Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Electric City Couture

When you think of high fashion, what cities come to mind? New York City, natch. Paris. Milan. But what about Saratoga Springs? If you're shaking your head and thinking, "No way," I have a surprise for you.

The last stop on my Saturday appearances in the Capital Region was the Electric City Couture Fashion Show. The mission of Electric City Couture is "to create a sustainable, fabulous scene that raises awareness for the art of fashion and fashion related support industries, specifically regionally produced design and services that can help stimulate regional economic development through the fashion based creative economy." This was the 5th major runway show held by Electric City Couture, with the Universal Preservation Hall hosting a fabulous evening of fashion.

I had the opportunity to model for 'e ko logic, a fashion line based out of Troy that recycles post-consumer clothing (particularly cashmere sweaters) into beautiful, unique sweaters, dresses, vests, and more! 

It was also fun to hang out backstage with a pageant sister, Brit Drahos, the reigning Miss Hudson Valley 2014! Here she is modeling for Kristina Collions Clothing, a Saratoga Springs-based label.

All of the designs featured in the show, from stunning hats to sparkling gowns, were absolutely incredible! As all of the models joined for a fabulous final walk down the runway to Pharrell's 'Happy', I couldn't help but be awed by the talent featured. 

The best part of the Electric City Couture show is the accessibility of all of these designs. The designers all work right here in the Capital Region! I highly encourage you to take the time to stop by their storefronts and support local, sustainable fashion. I know I'll be back soon to do some shopping!

Special thanks to Studio di Luce for these photos. To see photos of the entire show, check out their website!

An incredibly thankful shout out to Shapes & Colours Day Spa, the fabulous hair and makeup team. They labored over my crazy hair for at least an hour to make it perfect!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RPI Eco Princess Festival

The second event that I attended this past Saturday was the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Eco Princess Festival!

Miss Syracuse 2014, Adrienne Wilson, spearheaded this event last year on her college campus. It was such a success that she was asked to host it again! She only had a week to prepare for the festival, but did a wonderful job of putting together an event that was entertaining and educational for the children attending. Adrienne's platform, Project Earth: ECO Adventurers Rescuing Their Home, is dedicated to teaching youth the importance of taking care of our planet. This is such an important and relevant topic, and I was delighted to play a small role in empowering the next generation with the tools they need to be ECO Adventurers.

My job as Princess Tiana was to take part in an exercise designed to explain to children where the different ingredients used to create chocolate are sourced from.

First, the children stopped by a world map.

Princess Aurora then explained to them where each of the ingredients used in chocolate comes from, and helped them to identify the countries on the map.

Once they had a better understanding of where their treats came from, the children came and did a traditional beanbag toss!

Each number on the beanbag toss corresponded with a candy that the children could take home with them. Pretty sweet, right?!

Once the children had completed this and other fun learning activities, they could write down the ways they planned to take care of the world we live in.

Thank you, Adrienne, for inviting me to take part in this event and support your platform! 

With my fellow princesses!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to make my first full day of appearances in the Capital Region! Because I was crowned in Clifton Park, I'm committed to making appearances in the area to give back to the community that has supported the Empire Pageant Organization for years. While it is wonderful to make appearances in my home community of Westchester, I've been having such a great time making connections with Albany-area organizations and getting to know the region.

My first stop of the day on Saturday was to the annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes at Samaritan Hospital in Troy. At Walk A Mile events held nationwide, men literally walk one mile in women's high heeled shoes to protest sexualized violence, educate their communities, and raise money for underfunded rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and other sexualized violence prevention and recovery services. Samaritan Hospital's walk raised funds for The Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program for Rensselaer County--the only agency in the county that provides comprehensive, specialized services to victims of sexual violence, victims of stalking, older adults, homicide survivors, and other victims of crime (as well as their family members, friends, and significant others).*

The turnout for this event was incredible, and all of the men participating were such great sports about having to rock heels for the morning! Their styles ranged from over-the-knee lace up boots to simple red pumps, but they all looked great supporting this important cause. I helped a sweet hospital intern, Roshaun, man a table where walkers had the chance to write down their reason for walking. Roshaun was also displaying a posterboard and wheel that she had designed that outlined the phases in the cycle of abusive relationships.

These two young women were a startling reminder of how violent abuse can be.

