Friday, August 15, 2008

A slight pause after a long week

Friday could not have come any sooner! This was an extremely busy week, but very worthwhile. With the school year quickly approaching, I had a great deal of work to do for our Bobcats for Babies organization on campus. We have increased our membership to over thirty students, but always like to utilize the student volunteer fair at the beginning of the year to recruit more members. Bobcats for Babies is a collegiate chapter of the March of Dimes I started my freshman year of college. With the help of several supportive friends, it has grown into a well-known student organization. We organize mission events, raise funds, and heighten awareness for premature birth and birth defects. We now have started a blog for our organization to keep students more informed of our efforts on campus.

While catching up on my March of Dimes work, I have been working at our Ping Recreation Center on campus. As a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and fitness assistant (basically a desk job), I spend a great deal of time at Ping. Today was especially long, since I put in eleven hours. A nice break from the week was taking a trip up to Cleveland to judge the Miss North Royalton pageant which is led by Sylvia Jenson, the director of the Miss Ohio local preliminary, Miss Greater Cleveland.

Since Cleveland is closer to my hometown than Athens, I drove home Wednesday night after work to cut the drive down to two and half hours. My mom, always trying to help, decided she would drive with me (I think she fears I will fall asleep at the wheel). Regardless, I had not seen my mom too much lately and it was fun spend time with her on the trip. The pageant took place on Thursday with interviews beginning in the afternoon. The contestants were split into five categories ranging from age five to twenty-one. I enjoyed talking with the little ones and was impressed with their speaking ability at such young ages. When I was seven years old, I highly doubt I could articulate my words very well. I was more worried about digging in the dirt and beating the boy next door in basketball.

Janelle Zindroaski, Miss North Royalton 2007, kicked off the event by singing the National Anthem. Janelle has competed in several Miss Ohio preliminaries, and shared that she has been participating in pageants since the age of seven. Later in the show she also sang LeAnn Rimes, "One Way Ticket," which has always been one of my favorite songs. She is a very sweet person and I hope I will be seeing her in the near -future at Miss Ohio locals.

One of the highlights from the show was when the youngest contestant and only boy, won the title of the Miss North Royalton Little Prince. After he was crowned, he began throwing up his arms, performing karate moves and flexing his muscles. He was adorable and the audience loved him!

Our judging panel had a great time the whole day. There were many laughs and stories told outside our judging duties.
From left to right: Me, Louisa Cieprel, Ann Carroll, Alison Liscoe, Lisa Iwasaki

Lisa (pictured with me on the right) is the current Miss Teen Ohio International, which was held in Zanesville this past March. She is a very beautiful, talented girl and was full of energy the whole day! Alison Liscoe also had a very impressive resume. She was a past competitor in the Miss Ohio America program, 3rd Runner-Up to Miss Ohio USA, and a semi-finalist on "America's Next Top Model." Now you know why I stood at the opposite end of the line for the judges photo! Also, Alison is getting married next week. Sylvia's husband Harvey was giving her all kinds of marriage advice, most of which was rooted in humor.

Another exciting part of the evening was the opportunity to meet Whitney Sue Fricke, the new Miss Cuyahoga County. She is absolutely beautiful and she too has a recent obsession with super-high waist line. We even took a picture to prove it. Whitney did a wonderful job performing her talent piece, "Orange Colored Sky." She has great stage presence. After the show, my mom and I met Whitney's family, who were all very kind. I can see Whitney doing very well this year at Miss Ohio.

Before we left, Lisa and I took a picture with Sylvia. Her energy amazes me! She never stopped moving the whole day. My mom and I arrived back in Zanesville around 1 am, and then I drove back to Athens. Since I had to work this morning at 6:30 am, there was no sense waiting to go back in the morning. It made for a long eleven hour day at work, but the experience at Miss North Royalton was worth it. It is always nice to experience an interview from the other side of the judge's table. I enjoy judging and it is always a good learning experience.

I am grateful that is finally Friday and to top the day off, I now have internet in my apartment. Basically, that means you will be hearing from me again soon.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Good Luck Sarah!

