Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in Review

2013 has by far been the craziest year of my life. When I think back to how my life was a year ago I’m speechless. So much has changed. Needless to say this has been a very eventful year!

The first three months of the year were spent simply preparing for the Miss Teen Arkansas International Pageant. I dedicated all of my free time into this pageant and it paid off!

Come spring break (the week before the pageant) I spent every waking moment preparing for the competition. Then on March 25, after a long weekend of competition, I was crowned Miss Teen Arkansas International 2013. This was where my life truly began to change.

New doors were opened for me and I was able to begin work with my platform like never before. I even interned over the summer at the American Heart Association. For this organization, the spring is when all of its events clumped together and I found myself bouncing around every weekend.

Then in the summer, as you all know, I was crowned Miss Teen International 2013!

Throughout 2013 I was blessed in so many ways. Things happened to me that most people can only dream about.

I was honored to lead the 2013 Special Olympics Opening Ceremony.

I was named a Senior Homecoming maid and later named Miss PHS.

I had the opportunity to throw the first pitch at two Arkansas Travelers baseball games.

I even met with former President Bill Clinton at an event for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

2013 was a year that completely changed my life. It will forever be one that stays close to my heart and one that I frequently look back on and smile. And as much as I don’t want to, I have to say goodbye to this wonderful year.

Happy New Year,

Haley Rose Pontius

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Orleans: Lantern Light Ministries

My trip to New Orleans was filled with many chances to experience the service opportunities and immerse myself in culture of the city as I was able to shadow multiple AmeriCorps volunteers in their various activities and roles. One of my days was spent with Lantern Light Ministries and their “Rebuild Center”, a shelter founded by the Presentation Sisters in 2007. Their goals are to assist both the homeless and the working poor by helping meet basic human needs: showers, laundry, nutritious meals, a place of safety and peace, etc. (Full list at their website

What I appreciated most was how warm and attentive the staff was and how much of a community they have created for their guests. Never once did I see them lose sight of the bigger picture and the good they were doing. They are aiming to do everything necessary to help these people build their lives back up. Below is the list of services they offer from their Monday – Friday schedule. They really are well equipped and trained to prepare each guest for a sustainable future.

While at the Rebuild Center I spent time with the guests, heard their stories, assisted with the serving of lunch, and was lucky enough to lead everyone in pre-lunch prayer. It was a beautiful experience. Thank you to my friend Erika, the entire staff, the Presentation Sisters, and the guests for welcoming me to the Center.

1. Birth Certificate Assistance - 
Mondays 7:30 – 8:00 a.m. to sign up for interview
2. ID Assistance
 - Tuesdays 7:30 – 8 a.m. for lottery LIMITED - only 10 spots.
3. Lunch
 - Be inside our gate by 12:40 p.m. (number capped at 235)
4. Prescription Assistance - 
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. – 9 a.m.
Daily 1:30 p.m.
5. Mail
 - Daily 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 2:00 p.m.
6. Notary Services
 - Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 12:15 p.m.
7. Emergency financial assistance - 
For people who live within the boundaries of St. Joseph Church
Mondays and Tuesdays 8 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. (Must have ID, proof of income, proof of address)
8. Groceries for area residents - 
For people who live within the boundaries of St. Joseph Church
Thursdays and Fridays 8 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. (Must have ID, proof of income, proof of address)
9. Food Stamp (SNAP) Application Assistance
 - Thursdays 8:00 – 10:00 a.m.
10. Resumes typed - 
Fridays 10:00 a.m. (please hand in hand written resume on Thursday)

Collecting the tickets for lunch from each guest and wishing them a Happy Holiday

Reading the prayer over the intercom

At the end of a hard day’s work we finally took out the crown and sash. Pictured here with Sister Vera!

