March 31, 2009

Tired ... BUT

So, tonight ended up being a super hectic night and I didn't even make it to one of the events I was supposed to attend. But I just wanted to say ... Great job, Tim! We were so impressed.

Story to be told when I'm not halfway conscious.

xo

Weekend Excitement (Part Deux)

I'm Baaaaaaaaack!

So, after sleeping in (WAY in, hurray!) I headed over to the W in Union Square for my Dressed to Kilt fitting. Up to the 18th floor penthouse I went, and before I knew it I was trying on a gaggle of mini-kilts. One even had pictures of blondie plastered on the front. Lucky for me, and the eyes of all of those that would have had to experience the potential rear-end exposure, they said I looked too "sweet" to go so raw. They put me in a really cute black sweater dress with a cut out back, black tights, and purple wellies. AWESOME. Originally I was going to be walking down the runway with Mister Universe, but since he had decided he was ripping his clothes off they didn't want to deal with any issues with the MAO. As I gathered my items to head out to the gym Kellie Pickler came in for her fitting. She was absolutely adorable. She apparently competed in a MAO preliminary in North Carolina. I mean really people, who didn't? From Kellie Pickler to Sarah Palin we've got it all.

Fastforward through my day to Monday afternoon ... I sadly got a call from one of the organizers saying they had over-booked and were wondering if I would just come as a VIP guest. Translation: I was bumped for super-hot Scottish models. Dude, I still got to see Sean Connery! Anyhow, I told Tim that I was studying the list of models to see who else got bumped ... and I must say, three of the people that didn't end up modeling were: Susan Lucci, Cameron Matheson, and Brendan Fraser. Tim so aptly reminded me they may have cancelled, but I just wanted him to stroke my ego ... even if just briefly.

But, either way, we had a ball! We made it just in time to walk the red carpet and then made our way into the big room to watch the fashion show. I'm actually really happy I wasn't in it now. These girls looked SLAMMIN' in all sorts of mini skirts and couture gowns. I was supposed to be wearing a black turtleneck dress and wellies. Could you imagine what I would have felt like talking with Kellie Pickler in her couture gown and Ed Westwick looking fabulously devil-ish? Negative. I do not even want to go to that mental place.

The models did a phenomenal job and I am so happy to have been there to support the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Wounded Warriors Organization, and the Erskine Hospital in Scotland. You know, we have lots of folks over there fighting for our freedoms, I have a friend who just returned and one who will be leaving shortly. Remember to keep them in your prayers, drop them a note (to foreign lands), or even thank them when you see them on the streets here. We should all be so grateful for the personal risk they expose themselves to on a daily basis.

Now that I just climbed off my soap-box I'm going to send some emails out.



PS: Check back soon for the pictures. Tim took them with his camera and for some reason every time I try to steal them they end up being tinyyyy. And believe me, you want to see these people AND the clothes. :)

Weekend Excitement! (Part I)

Yesss! Three cheers for a busy but brilliant past few days. I left NYC and headed back to VA on Thursday evening after work to give the Cum Laude induction speech at Hampton Roads Academy, my alma mater. I was so excited about this opportunity but slightly intimidated, too. I mean honestly, how scary is it when you have 450 adolescents staring at you, waiting for something entertaining AND brilliant to leak out of your mouth ... and just waiting to judge.


This was definitely not here when I graduated. But cool nonetheless.

After much thought I decided to speak about failure. One thing I've learned over the past three years is how to appreciate my failures, sincerely. Or, perceived failures that is. People told me in high school that I couldn't get into UVa. I did. And I graduated on the Dean's List. I lost Miss Virginia twice. The first year I spent the rest of my summer in South Africa helping those with AIDS. The second year I packed my bags and myself up and moved to NYC on my own. Those are just a few on my laundry list of "failures". But, you see, all of these things gave me the opportunity to be where I am today. To cross paths with the people in my life now that have encouraged me to become the woman that I am, to go to Miss America as Miss New York - how cool was that?! And, most importantly, this organization gave me the opportunity to be shaken out. Rather than being built up into someone else, working for their expectations, I met myself for the first time. Head on. I don't know if I would have had that opportunity elsewhere.

