Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sherman Elementary School

Thank you to Sherman Elementary School K-5 graders for such great chats about the true meaning of friendship!!

I joined several hundred students in a conversation about what it means to be a friend. We focused quite a bit on the value of differences.  Here's the story I shared:  A friend of mine used to come to school with the weirdest thing in her lunch box.  It was a green fruit with slices shaped like stars.  Everyone teased her for not having the typical Doritos or Dunkaroos (am I dating myself with that one?)  One day, I asked her about the fruit.  She gave me a try.  This delish green star, appropriately called Star Fruit, has forever since been my favorite fruit of all time!  Now, look what I would have missed!  When we bully someone for their differences we are often trying to establish dominance and control over something we don't understand.  Instead, educate yourself.  You might find your very own Star Fruit in the world.

Huge thank-you to the students and the staff for welcoming me in for a great day!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Sackets Harbor

Sackets Harbor Parent Anti-Bullying Forum

The students rocked this afternoon.  Tonight, I'm talking with the parents. 
I hosted a Sacket's Harbor community anti-bullying forum for adults to talk about the role adults and educators play in the war on bullying.  Parents filled the gym to find out how they can help ease the pains their students' face from peer torment, as well as to better understand the state of cyber bullying. (Check out the article in the Watertown Daily Times for some highlights.)

The event opened with a performance by the Sackets Harbor Glee Club.  They were the stars tonight.  The musical group serves as a social outlet for students looking for support and acceptance.  The program is quickly becoming a noted anti-bullying initiative across Northern New York.

 Best part of the night?  When the Glee students, one by one, shared their stories.  One young lady brought the house to tears when she told of being teased for crying over a family tragedy.  I know!  Broke my heart, too!  She walked with her chin held high, declaring that she won't let anyone hurt her or her friends anymore. Someone hand her a crown. They had a captive audience of the very people by whom they wished to be heard. We fail to give young people are undivided and captive attention often enough. Leadership is a muscle that must be flexed and therefore such opportunities must be facilitated if we wish to ensure powerful leaders for the next generation.
Thank you to the parents and community members, the Glee Club, and a special thanks to Sackets Harbor for welcoming me into your school and being so engaged in the conversation!!

And look!!!!  I'm an official member!!! Best award of my year!!

Sackets Harbor K-12

Thank you to Sackets Harbor Central School's K-12 students for a great day discussing bullying!!  I spoke with three assemblies of students today in Sackets Harbor, NY, for three very different talks about "being mean" and standing up.

Had a gorgeous young woman approach me after the 9-12 assembly with tears in her eyes.  She shared her story - years of torment from peers, no apparent reason behind their cruelty, and more - until one part struck me: she mentioned having a sit-down with one of the students who has harassing her and asked him, "Why are you doing this?" "Because you made fun of me when we were younger," he shouted back.  Clearly a few years have passed since then, so why is he still mad?  Let's be honest: many of us (me included) fail to discuss our feelings at the time of their deepest onset.

Girls, we are the worst at this. When we let sadness fester, it turns to anger which is the heart of bullying.  We have to talk things out!  Now I am no expert at this, as it's something I have to remind myself to do quite often.  Used to be that whenever someone hurt me, I'd give them a mental evil eye.  Somehow I figured they would get the message.  Wrong.  Got to be direct!  That doesn't mean start throwing your hand in someones face and slapping each other like you're on an episode of Flavor of Love.  Direct means clear and firm.  Let the person know what they did, how it made you feel, and what you'd like them to do.  Example: "It is really insulting when you call me that, I'd like you to stop."  Done.  At this point, the aggressor has two response choices; If they stop, they did it right.  If they continue, they are now acting with preexisting knowledge that their behavior is causing you harm. They are now bullying.  But you?  You've done it right.  If they are going to continue, you should do what you can to stay away.  Those who make the conscious choice to hurt others are not worth your time.

Huge thanks again to the students and staff!!  I came to Sackets Harbor earlier in the year to meet the superintendent and principal.  They are doing such a killer job of keeping their students engaged in positive social experiences, including their Glee Club.  But that's a story for next blog post...I'll be back tonight for another event with Sackets Harbor!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

PS 47Q

Thank you to students of PS47 for a great day talking about bullying!!  I worked with three assemblies and one small group to discuss how personal choices can create big changes.