Seek Happiness,


Friday, December 27, 2013

All Things Merry and Creepy

If you are a parent or spend any time around a young one, you probably know ALL about the Elf on the Shelf. He/she is a delight to children, but a bit of a pain for adults. As much as my husband and I love the squeals of our children when they find the Elf, we also worry we will forget about “Tito.” It could be disastrous should one forget to move the Elf.

Recognize this little guy on his wrecking ball?

Just ask my brother, Scott, and sister-in-law, Summer. They once neglected to remember to move their Elf and found themselves hurling it out of view from my niece and nephew. Their Elf became semi-permanently lodged between a wall and entertainment center with his little red legs hanging out in plain sight. Try explaining that! “Ah, he’s just checking the wiring.” Then there is Pinterest to reiterate how subpar John and I are in Elf creativity. So we struggle to find new and creative ways to showcase Tito. Every. Single. Night.

The holidays can be stressful.

Ali is at that perfect age for all things Santa and Tito. Johnny is a bit more cynical this year about both. (He is too smart for his own good) Anyway, Tito was hanging for dear life from her canopy bed one night. She was insistent her big brother leave her room and she told me I should go put on my PJ’s. So I stepped outside her room and listened to her talk with Tito. She fessed up and explained she had SO wanted to touch him (strictly forbidden according to Elf rules) because he was SOOOO cute. And, she wanted to change his little red outfit. God love her. He does need a new outfit. And as creepy as he can be, he is also a little bit of fun. But, alas, it is time for him to return to the North Pole. We bid adieu for now.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs.. International

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas at My House

Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday for so many reasons! It’s a time to celebrate the birth of my Lord Jesus Christ as well as give thanks for each other, the blessings that we have, and the time that we have to spend with each other.

Every year on Christmas, my family gathers together at my grandparent’s house. Even though I see my family members all throughout the year, having us all together on Christmas day is something truly special.

We spend the day opening presents, eating a delicious meal, and visiting with each other while A Christmas Story plays on the TV. We typically play some sort of game while we’re there that keeps us laughing the whole time.

My favorite has always been our traditional White Elephant game. Where we draw numbers and take turns selecting a gift from under the tree. When your number is called you have the choice of either selecting your own mystery gift or stealing one that has already been opened from someone else. There are always a few gifts that everybody wants and a few gifts that everybody tries to avoid. No matter what you end up with, the true gift is the laughter and joy we have with each other.

Although the gifts are great and the food is amazing, we must never lose sight of what this day is truly about, the birth of our Lord Jesus. He is the reason for all of the joy that we have this holiday season and to him be the glory.

Merry Christmas,
Haley Pontius

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Ultimate Christmas Wish List

If I could have anything I wanted for Christmas, despite the price tags or the utter impossibility of some of the items, this is what I would ask for. My ultimate Christmas wish list!

1. I have always had a love for large dogs specifically the Great Pyrenees. Even since I discovered this breed I’ve been deeply in love with it. I can see it now: waking up on Christmas morning to a beautiful Great Pyrenees with a big red bow on its head!

How beautiful is this dog?!

2. Let’s talk about cars… specifically the 2014 Lamborghini Veneo. Now I don’t know very much (at all) about cars, but I do know that this is the car for me! And hey, it’s only 4.5 million dollars! What a steal!

3. This Christmas especially, I hope for the health of my family. Throughout 2013, members of my family have been faced with the challenges of breast cancer, heart disease, and several other health issues. This Christmas I hope for their safety and healing.

4. Can you say skydiving lessons! I’ve always wanted to take this daring jump, but never had the opportunity or parental approval. Maybe someday!

Just imagine this jump!

5. Every girl has her celebrity crush! So wouldn’t it be the most amazing gift just to meet them, even go on a date? It would be tough to pick, but I think Josh Hutcherson would take the cake. Ever since I was little and I saw him in the Movie Little Manhattan, I’ve had a small crush on him.

6. A gift I hope I receive every Christmas is the time spent with my family and friends. We keep each other laughing and smiling and this is something that I want every day.