So this was my challenge to them: allow your dreams to be beaten up and dragged around a bit. That's what is going to make them intensely real, make them tangible. We all want great things, but once they leave your imagination and meet an incredibly harsh reality there is no doubt they will be tested. Are you willing to protect your dreams? Each of you is capable of achieving great things. Respond to your failures with that greatness.

It was cool to be able to go back to HRA and see the great change that has gone on there. The physical atmostphere is so different (umm, jeans and t-shirts and hoodies and flip-flops? I mean, I know it's Friday but still!), but the vibe is the same. The eternal strive for excellence, the buzz of competition, and high standards are still in place. Also, my mom got to come watch me which was neat (again Paul, that is for you). Other than Miss America my family hasn't been able to see what a typical appearance would be for me, and don't you know she was right there in the third row smiling away. Rock star status, Lisa.

Then we headed over to Charlottesville to see the Virginia Belles Spring Concert. Y'all, it was UNbelievable. The alum just sat in the front row with their mouths gaping. And, you know how I put the link up last week so you could buy their cd? Well, I definitely got one on Friday night and I refuse to listen to anything else. SO good. You really should buy it. REALLY. It was so awesome to see so many of the alums back in town. So many of them are about to get hitched, or engaged. Holy. Cow. That is all I have to say about that. (!!)

No fear, I was back on a plane on Saturday for a 6am departure (3am wake-up call from the rooster herself, Lisa) to drive to Sullivan County for some pageantry! Linda Carbo and I had a marvelous time making our way there. The interstate leads you pretty close ... but to get there exactly you have to take the most insane winding roads for about 15 minutes. I'm glad I wasn't in Paul Brown's car with Erin Kennedy and Ken Nelson. Apparently Ken "was feeling extremely car-sick, just like he did when he was a boy." ACK!


We were extremely grateful to see this sign. So, fun, BEGIN!

I got to MC Miss Sullivan County Outstanding Teen, Miss Sullivan County, and Miss Southeast New York that evening. What an outstanding group of young ladies and women. They never cease to amaze me! Congratulations to Miss Sullivan County, Felicia Ramos. Miss Southeast New York, Melanie Hildebrant, and Miss Sullivan County Outstanding Teen, Nusrat Ephita! Felicia and Melanie I will see you guys in just over 3 weeks in Albany for workshop!

So, if you didn't think we were insane already, we decided we wanted to sleep in our own beds. Thus we scooted out of there at about 1045. I fell asleep in the back seat for a while (to the sweet melodies of the Virginia Belles ... you should buy it!) .... Then jumped up was we approached the Lincoln Tunnel. Just in time to sit in Saturday evening city traffic. Then we found a straggler right around Whole Foods at 1:30 am. He got in the car with us and we drove him home. He was pretty cute, too! And that is where this story ends.

I'm writing another one with more adventures very soon. So hold your horses!

March 25, 2009

Kate Shindle is Baller

When I was a freshman in high school I went to a reception where Kate Shindle was the main attraction as she traveled through Virginia with Cabaret. I met her for approximately 2 minutes, immediately went home, cut her picture out of the Playbill and stuck it in my personal Webster's Dictionary beside the word cool.

Please fast forward 8 years. You will find me at the Miss New York orientation with Kate Shindle at the front of the room telling us her expectations for whomever should win the title. I dug her style. She was a wine-drinking, notably intelligent, and supremely confident woman. I felt pretty out of my league when I met with the team that Monday night after my win to plot out my year.

All that I have talked to about my Miss America experience know that preparing for it was the most beneficial journey (not a word to be used loosely) of my life thus far. As I said humbly (I would say honestly, too - but Kate would shoot me since I should always be speaking the truth) in my interview at Miss America, often times you see committees trying to build their girls into someone else or have them meet their standardized expectations. I was beyond blessed in the fact that I was shaken down and out, and discovered my true self through this process. Casting aside what others wanted or expected me to be, but finding what mattered most to me, what defined me, and remaining true to that. Kate brought the sides of myself I didn't want to, or failed to, recognize to my attention. She pushed me hard. Really hard. But we also had a lot of fun. Her humor is unparalleled and ridiculously non-pc. Which obviously, for those who know me, was right up my alley.

