Friday, June 27, 2014

Fashion Friday: Estrada

One of my favorite aspects of pageantry is the fashion. I know I've said this before, but I never had the chance to go to prom or any sort of dance in high school (my school didn't have any!). So, I never had the chance to go prom dress shopping at all--and I always felt like I was missing out. When I discovered pageantry, I knew this was my chance to make up for that lost experience and go all out when searching for dresses!

My dress selections have varied widely: my first ever pageant dress was purchased on Amazon for about $65 and was completely plain and simple. My second was a fully-sequined prom number. My third was a stunning Tony Bowls gown with some of the most intricate stoning I've seen on a dress. And my fourth, and favorite of all, was the stunning Sherri Hill mermaid gown I wore throughout the end of this pageant season.

The many gowns of the 2014 pageant season!

As a vocalist, I discovered something that made my heart go pitter-patter: I needed to do double the dress shopping to find talent wear as well! Again, my choices have varied. But until Miss New York, all of my dresses had one thing in common: I purchased them off the rack. Since this was my first and last chance to compete at the state level, I decided to go all out and have a couture talent gown designed for my performance to Wicked's "For Good."

As Miss Westchester 2012, I was introduced to Jesus and Antonio Estrada, twin fashion designers who have taken the pageant world by storm with their beautiful pieces. They've dressed multiple state and international competitors, outfitted Miss Universe for some of her appearances, and most recently were the masterminds behind Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady's final walk gown. I knew they would be able to create a gown that matched my vision.

Erin Brady rocking her couture creation by the Estrada Brothers

Designing a gown from start to finish was such a fun project. We started with sketches. Next, the Estrada team did some shopping to find fabric swatches. It was my job to select the color that I liked best. Then, we looked a trim ideas. This was followed by my first fitting, and before you knew it, I was trying on the final gown and preparing to leave for Staten Island!

Here is a fun, step-by-step photo montage of the making of my gown. Enjoy!

 Looking at trim, taking the first measurements, and starting to create a pattern for my gown!

First fitting! Creating the top and beginning to lay a skirt for the gown!

Looking to Pinterest and Photo Albums for some inspiration as we discussed straps and trim. Thank goodness for cell phones!

Testing the sleeves--could I move my arms to perform with them? Yep!

Having the hem finished as I wore the dress. This was especially fun, and also ensured that the gown was the perfect length!

I really, really wish that I had some on-stage photos to show you--I ended up wearing this gown on finals night for the awards presentation and crowning! As soon as I receive pictures, I will be sure to share them here and on my facebook page

Thank you so much, Jesus, Antonio, Stephanie, and everyone else at Estrada! You made this process extremely fun, you supported me as I prepared for the state pageant, and you made me feel like Miss Universe as I glided across the stage to receive my non-finalist interview award. I can't wait to see the designs that you dream up next!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stand for Humanity Benefit Concert

On Friday, I attended a fabulous event that will go down as one of my favorite experiences as Miss Empire Star 2014!

Taking a moment to explore the lovely Belvedere Estate grounds!

Many of you know that I've been working with My Sisters' Place since 2011. They provide so many services with the goal of supporting survivors and preventing domestic violence in Westchester County: shelters, legal support, education programs, and more. They also provide services for men and women who have been trafficked into the area, be it for sexual or labor purposes. With Westchester being such an affluent community, it's hard for many people who live here to believe that trafficking occurs in their own backyard. It does!

Around the world, there are an estimated 20.9 million slaves today. This is more than at any other time in world history. Modern-day slavery, when it results in people being bought and sold for forced labor or commercial sex, is called human trafficking. The U. S. Department of Justice estimates that anywhere between 100,000-300,000 American kids are at risk of entering the sex trade each year.

Local college student Justin Okamoto decided that he wanted to do something about the growing problem of human trafficking, so he reached out to My Sisters' Place with the idea of planning a benefit to raise funds to support agency efforts. Stand for Humanity was the result of Justin's hard work and enthusiasm for the cause, and it was a smashing success!