7. A golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Who would not want this?? I think I would just go for a swim in the chocolate river!

8. What teenage girl wouldn’t wish for an unlimited shopping spree?! Imagine being able to walk into any store and anything and everything could be yours! I would be so overwhelmed I might just faint.

9. I think I would love a second home somewhere abroad… something along the lines of the Great Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. This is definitely my dream home!

10. A white Christmas is something I’ve only ever dreamed of here in Arkansas. Imagine looking out the window on Christmas morning and seeing a blanket of white snow! That would be perfect!

This is a picture of my backyard last winter!

Merry Christmas,

Haley Rose Pontius

My Christmas Wish...List

Lately there have been many conversations about what everyone wants for Christmas. I am difficult when asked what I would like.  Um, not much.  As someone who is about my family, friends, pets and CASA…my wish list is more like a dream list.  “If you could have anything…what would it be?” Aside from quality healthcare, good education and no national debt…Here is a top ten list of wants and not in any particular order:

1) Peace on Earth and goodwill to (wo)men. Hold on, that’s a song.

2) A wonderfully new home for Legacy. He’s been my big 1200 pound puppy, otherwise known as my horse for the past 2+ years.  May his new owner adore the very dirt he walks, trots, canters and jumps upon. May he teach them so much about riding and all that great stuff.

3) May my family and friends be happy, healthy and feel loved, forever and always.

4) I wish for a remote control that would allow me to pause, rewind and replay parts of my life.

5) I wish for a faster metabolism, as I love food.

6) I wish for the love of working out, as I do not have a fast metabolism. Or I would take the love of all things healthy when it comes to food.

7) I would love to visit Nashville, TN where many of my favorite people and places are located.

8) I wish my family (parents and brother’s family) lived next door…or down the street. We may have too much fun and not get much done, so maybe the next town over.

9) I wish every person who reads this donates $1 to CASA.  Or they summon the courage to step up for abused and neglected children by becoming foster parents or CASA volunteers. (Or was that 2 wishes?)

10) I wish the “Christmas spirit,” or the “Spirit of Giving,” wasn’t just a time of year, but every day.

But still, I‘m told my family wants ideas of what to give.  So I always suggest they give to those who need it more.  If you find yourself facing one of ME, then here are a few suggestions:

*  (You know I had to get that in there) Every generous gift provides training for child advocates and services for both advocates and the abused and neglected children served through CASA.

*  Heifer International works to end hunger and poverty around the world. Through gifting chickens, cows, or funding projects; you help families become self-reliant.

*  Empowering women & girls through education and economic opportunity. They also are part of crisis relief efforts.  Girl power!

*Download the app “Charity Miles,” and go for a bike, walk or run.  Every logged mile will turn in to donations for one of the dozen organizations you select. Get going!

* Prevent Child Abuse America does just that; they work to prevent child abuse! Purchase a Tie for a Cause. They also have Pinwheels for Prevention Jewelry and “My Little Grandma,” dolls!

* Purchase a donation gift card and the recipient can decide which charity (over 1000) will receive the donation.

* At a discount, you can donate a bed for a cat or dog that will keep them up off the cold cement floors of a shelter. It is SO easy; they will ship it directly to a shelter of your choice, which they will help you locate.

*A simple Google search will help you find a state horse rescue program in your area.  They are usually done by breed. Some unwind racehorses so they can become pleasure horses. Others try to find homes for Arabians, draft horses and others who may otherwise be abandoned.

May you help a cause close to your heart or help an organization close to the heart of a loved one.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Essential Beauty Queen Christmas List!

There are some items that I cannot live without. If there is space on your Christmas List still vacant, these would be perfect fillers!

