Thursday, April 30, 2009


The AWARE program puts VT students into the local middle schools to talk about issues affecting young women. I've been a part of this program since moving here last fall. Last semester I worked with the 6th graders and this semester I was part of the 7th grade program. After a successful semester, we celebrated this last Monday by making t-shirts for everyone and enjoying food and games!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sharing a sponsor

The last few weeks have been busy finalizing ad pages, sending in information, and trying to keep up with schoolwork! In the process, I've really gotten to know some of my sponsors even better and wanted to share more about some of them.

One of my sponsors is Smithfield Plantation. I've had a few people ask me "where is that?!" Well, it's right in Blacksburg, on the Virginia Tech campus! Home of patriot William Preston, the plantation is set back on the far part of the VT campus beyond the Duck Pond. Smithfield is open for special events, school visits, and general visitors. It's a great way to experience some Virginia history right here in Blacksburg! As someone who is now proud to call the New River Valley my home, I'm happy to share one of the many interesting things to do in this area!

If you'd like to come out and see Smithfield for the first time, there's a great opportunity on June 7th. I'll be modeling in a the Strawberry Social and Fashion Show. A new event for this year! We will be partnering with Ponnie from Ponnie’s Boutique to model modern as well as vintage fashions. There will be refreshments (strawberry-themed) and a silent auction featuring work from local artists. Admission will be $15.

Smithfield's Website

Saturday, April 18, 2009


This week was a very special and sad time for Virginia Tech. We are nearing the end of the semester here and students are getting excited about graduation, spring weather, and summer opportunities. Some of the students in the class I TA have accepted wonderful job offers and have been driving to go sign contracts and leases, which in this economy is a great accomplishment. In general- people are uplifted.

That changed this Thursday, April 16. I cannot even imagine how the campus atmosphere was altered two years ago as 32 innocent people were killed on the campus on an otherwise average day at school. The outpouring of support and sense of community here has been incredible since I arrived here last fall, and this Thursday was no exception.

As I woke up in the morning, I was blown away by the hundreds of people covering the front of campus, participating in a walk/run to remember the victims. I spent the noon hour with a friend who was on campus when it happened. One of my students had told me on Wednesday that at the time, he lived on the floor above where the killing began. It was a horrible reminder of just how many people were touched by what happened. During the noon ceremony, the families of the victims as well as the injured students were escorted to special seating. Administrators read short biographies of the people who lost their lives two years ago. It was impossible to hold back emotion as you heard about each person- a Holocaust survivor, brilliant civil engineering graduate students, a skilled horsewoman, dedicated teachers. I was filled with frustration and anger at the senseless nature of it all. These people happened to attend class on April 16 and experienced something that no one else will understand. Imagine listening to the stories of 32 people and hearing the wonderful things they had done and planned to do. It is in some sad way a great example of the opportunities VT offers to its students and the close ties students and alumni have with this school.

Even though people have healed, they will never forget.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Girl Scout Meeting

The girls put together hygiene kits for local children

Last Thursday I visited Lynchburg to speak to this adorable Brownie troop! I helped them earn the "Her Story" try-it and I spoke about community service, self-esteem, and what things I did and learned from being in Girl Scouts.

Little Black Dress Party

Last Thursday, I went to the Little Black Dress Party in Roanoke to raise money for Children's Miracle Network. It was held at Metro in Roanoke and was a great atmosphere!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Miss Virginia in the News

Click here to read a story about Tara at the Salem Red Sox game, including a clip of her singing and speaking!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passing on the crown

While last weekend was the Miss Virginia workshop, it was also the Miss Commonwealth/Miss Virginia Dogwood pageant, the pageant held for runners up to local titles this year. On Friday night, we all packed into a ballroom at the Hotel Roanoke to watch ten women who worked extremely hard over the year compete. The entire night was full of great talent- and I had no idea who would walk away with the titles. Every girl brought something different to the table and they each have a lot to be proud of.

At the end of the night, I felt like I was reliving winning last year when Emily Hall's name was called as Miss Virginia Dogwood. She has worked tireless all year in this program and represents exactly what the runners up pageant is all about. I almost started crying when they called her name!

A few people asked me if I'd be willing to post my farewell up here, both for those who could come and those who couldn't. I've posted it below.

As you have all seen tonight, there are so many deserving women that would make wonderful representatives on the Miss Virginia stage and would make great additions to the Miss Virginia family in Roanoke. I know firsthand because I was in their shoes last year. After competing at ten different pageants and coming close but not close enough, I became discouraged and worn down. I had poured my heart and soul into this program and stood on stage time and time again hoping to hear my name called and I refused to give up.

