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The Life and Times of Miss Connecticut 2006 Heidi Voight
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Hey everyone! Lately I've been getting a lot of forwarded emails from well-meaning friends regarding holiday cards for recovering vets at Walter Reed. I've seen a couple different versions but the general gist is that they tell you to simply address the cards to "Any Recovering Solider" at the Center.

While the intenion behind this idea is great, I would hate to see your efforts go to waste, so please be aware that there is NO SUCH PROGRAM in place. Due to security concerns, for the safety of the patients and staff of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, these "Any Solider"-type cards WILL NOT be accepted. The US Post Office has even stopped carrying them- they will be returned to sender or simply discarded. We have to understand that there are those out there in the world who might do harm to our troops if given the opportunity, so these security measures are in place to protect them.

 The good news, however, is that the Red Cross has partnered with Pitney Bowers to sponsor a program called "Holiday Mail for Heroes." The premise is very similar- and cards will be sent not only to recovering vets at Walter Reed, but also to active-duty military personnel stationed in the US and abroad, veterans AND their families. Same concept, and you can rest assured your good intentions will not go to waste. Here's the kicker: they need to be postmarked by December 10th. Anything sent after this date will be returned to you.

Mailing address:
Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456
This program is for CARDS ONLY. You cannot insert photos, gift cards or phone cards into the greeting cards. Those items can be sent through: http://www.aafes.com/
Care packages can be sent through www.AmericaSupportsYou.com
Hope that helps. Thanks for thinking of our servicemembers and their families this holiday season!
For more info on Holiday Mail for Heroes go to: http://www.redcross.org/email/saf/

From The Hartford Courant:

Logan Byrnes, Heidi Voight and John Motley

Dancing The Night Away For A Good Cause

Java: MaryEllen Fillo
October 25, 2008
Logan Byrnes, Miss Connecticut 2006 Heidi Voight and John Motley at the Third annual Mad Hot Hartford Ballroom! event on Oct. 23.

It was a night of fancy footwork for Footlights, Center for Performing Arts, as local celebs paired with professional dancers in the third annual Mad Hot Hartford Ballroom! fundraiser at The Hartford's Wallace Stevens Theater on Thursday.

Mary Jones, paired with Frank Rende, owner of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in New Britain, was looking forward to her dance, the fox trot.

"I've been taking lessons with him for about 2 1/2 months now," said Jones, a former morning show host at WDRC-AM (1360), dancing in her first Mad Hot Hartford Ballroom! event. "I'm less concerned about the routine. My goal is to fit into the dress."

Showing off a few tricky dance moves of his own was WTIC, Channel 61, morning anchor Logan Byrnes, paired with Jewel Rudin (also from Arthur Murray Dance Studio), performing the Lindy hop/swing.

"It'll be fun," said Byrnes. "We're taking some risks."

Java caught up with Miss Connecticut 2006, Heidi Voight, who shared co-hosting duties for the evening with John Motley.

"I'm working at the Capitol full-time for the Speaker of the House. I'm a policy aide," said Voight. "But I love making time for things like this. This is a cause that's near and dear to my heart. I co-hosted with John last year also, so we're back by popular demand."

The event benefited Footlights, an after-school program providing free performing-arts classes to Hartford youth, including ballroom dancing.

"Ballroom dancing is just amazing," said Jones, "physically, mentally, emotionally. You can't be in a bad mood when you dance."

— Amy Ellis ( aellis@courant.com)

2nd-Oct-2008 11:17 pm - CT UNITED RIDE 2008

The CT United Ride is a motorcycle ride honoring those who lost their lives, those who gave their lives, and those who continue to put their lives on the line each day as a result of the tragedies occurring on 9/11. The CT United Ride is sponsored by the CT State Fire Fighters - the UPFFA of CT. This event is the largest 9/11 tribute in the State of Connecticut. www.ctunitedride.com

I first attended the United Ride in 2006. That year, it was raining cats and dogs the whole day! This year the weather was PERFECT and absolutely gorgeous.

I attended the Ride with my boss, Speaker of the House Jim Amann, who was honored by the UPFFA as Legislator of the Year in a special ceremony. Here we are all together. Congratulations to Fred Garrity and the UPFFA on the biggest and best Ride yet!

Last night was a busy one for me! I went to Aldario's in Devon for an event with the Speaker... then I pulled a "Superman" change in the restroom and flew across town to Stonebridge for the United Way campaign kick-off party! This is my third year now working with the United Way of Milford as a fundraising spokesperson. I always love working with the United Way, because they helped me family through some difficult times when I was growing up... so it feels good to be able to give back today in any way I can. As a fundraising spokesperson, I get to visit all kinds of corporations and businesses and deliver keynote speeches on the United Way philosophy and how it manifested itself in my own life. It really helps to put a human face on the concept of charitable giving- I'm living proof of all the positive things that come from "planting the seeds to a giving tree," as I like to call it.