*Brita refillable bottle – It is so important to stay hydrated while on the go. I rely on my Brita bottle because I can bring it anywhere and have clean filtered water. I also can’t tell you the number of times I have thrown a plastic bottle in my suitcase only to be stopped by TSA because I forgot it was in there! Since I can empty the Brita bottle and refill it at any water fountain, it has paid for itself a million times over

*Naked by Urban Decay neutrals palette – I have versions 1 and 2 of these colors and they are amazing! A great mix of all different shades of brown, gray, black in matte and shimmery alike. They help create the perfect smokey eye for day or night.

*Curling Wand – I am in love with my curling wand! It is perfect for polishing any hairstyle for extra control for the pieces around the face. Since it heats up so well it has added staying power for even the longest days.

*A Titlewear sweatsuit – We all have those days where we have endless errands to run, but not enough time to get fully ready OR you may be going shopping for the perfect gown and need to wear something comfortable and easy to change. The Titlewear sweatsuit is a great way to look stylish and put together no matter what.

*A pair of colored sneakers – I bought a pair of purple Nike sneakers before I started training for my half marathon last year. I am not world’s most dedicated gym rat so having a cute pair of shoes definitely motivates me to stay active. Find a pair that you can’t help but WANT to wear

What’s on your Christmas list?

Jesse Ladoue

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fargo Aye

Sometimes getting there (or getting home) is half the adventure when it comes to North Dakota in December. It was perhaps not the best time to get to know Fargo as it was unseasonably cold across the country with a couple of rough winter storms brewing around the Midwest and along the East coast. Still, it was time for the 2014 Mrs., Miss and Miss Teen North Dakota pageant. A HUGE round of applause to the outgoing queens including my classmate, Mrs. North Dakota International 2013. The always elegant Jennifer Mauch dedicated her year of service to helping families dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss. It was inspiring to watch all the ladies who competed. It takes a lot of work and courage to take on such a challenge.

Kudos to the beautiful 2013 ND International queens: Taylor, Jen and Grace.

The sparkling new 2014 North Dakota International queens.

It was wonderful to have a chance to catch up with Miss International, Jesse Ladoue. What a go-getter with some incredible opportunities on the horizon! I also got to hang out for a bit with my sister queen, the gone with the wind fabulous, Mrs. South Dakota 2013, Shannon Van Uden Rook.

And of course, the trip was made complete with time spent with Thomas and Drew Dunn. I adore them and I always look (and feel) much better when I am around them. Thomas Dunn Studios is an official sponsor of International and they do incredible hair/make-up! I will admit I wasn’t disappointed when our flight out of Fargo was delayed as it meant more time with Jesse, Thomas and Drew. They may not feel the same as later their connecting flights out of Chicago were all cancelled.

With Thomas Dunn…always a joy!

With Drew Dunn…Oh, for cute!

Post pageant wrap-up with Jess, Thomas, Drew, Shannon and new friend Mrs. MN Int’l 2010-Vicki Klasell .

Directors Allison Harmon and Kathy Yohe took great care of us along with their generous staff. Thank you! And congratulations to the 2014 titleholders: Mrs. North Dakota International-Janelle Steinberg, Miss ND International- Meg Pulkrabek and Miss Teen ND International-Madison Johnson! You three are going to love your year with International!

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My State Director

The day after I was crowned Miss Teen Arkansas International 2013 back in March, my state director Bernee Thurow went right to work preparing my sister queens and me for the International competition. Throughout the three months leading up to the pageant in Chicago, Bernee dedicated every waking moment to us. From early morning events in 40 degree weather and pouring rain to late night trips across Arkansas, she was by my side all the way.

The International Pageant itself was a whirlwind of events, rehearsals, and competition. Bernee helped keep me focused throughout all of the excitement and stay grounded. For this I am forever grateful to her.

Bernee has been involved with the International pageant for most of her life and she has dedicated herself to it. She strongly believes in its purpose and has a passion for it that I admire. I wanted to dedicate this blog to her because without her I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I do. She has pushed me to be my best and shown me what I can really do if I put my mind to it.

Much love,

Haley Pontius

Friday, December 20, 2013

Time of Giving

It’s during this time of year when many of us spend time with our families and reflect on all of life’s blessings. It is also a time of giving both of good will and in other generous ways.