As many of you saw last year, the tears and emotion I felt finally accomplishing my goal when winning Miss Commonwealth were entirely genuine. I embarked on a journey of just over 10 weeks to prepare for Miss Virginia. When I tell you that I could not have done it without the army of volunteers on “Team Laura”, I am not kidding. I am so thankful to every person who helped us do everything from choosing photos, raising money, offering words of encouragement to finishing paperwork in a record amount of time. You are all wonderful people and I am so thankful for all of your help.

Team Commonwealth fought through many challenges to make it to Roanoke including driving through two tornados, being locked in the National D-Day Memorial, having to change my talent song and dance four weeks before Miss Virginia, and trying on 71 evening gowns trying to find something long enough for a contestant almost six feet tall. The week before Miss Virginia, I became sick with laryngitis and a sinus infection, completely lost my voice, and experienced my fingers swelling up after getting my nails done until my college ring got stuck on my finger. I spent the Saturday before arrival in Roanoke driving around with my hand right hand stuck in a giant cup of McDonalds Sweet Tea until a jeweler in Lynchburg cut the ring off my finger so that I could maintain circulation. To be honest, I told Jimmy that if we just made it to Roanoke that would be an accomplishment in itself, so you imagine how ominous it seemed to arrive in a hailstorm that Sunday. It was not an easy road, but the hard work all paid off.

I could never have anticipated how much fun the experience at Miss Virginia would be and I was truly honored to get to know all of the girls and watch a truly deserving woman emerge as the winner.

The week at Miss Virginia would not have been the same without two people I now consider extremely close friends on and off the pageant stage, also known as my roommate and car partner, Shannon Oliver and Katie Uze. Both of these women share with me the ability to laugh at ourselves, encourage one another, and to enjoy the week win or lose. Katie and I even had some near-death experiences together- even though our car driver might have looked like a sweet grandmother, I think she was moonlighting as a race car driver because she may or may not have run a few red lights in downtown Roanoke taking us to the Civic Center.

Thank you to the staff at Randolph Macon and my wonderful second boss Esther, for your constant support and understanding. Thank you to Barbara and Carolyn for your constant support of me!

There is no way I could ever hope to thank my directors, Jimmy and Chris, for the job they did preparing me for Miss Virginia. These two men went above and beyond the call of duty numerous times and put all of their time and energy into making me feel like I could do it. Your constant support throughout the week in Roanoke meant so much to me, and I firmly believe that if I could get ready for Miss Virginia in ten weeks while working two full time jobs, I can do just about anything. Jimmy spent hours ironing my clothes, patiently waiting as dress after dress was too short, scouring shoe stores for the perfect bronze heels for evening gown, and refusing to let me give up even when the obstacles seemed like they were mounting in front of us. When Jimmy found out that I had loaded my moving truck in Lynchburg by myself in August, he insisted on driving my truck to Blacksburg and unloaded all of my belongings and furniture into my new apartment with me. I was incredibly lucky to work with both of you as directors and I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. You are both wonderful examples of what this program is all about.

Finally, thank you to my mom and brother Doug for all of your support and for refusing to let me give up. I don’t know any other 13 year old guy who would sport a tux for three nights patiently at Miss Virginia and sneak gummy bears into his tux pocket the night I was finished with swimsuit. My brother is about to be confirmed in our church so unfortunately neither of them could be here tonight but I appreciate everything that you do for me and I am so grateful to have you as my family.

Finally, thank you to everyone involved in putting together this pageant both this year and last. To the ladies competing, please do not give up even if the crown isn’t placed on your head tonight. The 11th time was the charm for me and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for this program. Have patience and keep working hard, because you will get there and the victory will be sweet and well-deserved.

These women have worked extremely hard all year and truly deserve another chance at competing in Roanoke, and I can’t wait to spend the week with whoever wins tonight!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Workshop Pictures

This was a very successful weekend and I'll be blogging soon about Miss Commonwealth/Miss Virginia Dogwood. In the short term, with a lot of schoolwork over my head, here are a few pictures from this year's Miss Virginia workshop! I am contestant number 15, the last in group A. I'll be performing my talent on Thursday night and the the other areas of competition on Friday.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Giles County Rotary Club

The AEP plant, which you can't miss on a drive out of VA into WV

The control room in the plant
With 2 of the CCGC at the ash dump site

Inside the plant

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with the Giles County Rotary club. My first trip out to Giles County came last year with the American Culture Program at RMWC; we spent an afternoon talking with the Concerned Citizens of Giles County about the AEP plant plan to store fly ash on the New River on a campground and then toured the Appalachian Power plant. (We were studying "consumption" in America and that particular week was "energy"- that same trip we also visited a coal mining site in West Virginia and visited farmers in Abingdon, VA who are keeping things local and organic).