Was that enough smoke up your skirt, Kate? Kidding, kidding. I mean every word. And if I was even more self-consumed I would continue to make this post about me. But nay, you're wayyyy cooler.

Anyhow, Kate and I don't get to see each other quite as often as we did before (ie about two-six hours a day on average) BUT I did get to see her kick tail at Birdland this week. This woman has the most insane set of pipes EVER. Other than laughing at every joke she made in an off-beat far, too loud laugh I couldn't help but squeal in excitement every time she nailed the end of a torch song. If you didn't get to see her, I'm really sorry. There aren't any youtube videos up yet but when there is I will direct you there like a herd of cattle. Prepare to be amazed. Like an insane fan I got a picture with her afterwards. But since she is a good foot taller (ok, almost) than me it looks kind of odd. Next time we're sitting down and get one I'll add it.

Oh yeah, and in the name of Kate Shindle and Leigh-Taylor Smith please look up "baller" on Urban Dictionary. Or just click here.

March 24, 2009

Anticipation Abounds!

I'm starting to get really excited about a couple of things ...

This Thursday evening I'm flying back to Virginia, the original homeland, and Friday I will be giving the Cum Laude induction speech at Hampton Roads Academy. If you're not familiar with the term Cum Laude - it is an honor awarded to those who have distinguished themselves academically at their respective institution, aka really smart people. I'm looking forward to going back to HRA to see it's internal growth, meet lots of new teachers, hug those that remain, and maybe even see some little country day schoolers running around now! What a difference 6 years makes ... WHAT?! SIX YEARS? I'm pretty freaked out about how long it has been since I graduated. But enough of that. I'm stoked to impart some fairly impenetrable knowledge on these guys. I've thought a lot about what I will speak to them about and I think I've figured out a universal, applicable, and immensely important lesson. Or, at least I think so. We'll see if they keep two, one, or zero eyes open during my speech. After speaking in Manhattan schools I don't miss too much these days ... I'm a hawk!

Friday night is ... The Virginia Belles Spring Concert! Sadly, I have outgrown my a-cappella participation days BUT I've never been to just watch the Belles perform. And for this, I am excited! All I know is I heard a couple of songs on their new cd and it's unbelievable. I was kind of sad, I mean, not because they're good ... but I think they may be better now than we were before. So here, you should TOTALLY buy their new cd called acaBELLEa here.

Lastly, but way not leastly (laugh ... harder ...) on Sunday I am going to be fitted for my kilt/runway outfit for the Dressed to Kilt Fashion Show. Sir Sean Connery invited me to be a part of this event and model in the fashion show with celebrities ... once again I've slipped in through the cracks! But the scary part arrived in an email I received today:

"
We encourage you to think about your big walk down the runway. Dressed to Kilt is a very exciting and rowdy event, so have a fun on the catwalk – impromptu dances, back flips and crowd involvement are all encouraged! Props will also be provided to you for your runway walk, including crowns and swords. And don’t forget to entertain the judges sitting by."

Umm. Back flips?! Dancing?! Neither of which I am capable of. Opening number at Miss America kind of pushed me to the limit on the whole "LT attempting to dance" thing. See now THAT is worth the price of the ticket to the event ... and it's for charity! Check it out (and make sure you look at the models, too ... there are some cool ones! Perhaps Ed Westwick will merely look at me...). If you come, I'll do a cartwheel down the runway or something ...

Wow. I = excited.





March 22, 2009

STOMP.

So this weekend my brother Bryan and his wife Laura were up here visiting me in the Big Apple for the first time since I moved to the Lower East Side at the beginning of September, AND for the last time before they move to Cardiff, Wales for at least a year! About two hours after Miss America was over my family met up in the hotel (my mom, dad, and all 5 children and ... even a couple spouses, too!) and Bryan announced they would be relocating. They love to travel and cause some general calamity around the world, so we're all super excited for them. But selfishly of course we're a bit sad to see them go. Thus their visit this weekend was going to have to be extra neat (for you, Paul).

