A.J.’s Christmas Dinner

21 12 2011

You’ve probably read about my buddy A.J. from my posts about Riley.  Today will be ALL about A.J. because today, A.J. proved once again why he is a remarkable kid.

When A.J. was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Leukemia, he spent three and a half years in Riley during treatment.  A.J. was released from the hospital Christmas Eve.  He remembers how crummy it was to think of spending Christmas in the hospital and made it his mission to make Christmas special for all of those kids and parents who didn’t get the same luxury he did.  For the last four years, A.J. has prepared a home-cooked meal, driven it all the way from Marian, IN to Indianapolis to serve it to the families right before the holiday and has even brought along thousands of dollars in toys to hand out to the patients.  He is a rock-star!

I attended A.J.’s Christmas dinner this year to help in any way I could.  Seeing the faces and smiles light up on everyone’s faces as they filled their plate with homemade noodles, mashed potatoes and their choice from dozens of sides, filled my heart with so much joy.  To top it all off, A.J. never once asked for glory.  When patients and parents would ask who was responsible for this grand feast, A.J. would remain quiet and we would have to shine the spotlight on him.  Even his parents wouldn’t take any of the glory.  They gave it all to A.J. even though he never asked for it!  I love the Stringer family and am so blessed to have them in my life.  A.J. has taught me so much about giving back and loving life!  I am forever grateful!

Lord, you work in mysterious and marvelous ways.  The gift of your love through relationships with others never ceases to amaze me as I go through life.  You send angels that surround us everyday and Lord, I believe that A.J. is an angel!  He is a blessing sent by you to this earth to touch the lives of thousands.  Thank you Lord for your unfailing love, hope and guidance.


Another Day for Riley!

13 12 2011

Today was another grand day for Riley in South Bend, IN, reaching out to the students in the area to give them a huge thank you for their efforts with Kids Caring and Sharing.  A.J. and his parents joined us once again as well as the current Miss Indiana, Jackie Jerlecki.  What a joy it was to savor each moment celebrating these students who understand the meaning of giving back.  I have to admit, one of the most special parts of the trip was getting to spend the evening at the Jerlecki household.  The best and most hospitable family on the planet.  I love them all!

The Center Piece of Christmas

1 12 2011

Christ is the center piece of Christmas.  To help celebrate, I was able to spend some time with the kind folks at Southland Community Church in Greenwood, IN.  I was to give a presentation and sing several of my favorite tunes; mostly holiday.  My husband was actually able to attend this event with me, the first in a while.

I was completely blown away by the decorations the ladies put together.  Christmas trees, ornaments, ribbon and nativity scenes in every direction.  It was such a pleasure spending some quality time with these ladies celebrating the reason for the season.

A Thank You Goes A Long Way

30 11 2011

The last two days have been truly special as Michael and I headed to his hometown of Evansville, IN for the Riley School Tour.  This project is in an effort to thank all of the schools who have participated in the Riley Kids Caring and Sharing Program which has raised more than $1,000,000.  Michael and I arrived in Evansville on Tuesday night because it was going to be a very early morning and we also wanted to visit with his parents for a few moments.

Wednesday, we made our rounds to three different schools in the area.  We were also joined by A.J. Stringer and his parents.  A.J. was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 7 and spent the next three and a half years at Riley undergoing treatment.  At 13 years of age today, A.J. is a happy, healthy teenager who loves racing, and loves life!  He is a miracle and one of my greatest role models.

I first met A.J. during my year of service as he was chosen the Champion of Indiana for Children’s Miracle Network.  We spent four days together in Orlando and then another three in Washington D.C.  I knew from the moment I met him, he would remain in my heart always.

Riley will also remain in my heart always as it is a place of hope: A shelter from the storm.  Thank you to all of the students who participated in Kids Caring and Sharing and thank you Riley Hospital for Children for being a catalyst of miracles every day!

ISFA Pageant

6 11 2011

I have the best job in the world…I work with the most amazing people, get to spend quality time with my dearest friends and family while working and truly feel like I’ve been able to make a difference at the end of the day.  How many people get to say that?!?!

This weekend I got the chance to work with a new organization, the Indiana State Festival Association.  Festivals provide a lot more for our communities than most people think.  They carry on traditions and historical facts about a certain area, they provide a boost in the economy from money spent on rides, shows, food and games, they give smaller community groups a chance to introduce themselves to people who may have never heard about them, they provide volunteer opportunities and they have a way of bringing everyone together for a celebration and creating a sense of pride.

Festivals are essential and the ISFA works diligently everyday to make sure they remain a focus of Indiana life.  One of the ways that they do this, is by crowning the ISFA Queen every year that serves as  an ambassador for Indiana festivals.  She travels and speaks across the state during her year, interacting with thousands and attending numerous festivals.