I was so incredibly moved by this woman's story. After murdering a young woman in front of her, her ex-husband attempted to kill her as well. She survived, and now (many years after the attack) was proud to be walking as a sign of her strength. 

Before the official walk kicked off, local mascots took part in a mascot race! 

With the Valleycat's Mascot -- he may not have won the mascot race (the Stewart's cow did), but was still in great spirits while he supported the community.

After the mascot race, we had the chance to hear from two survivors of sexual assault. This was a particularly powerful moment of the day. One of the survivors has participated in this Walk for a few years now, and is a top fundraiser for the cause. She spoke about how she isn't afraid to speak out about what happened to her, and how she will not let anything silence her. The other survivor was a gentleman sharing his story with a crowd for the first time ever. Both survivors came from different walks in life, but were equally inspiring and a reminder that sexual assault can happen to anyone. We also heard from the local police department, and it was announced that the Troy Police Department will be creating a Special Victim's Unit dedicated to addressing sexual assault and domestic violence. 

It is so wonderful to have the local police department dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence!

Then, it was time to walk!
Check out the crowd!

I'm so thankful that I had the chance to be a part of this event. The core of my platform may focus on preventing teen dating violence, but I am dedicated to stopping all forms of domestic violence and sexual assault. Thank you to the Samaritan Hospital team for welcoming me as a volunteer. I'm looking forward to attending next year's Walk A Mile event already!

With Lindsey, Director of the Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program at Samaritan Hospital.

With Roshaun, a talented Samaratin Hospital intern.

I've posted more pictures on my facebook page, and there are also pictures available on the Times Union website!

*Descriptions of Walk A Mile and The Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program are adapted from their websites.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Journey to Miss New York - The Swimsuit Competition

When I first started competing in pageants, the Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit competition freaked me out. I was barely comfortable with wearing a bikini alone in my room, let alone on stage (in heels!) in front of a crowd! I've always been naturally thin, but I have not always had the confidence to strut my stuff in what basically equates to bedazzled underwear in public.

At a Westchester Pageants Photoshoot prior to competition...I think my body language shows that I'm not 100% confident here.

Over the past 3 years, I have become more comfortable in my own skin. A lot of that has to do with the confidence I've gained just by participating in pageants. It also comes from growing up! I feel far removed from the awkward, frizzy-haired teen with braces that I was in high school. Okay, so I still might have frizzy hair some days. But as a woman making her place in this world, I've learned to embrace my flaws and own every bit of who I am.

Taking the stage a few months later...with MUCH more confidence!

Aside from having a higher sense of self-esteem in general, much of my confidence in swimsuit comes from knowing that I've worked hard to ensure that I'm in tip-top shape when I hit the stage. I may have always been naturally thin, but I haven't always been fit. Recognizing this, and working to change it, has made all the difference for me. Here are some of the ways I've worked to become fit and healthy on my journey to Miss New York 2014.

1. Practice wellness year round. I don't only eat well and work out when I'm preparing for a pageant--I do so all the time! Of course, I may indulge in treats more often when competition isn't approaching, but I still strive to move my body once a day and nourish my body with healthy foods. My usual diet already excludes a lot of foods that I find slow me down and leave me sluggish: soda, white bread, processed and fast foods. And while I might not hit the gym as often off-season, I find other ways to stay active, like taking my dog for long walks and doing at-home strength training.
2. Have a plan. One of the best decisions I've made while preparing for pageants is signing up as a member of Complete Physique. Complete Physique is an online fitness program specifically designed for pageant competitors. Founder Nancy Bond creates an individualized workout plan and meal plan for me each month. She's there to answer any questions I have, provide support, and hold me accountable.
3. Have a backup plan. And by this, I mean have your own setup at home where you can workout if you don't have the time or energy to make it to the actual gym. In my room, I keep a BOSU, jump rope, exercise ball, resistance bands, a set of dumbbells, a kettlebell, a workout bench, and a medicine ball. I didn't buy everything at once, but looked for sales and slowly built up this mini home gym (Dick's Sporting Goods is my go-to for great prices). It takes up less space in a room than you'd think, and makes it so simple to squeeze in a workout before bed on a busy day!
4. Make it a habit. It is really, really easy to give up on lifestyle changes when you first begin to implement them. Stick with it. I promise that it gets easier. When I first began to make dietary changes, I thought I would never be able to survive without endless amounts of bread and cheese. But the longer I went without overindulging, the easier it began to resist the temptation. When I realized how much better I felt when I avoided certain foods, it was even easier to maintain my new lifestyle.
5. Be inspired. I don't always have the motivation to workout. I've found that following inspirational accounts on instagram makes me want to workout. I love seeing workout ideas, fresh new fitness fashion, and delicious food pictures posted. Some of my favorite accounts include:

Picking the perfect swimsuit to wear on stage is the final piece of the puzzle. Since 2011, I've worked with Kandice Pelletier for all of my pageant swimsuit needs. A former Miss New York, Kandice knows what it is like to search for a swimsuit that helps you look and feel like a perfect 10 on stage. Her suits make the selection process a breeze! I can't wait to rock my newest selection at Miss New York in May.

I hope this post was helpful--if you enjoyed it, check out my fitness blog, Sweatsational for more fitness tips, workout ideas, and healthy recipes!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Evening of Inspiration and Hope with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of connecting with Kristen Paruginog, Founder and Executive Director of Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. In 2011, Kristen shared her story of experiencing domestic violence on social media to empower victims and survivors of domestic violence. She received an outpouring of support, and an influx of stories from victims and survivors. With over 13,000 followers on Facebook, Break the Silence has grown tremendously since its start and provides education, individual services, and a forum for survivors to begin their healing process.

Kristen recently embarked on a ten-city national tour with Break the Silence, and Staten Island was her final stop. Along the way she has shared her story, connected with survivors of abuse at each location, and raised awareness surrounding domestic violence. As a former pageant competitor, Kristen has also been working to connect with titleholders from across California (her home state), Massachusetts (a tour stop), and New York! It was a pleasure to join Kristen, Lauren Park (the Break the Silence New York Chapter Leader) and supporters from the local community--including Jamie Lynn Macchia, Miss Staten Island 2014.

Jamie, Kristen, and Me -- Isn't this BTS t-shirt awesome?! 

Attendees were treated to a delicious meal at the Oriental Plaza, and there were a ton of incredible raffles taken place. While I didn't win any of the prizes I had my eye on, the raffles were a huge success! Over $900 was raised to support the work that Break the Silence is doing. 

Jamie and I enjoyed dinner with our lovely mothers and Michael, a Miss NY supporter

Kristen and Lauren both took the time to tell us a bit of their stories--and both are incredibly strong women who faced dating abuse while in their late teens. Their stories were a sobering reminder that domestic abuse is an issue that transcends age, race, social status, family life, and all other bounds. Their stories are one of the reasons I remain committed to addressing domestic violence with teens who are just beginning to date. I was able to speak to attendees about my goals as a titleholder promoting a platform related to domestic violence, and about the work I have done in the past. I am looking forward to working with Break the Silence throughout my year of service and beyond.

Speaking about my platform, L8ER H8ER: Saying Goodbye to Teen Dating Violence

Aside from supporting Break the Silence, I was so glad that this evening gave me the chance to get to know Jamie, Miss Staten Island, better! She is such a sweetheart and so incredibly committed to serving her community. While her platform is Pediatric Cancer, she has attended hundreds (seriously!) of events as a local titleholder to support various causes impacting those on Staten Island and beyond. She gave me some great advice about practical preparations for Miss New York, and I am looking forward to spending pageant week with her! 

So glad that being a part of the Miss New York Class of 2014 has introduced me to such fabulous young women like Jamie!

Jamie and I also met Lauren's adorable niece! She thought Jamie and I were princesses, and was absolutely enamored with Jamie's crown and necklace. Jamie made her night when she gave her the chance to wear her crown!

I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to attend this event! I am also really excited to spread the word about Break the Silence with the rest of my Miss New York sisters. Kristen is committed to a future without domestic violence--and she is dedicated enough to make that future a reality (seriously--she attended this event with the flu and still rocked it)! This may be my first blog post about Break the Silence, but it will not be my last! Stay tuned--there are some fun opportunities for collaboration coming up, including the possibility of a trip to California this fall to speak at Break the Silence's Diversity Takes Action Conference.

As my Miss New York sister Courtney Sheridan's platform title states: "Silence Hides Violence." Break the Silence is giving victims of domestic violence and advocates like myself the chance to speak out in a way that is being heard across the nation by way of social media. The best part? People are listening.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Operation PROM. Mission = Success!