My roommate Dustin, whom I met at the age of 7 making my debut as Ollie Herdmann in the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" with the Hurrah Players, is now a STAR here in NYC. He's in the Off Broadway show STOMP and has been for a couple of years now. He started off on tour and then made his way to NYC to perform at the Orpheum Theater. And get this, I still hadn't seen him perform! We kept saying "after Miss America ... after Miss America..." but I've been back for two months and STILL hadn't seen him perform. Enter perfect timing.

Bryan, Laura, Paul, and I made it a night! We went to dinner and then went to the Orpheum. Can I just say I always knew Dustin was a stud but still, I had NO idea exactly how amazing he was at what he does. His humor on-stage is so real, so relatable, and so many of his faces were ones I've seen him make since we were kids. But even past that, his skill in terms of rhythm and relaying his sense of interested intensity was beyond transcending. I dorkily (word, anyone? if not, it is now.) said, "wow" after every number. I was so impressed with his talent. And he lives in my house! But the coolest thing is, while he wants to stick around and do this for a while, he ultimately wants to become a history teacher. He has a genuine grasp on reality and has remained grounded throughout this whole process.

Dustin, Laura, and Bryan after the show.


With the NYC cast of STOMP, Dustin my roommate is just to the left of me!

Dustin, I am so proud to call you my friend. Slash big brother. Slash roommate. You're ridiculous.


PS: Cary, you're a star too you know!

March 20, 2009

Voy Forums ... Sigh

Okay, so for those who are unaware the land of pageantry can sometimes take a turn for the, uhh, how do I put it? Vicious? Yes, I suppose that is the most appropriate word. But most of it is done in anonymity, behind the cover of a "username" on voy forum message boards. Thankfully the Miss New York Organization has an awesome ED, Erin Kennedy, who sent out the following email to all involved with the Miss NY Organization:

Dear Friends, Contestants and Supporters of Miss NY,

It is with a heavy heart that I must address this situation with you. Please know that I am not pointing fingers or making accusations to anyone. In fact, it is my sincerest wish that no one on this distribution list is a part of the issue. However, I feel that I can no longer stand aside without addressing the Voy Forum.

I am as guilty as many of reading this board because I feel that it keeps me in the know and sometimes alerts me to issues of which I was not aware. But when I begin receiving several calls per week from contestants who are contemplating a complete withdrawal from our state system because of the nasty and hurtful things being said, I need to act.

The forum could be a GREAT place to announce who won which local, sell old pageant gear and connect to old friends but it is WRONG to insult the very girls who keep our organization alive. I am sure many of your agree that the things being said are hurtful, disgusting and infantile.

So, since I am assuming that we are all a part of the solution, I ask you to join me in the following: Either stop visiting the message board or, at the very least, refuse to dignify nasty statements. I don’t know who the moderator is but I sent an email today. If you are this person, please delete items that insult others. If you know this person, please encourage him or her to more closely moderate the vile things being posted. It isn’t funny and it isn’t ok.

And to our lovely and amazing contestants, please do not allow yourself to be dragged down by trash talk.

If each of us makes a pledge to keep this board clean and encourages others to do so as well, we can do a tremendous amount to stop the damage that is currently being done. I don’t want to lose contestants to silly, petty behavior. I hope you’ll join me in working to eliminate this unnecessary distraction.

Best Regards,

Erin

P.S. I have sent this to all of the email addresses I have, if I missed someone it is simply because I do not have contact information or I left them off accidentally. I can assure you, it was not intentional



--
Erin Kennedy
Executive Director
Miss New York Organization

E-Mail: Erin@missnyorg.com
Phone: 347-256-3499
Website: www.missnyorg.com


I have seen some really nasty stuff written on these boards. And the worst part is, these are women that are doing extraordinary things. Working their tails off representing their communities and their states. Representing the very people that write these things on the message boards. If you feel so strongly about making a comment on the boards write your name beside it, otherwise, it's a pretty cowardly move. Because, as Miss America contestants the first thing we were told by Sam Haskell and Art McMaster was, "Own what you say". So shouldn't you, too?