I was one of the "celebrity servers" at the event, along with other local "celebs" from Bic, Milford Hospital, etc. The event was well-attended and tons of fun! There was an awesome live rock band playing- the Rum Runners, which is comprised of five of our local firefighters! They're everyday heroes... AND they can rock out!!! I love it!

The rain held off for most of the night until about 8:15... then we ducked for cover! I headed inside to hang out with United Way President Gary Johnson and some guys from Milford Technology Advisory Council.

Good times!

2nd-Oct-2008 05:00 pm - NAACP Harmony Classic 2008
On September 20th I had the pleasure of attending the 2008 NAACP Harmony Classic with my friends from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. We were escorted to the V.I.P. tent right on the sidelines where we were treated to a magnificent buffet and open bar! 
Playing in front of a record Northeast Conference home crowd of 8,322 people, Central Connecticut (2-1) defeated North Carolina Central (0-4), 35-23, to win the inaugural NAACP Harmony Classic at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain's Willow Brook Park.
After the game we enjoyed the festivities, which included a great live band!

Here I am with Scot X Esdaile, President of the CT NAACP,  Representative Tim O'Brien and Representative Bruce Morris (who chairs the Fatherhood task force I'm assisting with), and Representative Don Clemons, who's one of the strongest guys I know. I had such a good time... and the North Carolina band, dance and step teams were AMAZING!!!

2nd-Oct-2008 04:56 pm - DMBA Open Doors 2008
This past Sunday I served as the Mistress of Ceremonies for the 2008 Downtown Milford Business Association's Open Doors charity auction at the Daniel Street nightclub (yes, the same place where I had my Miss America send-off two years ago!) 

"The Open Doors of Downtown Milford is presented by the Downtown Milford Business Association, LLC and is a free-to-the-public art exhibit lasting just over 5 weeks. The art exhibit will offer visitors and collectors a unique opportunity to experience the cultural excitement of Connecticut's thriving arts community in an outdoor, informal setting. The artists' works will be auctioned at the close of the event with proceeds being divided between the artist and a local charity. A portion of the proceeds will also go to the DMBA to partly defray the cost of the exhibit. "

The designated charity this year was Bridges, a community support center that provides mental health services to families and individuals. Bridges holds a special place in my heart, so I was delighted to be able to provide my services as emcee for this creative, fun event.

My favorite door was titled "Monster In The Closet" by Tao Labossiere. (I got to meet him and chat with him. He is awesome!) Ever since I was little I've always loved monsters! I know that sounds weird, but books like "Where the Wild Things Are" are still on my favorites list... when I see pictures of big, hulking monsters, I see them as protective and comforting, not threatening or scary. Does that sound strange? I suppose... but then again I'm also a huge fan of spiders, snakes, and bats... and I think graveyards are serene and beautiful places! I guess I'm just a "spooky" kinda girl!

Anyways, I digress. Here's some pictures: the "Monster" door (which fetched about $800!), me with DMBA President Lisa Blanchard, and auctioneer Joseph Kabe doing what he does best:

Thanks to the DMBA for having me! I had a wonderful evening!
29th-Sep-2008 01:43 pm - For your amusement...
Up here at the Capitol, when a legislator or staffer resembles a celebrity or other character, a "Separated At Birth?" memo will circulate internally so people can snicker over it.
I made the mistake of wearing my glasses to work last week. Little did I know that I would become the subject of the next SAB... I think the picture below speaks for itself.

"You're like her younger, more Democratic self!" 
22nd-Aug-2008 05:00 pm - Summer lovin'...
Long time... no post... TONS to update you on!

Check back soon!

14th-Jul-2008 11:43 am(no subject)
28th-May-2008 10:53 am - American Legion Legacy Fund

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship 

One of the most important projects the American Legion Riders CT State Chapter works on year-round is the American Legion Legacy Scholarship. Tonight we gathered in Vernon for another fundraising effort. Many thanks to Friendly's of Vernon for generously donating a percentage of this evening's sales to our fund.

As an unfortunate consequence of Operation Iraqi Freedom and America's war on terror, many children of our active-duty military personnel are now members of single-parent families. In most cases, this also means their chances to attend college have greatly diminished. Children of military personnel killed on active duty are entitled to receive money toward a college education. But it's not enough.

We are raising funds to ensure that higher education will be a reality for these families. Providing for the children our military personnel left behind is our civic duty. An education is a powerful way to show our thanks. That is why we have established the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. But we need your help.