I sometimes wonder if my desire to participate in pageants stemmed from the fact that I never went to prom. read that correctly. I went to a high school that didn't even offer a prom for its students. This was definitely a disappointment for me--I had dreamed of choosing the perfect dress and (if I was so lucky!) being crowned prom queen since I was a little girl. Thankfully, I've had the chance to choose dream dresses as I've competed for various pageant titles. I've also had the opportunity to work with Operation PROM, an organization founded by Noel D'Allaco that provides prom dresses to girls nationwide who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford the perfect gown.

The very first time I met Noel, back in 2011!

Since my year of service as Miss Westchester 2012, I've supported Operation PROM by attending their fundraising events and gathering dress donations each year. This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to assist at one of their dress giveaways for the first time. It was such a wonderful experience to work with the other Operation PROM volunteers and meet the young women who came to find a gown. Saturday was the last gown giveaway of the season, so once 2 PM hit the public was invited to purchase gowns for just $1! Needless to say, the room was quickly filled with women excitedly stocking up on dresses for upcoming special events. There was never a dull moment on Saturday, and I'm so glad I had the chance to spend the day volunteering!

The highlight of my day was helping this beauty find the perfect dress! Her reaction to this gown was just like something you'd see on 'Say Yes to the Dress'--she knew she had found "the one!"

Doors opened at 10 AM, and things remained relatively calm for a few hours...

...but when the $1 sale began, things got quite a bit busier!

 Once you find the perfect dress, you need the perfect accessories!

Teresa is the director of Peekskill Pageants, and Shay is the reigning Little Miss Cinco de Mayo! Shay named my Poochie & Co pup Fluffy, and once my reign is over, she will be adopting the cute pooch!

Dress shopping takes a LOT of energy! My beautiful friend Sam (Miss Westchester Teen 2011 and current Red Bull marketing pro) understands that, and came by to deliver the gift of wings! 

Congratulations, Noel, on another successful year of Operation PROM giveaways in Westchester! You are such an inspiration to young women throughout the county and beyond!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Need Weekend Plans?

Hello, everyone! I thought I'd put together a quick post featuring upcoming weekend events that I will be attending in early May. I post these on facebook and via twitter, but wanted to share ahead of time because some require registration/planning ahead and I wouldn't want you to miss out!

Saturday, May 3

Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, Valhalla
9:30 AM

Maria Fareri Children's Hospital is celebrating its 10th year! I will be joining the team of this year's Grand Marshal, Dream, to walk and raise funds to support Maria Fareri, the Hudson Valley's Children's Miracle Network Hospital. 

Sunday, May 4

FDR State Park, Yorktown Heights
8 AM

I had the chance to attend this event back in 2012 as Miss Westchester, and had a blast cheering on the runners! I am looking forward to doing the same this year, and raising awareness and funds for the Mental Health Association of Westchester. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bark for Life

Today, I had the chance to attend an event that combined some of my favorite things: supporting the American Cancer Society, promoting my platform, and playing with some adorable pups! The 3rd annual Bark for Life of Westchester was hosted in Tarrytown, NY on the grounds of Lyndhurst Castle.

With my sweet puppy, Duke! Duke actually had to go home early today...he just turned 1 and was a bit TOO excited to be around so many other dogs!

The day kicked off with a walk around the Lyndhurst grounds led by three cancer survivors and their dogs. One of the survivors was the event chair, Gigi. She is the leader behind this incredible event and was walking with her three labs! There were so many dogs participating, and a wide variety of breeds and sizes represented. One of the sweetest parts of the walk was when a 70 pound pit bull met a tiny teacup yorkie who weighed less than 2 pounds. He was so gentle with her!

The event also featured a demonstration from the Westchester County Police K9 Unit. The officers brought a bloodhound and German shepherd to wow the crowd with their skills. I was so impressed!

Team MSP in action!

One of the most special parts of the day was being able to promote my platform and support My Sisters' Place, an agency that I've been working with since 2011. I've talked about My Sisters' Place here before--they provide services to survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, run educational programs for teens, and much more! Today, we set up a table to get the word out about Team MSP. Team MSP combines fitness with philanthropy--we will be running at various races in Westchester County this year to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise money to support My Sisters' Place. 

Bark for Life also had stations set up manned by local animal adoption agencies. I had the opportunity to speak with the volunteers from Adopt-A-Dog, and met some of the puppies they have available for adoption. This guy was my favorite--he is a chocolate lab/pit bull mix and SUCH a sweetheart. I wanted to bring him home with me! Adopt-A-Dog will be hosting a special event of their own in September: Puttin' On the Dog. I'm already planning to attend!