Thank you, Erin!

Oh, Mom.

So, most who know me are aware that my mom and I are bff's. But not in the cheesy way, but more like the "she's still my mom and tells me what to do sometimes but we're friends". I tell her everything. And if I don't talk to her via some form of modern technology during the day she usually thinks I've been kidnapped. But, at the same time she is the one who has driven home the importance of stating my independence.

Phew. Did I paint an ok picture? Also, if you want to see what I will look like in 30 years, just look to my right. That's Miss Lisa, my mom.



Well, I don't know if your moms do this but mine often saves up papers and magazines when she's busy. When things slow down she rummages through them. Then EVERY time she sees something that even only relates to me in a peripheral manner she cuts it out. Starts a pile. Sends me the pile.

This past week she sent me a pile including Ann Landers articles from 1999 (one was submitted by a 24 year old male virgin wondering if there were any virgins left for him. thanks, mom). BUT, one of the things she sent me was really rad AND it's only from November 2008. It says:

"People who volunteer are 42% more likely than people who don't to say they are 'very happy' with their lives --

1. Think local. Browse nearby opportunities at www.volunteermatch.org, where you can select projects according to your zipcode and area interest.

2. Think global. Log onto www.volunteerabroad.com, where projects range from saving leatherback turtles in Costa Rica to teaching English to Burmese refugees in Thailand.

3. Think together. Meet other volunteers at www.change.org, where thousands connect online to support established organizations or start their own grassroots campaign."

Y'all these websites are awesome. They hook you up with organizations where YOU would feel comfortable. Whether you're changing your own community or helping those in neighboring nations, you can do no wrong. Volunteering changes lives. So, what are you waiting for? Log on!

This one you hit on the head mom. Thanks for the articles, keep 'em coming!

March 19, 2009

Uh Oh!

They figured me out! Can we all laugh on the count of three? 1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

Wahoowah!!

I was pretty amped when LaToya, the Miss NY PR Director, relayed to me that UVa's alumni magazine had requested an interview with me. With me? Haha. Man, I thought that was just saved up for Tina Fey and her awesome alum-ness. Or, the Barber twins. Or really any of the other frighteningly intelligent people I went to undergrad with. So when the article came out yesterday I was excited to see the angle ... I think she was able to capture my non-pageanty side. She even included the "headband" image. Kate, you'd be proud.

March 17, 2009

Right Decisions, Right Now. Want a Pencil?

As Miss New York I get to go into schools and talk to students about making Right Decisions. Insert teenage eye-rolling here.

In my opinion there is little you can do to prepare for these presentations. (Note: RJ Reynolds, I know all of the statistics, etc. I didn't mean I haven't studied it ... but ... sometimes it needs a jolt!) I think it is so much more important to read the room and then find your starting point or else you risk not even beginning with them on board. Some classrooms are excited, and willing to listen to the information I have to give. Others, not so much. But I must say my most recent school, Robert Wagner in Manhattan this past Friday March 13th, was AWESOME.

This situation was unique because I wasn't speaking to a co-ed auditorium full of various ages, rather, I spoke with a girls-only after school group. These girls were awesome! After my presentation we shared stories, asked questions, and ate some cupcakes. One of the girls shared this link with us: www.girlshealth.gov. You should check it out, whether you're a mom, a teacher, or an adolescent - this site is pretty fabulous!

xo

LT

March 11, 2009

The Promised Video

video


Enjoy!



Charity : Water

Here's the lowdown on Charity: Water. "charity: water is a non profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. We give 100% of the money raised to direct project costs, funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need." Wait for it .... "Just $20 can give one person in a developing nation clean water for 20 years."

That's the real deal. When 100% of the money raised is going straight to creating a tangible change I'm there. So, I suited up and headed over to the Chelsea Market to see the photographic exhibition and the well they built right there in the center of it all. All money thrown into the well is going to be matched ... x3. So, if you're a New Yorker you should definitely head over to Chelsea Market, get a killer pastry from Amy's Bread and throw some money into the well. And if you're not you should go here and donate.