A Critical Gap

The American Legion fights to see that our active-duty military personnel and their families are looked after. But despite our efforts, recent years have seen a significant shortfall in dollars allotted by our government. The educational benefit provided to surviving children is one of these critical gaps.

The total survivor benefit for these children is slightly more than $37,000 to be used for a college education. In today's dollars, this benefit will pay little more than half of what a college education costs in the most affordable situation. This gap widens when considering the cost of a college education in the future. The most conservative estimate is that costs will increase by 5 percent per year, meaning that in 16 years, the most affordable college education will be $105,800. Military compensation will not keep up with these dramatic increases.

Money provided by law simply has not kept up with what a higher education costs today, let alone what college will cost in years to come. Remember, these children are the direct descendants of people who died protecting our country. Their parents made the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do is make sure they are provided for. 

Eligibility: Child/Children, or legally adopted child/children, of active duty United States military and Guard, and Reserve personnel who were federalized and died on active duty on or after September 11, 2001. Must be a high school senior or high school graduate to apply for the scholarship. Scholarship is for undergraduate study at a U.S. school of higher education. 

For more information on how to donate to our fund, please leave a comment here and I will route you to our State Director.

And now... some fun pictures from tonight!

The guys made me a "sash"!  "Miss America...n Legion?"

23rd-May-2008 03:39 pm - Women of Substance is official!

Governor Jodi Rell, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, National Correspondent  Natalie Morales and Barbara DeBaptiste, Commissioner for the National Committee on the Status of Women ...Just to name a few!

Cromwell, CTHipPurse LLC and The Children’s Home (TCH) in Cromwell CT. are extremely pleased to announce members from their Women of Substance (WOS) Honorary and Founder’s Committee.   The WOS mission is to empower young girls to believe in their own self-worth, reject domestic abuse and become advocates for healthy mind, body and souls. 

The group would like to give special thanks to Miss Connecticut, Heidi Voight for sharing her vision with the Children’s Home.  In the spring of 2007, Miss Connecticut, Heidi Voight, spoke at the annual Spring Banquet at TCH.  She emphasized how young women need other women as role models and heroes for girls, instead of the media-made heroes like Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, etc.  At the conclusion of her reign, Voight encouraged TCH to move forward with the notion, “Women of Substance.”  Soon after, TCH joined forces with the HipPurse Company; and presently their Women of Substance project is about to launch. A list of caring and influential community leaders will meet at the inaugural luncheon scheduled for May 22, 2008. These women will convene to discuss the issues relating to young female growth and development.

TCH Director of Development, Cindy Bartholomew explains, “We are so grateful that we have had the support and guidance of Barbara DeBaptiste.”  DeBaptiste is the Commissioner for the National Committee on the Status of Women, and the Founder of the Head Start program in CT. “With her extensive community involvement, advocacy background and excellence in leadership, she guided the committee in developing the mission statement and moving the project from concept to fruition.”

Kenya D’Agustino, HipPurse VP, shares, “I am overjoyed that these busy, successful women like the Governor and the Secretary of state, are willing to participate and share in our mission.”  In addition, when D’Agustino reached out to Natalie Morales from the Today Show, her response was ‘thank you for thinking of me on such an important cause.’  Natalie was one of the first to accept the role as an Honorary Committee Member. 

For more information on how to join this mission, please contact Kathy Smith Hallett, Director of Marketing at TCH, at 860.635.6010 x334 or Kenya D’Agustino, 877.234.3747 x704.

This past Monday night I attended the 2008 Connecticut Democrats Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, the JJB dinner is essentially the place for CT Dems to "see and be seen." I was lucky enough to attend thanks to some members of the Milford Democratic Town Committee. I drove up with DTC Vice-Chair Linda Stevenson, who was delightful company. (I'm used to driving all over the state every day by my lonesome, so it was nice to have a talkative passenger for once!)

The honored guest and speaker for this year's dinner was US Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. He's served in the United States Senate since 1972 and is widely respected as a sterling leader. I was excited to meet him, as I'm a fan of many of his legislative initiatives. He was instrumental in crafting the Adam Walsh Act (which protects kids from sex predators and established the national sex offender registry and tier classification!), the Violence Against Women Act (which he wrote 14 years ago) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Last year he followed up the latter legislation with the 2007 Biden Crime Bill, which reflected changing times by addressing a new set of crimes including on-line child exploitation. 

I had the privlege of meeting him after the dinner and got to snap a quick photo with him before he was rushed away by his suited fleet of "Men In Black." I also had the chance to update Congressman Joe Courtney on our progress with the M.I.A.P..  I got to catch up with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for the second time in 24 hours (she was also at Walk A Mile on Sunday!)- I just adore her. She's been a great support ever since I won Miss Greater New Haven in 2003, and she is such an authentic, warm-hearted woman. What a great role model. And finally, I got to say hi to Chris Murphy and pick his brain for a bit about what it's like being a young leader in the Democratic party. Chris is a very down-to-earth guy, and he's serving us well.