If you're looking to adopt a dog, I recommend reaching out to:

Of course, this post would not be complete without a photo with a #GirlsBestFriend, my Poochie & Co purse!

My boyfriend, Tom, doing his best to keep Duke from making a snack of Poochie!

I had a blast at Bark for Life, and can't wait to attend again next year! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Journey to Miss New York - Photo Fun!

I love sharing my experiences as Miss Empire Star with you here on my blog. One very exciting aspect of being a local titleholder is the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss New York in May. Over the next few weeks, I thought I would share some of the preparation process with you here on my blog. Pageant prep is often very secretive, with people not wanting to share with the world exactly how they're getting ready to compete. I'd much rather share as much of this journey with you as possible, while keeping a few secrets to surprise you with come pageant week!

Today, I have some fabulous photos to share with you from my Miss New York headshot shoot with Claire Buffie. Claire is a former Miss New York, so she has an eye for creating the perfect competition headshot! I had such a wonderful time shooting with her, and I left my shoot knowing that I'd have many fantastic images to choose from. I was right--I had SUCH a hard time narrowing down what pictures I wanted to have copies of to use throughout my year of service. I also absolutely adored the way my hair and makeup looked, thanks to the talent Raedawn Johnson. Here are a few of my favorites! 

I hope you enjoy this series of posts. I'll be taking you behind the scenes as I prepare for the swimsuit competition, design a custom talent gown, finalize my Miss New York packing list, and more! Stay tuned!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Workshop Weekend

Hello, everyone! I can't believe that Miss New York Workshop was this past weekend. It makes the fact that the pageant is just a few short weeks away that much more real to me. When I think back over the local season and the hard work and effort I put in for months to have my chance to be a local titleholder, I feel so grateful to have this incredible opportunity.

The Miss New York Class of 2014

I drove down to Staten Island Friday night. Even though it's just an hour drive from my house, I didn't want to have to wake up super-early to get ready for workshop on Saturday. I'm glad I made that decision, because workshop was an incredibly busy day! It was so great to see my Miss New York sisters. One of the positive aspects of competing at 5 local pageants this year is that I had the chance to meet almost all of the girls who will be competing at Miss New York long before workshop!

In addition to catching up, the contestants were also given our pageant week schedule, a breakdown of the production this year (audience, you're in for a surprise), and advice from Miss New York 2013, Amanda Mason. Amanda also had a very sweet surprise for all of us--our very own Poochie & Co purses!

Please ignore how strange I look in this photo, and focus on the adorable pups instead!

We also participated in a lottery to determine our contestant order for pageant weekend. All in all, it was a great day, and I am looking forward to representing my community and the Empire Star title as Contestant #12 at Miss New York 2014!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#30DaysofSAAM (Sexual Assault Awareness Month)

I cannot believe that it is already April 1! Today marks exactly one month since I was crowned Miss Empire Star 2014. I am loving every minute of being a Miss America local title holder--it really is everything I imagined it would be and more. Before you know it, I'll be passing on the crown to my successor, so I intend to continue making as many appearances as I can to support my community and increase awareness about teen dating violence.

April 1 also marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).

The 2014 SAAM Campaign focuses on healthy sexuality and young people--my favorite target audience! The goal is to empower teens to:
  • Make decisions that are informed and turn to trusted adults for support and guidance when needed
  • Understand consent and how to respectfully interact with partners, friends, and peers
  • Help influence their peers in a positive manner by promoting positive social norms and engaging in bystander intervention
  • Recognize sexual violence and seek help and support when sexual violence occurs
  • Provide support and information to peers and others who have experienced sexual violence

I am a supporter of this campaign because it highlights an area of dating violence that isn't always spoken about: sexual abuse. It is easy to think of dating violence as simply hitting someone you're in a relationship with. But it is so much more than that--unwanted sexual contact is a form of dating violence and domestic abuse, and it is never okay.

Throughout the month, I'll be posting about SAAM on twitter, and I'll also be joining in on their Instagram campaign: #30DaysofSAAM. For more information on the campaign, check out their website! Here's my first post:

4/1: This is what an activist looks like #DayofAction

You can keep up with my posts all month here, and I hope you'll join the movement with me!

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