Throwing some change into the well ... you should, too!

I attended the event with Tim Morehouse, my Olympian frenemy ... to be expounded upon later, Joey Dente, and Jourdan Lawlor. We were able to meet up with the founder of Charity : Water, Scott Harrison, and hear about some of the things he's got coming up. One thing is for sure, he's doing some incredible things globally and and most importantly, he knows how to keep people excited about it. There were about 1,200 people in attendance!




Me, Scott Harrison, Tim Morehouse, and Jourdan Lawlor

Oky Doky. Off to bed to get some sleep. Will write some more for you soon!

xo

LT





March 9, 2009

There She Is ...

I'm baaaaaaaack!

What. A. Weekend.

I got to spend the weekend with some of the most unbelievable women around, and as I said in my earlier post, ladies that will most definitely be friends forever.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, celebrating the homecoming of our new Miss America (the first time she's been home since that fateful weekend at the end of January!). She has traveled across the US with only her two suitcases she packed for Las Vegas departing January 14. They kept her super busy all weekend leaving us only a few moments with her. We were really busy, too. But one of the Indiana hosts quickly observed that if he wanted to find us he just had to look for the food. Scary but true. I'm posting a video somehow, somewhere that will make you giggle. Think 12 passenger van, Wendy's drive through, 11 state titleholders after Miss America.

Friday night we were able to participate in the Miss America "Talent Show" AND we saw the new Miss Indiana crowned. Congratulations, Megan! We were then whisked off to a reception that evening at a former Miss Indiana's home, put on in honor of Katie by all former Miss Indianas. They had it beautifully catered, but somehow we all ended up around the chex mix that incorporated candy corn. It was BALLER.

Saturday we were up and at 'em early, making an appearance at a boutique, flower shop, and then a delicious lunch. Thank goodness we ate protein, we would soon find out that we would need the stamina ... between 650 and 700 people attended the autograph signing and they were allowed 2 autographs a piece, but some asked for more. And believe me, you can't tell a little girl dressed up as Cinderella no! Too cute. After slight hand paralysis, we fixed ourselves up and headed over to the Renaissance Hotel to have an intimate celebration for Katie. The Miss Indiana Organization is made up of so many outstanding individuals. We were all so impressed by your selflessness and support. So, thank you!

After a brief delay in the airport (slightly reminiscent of my 9 hour delay leaving Miss America), I got back to NYC and headed to the two preliminaries held in NYC on Sunday evening. Congratulations to our new titleholders, Claire Buffie, Amanda Mason, Danielle Roundtree, and Inga Schlingmann. I can't wait for Miss New York, it's going to be a tough competition!

During the first preliminary Bethlene, Miss New York 2006, asked me what my most memorable moment had been as Miss NY. It really is impossible for me to dwindle it down to just one, but there was a day that changed me. So, in an effort to back track so you know what I've been up to, I'm going to close with this story ...

On December 1st, World AIDS Day, I drove up to Albany with Kate Shindle. That morning I went to the AIDS Council of Northeastern NY and took a public AIDS test. After living in South Africa for two summers, and doing HIV/AIDS education for one, I understand the sheer reality of this epidemic. That it is literally wiping out villages. But you see, it's not just in Africa. It has taken our communities into it's grips. It is imperative that everyone knows their status. It doesn't matter where you come from, or who you are. AIDS does not discriminate. After I took my test we headed over to City Hall where we had a press-conference. I met the Mayor of Albany and after telling him what we had been up to that morning he said, what an idea! I'm doing it next year (tip to Miss New York 2009- take it with him!). Then we ran into the Albany health reporter, told her our story, and immediately after the press conference she went straight back to the AIDS Council of Northeastern NY and took an AIDS test on camera!