I had a fantastic evening and can't wait for next year!

Left to right): East Hartford Police Commander Robert Kenary (Ret.), Cephus Nolan, MSW, social worker and child sexual abuse prevention seminar co-presenter; Dana Daunis, Miss Connecticut 2007; Karen Foley-Schain, executive director, Children's Trust Fund, Eleanor Lyon, Ph.D., University of Connecticut. Heidi Voight, Miss Connecticut 2006.

With support from child abuse prevention advocates Dana Daunis, the reigning Miss Connecticut, and Heidi Voight, Miss Connecticut 2006, The Children's Trust Fund recently presented initial results of its community-based child sexual abuse prevention program during a briefing in the Capitol's Old Judiciary Room.

Titled The Stranger You Know…, the program offers free community seminars to parent and civic groups to help adults better understand how sexual predators think and operate, and to make sure their children are not exposed to the circumstances and environments that pedophiles need to molest them.

The presentation featured Eleanor Lyon, Ph.D., principal investigator in the University of Connecticut's evaluation of The Stranger You Know... pilot program at ChildPlan, Inc. of East Hartford. Dr. Lyon's research found that community-wide training on this issue has helped East Hartford's adults, teachers and other caregivers better understand child molesters, feel better prepared to recognize risks to their child's safety, feel more comfortable talking to their children about sexual safety, and be better prepared about what to do if a child says they have been sexually abused.

East Hartford Police Commander Robert Kenary (Ret.) presented an abbreviated version of the Children's Trust Fund's The Stranger You Know… seminars, focusing on the various abuser profiles and the warning signs that parents should heed. Contrary to popular perception, most child abusers are known to the family and the child, often engaging in activities to gain the family's approval and the child's confidence. It's estimated that more than 90 percent of the child sexual abuse cases reported every year represent only 5 to 10 percent of the children who are sexually abused.

The Children's Trust Fund is an independent state agency created by the Connecticut General Assembly to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to establish resources in communities throughout the state that support and strengthen families. Governed by a 16-member interdisciplinary board, the Trust Fund is sustained by federal and state dollars and private funding. Since 1997, the Trust Fund has developed or funded more than 180 family service programs and initiatives statewide. For more information, visit Take5Parenting.com or www.ct.gov/ctf.

Commander Kenary will offer The Stranger You Know… community presentations at the following locations from April 10 to June 31. For details, to schedule your attendance at one of these sessions, or set up a The Stranger You Know…. educational program in your community, contact Laura Beebe at at 860.418.8763 or laura.beebe@ct.gov.

The Men's March to Stop Rape,
Sexual Assault and Gender Violence

Sunday, April 27, 2008 (Rain or Shine)
12 Noon Registration
1 PM Walk Start

Lisman's Landing, Milford

Walk followed by complimentary refreshments at
Stonebridge Restaurant, Milford.

It's hard to believe an entire year has almost passed since last year's Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event. You may remember that last year, I challenged AJ of WPLR's Chaz and AJ show to walk the mile in 6-inch acrylic pageant heels. He accepted. And he did it... and lived to tell. We also auctioned off AJ and WTNH News Channel 8's Ted Koppy's toes for $100 a pop, and painted them live on the air. I had a little help that morning from my friend Jim Amann, Speaker of the House... and a talented toe-painter:

 AJ, me, Ted (pics from wplr.com)

I also got to paint WTNH's Matt Scott's toes live on TV that same week...then my friend Dick Blumenthal, CT's Attorney General, got in on the glamour (his were a lovely shade of spakling glittery purple):

Well, I am happy to report that for this year's walk, all of these brave guys will be coming back for  more!!! That's right, more fuzzy and stiletto-heeled footwear... and more pretty pedicures! All to raise money for a very important cause.

Walk A Mile In Her Shoes® is a nationwide event that invites men to join in the efforts of women to make the world a safer place. Men, women, families, neighbors, colleagues, and teams will participate in the one-mile leisurely stroll to raise awareness around issues of rape, sexual assault and gender violence. ALL MEN are asked to wear women's shoes...high heels, ballerina slippers, flip-flops, fuzzy slippers...use your imagination!

Last year over $25,000 was raised. Let's see if we can double it this year! Tell everyone you know to challenge their boyfriends, husbands, brothers, friends, sons, bosses, etc to get in on the fun. Rich Conine will once again be sponsoring the afterparty at Stonebridge Restaurant (Rich also sponsored my Miss America send-off party. He is an INCREDIBLE, generous man.) 

