Saturday, December 29, 2012

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."
Last year, right after I was crowned Miss Staten Island, I began to work on this campaign as my first big project. I was shocked when I came out with 1,431 letters and couldn't have been more proud of everyone involved. This year, I decided to visit more schools and collect "Dear Santa" letters, once again. Especially with everything that has happened in the world and on Staten Island in the past few months, I thought the children needed something magical to believe in.

As I expected, it was a little more difficult to get schools to participate this year, due to to the Hurricane Relief efforts and having to "catch up" on lost time. However, I was grateful to Public School 6, Intermediate School 24, & Public School 39 for agreeing to work on the campaign with me. Each visit was unique. I enjoyed meeting and working with the students.

At Public School 6, I worked with Ms. Loughran, who created the schools first Student Council and Student Government. I was very impressed by the students of the council when I met them. It made me happy to see how excited they all were to take this project and spread it through their school. I was equally as impressed with Ms. Loughran. She has a true love for her job and students and it shows in everything that she does. I have to also thank Ms. Difolco, the principal, for providing stamps for the letters.
Intermediate School 24 was an interesting appearance because I attended the school from 2002 to 2005. I hadn't walked those halls in a very long time. I spoke during the lunch periods, which were divided by grade, with the help of Assistant Principal Gilberto. It was great to see past teachers and be able to talk to each grade individually. I could tell I had an effect on the students. My Instagram followers count jumped to 367 when I left!
My final visit was to Public School 39, where my mother is a teacher. I had visited the school previously for my "Wish For Change" fundraiser. This time, instead of raising money themselves, I explained that Macy's would be donating and all they had to do was write their letters to Santa. We spoke about the holidays, Make-A-Wish, and the gifts that they were going to ask for. One kindergartner told me, "I want a pony that poops ice cream!" -- You gotta love kids... ( :
I have to specially mention one of the children I met at PS 39. This young girl is absolutely a future Miss Staten Island. Her name is Lori, and every day she reads the morning announcements to the school. As a Kindergartner, that is an enormous deal! She was awestruck by the crown and sash, but I told her that one day it would be hers.
After all of the visits and collecting letters, we wound up with a total of 841 letters. Though I did not reach my count from last year, I am very proud of everyone involved. I'm glad that even with everything that went on this year, students, teachers, and parents still found it in their hearts to believe in the power of a wish -- and believe in the power of Christmas!
I delivered all of the letters to Macy's right before Christmas Eve. It wasn't easy stuffing them all into the little mailbox...
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 all of the schools 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." Merry Christmas : ]

Stafford House

On December 18th, I visited the Stafford House, on Stafford Avenue, for the first time. The house is home to around 7 young 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 Christmas party for the staff and families. After having had to miss this appearance last year due to class, I was very happy to have a second opportunity for this visit.
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 attend the Stafford House Christmas Party every year.
Alexa, Stephanie, and I had a great time at the party. We danced with the residents, enjoyed holiday music and food, and played with Felicia and Carmine's granddaughters (who are absolutely adorable).
I could tell that all of the residents look forward to this event. They definitely were enjoying themselves on the dance floor and were so excited when they were given their Christmas presents to open. I thought it was especially nice that Felicia was able to present each of the house volunteers with a Christmas bonus for their hard work all year round.
After the party, we even found ourselves in the Staten Island Advance!
The party was so much 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! Happy holidays to everyone at the Stafford House!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Toy Drives

This holiday season, it took part in two different toy drives. One was run by 360 Entertainment, who hosted a drive at On Your Toes on December 15th. The other was an ongoing drive run by Carla Murino. I had a lot of fun participating in both.
360 Entertainment, owned by Anthony Muscat, is a DJ Company that I have worked with for many years. He teamed up with On Your Toes for this year's toy drive, so I obviously had to be involved! On December 15th, the toy drive took place right outside of On Your Toes Dancewear. We collected toys to be donated to local families affected by Hurricane Sandy. I spent the day on Lincoln Avenue, waving at people driving by, signing autographs, taking pictures, collecting toys, and getting people to write their "Letters to Santa" for Macy's "Million Reasons to Believe" Campaign!
It was a day filled with Christmas cheer. Some families stopped by and, after asking what we were doing, told us that they were affected by the hurricane. It was rewarding to see the joy on the children's faces when they were able to pick out a toy for themselves.
With the help of  360 Entertainment, On You Toes, and the community, over 100 toys were collected. Anthony brought what was left of them to rescue centers so that every child on Staten Island could have an amazing Christmas day!
The second toy drive that I participated in was one that has been done for the past two years by Carla Murino. Her son, Vincent, was born right by Christmas, so every year Carla collects toys to donate to the Ronald McDonald House in NYC. Having visited the house, myself, I know what an inspiring place this is. This is why I wanted to get involved in helping her.
My Aunt Jackie is a teacher in New Jersey. I asked if she and her class could help me get some toys for the Ronald McDonald House and they definitely pulled through! We had two bags of toys that I was able to bring with me to Carla's house so that she and Vincent could deliver them. I am so happy that the kids at Ronald McDonald will have gifts for Christmas.
Thank you 360 Entertainment, On Your Toes, and Carla for everything you do to help others. An additional thank you to my mom, Aunt Jackie, and everyone who donated for giving someone a better holiday season. It was a pleasure to do this with you all! Thank you!