Earlier this year the 6th grade class at PS47 in Queens used my Daily News article as a study piece on bullying.  The students and staff invited me to their school to speak live about the article and the issues it covered. This was a bunch of smarties. I could tell just from our conversations. They were ambitious and mature, but I don't think that was all. After three assemblies I sat to answer questions for the 6th graders, and have to thank them for such thoughtful questions!

Now, off I go across the state!  See you tomorrow in Watertown.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Queen of the Rosary

Yet another Project Empower BOSS Student Business Competition kicked off today.  I coached students at Queen of the Rosary School through the preliminary development of their new product ideas for NIKE.  They have only a few weeks to flesh things out before presenting to become the top team at their school.  Knock 'em dead, teams!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

'Bowling Against Bullying' with Anthony Gargiula

Today I joined rising pop artist Antony Gargiula for the second annual 'Bowling Against Bullying' fundraiser, held at Spare Time Lanes in Latham, NY.  Families from the Albany area joined for a full day of music, games and surprises (most notably, me learning to bowl.)

This event originated when Anthony was assigned a school project about impacting the world around him.  Anthony is 12 years old and has been seen on the Today Show, Ellen, CBS Early Show, and is a regular national anthem singer at Madison Square Garden.  Of course, the aroma of his success lured envy and soon he was facing all sorts of bullying from peers. But this little man was not going to take it laying down, so he stood up and used his new found fame for good. My little hero.
Yes, Anthony had backup dancers.  They provided incredible entertainment throughout the day.  Best part about Anthony was, amid all the celebrity-status fuss going on, he stayed cool as a cucumber and incredibly humble. Yes ladies, he is single.

However, this guy? Not single. We sort of have a "thing" going now...

Lately I've had great luck with rendezvous.  I found our friend Miss Empire Rose 2012, Katelynn Smith!!  Also joining was Empire Star's Outstanding Teen 2012 and Albany's Outstanding Teen 2012, Madison Manuel and Brittany Rose Egnot.  We had a beauty queen bowling match. The only thing more embarrassing for a girl than not being able to bowl well is doing so in a crown, but when in Rome...

I'm so proud of Anthony.  It is never too early to begin influencing the world around you. Your impact can begin small, but will grow - just like Anthony's event - once others see the good behind your work. They will want to get involved. We can all come together and combine our impact when someone facilitates the conversation. Way to facilitate, Anthony.

Thank you to Anthony and his family for allowing me the chance to participate, and to the entire Albany community for participating. My brachydactylated thumb would like to thank the event security guard who taught me to  throw a bowling ball.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Secret project with ETCB Org...

My friends at End To Cyber-Bullying Organzation got together with me on Long Island for a long day of work on a secret project.

It's a secret, but I offer you this picture and the following clues: animal print pants, ikea, central meeting times, and confusion.

Stay tuned to see the answer revealed!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Westhampton Middle School

The only time I've been to the Hamptons prior to being Miss New York was to pick up used cups during a party for $30 per hour (we actors are creative with our income sources.) The Hamptons are beautiful, and today I thank Westhampton Middle School for a two great assemblies on bullying! 

The students were antsy.  With summer around the corner, it's time for students to be thinking of how to spend their free-time. I always used summers to do theater camp.  No place that felt more natural than in a room of 80 hyper kids like myself.  That is where I learned to express, to accept others, to work in teams...summer is a time to grow your personal skills.  Oh, and to get outside. We NY'ers have plenty of time during the year to sit on our butts in front of a computer. Take advantage of our few good weeks of sunshine and go outdoors. Try taking a walk without your cell phone.  Bet you can't do it!  "Challenge accepted," did you say?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pine Bush Elementary Schools

Thanks to Pine Bush School District for letting me rock out with your little ones today!  No joke, there was rocking. While I typically plead shyness when asked to sing by students, today I took a different route.  I grabbed three students from the crowd and had them come up to sing with me.  Of course, they pretty much whispered, leaving me to perform a rather rousing rendition of "Twinkle, twinkle."  Nevertheless there was music.

Of course, there was bullying talk, too.  We covered the basics of what to do and the many reasons behind bullying.  The day's theme was bravery.  Even when you are afraid no one likes your voice, you can sing anyway. You aren't hurting anyone. They can always leave the room if it's that bad.  Maybe the wisdom of babes will start to help me overcome my newfound stage fright.