For more information- and to register- go to www.rapecrisisctr.org right now! You can also register the day of the event: Sunday April 27th! Registration starts at noon, and the walk kicks off at 1pm.  Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, WTNH's Ted Koppy, Matt Scott and Chris Velardi, and WPLR's AJ are just some of the CT celebrities slated to appear. You don't want to miss this incredible opportunity! 

Sign up now!!!!

Here's a collage Catherine Fiehn put together from last year's event:

I'd like to extend my most sincere thanks to Miss Brittany Enz and the rest of the WAVE coalition at Quinnipiac for having me as the keynote speaker for the first-ever Take Back The Night event in the university's history. To find out what Take Back The Night is all about, please click here.  TBTN is a powerful and inspirational event that happens across the nation every year. WIth April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the majority of TBTN events are scheduled during this time... which means that April is always a REALLY busy month for me!

I am so impressed that the inaugural TBTN at Quinnipiac was such a success. The Buckman Theatre was completely full; additional audience members had to stand in the back. The speak-out portion of the evening also proved sucessful, with many students bravely taking to the stage to share their personal experiences with sexual violence. The reverence and respect shown for these individuals is something that Quinnipiac should be proud of. Those in attendance made a very important step towards becoming part of the solution simply by virtue of ther presence. The students who spearheaded the event should be commended for their vision and leadership- especially because Quinnipiac, an institution with a largely female student population, does not currently have a Women's Center. A group of students took notice of this lack of resources last year... and decided to do something about it.

The Women Activists and Allies Vocalizing Equality Organization (WAVE) on campus has recently been awarded the Best New Student Organization of the Year. The members of WAVE have dedicated much time and effort toward their new organization, in hopes of increasing the awareness of violence and sexual assault on campus.   Click on the link to read more about WAVE and Quinnipiac's first-ever Take Back The Night.

“We must not only thank our veterans for their service, but also provide them with services.” -Governor M. Jodi Rell , February 6, 2008 (Opening Day address)

The state of Connecticut is home to nearly 300,000 veterans. They earned all the benefits they're entitled to through their hard work and personal sacrifices. But some veterans are unable to access many of those benefits due to lack of information. Today Comissioner Linda Schwartz and the Connecticut Department of Veterans' Affairs sponsored the Veterans Benefits and Information Fair 2008 at the State Capitol in an effort to increase awareness of those hard-earned benefits.
The Fair featured information from many different state and federal government agenices, educational institutions, non-profit agencies and veterans service organizations like ours- the American Legion Riders. Informational seminars were also conducted throughout the day on a variety of topics. It was great to see veterans representing different generations of military service in attendance. And of course, it's always fun to be able to hang out with my Legion family and catch up on life. This was a day well-spent.

16th-Apr-2008 02:09 pm - SCSU Take Back The Night 2008

When Cathy Christy, Director of the Women's Center at SCSU, asked me if I would consider returning to Southern's Take Back The Night event as an invited speaker this year, I didn't think twice before giving her an enthusiastic confirmation. This year's TBTN was the 11th annual for Southern Connecticut State University. I first spoke by "proxy" at the event in 2004. I was the invited keynote speaker that year, but a month before the event, I won the regional Kennedy Center National Critics Institute finals... which meant I was to go on to compete at the national event at the Kennedy Center in D.C.- and of course, the dates conflicted. So Cathy and I came up with a solution- my mother, who is also a survivor, spoke for me. I wish I'd been there to see it. 

I was given the opportunity to be the keynote speaker again last year, which was awesome because it was not only my title year as Miss Connecticut, but also the 10th anniversary "special edition" of Take Back The Night SCSU. The fact that it took place in the meeting hall of the dorm where I lived my freshman year of college was chillingly ironic to me. Back in 2000, my life was completely different... and I was a completely different person. To come full circle and return to Southern after all those years felt like a victorious homecoming.

This year, I was honored to introduce State Representative Deborah Heinrich (D- Madison, Guilford) as the keynote speaker. I got to know Deb when I was involved with the Plan B/Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault legislation. I will never forget being at the Capitol press conference the morning Deb bravely broke her silence. She went public with her story of survival in front of all of us. It was on the front page of the Hartford Courant the very next day- complete with a huge photo of Deb wiping away a tear. Deb Heinrich is a personal hero of mine, and I'm always thrilled to bump into her at the Capitol and at various events around the state. So it goes without saying that I was thrilled to welcome her to my alma mater as a special guest. 