Some of those who most need that generosity and even a family to love them are our youngest survivors of abuse and neglect. I have just learned from our CASA Lake County office that this silent epidemic is far worse than we could imagine here in Illinois. We are losing more children to abuse than any other time in the last 30 years. It is likely to be reflective of the Unites States and elsewhere. And unfortunately, these children are not numbers. These children are often being tortured and killed by the very people they are supposed to trust. 

At CASA we are dedicated to providing a trained, compassionate advocate to fight for the best interests of these children. One consistent adult who really cares can build a trusting relationship with the child and tell the judge the truth about what is happening in this child’s life. 

  • $20 Helps ensure children get the support they need to adjust to life in a new foster home and school     
  • $50 Helps traumatized children have access to the emotional and medical treatment they need to recover   
  • $100 Helps provide a CASA for abused and neglected children who need a permanent home

Your gift can change the life of an abused child forever. Every contribution counts and it will keep paying forward. On behalf of CASA Lake County, all CASA programs and the children who will be helped…THANK YOU! 

Be the Change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Brianna's Spirit

There is a young lady I met through the International Pageant system that is a true treasure and I think it is important to share her incredible story. Miss Teen New York International 2013 Brianna Worden is the most inspirational young woman I have ever met and is what this system is all about.

Brianna is living with Neurofibromatosis, a disorder that causes the growth of tumors on nerve tissue, producing skin and bone abnormalities. She has beaten malignancy three times and is a fighter every single day. The most impressive thing about Brianna though is her spirit. She works arduously to raise awareness for the Children’s Tumor Foundation and gives hope and positivity to all those facing the same challenges.

Seeing Brianna walk on that stage in Chicago meant more to me than my own crowning moment. Her beautiful smile was radiant and I couldn’t help but be in awe of the impact she was making without even knowing. No matter what challenges we face in our lives, never to give up on your dreams. Setbacks can be used as a catalyst to make a difference with the right attitude and determination.

At the New York International Pageant this year, Directors Jodi and Scott Cessna honored Brianna by creating a Spirit Award in her honor that will be awarded for years to come.

As International Pageant sisters, I recommend you “life” the Children’s Tumor Foundation page ( to keep up to date with the research and development and the lives of incredible young people like Bri. Thank you Brianna Worden for your service and the light you bring as a representative of this system. 

A portrait of a true queen

Brianna, Karen, and I celebrating our last weekend of New York royalty

Seek Happiness,


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some of My Favorite Sponsors/Prizes

The international Pageant System has so many wonderful sponsors that support us whole heartedly.

One of my favorite sponsors of the International Pageant is Thomas Dunn Studios. The products they send me work wonders on my hair compared to my old products. Their work is phenomenal and they will make you look your best at all times. I highly recommend using them at nationals for all of your competition and appearances.

One of my other favorite sponsors is Clay Spann. He has his own line of makeup that will make you look flawless. It’s incredible! I’ve gotten so many compliments!

These great hair and makeup products keep me looking fresh and rejuvenated all day long. With a busy schedule like mine it is such a blessing.


Haley Pontius

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade

It was a brisk 40° morning, but all the warm hearts of Santa’s helpers kept away the chill. These elves came on the back of motorcycles in one of the longest and largest parades of its kind.

Snowflake and me are ready to get this parade started!

I was invited to serve as a grand marshal for the 36th annual Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle parade. I covered this event several years ago for Fox News Chicago. I had been astounded at the enormous amount of toys donated. It has continued to grow since then. The event’s president told me this year there would likely be 70-thousand bikes carrying toys!

A View from the parade.

The first to arrive!