With Jen, a fellow Sister-in-Law volunteer at My Sisters' Place

I was so excited to be attending the event and manning a table for My Sisters' Place. Jen, another Sister-in-Law volunteer, and I had information on the warning signs of abuse, human trafficking fact sheets, and how to get involved as a volunteer at My Sisters' Place. It was great to connect with students and neighbors who were interested in the great work at My Sisters' Place is doing. It also allowed benefit attendees the chance to talk about domestic violence and human trafficking: their experiences, stories that they had heard from friends, and ways they planned to make a difference moving forward.

In addition to volunteering, I had the chance to join an incredibly talented group of performers on stage! Let's just say I'm glad I sang first--each act was amazing and would have been hard to follow!

I performed "For Good," my Miss NY talent selection and the perfect song to sing to a group coming together to have a positive impact on the world.

My Sisters' Place had the chance to address the entire crowd!

It really was an incredible evening--from the kindness of the attendees to the outstanding performances to the awareness that was raised surrounding human trafficking. I was so inspired by the passion that these college students had! Their energy was infectious, and I know everyone who attended Stand for Humanity is looking forward to next year's benefit. 

Check out some of the fabulous performers:

Take some time to thank the incredible event sponsors:
Sunshine Bagels

For more pictures, check out my Facebook album!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Team MSP - North Avenue Mile & Future Races!

After months of planning and blogging about Team MSP, I finally ran my first race in support of My Sisters' Place on Saturday! I chose the perfect race to get back into the running game--The North Avenue Mile, a fun run designed for competitive runners and families alike.

My sister, Shannon, and me at the starting line! I'm so glad to have her home for the summer!

This was Team MSP's second official race, and we had a great group of My Sisters' Place supporters on hand. We all donned our fabulous purple jerseys and set out to have fun while raising awareness about domestic violence. 

Team MSP, ready to run!

It was the perfect day for a run--warm, but not muggy, and sunny without being too hot. The family race kicked off at 9 AM. My sister and I took a leisurely approach--we walked the first quarter mile, ran the second, walked the third, and finished strong by running the remainder. With absolutely no training going into this, we were more than happy with our 13-minute finish. Plus, I figure the longer it took us on the road, the more people would see our jerseys and learn about My Sisters' Place :)

At the finish line, there was a small family festival with tables featuring local fitness clubs, business clubs, and even--you guessed it--My Sisters' Place!

Trying to avoid getting sweat on the sash!

More than a few runners stopped by the table to learn more about My Sisters' Place. We even got asked if our jerseys were for sale! And speaking of our jerseys, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the wonderful sponsors who have helped to launch the Team MSP initiative:

The most exciting thing about this race? It's just the beginning of an incredible journey for Team MSP! We have two more official races scheduled for the year: the Westchester Super Sprint Triathlon in September and the Run the Farm 5 Mile Trail Race in October. 

I am SO looking forward to the coming months. I can't wait to see Team MSP grow! Keep an eye on this blog for some fun surprises--including race entry giveaways, sponsor updates, special events, and more! Are YOU ready to #MoveForChange?! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Becoming A Baseball Buddy

This past Saturday, I had the chance to become a baseball buddy and take the field alongside the Croton Challengers!

Can you tell I have no idea what I'll actually do if a ball comes my way?

The Challenger Division is offered to Little Leaguer's with physical and mental challenges. The teams are divided by ability, not age. The players range in age from 4 to 18. While that sounds like it might make for a crazy game, it works SO well for the Croton team. The Challenger Division uses "buddies", who assist the Challenger players on the field. I was so excited to spend the afternoon as a buddy alongside my pageant sisters from the Peekskill Pageants Organization: Tatiana (Miss Cinco de Mayo), Bianca (Little Miss Cinco de Mayo), and Jennifer (Little Miss Italia). 