Deb gave a wonderful speech about her leadership with the Plan B bill, and re-enacted her testimony from the press conference. Hearing it all over again is just as powerful as the jaw-dropping moment that I heard it the first time. After she spoke, I was next. Last year, I spoke at length about the causes and long-term prevention of sexual violence, and how to transform the culture of violence we're living in. This year, my talk focused on healing- the personal journey of reclaiming your life and putting the pieces back together. Afterwards, during the speak-out, I was happy to hear students say that the talk encouraged them to come forward and break their silence. As I said, making that first decision can be the most difficult of all... but once you've made the choice and cast light on the darkness, it feels so liberating and empowering. It truly was a special night for all of us. 

Here I am with Deb, standing in front of the 2008 quilt made by the students of SCSU.

L-R: Heidi Voight, Miss Connecticut 2006; Erin McLeod, Community Educator, Milford Rape Crisis Center; Maria Koppy, Board of Directors, MRCC; Ted Koppy, anchor, WTNH News Channel 8.

This morning I got together with my friends Erin, Maria and Ted at the WPLR and Star 99.9 studios to tape a show for The Public File with John Voket. The Public File "features non-profit organizations and community leaders who are concerned with community involvement and informing the public of important issues and events."

The important issue and event we came to promote today is the upcoming Walk A Mile In Her Shoes march to benefit the Rape Crisis Center of Milford!  That's right, it's coming again- and it's right around the corner! I'll be posting all the details soon. Stay tuned! 

You can tune in to our show this Sunday, April 20th on Star 99.9 from 6:30 to 7:00 am. It will air again on WPLR 99.1 from 7:30 to 8:00 am, and will be streaming live on the web also. 

I stopped by to visit my dear friend Ken Fellenbaum, CEO of Boys and Girls Village to catch up on life, and to check in on his shoe-shopping progress...

...oh man, I can tell this year is going to be even better than last!!!
10th-Apr-2008 11:14 am - Children's Home 2008 Spring Banquet
Tonight I had the pleasure of attending The Children's Home annual Spring banquet again. I was the keynote speaker at last year's banquet, and this year I got to sit back, relax and enjoy the show emceed by Barbara DeBaptiste of the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. Barbara and I were seated next to each other for dinner, and I was so pleased to get to know her better. She is an incredibly accomplished, warm and funny individual.

The Children's Home is one of Connecticut's treasures. Most people would be stunned to know that it's been in existence since 1900 and has been serving impoverished, neglected and abused children and families since their doors first opened. Tucked away in beautiful Cromwell, it is a retreat for weary souls. It is a place of solace and healing. The work that the Children's Home does is so vitally important to disadvantaged youth in Connecticut. It gives them hope and opportunity. I am proud to support it. 

The Children's Home holds a special place in my heart. After I spoke at last year's banquet, I visited the Home and spoke to the boys and girls at the on-site school. The children there are inspiring. Many are in the midst of overcoming their own personal obstacles and challenges. I brought my "Forget Me Not" seed packets for all of them, and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with them. I wish I could share the pictures from that day, because they bring such a smile to my face- but out of respect for the students' privacy, they will remain in my personal archives. 

When I presented at the banquet last year, among other things I discussed about my work with young women and cultivating leadership skills. I spoke about the importance of fostering women of substance and giving our young women and girls positive and powerful female role models to aspire to instead of the unacceptable, unhealthy "role models" the media hocks to them today. That night, Cindy Bartholomew, Director of Development for the Children's Home, had an idea. Over the next year, she worked to bring it to life.

Cindy has been working since that night to get the official Women of Substance program up and running at the Children's Home. I am proud to announce that I will serve on the Steering Committee for this important project. The Women of Substance foundation will comprise strong female leaders in government, media, education, and other professional arenas. I will keep you updated on this monumental initiative as it develops.

Never lose sight of the importance of every opportunity to speak publicly about the issues you care about. You never know who might be listening. You may have planted a seed in someone's heart and mind, and it can grow into something that will keep on giving for generations. I am excited to see what the future holds for the Women of Substance program, and I thank Cindy Bartholomew for organizing this brilliant venture.

Me (looking like a wild animal with the red-eye!), Barbara and Cindy:

Gary Mullaney, CEO and President, The Children's Home (and again, me with the red-eye...)

This morning, I travelled to the State Veterans' Cemetary in Middletown for a long-awaited event: the announcement of a newly established three-way partnership between M.I.A.P., the CT Department of Veterans' Affairs, and the CT Funeral Directors Association. (For those of you who are new readers, I am the National Spokesperson for the Missing In America Veterans Recovery Project, or "M.I.A.P.") I was slated to speak at this historic press conference along with Dr. Linda Schwartz, Commissioner of the CT Dept. of Veterans' Affairs, Jonathan Woyasz, President of the CT Funeral Directors Association, and Keith "Boomer" Soileau, State Director/Coordinator of CT for M.I.A.P. Today, a new protocol was announced which will serve as a model for the nation.

