommate and a Sweetheart sister) and I were continually texting. When she got to the hotel, we began getting ready for the second night of the preliminary competition. We were so excited to finally realize our journey to Miss America had begun.

Blue dress: Jovani

Most of the 53 contestants had arrived by the time the MAOT prelim night two started and we were all sitting together in the audience. The opening number of the MAOT pageant was adorable and the dresses were too cute. The show began and Katie Stam, Miss America 2009, graced us with her presence. The entire audience was immediately drawn to her, I definitely was. She is absolutely beautiful, simply stunning. It is an honor to get to know her and have her as a mentor to the "class of 2010" Miss America contestants.

After the prelims, the reality of being Miss New York truly set in. All of the Miss America contestants were taken into a conference room to meet the Miss America board of directors. It was here when Sam Haskell, the MAO chairman of the board, announced "one of you WILL BE the next Miss America" WOW!!! Instantly, I was covered in chill bumps and envisioned that one person could be ME!! This statement was said so much throughout the week and made this journey to Miss America such a reality! The time has come! woohoo!

(Black dress: Jovani)

After a great nights sleep and dreams of becoming Miss America, we had an early morning photo op with our new "Go Green Initiative" ( This is a new sponsor of the Miss America Organization. Miss America 2010 will promote the importance of staying green, as well as her personal platform, and the national platform of the Miss America Organization, The Children's Miracle Network.

                                                                                                                          (Natures Bottle T-shirts)
Next stop was a quick taping with Katie and Sam for TLC. TLC shot B roll/interviews for the special that will be airing the night before the Miss America Pageant, Live from Las Vegas on TLC, 8pm EST.

Some girls went on to tape their official TLC interviews that will stream online. Since my interview was the next day, I went to the pool to relax and hang out with some of the other contestants. I wanted to take advantage of the extra time we had to get to know them.

Later that evening, we attended a dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy Restaurant. Our dinner was hosted by the lovely Mary Sullivan, ED of the Miss Florida Organization, and the great David Lang and Carry Oneal, owners of Regalia Magnificent Apparel. This dinner was special because we got to sit with one another and go around the room and share a fun fact about ourselves. I shared that I am a first-generation Slovak American and a professional actress in New York. After a great meal and socializing with everyone, it was off to the 3rd night of preliminaries.

Friday morning I had my official TLC interview. This interview was enjoyable and my questions were mostly about my platform work and New York City. These interviews will be aired online so America can get to know each contestant better and vote contestants into the top 15. 

Following the interviews, we had another free day to relax. I met with Regalia to try on different evening gowns. During this fitting, TLC taped some footage of me trying on gowns. Katie showed them around the showroom and we took a few takes discussing the gown I had on and other gowns that were appealing to me. It was really special working closely with Katie; she's a great on-camera host.

                                                                                                                           (white dress: edress me)
Katie later hosted the Westgate Resorts Foundation Miss America Fundraiser at the Siegel Estate. The Siegel Estate was to die for. I guess it isn't too shabby living across the lake from Tiger Woods!! You have to love it!! :) What a beautiful home they had and I thank them for opening their home to the Miss America Organization. Oh yeah and donating $25,000 to our scholarships. THANK YOU!!

The final day of my trip consisted of official meetings to discuss the Miss America Pageant, autograph signings, and the crowning of Miss America's Outstanding Teen!! Our first meeting of the day was exciting. We discussed the details of Vegas, appearances, the production of the pageant, rehearsals, and of course the final crowning of Miss America 2010. Who can't get excited about that?? :) When this meeting ended we were so overwhelmed with joy. I know I was ready to fly home that second and get moving towards my goal of becoming Miss America.

Prior to the final crowning of MAOT, the "Miss" contestants had an autograph signing and then we attended the pageant. The MAOT girls were phenomenal. They are so talented and intelligent I am proud to be a part of an organization promoting the excellent of these amazing young girls.

That evening one little girl's dream of becoming Miss America's Outstanding Teen was fulfilled, as one of the 53 Miss America Contestant's dream will be fulfilled in January. Before we knew it...we had a top 10, top 5, and a crowning moment. Miss Wisconsin's Outstanding Teen, Jeanette Morlan. Congratulations honey! Best of luck to a great year.

My week in Orlando was so much fun and I'm glad I had an opportunity to meet all of the girls before we arrive in Vegas for the actual competition. The road to Miss America 2010 will be full of hope, hardwork, and excitement all in one. I can't wait!! :)

Thank you to Stephanie Rygorsky for providing my wonderful wardrobe compliments of edress me, Vera Wang, Jovani, and Wink.

Operation Purple Camp-KIDS SERVE TOO!!