The Cortland Challengers were the visiting team of the afternoon, with the game taking place at Dobbs Park in Croton-On-Hudson. We played three incredible innings! Along the way, I learned three things about the Challengers:

1. The Challengers can HIT! You should have seen some of the bombs that flew wayyyyy over my head as I attempted to help as much as I could.
2. The Challengers can DEFEND! I was put to shame by the arms of some of these eleven-year-olds. Suffice to say, while I was there to help, they certainly weren't depending on me to get the job done!
3. The Challengers have HEART! For me, this was the most touching part of the afternoon. The teammates were so encouraging to one another (even players on the opposite team!). They also had some fabulous buddies there to support them--family, friends, and coaches. 

Thank you so much, Challengers, for welcoming me as a teammate for the afternoon! I wouldn't be surprised to see some of you show up in the Major Leagues someday!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Trinity Plaza Community Picnic

Okay, (short) backstory time!

Here's a picture of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Yonkers, the church that my family attends. Right down the street is the Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church:

And right around the corner is the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church:

So, the three Holy Trinity churches make a trinity of their own sort in the neighborhood, and the streets where they lie are often called the Trinity Plaza. My father grew up in this neighborhood (the "Hollow"), and frequented two of the churches. His mother's Irish family were Roman Catholics, while his father's Slovakian family were Lutherans. 

In the years that have passed, many of the original church founders have passed away and their families have moved away. The members that remain come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. However, they all share an important common thread: a heart for the Trinity Plaza community.  This weekend, the churches joined together and invited all of our neighbors to join us for a community picnic.

I was so excited to join in the fun as Miss Empire Star and host a craft table for the children in attendance. It was the perfect opportunity to host another 'Hands Are Not For Hitting' workshop! While I wasn't able to read the book to all of the children, I had it on display while the kids created their own hands to remind them of the wonderful things our hands are capable of creating.

As a titleholder, you really never know what can be thrown your way at an event! One of the advertised activities for the picnic was face painting, but there was no face paint or face painter to be found! To solve the problem, a CVS runs as made and I came out of retirement--yep, I used to work as a birthday party hostess in high school and my early college years! I was joined by some of the lovely ladies from the churches and two adorable sisters, Erin and Lila. We painted masks, flames, butterflies, flowers--whatever we could manage to create with a little help from Google Images!

All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon! The food was great, the company was excellent, and the community came together to celebrate the start of what we hope is an incredible summer.

Crowning the beautiful Sarai! She accessorized with one of my 'Empire Star' stickers!

Lailah called me "Your Highness" all afternoon! Such a sweetie!

 Special thanks to the Yonkers Police Department, particularly the 4th Precent, for your support! They blocked off the streets and let two aspiring deputies see their police car. They also brought grills, and Captain Mueller cooked some fabulous food. Thank you!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fashion Friday: Arabesque Jewelry

In theory, I absolutely love beautiful accessories. I think they can take a simple outfit and completely transform it into something incredible. In practice, I'm a bit of a mess. My earrings get tangled in my hair. Bracelets slide up and down my arms. Necklaces make my neck itch. I want to wear fabulous jewelry all the time, but inevitably whatever I put on in the morning ends up in the bottom of my purse by lunchtime. 

When I first began competing in pageants, I didn't realize the importance of having the perfect jewelry pieces to compliment your wardrobe both on and off the stage. I would haphazardly match whatever pieces I had laying around in my bedroom and hope for the best. My choices have improved since then, and this year, I made my best jewelry decision yet for both the local and state pageant stage: working with Arabesque Jewelry on some custom pieces.

When I first purchased my dream dress in January, I knew that such a showstopping gown would require fantastic accessories. Working with the mother-daughter duo behind Arabesque, Carolyn and Kristen, these beautiful earrings and matching bracelet came to life:

Carolyn and I worked together by phone and by text, and it was such a fun experience! She is such a pro at design, sending sketches, stone options, and explaining the jewelry creation process from start to finish. 

I think they looked perfect!