L-R: Keith "Boomer" Soileau (CT M.I.A.P. State Director/Coordinator); Heidi Alice Voight (M.I.A.P. National Spokesperson); Dr. Linda Schwartz (Commissioner, CT Department of Veterans' Affairs); Jonathan P. Woyasz, CFSP (President, CT Funeral Directors Association)

The mission of the Missing In America Veterans Recovery Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. Across our great nation at this very moment, untold numbers of these cremains sit forgotten, collecting dust on the shelves of funeral homes and crematoriums. Each of these boxes or tin cans represents the life of an individual who was brave enough to answer the call of duty. They survived the wars in which they served honorably. They were assured that their service would be justly rewarded in their lifetime with care- as well as after their death with a military burial, an American tradition of honor.

Sadly, for any number of reasons, these heroes never got the burial they were promised. Perhaps some ended up homeless or spent their last years in a nursing home, without friends or family to see that their lives were properly memorialized. Nobody is to blame for this sad oversight- but our newfound awareness of this issue morally obligates us not to look away, but to do the right thing by bringing these heroes home.

At the MIAP we are stepping up to the plate in a proactive way to do just that. These men and women made sacrifices to stand up for the rest of us when our freedom depended on it. Now it is our turn to stand up for them and ensure their lives are memorialized with dignity and honor. Nationally, our mission is already underway. We are bringing heroes home: from a tin can on a forgotten shelf, to hallowed ground in a sacred veterans cemetary, where they may finally rest in peace.

Connecticut's new partnership will streamline the process of location, identification and interrnment. The CFDA represents almost 300 funeral homes across the state. Our organizations will work in tandem in accordance with a newly drafted protocol coordinated by the CTDVA which will oversee the processing and burial of unclaimed veterans' cremains. They are in effect as of March 27th, 2008. Any successfully located cremains will be transferred to the custody of CTDVA's contracted funeral home- Brooklawn Funeral Home in Rockville- after which arrangements will be made to inter them in the State Veterans' Cemetary where we had our press conference today. Brooklawn and the CTDVA will supply the urns and all supportive services including transport. The CTDVA's Burial Services Coordinator will process the request for military honors through the CT Military Department, order the federal veterans' headstone through the National Cemetary Administration, schedule the officiating clergy, and alert M.I.A.P. to coordiante the burial escort services.

This is the point at which the Patriot Guard and American Legion Riders will assemble in a show of solidarity to honor Connecticut's heroes. There is no way to tell at this point exactly how many cremains may or may not exist in our state- but we believe that even one is far too many. Connecticut M.I.A.P. volunteers are mobilizing on the ground to begin the search and "bring them home."

Many thanks to the following individuals who worked tirelessly to draft this important protocol:
Donna Meskony, Director- Office of Advocacy & Assistance CTDVA
Paul F. Barry- Burial Services Coordinator, CTDVA
John Cascio- Executive Director, CFDA
Keith "Boomer" Soileau- CT State Director/Coordinator, M.I.A.P.

Thank you also the WTNH Channel 8 News, NBC 30, and WTIC for their coverage of today's important event.

From the NAFI Website: "The Touchstone Program, located on 55 acres of land in Litchfield, Connecticut, is a residential program serving girls committed to the Department of Children and Families. Gender-specific programming addresses subjects including: self esteem, pregnancy prevention, life skills, pre-vocational/vocational training, anger management skills, parenting classes, and decision making education. The young women have the opportunity to build a trusting one-on-one relationship with an Advocate counselor, and Aftercare services are provided. Touchstone is presently undergoing expansion to increase capacity by six, and to add a new educational and pre-vocational facility."

Last year, when I was Miss Connecticut, I visited the NAFI Touchstone school in Litchfeild on my speaking tour. I remember the day well- it was one of the most profound experiences I was privleged to have. I met a room full of young women aged 12-17 who all came from backgrounds very similar to my own.  For almost two hours, we talked, we laughed, we identified with each other, we sang, we had "girl time"...  I left Touchstone that day feeling inspired and even more determined to continue my mission to end sexual violence and instill hope, confidence and leadership in young women.  So of course, when the Touchstone school called me to come back this year as a panelist speaker for their women in leadership/career day, I didn't hesitate to say "yes!" I'd like to extend my sincere gratitude to Diane and the rest of the staff for making today possible. The young women of Touchstone are one of the reasons why I do what I do every day.

26th-Mar-2008 10:21 am - Hall School, Bridgeport

This morning I accompanied our Miss Connecticut 2007, Dana Daunis to the Hall School in Bridgeport, CT. Dana spoke and performed for a very appreciative and well-behaved audience of 4th, 5th and 6th graders. We've had two Miss Connecticuts hailing from Bridgeport since 2000, a fact that the girls in attendance were quite excited about! Dana did a great job today and I was delighted to help out.