Sunday I attended the Miss Outstanding Teen Send-off party for Sarah Hider. I first met Sarah at Miss Lake Erie this past year and was immediately impressed with her. She is very mature and put together for her age, and a extremely sweet girl. Sarah leaves on Wednesday for the 2008 Miss Outstanding Teen Pageant which will take place in Orlando, Florida August 12-16th. If you would like to send her a card for good luck, the address is listed below:

Miss Ohio's Outstanding Teen
Sarah Hider
c/o Rosen Centre Hotel
9840 International Drive
Orlando, Fla. 32819

At the send-off, Sarah modeled her wardrobe and performed her talent piece, "Mr. Melody." Not only is Sarah beautiful, but I've always thought she is one of those naturally beautiful people. I am sure she will leave a great first impression with the judges. Below are some of the pictures I took of Sarah in her different wardrobe pieces. The bright pink gown at the bottom was Sarah's prom dress which she will now use for a production number. I love a girl who knows how to reuse and save money! Especially when the gown looks like brand new and great on her. The middle picture is of her walk-on gown and the top picture is of Sarah in her evening gown. It looks even more beautiful in person.

Since the send-off took place the day after I returned from Atlanta, I was extremely sleep deprived and not feeling too well. Because of this, my mom decided to take the trip with me to Mansfield. This made it nice that we could catch up and spend time together before I headed back to school. It was also great to see Kasey Wilson, Becky Minger, Roberta Camp, and Marlia Fontaine. We each performed two songs: Kasey sang "Never Alone" and "Time to Say Goodbye," (my favorite of hers), Becky sang "Summertime" and "Gold," (her Miss Ohio talent piece), and Marlia performed "The Impossible Dream" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I sang "At last" and Jordin Spark's (last years American Idol) rendition of "To Love Somebody." Originally, I had planned on singing my Miss Ohio talent piece, "I am Changing," but I lost about half of my voice from getting no sleep at my conference. Thankfully, I was well enough that I could somewhat sing by Sunday.

Marlia did a great job emceeing the event which was held at the Westbrook Country Club in Mansfield. One of the highlights of the event was getting to see Roberta and Kasey's engagement rings...both which are gorgeous! Best wishes to them both, although, I must say I will miss competing with Kasey. I always enjoyed competing with her and thought she would become a Miss Ohio.

After a group picture and many well wishes, my mother and I went to visit my host family from Miss Ohio this past year. Dr. Chuck and Nadji Young live on sixty acres of farmland on the outskirts of Bellville. This was their first year hosting, but they did a fabulous job! My roommate, Heather Wells, and I had a wonderful week with them. On the day of Heather's interview, I had spare time in the morning, so Dr. Chuck took me out on his gator. We went through miles of woods and farmland with their dog Buff chasing along behind us. Everynight Dr. Chuck would stay up until Heather and I would return home so we could all chat about the day as we rampaged the cupboards. After eating all of his dried mangos, he decided to buy us each our own pack.

Unfortunately, Dr. Chuck recently had a very serious surgery dealing with his aorta. When I saw him on Sunday, however, I was thankful to see him walking around and being his usual chatty self. He still has an infection, but you would never know it because of his optimistic outlook on life. Before we left, I got a picture with Nadji and Chuck as well as Buff whom they call, "The best dog in the world"....for good reason.

It ended up being a great day and seeing the Young's made me anxious to start competing in locals again. I'll keep my fingers crossed that my luck this year will lead me back to the Young's Tree Farm next summer.

A refreshed spirit

This past Saturday I returned home from our 2008 National Youth Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. While I have been to many March of Dimes conferences in the past three years, this one in particular had a much greater impact on me than I anticipated.

Let me first give you some background on the National Youth Council. We are a group of twenty college volunteers from around the country who build youth volunteers efforts for the March of Dimes. Every year, our National Youth Council has three meetings we attend; a volunteer leadership conference, a staff conference, and our own National Youth Council meeting in White Plains, NY. Every three years; however, the March of Dimes holds a National Youth Conference for youth from all over the country to attend. This year, the National Youth Conference was held in July on the Georgia Tech campus.

Our March of Dimes National Youth Council began planning this conference fourteen months ago in conjunction with the March of Dimes National Office. The purpose of the conference was to recruit life-long volunteers for the March of Dimes and provide these students with the resources they needed to implement March of Dimes work in their communities. As a council, we were divided into committees to plan workshops, general sessions, attendee experience activities, special events and excursions, and many other logistics that went into planning the conference. To the left is a picture taken of some of our National Youth Council members. Megan Myers (on the far right), our 2008-2009 National Youth Council chair, is also from Ohio but attends the University of Pennsylvania.