After lunch we hopped in the car and drove back to the city. I then made my way down to City Hall where Housing Works had set up 5 podiums with a microphone, binder, and flashlight. For 24 hours people read the names of those from New York City that had died of AIDS. The binders were made up of pages and pages of names and were about 12" thick. As I began to turn the page I heard someone from another podium say, "Bryan Smith". That's my brother's name. I froze. We are losing our brothers, mothers, and children to this disease. It's unacceptable. So, on that note, I think you should join my AIDS Walk NY team and help me kick AIDS in the face!





Talk soon!

LT



March 5, 2009

Finally!

Hello All (or none, perhaps)!

I was originally going to blog for Zipcar, my car sponsor for the year. Not only to keep everyone up to date with what I've been doing but also to get Zipcar AND the places I go some publicity, too. But, alas, it didn't pan out and here I am. A real live blogger.

I will not refer to this year as "my year" but as our year, because believe me, far more people than I have been instrumental to date and beyond. With that said our year has been all kinds of things, but most importantly an unbelievable blessing. Let me say that it will be difficult to fully explain all that I have done so far, therefore I'm going to give a cliff-notes version to get you up to speed.


Winning Miss New York has been a challenge within itself. Most don't know the MAO eligibility rules, and many that do still want to openly discuss the shame of a girl originally from VA representing NY (Ellis Island, anyone? melting pot?). Yet, I will continue to use my year to turn the spotlight onto those who need it much more than me. That's why I continued to compete. My platform is what did, and continues, to drive me. I am not a carpet bagger. I am not a crown chaser. Rather, I am an activist. I am a leader. And I am a dreamer. Ultimately, isn't that what our Miss States should be?

My platform morphed itself from just being the general encouragement of volunteerism into one that focuses on disadvantaged children. But not necessarily serving them, but asking THEM to serve. You see, it's engaging our youth of all all backgrounds that will help move our communities forward. They will begin to feel as if they are becoming the solution, and no longer the problem. Thus they stop looking for pity and take charge of their own communities, and their own futures as well. In an effort to educate myself as thoroughly as possible I spent time meeting with Sean Strub (the man behind the Denver Principles), David Thorpe (Director of Communications- Housing Works), Ethan Zohn (winner of Survivor Africa and avid philanthropist), I watched as Senators Obama and McCain discussed volunteerism within our country on September 11th (and was introduced by Bon Jovi, his hand is soft, and YES he is the hottest dad alive), visited an all male HIV Support Group at Arthur Kill State Penitentiary, visited Crossroads- a juvenile detention center in Brooklyn, took a public AIDS test on World AIDS day in Albany, and the list continues! Along with being Miss New York I also hold a full-time job with an interior design firm, Scott Sanders LLC. So needless to say my weeks are jam packed. But so very worth it.

But, for me, the most exciting thing that has happened is in reference to policy change. As I said earlier, I think all representatives should not only champion a cause, but should be an activist. In keeping with this I currently have a bill, sponsored by Danny O'Donnell, on the floor of the NY State Senate that would require all New York State Public High School Students to complete mandatory community service in order to graduate. On December 7th I traveled to Albany for the State of the State Address where I also lobbied and advocated for this bill, #A.302!

Along with many other things/appearances I've done so far I have also done some introspective thinking provoked by Ellen Carrington, Miss Tennessee (!) while we were in LA filming Countdown to the Crown. The first night we were on the Queen Mary Ellen told a table of gals that her predecessor had said that a successful year would need to include coming out still loving yourself. We sat around the table and tossed the idea to and fro. We came to the conclusion that many people would rather pick us apart for what they see to be our physical shortcomings rather than focus on the truly breathtaking things we have done, foundations we have started, and lives we have redirected and changed. Skin grows thicker, and determination blossoms, but it doesn't mean the judgment doesn't sting. We're going to create a movement to stop that. Or, er, something like that... :)

Sometime soon I will post a blog with some baller photos of my time spent in Las Vegas at Miss America. That my friends was an experience of a lifetime. And certainly included gals that will be in my wedding. In 12 years. Speaking of those girls, I'm getting ready to head home and pack for my trip to Katie Stam's (Miss America, DUH!) homecoming in IN tomorrow where I get to see a load of them. I'm getting the tingles just thinking about it.

Until next time...

xoxo

Leigh-Taylor