Pictures coming soon!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Our Lady of Sorrows School

Second BOSS Student Business Competition kick-off of the day!  I went across town to Our Lady of Sorrows Middle School where I got busy helping students begin to form new product ideas for NIKE.

Wanna see behind the scenes? Check out some of the ideas starting to form...

Our Lady of Martyrs School

This morning I was at Our Lady of Martyrs Middle School in Forest Hills, NY to kick-start their BOSS Student Business Competition.  Over 2 hours I guided students as they began to develop the next big product for a national brand.  Our team will be back in about 4 weeks to see them present, looking for the team with the strongest demonstration of innovation, communication and market understanding.  I saw two of my favorite ideas come out of this school, so I've got high hopes for this one!

Friday, April 20, 2012

'Bully' Film Premier and Talk Back in Rochester

I want to marry this film.

This being said, imagine my reaction when WXXI Rochester invited me to be a panel specialist for the talk-back held immediately following the film 'Bully' at it's sold-out Rochester premier at The Little Theater.  The panel was lead by news team reporter and All Things Considered host Helen Biandudi and allowed audience members to share their reactions to the film and seek guidance on issues of bullying within their own communities.

I'll keep this one short, since you'd be best served to watch the entire post-show discussion below!

Thank you to WXXI's Helen Biandudi, Dr. James Colt, Aly Belknap, Karrie Formicola and all the participating audience members for making this such a success. I also want to thank Lee Hirsch, as the film was even better the second time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

St. Rose of Lima Middle School

Yet another Project Empower day for me.  Spent the afternoon at St. Rose of Lima for a coaching kick-off session for the BOSS Student Business Competition!  We spent nearly 2 hours together talking about how to design and market a new product for a major national brand.  The students were on a of luck to everyone!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Staten Island United Veterans Organization Gala

I'm a sucker for an American hero.  Tonight I joined the United Staten Island Veterans Organization for their annual "Evening of Honor" Awards Ceremony to honor the men and women who have served in our military from the Staten Island community.

I had the privilege of performing the National Anthem and joining as a guest for the evening. Recognized at the event was executive director of Staten Island Fleet Week, Vito Gioddie, and local businessman Joseph DeMarco for his exceptional fundraising efforts for the USIVO.  Anthony Fanelli was also announced as the 2012 Grand Marshall for the Staten Island Memorial Day Parade, and Miss USIVO Laren Encarnacion was officiated into duty.

The beauty of tonight's awards was matched by the fun of the entertainment and good company.  Staten Island loves its social life.  My friends in the area attend galas almost nightly.  Before you go writing them off as party animals, take note that every night out is a celebration of a cause, organization, etc. As we toil through the difficulties of school, work, bills, family...we could all use more celebration.  Sometimes we fail to even recognize our own accomplishments as they become clouded by to-do's and workloads.  Communities that come together regularly in this way generate safer environments from bullying and harassment by creating a sense of inclusion.  Now that's something worth celebrating.

Oh, and look who I found!  Miss Richmond County 2012 Stephanie Accardo!  She looks lovely, eh?  Always a pleasure to catch up with the girls.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ave Maria Catholic Academy

Today I was back to see my friends at Ave Maria Catholic Academy (you may remember them as the winners of our OUTREACH competition this year!)  I kicked off another BOSS Student Business Competition series!  Nearly 500 students got started creating team product designs for NIKE shoes, and we will be back to pick a winner soon.  Best of luck everyone!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Miss New York Orientation

I can't believe that it has been a whole year already. It's been the longest year and yet a flash.  Today was Orientation Workshop for the Miss New York contestants. Been waiting for this one for a while!

We started with the usual - pageant details, schedules, wardrobe requirements, yada yada - and then dove into the fun information: First, that we are bringing back the Mr. New York Pageant!!  The ladies will be recruiting fine young gents to represent them in our favorite annual fundraiser!!  Swim trunks, baritone serenades,'ll all be there. Then came a curveball.  Ken Nelson, the Scholarship Director, called me to the front for what seemed to be the sole purpose of making me blush as he explained his pride in what I had accomplished this year.  Stating that there were no material objects the Board of Directors could offer that I needed (I would argue that a rent check would do, but I see his point,) the words that followed brought my hands shooting up to cover my gaping mouth: the Miss New York Organization has created a anti-bullying scholarship in my name.  Cue the water works. I am overwhelmed, humbled, and borderline in shock over this. Every year I will return to select a student from New York who has made an exceptional difference in the field of anti-bullying, able to honor them onstage and award them a scholarship to pursue their education. What can I even say?  I've wanted nothing more than to make a difference this year in the lives of others. To think that impact will be an annual thing trumps all the material wealth I could have imagined. Toss this one up on the list of reasons why I am so wildly indebted to this organization.