Chicago police were all out keeping streets along the 17-mile parade route closed for us. Yes, 17 miles! For more than five hours motorcycles from all over Illinois and neighboring states paraded in to a university parking lot donating more than 100,000 toys. Unbelievable! Thank you to everyone for being so welcoming and to Les Fortier for inviting me along for the ride! You all are definitely on Santa’s good list.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

North Dakota International Pageants

A few weeks ago I traveled across the country to judge this Mrs., Miss, and Miss Teen North Dakota International Pageants in Fargo. It was both my first time judging and my first time in the “Peace Garden State”. I was worried when I saw the weather forecast predicting negative temperatures (and I’m not talking -1, I’m talking -17). However, I live in Buffalo, NY so I am a tough cookie with a thick winter hide. I also had to keep my trip a secret since no one could know that I would be on the panel. I had some fun presenting some cryptic clues to my Twitter followers as the time came closer and closer until I could actually reveal my destination. Clues included:

-I am neither in the eastern nor pacific time zones
-I am in the largest city of this particular state, but it’s not the capital
-This state has no professional sports teams
-A 1996 film of this city’s namesake about a homespun murder received 2 Oscars

Could YOU figure it out that it was Fargo, ND based on those?

I was so excited for this trip for so many reasons. One, the people that I knew I would see: Thomas and Drew of Thomas Dunn Studios (the official hair and make-up artist of the International Pageant – they made me stage ready in Chicago), Charity Bess – Miss Minnesota International 2013, our fabulous reigning North Dakota titleholders, and drumroll please… Amy Gregorio – Mrs. International 2013, among so many other special individuals in our International Pageant family.

I was blown away with the atmosphere and show that directors Kathy Yohe and Allison Harmon put together. As judges we had everything we could have needed and were treated royally. You could tell they made the contestants feel comfortable and had prepared them for the production.

Thank you to the ND International Pageant for inviting me and welcoming me so warmly (despite the temperature!) and congratulations to all the contestants for all their success and hard work.

Seek Happiness,


Monday, December 16, 2013

Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade

This Saturday was the 75th annual City of Little Rock's Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade. It’s one of the biggest Christmas events in the state of Arkansas and people from everywhere flock to this celebration. It’s complete with dance teams, floats, marching bands, and of course the one and only Santa Clause.

Miss Arkansas International Quynci Joyner and I, as well as our little Arkansas International queens, had the awesome invite to ride in this parade that stretched all the way through downtown and up to the Arkansas State Capital.

Although it was cloudy, windy, and around 40 degrees outside, there was a huge turn out to watch the parade. Most people simply huddled together with blankets and big coats to keep warm. Fortunately for Quynci and me, our state director Bernee offered us huge fur coats for the ride. We were very grateful!

The parade came to an end at the State Capital where a ceremonial lighting took place that lit up the capital is thousands of Christmas lights. The ceremonies and fireworks that took place later that night filled everyone with the Christmas spirit. It was the perfect way to officially welcome Christmas to Arkansas!

Happy Holidays,

Haley Pontius

Sunday, December 15, 2013

St. Jude Dream a Little Dream

Before I even begin this blog, I ask you to please watch this video of a young man I had the pleasure to meet and sit with this past weekend.

And look at him on stage now! What a miracle Miguel is and all because of St. Jude. Through St. Jude, young patients like Miguel, are able to overcome slim odds when it comes to catastrophic illnesses.

I have been looking forward to Sunday, as it is one of the bigger events for the Midwest. The “Dream a Little Dream,” fashion show and luncheon for St. Jude was again a huge success as it was a sold out with over 1500 people in attendance.

I was excited to be invited to such an impactful event. And I was honored to be seated next to patient honoree Miguel and his sister. We were joined also by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and event emcee, NBC anchor Allison Rosati, who introduce each of us.

With IL Secretary of State Jesse White.

There were over a hundred gift basket raffles and after lunch saw some of the holidays’ best fashions from around Chicago. By the end of the afternoon, more than 400-thousand dollars was raised!

Thank you to Danielle Kinzer for the invite and congratulations to everyone who organized such a tremendous event.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International