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" (www.naturesbottles.com). 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.