On August 5th, I had the opportunity to visit the Operation Purple camp in Greig, NY which is affiliated with the National Military Families Association. (NMFA)

NMFA is the only nonprofit organization that represents families of all ranks and services, and prepares spouses, children, and parents to better deal with the unique challenges of military life. According to NMFA, The Operation Purple summer camp is to impart the message to these young heroes that KIDS SERVE TOO. The program helps military children experience carefree fun while establishing relationships with other children who have the shared experience of having a parent deployed.

I must say that these children were unbelievable. Seeing them interact with one another was touching. Many told me while attending other camps they have felt out of place. Their friends at other camps would tell them "oh it's ok...your parents will be fine" but these friends (even though they were only trying to help) could not really understand what they were going through.

However, at Operation Purple camp all of the children go through the same thing whether it is dealing with deployment, a wounded servicemember in their family, or just military life. These children have the opportunity to share with one another their happy times as well as their hard times without their parents and the each one of them can relate. 

I got to see the Wall Of Honor that the campers make. This is a wall to display pictures of their family member who is a servicemember and write a memory they have with them or something about that person.

At camp, they also have a list of "Top 10 things that make me sad, scared, and lonely". This is a time for the campers to display how they are feeling while dealing with their servicemember's lifestyle. Reading these posters showed me the great struggle the children of military families have dealing with military lifestyle. Some examples are:

-Parents getting injured
-losing friends, families, and pets
-scary noise
-both parents leaving
-having nightmares

These exercises allow the children to express their feelings and help heal from their own wounds. I was touched reading these lists and embraced my time with the children even more.

The campers really enjoyed my visit. They were trying on my crown and calling me Miss America. Hey, I'll take it!! :) Not only were they having a great time at camp, but I was able to make their day and was so glad I also had the opportunity to have lunch with them.

At lunch I spoke to one little girl (who begged me to sit with her specifically--she's in the pic above poking her head above the crown). As we were talking she told me both of her parents are deployed. I asked her how she felt about that. She sat tall, and strong and stated, "I'm proud of my parents they keep me free". WOW!! What an answer and what an angel this little girl was.

These children are so mature because they have to be. They have to take on great responsibility and may even become the 'caretaker' in the home to siblings or a spouse of a deployed servicemember. The hearts of these children are wounded, but they find joy in life and simply take nothing for granted. That is the kind of appreciation that should be exemplified in all of our youth. I am honored to have met these little angels and may God continue to bless them.

Miss New York 2009

Where do I begin? Being crowned Miss New York is indescribable. First of all, I literally do not remember the actual crowning moment. My excitement was so overwhelming I had to look at pictures to remember exactly what happened. This is an amazing opportunity and I feel truly blessed to have this experience.

Since being crowned Miss New York, I have had many appearances and the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. It all began with radio interviews, press conferences, newspaper interviews, and other media. All of this media coverage was fast paced and interesting...I was still trying to remind myself, "I really am Miss New York". I would say it definitely took a month to actually sink in.

Back home from Albany and the excitement from pageant week, it was time to plan headshots, paperwork, and follow up with all of my contacts I had made as Miss Westchester County. My belief is you have to be proactive and network before you have any title to strengthen the organization, get people involved, and get people excited. After you do win, you have a team of supporters (that you created) who are ready to help you and support you to the next level. This marketing strategy has worked well for me as an actress and I apply the same philosophy to marketing my title. My sponsors were extremely proud.

Next came the actual preparation for Miss America. Everyone says to me "wow, you have six months until the big show. What is there to worry about?" Well, there is a lot to worry about and six months will be here before I know it. It all starts with the paperwork that is due to the Miss America national office four weeks after a state contestant is crowned. This is the information that is submitted to the judges who will decide the next Miss America. Instantly, I was shooting my headshots with Joseph Moran and working on my paperwork. I have taken many headshots and I must say working with Joseph was great. He was relaxed, fun, and I had really delicious strawberries and cherries to eat in between shots! :) I can't complain. My headshots capture who I am. They display grace, power, and the compelling story I have to share.

As far as my paperwork is concerned...that was definitely a process. It is quite challenge trying to explain how you will change the world, through an issue that is so heartfelt, in just one page. While developing my paperwork, I found that my platform is not only to honor but to help our military families, veterans, all who have served and who continue to serve, as well as capturing their stories. It is our brave servicemembers who protect our freedom and it is time for our heroes to be given their lives back.

Through this process, I found a deeper passion for the needs of all aspects of our servicemembers, veterans, and their families but I was also able to connect to a deeper part of myself that had been completely forgotten and pushed away. Due to this discover during the "paperwork process" I am reminded that everything in one's life happens for a reason. As Randy Pausch says "We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand" 

I look forward to embarking on this journey ahead and the road to Miss America 2010.