Imagine my surprise today when the AEP plant manager for the Glen Lyn plant was there for the Rotary meeting. I am coming to the realization that Virginia (and the world!) are smaller than I thought. Thanks to the Rotary Club for being so welcoming! I've also included pictures from my last visit to Giles County, when it was much sunnier.

Domestic Violence in the News

Chris Brown: Get out of Virginia!


Turning away from the bright lights of Hollywood (he withdrew his nomination from the past weekend’s Kids’ Choice Awards), Chris Brown has once again been taking solace in his home state of Virginia. On Tuesday night, he visited a pal at the University of Mary Washington, stopping by the gym to shoot some hoops- all during White Ribbon Week which focuses on men ending men’s violence on women.

Let me take a shot in the dark here- he wasn't sporting a white ribbon.

Virginia gets a failing grade on protecting youth from domestic violence

According to Break the Cycle, an organization committed to ending violence especially among teens, Virginia was given a grade of "F" because it severely impedes teen victims’ access to domestic violence protection orders.

Local schools using the Chris Brown/Rihanna Story to talk about DV
From Charlotte, NC News 14:

The struggles of the two pop stars have brought a new awareness to the problem, even among middle students and high school students. Now, community leaders in Mecklenburg County are reaching out to area students to make sure they know about domestic violence and how to get help.

"I know of at least one relationship where the boy is beating up on the girl,” said 15-year-old Oscar Reid of his school. “I really don't want to disclose the names, but yeah, it is happening at [Martin Luther King Middle School]."

"We want the kids to know about domestic violence because of the Chris Brown situation and let them know that it is important to know that it's wrong and it's unacceptable,” said Peggy Caple, a domestic violence intervention counselor with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The Hope project

with Susan from the WRC

Some of the donated items

Four months ago, I was asked to help out with a local project benefiting a center I care about deeply- the Women's Resource Center of the New River Valley. This project, organized by the Blacksburg Newcomers Club, involves collecting items that mean "hope" to women in the community. These items are being put into a big sculpture by a local artist, Beverly. When the sculpture is finished in the fall, it will travel the New River Valley sharing stories and collecting donations for the WRC. I helped contribute to the project and helped out in downtown Blacksburg yesterday while we promoted the project and took additional submissions.

The stories behind some of these items are incredibly moving. Each item was photographed in the woman's hands and a scrapbook with these photos and short write ups will travel with the sculpture. This is a wonderful community initiative and thanks so much to my friend Erin for helping me be a part of it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

There's a first time for everything...

When the opportunity to go watch PBR (Professional Bull Riding) came up a few weeks ago, I couldn't say no. I've never been before, but I love having new experiences and I knew it was unlikely that I'd be able to do something like this again.

On Friday night, Tara was scheduled to sing the national anthem to kick off the event. We got to meet all the riders before hand and watched them prepare to ride. We talked to the men who worked behind the scenes, the clown, and the announcers. Tara apparently watched bull riding when one of her old TV sets got stuck on the PBR channel, but I knew nothing about this sport before going! All of the cowboys were extremely friendly and didn't mind answering our endless questions about how they got into the sport, how they practice, and what it's like. They all had interesting backgrounds and somewhat similar future dreams (to live on a ranch). They were also very young! Most of them were between 18-22 and were living on their own supporting themselves. They travel around the country every weekend going to different events, living off of sponsor money and what they earn from riding.

I have never seen so much athletic skill in person. At first we weren't sure about what differentiated the "great" from the "good" riders, but it quickly became clear: the world champion cowboys just had more control over the animals and were able to stay on for 8 seconds. They were scored by two judges and the top ten came back to re-compete (Tara and I could understand this, as the top ten comes back to re-compete at Miss Virginia, too).

I was standing on the sidelines getting ready to take pictures of Tara singing when a reporter came up to me and said "By the way, Tara has volunteered you all to sit in the cage." The cage was literally a circular metal cage in the middle of the arena floor where a few select people got to watch. Arguably the best seats in the house, it's also within close range of the bulls. For the entire show, Tara and I sat inside this cage! It was so much fun. We had a great view and a few scary experiences when bulls didn't follow directions and decided to run around our cage while the crew played the "Jaws" theme, but it was really great to get to watch from that angle.

When we came back Saturday, we watched from the sidelines for the first half and were allowed back in the cage for the second half. Unexpectedly, I had more fun than I've had in months! All of the people were extremely friendly and I learned a lot about a sport I had never known much about before.