The National Youth Council arrived to the Georgia Tech campus on July 27th, two days before the attendees arrived. We had meetings from morning to night to ensure that we had gone over every last detail. When the attendees finally arrived, we were excited to meet the one hundred and fifty student volunteers and get our conference agenda rolling. Each National Youth Council member served as a dorm floor leader which consisted of about twenty attendees. Since the title of our conference was "Destination: Healthy Babies," each floor was a different location. My floor was Kansas City, which is known for the biggest "Bikers for Babies Ride." To the right is a picture of our dorm floor taken during the Amazing Race competition. Our dorm floor had attendees from Ohio, Nebraska, Alaska, Nevada, and Oregon.

While our National Youth Council responsibilities created a great deal of stress and little-to-no sleep, it was clear that the attendees were having a wonderful time. They were excited to learn more about the March of Dimes, take part in workshops, and listen to our inspirational guest speakers like Greg Gumbel (pictured to the left) and Kari Strug (former gold medalist in gymnastics at the '96 Olympics). Everyone was truly moved by the heart-wrenching stories from our ambassador families. Premature birth is more common in multiple births. The mother of these triplets (pictured to the right), credit the March of Dimes for their survival because of the amazing medical breakthroughs and advances funded by March of Dimes research.

By the end of the week, the attendees from all states were intermingling, networking, and sharing ideas as if they had known each other all along. During a reflection period on my dorm floor, I was truly touched by some of the remarks made by the attendees. One high school student in particular, shared with me that this conference had changed her life fovever. In July 1994, Lauren's mom lost a son to a birth defect and a year later lost a daughter. Devastated by these events, the mother decided she did not want another mother to go through this pain. She soon became involved with the March of Dimes, and now Lauren follows in her foot steps. After attending our 2008 National Youth Conference, Lauren has created a group to further motivate teenagers to take their volunteer efforts to the next level. This is an excerpt from the note she wrote me:

The March of Dimes will fight day and night until the day all babies are born healthy. All of the teens around the United States who are a part of March of Dimes Team Youth need to hear the mission. They need to realize that every person, every dime, and every hour they spend volunteering changes a life and changes the future of the March of Dimes and babies born all around the world. That is why I feel that the group MOD.youth.motivation. will teach teens the mission of the March of Dimes and give them a reason to work and volunteer that much harder and be able to have a lot of motivation. Every teen counts and makes a difference. My goal is that every Chain Reaction across the United States will join this group and that every teen will work even harder. The March of Dimes has changed my life forever. The things I have learned and the people I have met will always be life long friends of mine whom I will never forget. My name is Lauren Stephens and I plan on being a life long volunteer for the March of Dimes.

I asked for permission to post a piece of her message, because it displays the energy and drive of our youth volunteers today. Lauren's passion for this organization reminds me why we push ourselves so hard in our volunteer work...why we work day in and day out raising funds and heightening awareness for this cause. It is our duty- our responsibility as the next generation of parents. I volunteer for the March of Dimes because I know that the end result is worth it. Thanks to March of Dimes research, we now know that surfactant therapy can be given to premature babies to help their lungs develop and that women can decrease their chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect by over 70% by taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. These are just two amazing discoveries that have saved thousands of lives.

The March of Dimes was founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to conquer polio in 1938. Seventeen years later, it did just that. The March of Dimes then broadened its mission to prevent all birth defects, and in recent years has focused on preventing preterm birth. These problems cost our society billions of dollars and have devasting effects on families. In addition, infants born prematurely are more likely to develop cerebral palsy, blindness, and mental retardation.

I want to be there the day when we can ensure that all babies are born healthy. I want to be there when no family has to suffer the heartbreak of seeing their baby hooked up to a ventilator in the NICU struggling to survive. I want to be there the day when the March of Dimes must once again redirect its mission, because birth defects and premature are no longer a problem. The organization has done it once, we can do it again. My March of Dimes volunteer work will end the day we can ensure all babies are born healthy and full-term.