Here we are with Mike Mastrioni from the Sikorsky Fallen Heroes Committee. Remember that name, because I'll be mentioning it again and again going forward- I'll be working with the F.H.C. this year and am looking forward to the huge event they're organizing in Seaside Park on June 14th to honor our fallen heroes. Stay tuned for more info.

3rd-Mar-2008 10:26 am - I'm in Trinidad and Tobago!
That's right! I'm on the islands, baby! We're staying in Port of Spain, Trinidad- and today we took a high speed catamaran to the island of Tobago. Trinidad is nice... but Tobago is REALLY where it's at. It's pristine! The natural beauty of Tobago is unmatched by any other place I've had the pleasure of visiting so far. The reefs, the flora and fauna, the sparkling blue water... and the people. I wish we could have stayed longer on this island, but due to limited ferry service, we had to head back to Trinidad before the sun went down... but not before a beautiful day at Store Beach:

I earned a new nickname today... I was in the water the WHOLE TIME, which is typical- so the pilots have decided that I am "The Little Mermaid." I think I can live with that!

2nd-Mar-2008 01:31 pm - Capitol update
Hi everyone!
I'm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, waiting at the gate to board my flight back to Trinidad- so I'm just doing a quick email check- but I just got this link in my inbox, and thought I'd post it for you all to read. I had a busy week up at the Capitol last week and I have LOTS of exciting news to share- please stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out the coverage from the HB 9915 hearing before the Education Committee from the Hartford Courant:

Bill Would Issue Grants For Sex Ed

Supporters, Opponents Air Drastically Different Outlooks At Hearing

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER | Courant Staff Writer
March 1, 2008

The bill's title may sound benign enough.

But depending on who you ask, "An Act Concerning Healthy Teens" could sexualize the state's youths and drive up teen abortion rates. Or it could give teens a healthy alternative to the unreliable sex education they now receive and cut the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Advocates on both sides of the bill offered starkly different views of the measure during a hearing before the legislature's education committee Friday. Under the proposed law, the state Department of Education would establish a grant program to fund "medically accurate" health education in school districts that want it and would provide $1 million to pay for it.

The word "sex" is not in the bill, and the grants the bill would create would fund only programs that follow state curriculum guidelines, which forbid discussion of abortion as an alternative to family planning.

One supporter, Heidi Voight, described meeting thousands of students across the state when she was Miss Connecticut 2006 and offered what she called a "field report of unfortunate facts." Many students learn more about sex from unreliable sources on the Internet, television and gossip than from classrooms, she said. And regardless of where they learn about sex, "they're doing it already," she said.

Several supporters of the bill noted that the "comprehensive sex education" they sought would cover not only reproduction and puberty but sexually transmitted diseases and how they are contracted, pregnancy and how to prevent it through abstinence or contraception, and ways to take responsibility for one's own health and prevent sexual abuse.

Voight said many students had approached her after she spoke at their schools to tell her they had been sexually abused but did not feel comfortable talking about it with a teacher.

Opponents of the bill met with skepticism from legislators.

Theresa Krankowski, director of St. Gerard's Center for Life, a Catholic pregnancy center in Hartford, said comprehensive sex education was fundamentally incompatible with abstinence, which she said should be taught instead. Krankowski, who holds a doctorate in education, called teaching children about both condoms and abstinence "educationally unsound."

But state Rep. Jason W. Bartlett, D-Bethel, said Krankowski was effectively suggesting that too much information can lead to bad behavior, and he noted that teens can also get information from the Internet. "Should I be submitting legislation that we not allow children to access the Internet because there's too much information there?" he asked.

Another opponent, Valeria Barbier, a 20-year-old Trinity College student, said the bill could lead to teaching children about sex too early.

Barbier focused much of her testimony on Planned Parenthood's support for the bill, and warned that the organization was attempting to drive up its "business" providing abortions by introducing younger children to topics like oral sex and masturbation. "They know condoms break, and they know that girls forget to take contraception regularly," she said.

That led state Rep. Jim Shapiro, D-Stamford, to ask a Planned Parenthood representative whether the nonprofit stood to benefit from the bill. Susan Yolen, the vice president for public affairs and communication at Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, answered, "We have no financial interest in the outcome of this bill."

Instead, Yolen offered a different reason for supporting the bill: It would provide young people with information that could save their lives.

"Sex is all over the front page, the Web page and the TV screen," she said. "And no one is helping parents talk about it."

Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant
Contact Arielle Levin Becker at alevinbecker@courant.com.

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