Now came an exciting announcement on my end.  This year, Project Empower has been the vehicle for my passion and impact.  It earned me a Quality of Life nomination, got me hands-on with thousands of students, gave me leadership experience as a development strategist and organization leader, and helped me walk the walk when it came to impacting youth. Today I announced that Project Empower has set up a partnership opportunity for the next Miss New York. Pending her interest, we will be offering her the chance to become a leading figure and utilize the platform we have built in order to spread her message into schools state-wide. Best of all, this partnership is not just for Miss New York.  I am inviting all the local titleholders from across the state to become regional advocates. They are welcome to take our programs and use our team to reach schools in their area. My hope is to help women of this organization forever have a way to advocate and lead, as these are the two elements of this role that I find most important.

After the ladies strutted their stuff for a swimsuit work session (brave, right?) I got some one-on-one time with them. Sorry friends, but this girl talk was private! The ladies were incredibly quiet and left me worried (my worst fear is leaving them uninspired or dis-impassioned.)  But as they split off for talent run-through time I had nearly every contestant pull me aside for a private conversation. As if I couldn't be more touched by this day, I found myself having back-to-back conversations in stairwell corners about everything from fears to fiery passions, platform ideas to organizational overhauls, and all the many dreams and emotions in between that these ladies are bringing to their fight for this job.  New York, we are lucky. After every conversation I was thinking, "There she is!" Each so wildly different in what they want to bring to this title! That is what Miss New York is about; not daddy's credit card and expensive dresses, but the opportunity to share the depths of ones impact through a one year job. Thank you to all of this year's titleholders who are seeking this for what you can offer the title, rather than what the title can offer you.

Just like last year, I have basically no pictures from the day.  There was far too much to focus on.  The clock is ticking now. Excuse me while I go pretend that this is never going to end.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Partnering with 'End To Cyberbullying'

It's the start of something great!!  End to Cyber Bullying Organization is an internationally recognized program founded by the below team of Long Island high school students. Yup, international! Pretty impressive group, eh? We will be working together to further our joint mission of providing education and prevention related to online harassment.  Follow them on twitter for tons of useful facts and tips every day on how to prevent cyber bullying!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dancing With the Stars in California

Well hello, west coast. I've been in Hollywood, California this week for a reunion with my Miss America sisters! Noelle Freeman, Miss California, invited as many girls as she could fit in a van for a family vacation in Hollywood.

Joining on the trip was Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler, Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson, Miss Washington Brittany Henry, Miss North Carolina Haley Best and Miss Mississippi Mary Margaret Roark.

The featured event was visiting Dancing With the Stars! Mark Ballas invited us to join him and the cast during Rock Week. We chilled with the cast at House of Blues, Executive Chef Francis Dimitrius treated us to a custom lunch at Villa Blanca, received a private tour of The Magic Castle, scarfed down Sprinkles cupcakes, saw the sights, visited the beaches and even went to...wait for it...Disneyland (hope you sang it as you read it) where Noelle booked us a reservation at the exclusive Club 33. Add countless hours of girl talk you've got yourself a dandy vacation.

Hey, we even made the paper!  While this trip was arranged for our personal reasons, being together meant we were representing our state titles and the Miss America Organization the entire week. Just because I don't have my sash on does not mean I'm no longer Miss New York.

The point is that the public needs to see the moments outside of the platforms and crowns: We still eat cupcakes and climb into kiddie rides. We still get nervous when you take our picture. We still turn to one another sheepishly on the way out the door to ask if we look alright.  We're still discovering ourselves and navigating friendships. But we are friends based deeply in respect for one another's commitment to self and community. That's the stuff of sisters. So go find your Miss America sisters; women who inspire and push you to be better, and refuse to see you do anything less than smile along the way. You don't need a crown to be that for someone.