When it came time to prepare for Miss New York, I knew I wanted to work with Arabesque again to create the perfect earrings to match my talent gown. The only problem? Well, I didn't know exactly what my talent gown was going to look like (more on that in next week's Fashion Friday post). I reached out to Carolyn with only about two weeks to spare before Miss New York and sent her a picture of the fabric swatches from my gown:

I had an idea of what my gown would look like, so from that idea we discussed some design ideas and Carolyn sent me some bead colors to consider:

And in one weekend, she had created the beautiful earrings I wore on stage for the talent competition:

I cannot say enough positive things about working with Arabesque Jewelry. Carolyn and Kristen are a class act, and it is so easy to see why so many Miss America contestants come to them to create exquisite pieces that are worthy of a crown!

Carolyn and Kristen, thank you SO much for being part of my journey as Miss Empire Star! Your jewelry has helped me sparkle on stage, but your kind hearts and encouragement throughout this process have lifted my spirit off the stage as well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Miss Cinco de Mayo

Last Friday, I took a new role on stage when I hosted the Miss Cinco de Mayo pageant in Ossining! The pageant was held at the beautiful Ossining Library (they have a fantastic small theater). It was my first time playing pageant hostess, and I had so much fun! 

With my co-host, the judges, and the newly crowned queens!

I first met the Peekskill Pageants (which includes both Miss Cinco de Mayo Hudson Valley and Miss Italia Hudson Valley) family back in April at an Operation PROM dress giveaway. Since then, their director Teresa has graciously invited me to attend some events with her titleholders. I always have a wonderful time--the girls are all so kind and Teresa ensures that they have a fabulous year of service making appearances throughout the Hudson Valley. The goal of the pageant organization is to support young women as they embrace their heritage and give back to their community. 

The new Cinco de Mayo titleholders and their court!

Four contestants competed in the pageant, which includes a casual wear competition, evening gown competition, and on-stage question. The on-stage questions all related to Hispanic heritage, and I really enjoyed learning more about where each girl was from, their favorite part about being Latina, and how they planned to make the most of their year of service. At the end of the evening, Tatiana was crowned the new Miss Cinco de Mayo Hudson Valley and her new little sister for the year, Bianca, was crowned Little Miss Cinco de Mayo. The Little Miss winner is actually crowned based on an essay submitted to the pageant organization, and it was easy to see how Bianca's bubbly personality captured their hearts. 

With Shay and Fluffy

The pageant was bittersweet as it was time to say farewell to Arianna, Miss Cinco de Mayo 2013 and Shay, Little Miss Cinco de Mayo 2013. Shay actually named my Poochie & Co purse back in April, so I thought it was fitting to let Shay take Fluffy home with her as a gift for doing such a fantastic job throughout her reign.

I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to host the pageant, and look forward to spending more time with the Peekskill Pageants family throughout my year as Miss Empire Star!

The Peekskill Pageants Family

With Tatiana and Bianca. Congratulations, ladies!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fashion Show to End Lupus

This past Saturday, I had the chance to model in the American Nation Pageant's Fashion Show to End Lupus. This was their 3rd Annual Life Over Lupus benefit, and over $300 to fund lupus support, awareness, and research programs was raised!

Taking a moment to pose with some fabulous pageant sisters before the show started!

Something that made this show extra-special was the huge group of pageant queens that came together to walk the runway. There were SO many different pageant systems represented! It was so encouraging to be part of such a strong sisterhood. 

With Amanda, Miss New York American Nation!

We each had the chance to model casual wear, swimwear, and evening wear. For evening wear, I chose to wear my talent gown from Miss New York. It is one of my favorite gowns ever, which is funny because it was actually my backup gown! I love the floral print and wish that I could wear it everywhere. Everywhere. I also pulled my oldest pageant swimsuit out of my closet to rock the runway with. 

At the end of the show, a Queen for Life was crowned! This was a special surprised planned by the fashion show directors. Miss Queen for Life 2014 Monique Molloway has lupus, and seeing her crowned was a wonderful reminder of why we all were there. In spite of the challenges that lupus has brought her way, she wore a huge smile and was such an inspiration!

Picture from the wonderful Ms. New York American Nation, Pam!
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