Rescue Ball

Exactly two weeks ago, on 12/12/12, I was invited to join Guyon Rescue at their "Rescue Ball." This event benefited Guyon Rescue through World of Women, Inc. so that they could continue to provide assistance to the families of Staten Island affected by Hurricane Sandy. You can learn more about Guyon Rescue here. Carla Murino, who happened to design my first pageant swimsuit, invited me to join in this special night.
The benefit was put together rather quickly. I first heard about it on November 27th, only two weeks prior. That is why, when I entered the Excelsior Grand, I was completely shocked at how incredibly elaborate the event was! We were told that there were over 800 guests - the ballroom was completely packed.
From the moment I stepped foot into the venue, I spotted people that I knew - some who I haven't seen for years! Past teachers, friends from other events, and even my trainer, Jacki-Lyn, were in attendance. Jacki-Lyn was actually modeling swimwear for Carla later in the night!
Typically, I see the same groups of people at fundraisers on the island, but this one was different. With a cause so dear to our community, everyone came together to help. That's what I've really noticed since Hurricane Sandy. The people on Staten Island have continued to come out and support others when they need it the most. With a sometimes negative personification of Staten Island, this was a truly beautiful thing to see the kindness that I know exists here.
Right from the beginning, I was being called over for pictures. I met Frank Sorrentino (yes, he is the brother of "The Situation"). He was part of the event because of his fashion line, "4drobe." They sell the swimsuits that were going to be modeled in the fashion show later on.
I recently found myself on the website "Star Sightings," posing with Frank...pretty cool!
I was seated with my mother and some other great members of the community, including a member of the Mid-Island Rotary, John DeAmicis, and his family. We didn't spend much time in our seats, though. From performances, to a fashion show, to basket raffles, there was too much going on to stay seated!
I was also very excited when I saw Donny and Carolyn LaForgia. Their son, Dominic, is the reason why I work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It was great to see them and catch up. Their two daughters, Alyssa and Natalie, are growing up so fast! Natalie is has been taking dance lessons and is already preparing to be a pageant girl. At the end of the night, Donny and Carolyn wound up winning the 50/50 and I know it couldn't have gone to better people.

Everyone knows that the raffle baskets are my favorite part. I am usually very lucky with winning baskets. There were plenty of options, but with 800 guests, I didn't know if my luck would run out. I was very excited when I found out that I won the Dunkin' Donuts raffle! Now, with $75 in gift cards, I won't have to buy my own coffee for a while - and, boy, do I need my coffee.
The event was an amazing success. I am incredibly impressed with Guyon Rescue and everyone who helped to but this benefit together. I have no doubt that they raised enough money to help Staten Island out of this tough time. Thank you to everyone who came, supported, and donated, and thank to Carla for having me. We're in this together Staten Island!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Breakfast With Santa

On December 9th, bright and early in the morning, I joined Santa for a breakfast at Applebee's. Just as last year, the event benefited the Staten Island Children's Campaign. The Staten Island Children's Campaign's mission is to raise funds to support a variety of educational, counseling, health, recreational, and other essential services for local children on the island. It benefits 17 organizations that provide a wide array of programs for Staten Island youth.
Tickets, which were $10 each, had to be purchased in advance so that seating arrangements could be made. The doors opened and families were seated at 8:30 AM without any problems. It was great to see all of the children dressed in either their pajamas or their best Christmas outfits. Armed with my morning coffee, I began my morning, as well : ]
It was a low-key and stress free morning for me. I went to each of the table to say hi to kids and speak with the families. We took pictures and I signed autograph cards for them. One table had all little girls and they were very excited to ask me questions. I could tell that they were all eagerly awaiting a visit from Santa, though!
I saw some people that I had met at last year's "Breakfast With Santa," and other friends, as well. There are people who attend this event every year to donate money to the Staten Island Children's Campaign. It is wonderful!
I had a great morning with Santa, the generous staff members who donate their time every year, and the families. Thanks for having me for a second time and I hope you were able to raise a lot of money for the campaign!