Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Continuing Cara's Legacy

       Each time I drive to a charity event, appearance, sponsor visit, or local pageant, I think through the event and what I'll be expected to speak about while in attendance.  I go over my talking points, sometimes in silence, sometimes blasting pump-up music, sometimes talking aloud to myself.  I reflect on what that particular day means for me as a spokesperson for not only the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation, but for the Miss America Organization as a whole.  Today, my car ride was more emotional than usual.  I drove myself to Atco Elementary School where I would soon hand books to the students on behalf of my friend and Miss New Jersey sister, Cara McCollum.  I would speak about the platform Cara created, long before a pageant platform was required of her.  I would tell teachers, the press, and students about how Cara had a vision for the future of literacy.  I knew I would look into the faces of 6-year-old children and think of how Cara would smile back at them.  Car rides like today are rare because I felt the weight of my words and actions more than ever.
       As Miss New Jersey, I'm not only a spokesperson and an ambassador, but I'm responsible for the upkeep of some truly incredible legacies.  I was reminded about how powerful a legacy can be while my car radio played "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten.  She sings, "I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion."  I wondered if Cara knew just how explosive her impact would be on the world. She began The Birthday Book Project in hopes of putting age-appropriate books in the hands of underprivileged children on their birthdays.  She believed that literacy was a gift and wanted others to understand the impact that reading could have on their lives.  After Cara's passing, her work family at SNJToday with the help of her biological family made the Birthday Book Project a certified non-profit organization.  The Miss New Jersey Education Foundation has partnered with Citgo Petroleum Corporation and Bess the Book Bus to provide the 501c3 with thousands of books to distribute to Title 1 schools in New Jersey.  Last night local titleholders, Miss New Jersey board members and directors, along with myself got together to wrap children's books in preparation for delivery.  Today, the folks of SNJToday and I presented Atco Elementary School with 208 books.  In preparing my talking points this morning, I not only reminded myself of those logistical facts and figures, but reminded myself of the way Cara's match became an explosion, thanks to her philanthropic heart.  I cannot possibly explain how grateful I am to be a part of continuing my sister's legacy.  Being Miss New Jersey has given me countless opportunities, but the most rewarding of them has been learning from the women who came before me.  I can't stop wishing that Cara could have heard the squeals of joy and seen the looks of excitement from the students at Atco Elementary School today.  I hope that somehow, she knows just how many lives she's changing, including mine.

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