Michael, Megan Meadors (Miss Indiana 2008) and I had the chance to judge the ISFA pageant this weekend and choose that very representative.  We had the most amazing time getting to know each of the contestants and enjoying in the festivities surrounding the pageant.  Each young woman was a great representative of their respective festivals and represented them extremely well.  Thank you to the ISFA and to all of the Indiana festivals for making our state so great!

REACH for Your Dreams

2 11 2011

The Jennings County Community Foundation along with the Women’s Giving Circle create an unbeatable team.  The two teamed up this year to provide female high school students an opportunity of a lifetime…an opportunity to learn how to reach for their dreams.  The first annual REACH conference was held today at the Park Theater in North Vernon, IN.  The organizations putting this together saw a need for teenage girls in the area to find motivation to break outside of their comfort zone and shoot for the stars.  Jennings County is right next to my hometown and I know from growing up in such a small town and rural environment, how important and necessary it is to share that message!  It doesn’t matter where you come from, who your parents are or what you want to do with your life, anything is possible with God.

I was invited to be a part of this conference to share my story of growing up in Southern Indiana and being able to reach my goals by getting involved, making good decisions and getting a good education.  I stressed to the young women the importance of each of those things and gave real life examples on how they can accomplish their goals as well.  The energy was tremendous.  The young women in the audience were so attentive and extremely respectful.  I really felt like there was a change in the atmosphere as I was on stage.  Once I opened up the floor for Q & A, so many hands went up with dozens of questions.  These young women are ready to conquer the world and I believe they will do it!

Lord, thank you for the opportunities to share with others.  You provide us with so many different talents and abilities that we not only need to utilize, but encourage others to use as well.  As we step out into the world to live our dreams, you guide our every step, action and word.  You stand beside us on our journey to protect us and uplift us.  With you all things are possible.  Thank you Lord for your light that you shine into our lives everyday.  We pray that we continue shining your light to others as we live each day to the fullest and live each day for you and your will.  Amen.

A Thriller of a Pageant

31 10 2011

Never have I ever envisioned being a part of pageant whose theme was “Thriller,” but when your local pageant is held on Halloween weekend how can you resist?!

Miss Bowling Green and Miss Mammoth Cave Area was held this weekend in Bowling Green, KY.  Michael and I headed down on Saturday night after my appearance in Elkhart, IN.  We left Elkhart around 8:15pm and arrived in Bowling Green around 5:00am!  It was supposed to be a 7 & 1/2 hour trip, putting us in KY around 3:45; however, after a really long fast food stop and late-night construction, we really had to push through.  We started struggling with the last hour to go, but we made it safe and sound.

We were staying with a couple neither Michael or I had ever met.  The Ford’s were opening up their home for us.  Harry (which at the time we didn’t even know his name) had texted Michael letting him know the front door would be open and the lights would be on inside.  He made sure to emphasize that we make ourselves at home.  When we pulled up in front of the house at 5:00am, we realized he wasn’t kidding at all!  The front door was propped open and every light was on in the house.  As we stepped up to the front door, messages scattered the foyer floor inviting us in.  Michael and I felt so welcome and knew it was going to be a great couple of days.

Barbara and Harry were already asleep, so Michael and I made our way upstairs for a few hours rest.  Michael was judging and therefore, had to be in interviews at 8:30.  I luckily got to sleep until 10:00 since we had brunch at 11:00 at the Ford’s.  Several close friends were invited over along with the current Miss Kentucky Ann Blair Thornton and Ericka Dunlap, Miss America 2004.  Brunch was superb.  And, it was wonderful catching up with Ericka.  Around 2:00, Ericka and I headed over to the auditorium for rehearsal and a newspaper interview.

Ericka really wanted to run a few errands, so without actually rehearsing, or even looking at the script, we left.  At 4:00 we met with the judges for dinner and then it was off to the pageant.  20 minutes to get ready really isn’t much, but enough to run on stage for the opening number and start off the show.  Ericka and I were co-emceeing.  I have never done an entire pageant without ever looking at the script before.  It was definitely a learning experience, but everything turned out great!

After the show ended and two new Miss titleholders were crowned and two new Teen titleholders were crowned, we made our way to the after party!  It was already really late so Michael and I decided to stay one more night in order to avoid another evening like the last and just enjoy our time in Bowling Green and then head back to Indy after a good night’s rest.

The new titleholders were amazing and so genuine and sweet.  Best wishes to them as they start their journey to Miss Kentucky and Miss Kentucky’s Outstanding Teen competitions.  A HUGE thanks to all of the amazing volunteers with the pageant.  It sure was a thriller and an event to remember!



The Thriller opening number






The stage decorations, moseliums with my and Ericka’s last names