Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Year As Miss Teen International

My year as Miss Teen International 2013 has been a whirlwind of adventures and new limits. Looking back, I realize how much my life has changed and how many inconceivable opportunities and honors that I have received. It was tough, but I managed to narrow down my list of highlights to a select four events…

My year started off with one of the greatest honors… I was featured on a mega screen in Times Square! My crowning photo as well as my name and title were shining in big lights above the city streets.

A few months later, I was attending an event for the Alliance For A Healthier Generation as a V.I.P. guest. It was here that I personally met the national staff, an Olympic gold medalist, and… President Bill Clinton!

In the spring, I starred in a national televised public service announcement on behalf of the American Heart Association. The commercial focused on hands only CPR and targeted high school students. Our goal: to pass a law that requires every student to learn hands only CPR before graduation.

The commercial has been used across the nation at events for the A.H.A., in high schools and even on TV in some states.

Lastly, I was just recently offered a job as a National Spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Nothing has been finalized, but I’m excited to get to work and start on this new adventure.

My time as Miss Teen International has been simply incredible. I had the opportunity to make over 50 appearances at events that took place throughout the United States and I was able to be a helping hand in raising thousands of dollars for the American Heart Association, Alliance For A Healthier Generation, Go Red For Women, Special Olympics, American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen For The Cure, Humane Society and so many other amazing organizations.

Nothing can compare to the memories that I have made throughout this year, the people that I have met, the places I’ve visited and the work that I have been able to do.

I hope and pray that the next Miss Teen International will take full advantage of her title and be able to fully experience every moment of the amazing journey that she is about to partake on.

It was an honor to serve as your Miss Teen International 2013 and although my time is coming to an end I’m grateful for every moment I had this year.

All my love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Congrats Maggi!

Our new Mrs International has been crowned! Congratulations to Maggi Thorne, Mrs. International 2014! While Amy has left a beautiful legacy, Maggi has some big shoes to fill, but I know she is up for the challenge. Watching a finals pageant is a very emotional experience, whether you are invested or not, something about watching a woman celebrate a year of accomplishment, hard work, advocacy, and often sacrifice - and then, moments later another woman realizes a dream. Very surreal.

I loved watching the pageant with Amy’s husband, John, and our Miss Teen International, Haley, and her mom. We had a great bird’s eye view of all the action! I love hearing the stories of these women and the adversity they’ve overcome and how they plan to help others do the same.

And the gowns, oh the gowns! What pageant girl doesn’t love the evening gown competition? It always warms my heart to see the husbands on stage, beaming with pride at their gorgeous and courageous wives.

While the entire top 5 was incredibly impressive, the Mrs. International title is in great hands with Maggi. I am looking forward to how she chooses to represent the Mrs. International title. But I know she will go above and beyond. Perhaps the sweetest moment was when Maggi was crowned, she grabbed her husband’s hand and took him by her side throughout her first walk. They are clearly such a strong team and that they took this journey together. What a celebration for both!

Congratulations, Maggi – welcome to the family!

Seek Happiness,


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mrs. International Pageant 2014

As of Saturday night we have a new Mrs. International 2014! Maggi Thorne is the perfect representation of what the International Pageant System is all about. She radiates dignity, poise and grace with every step she takes and every word she speaks. If you attended her coronation ball and listened to her speech, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about!

The competition was very tough this year and every contestant should know how truly amazing they did in the competition. I’m so proud of the class of 2014 and I can honestly say you all represented the International pageant very well.

To Maggi, from one International queen to another… Good luck with your year and God bless the work that you are going to be doing with the Mrs. International title.

All my love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

Beauty Tips

So much of our preparation, approach, and performance in pageants rests on outer beauty. However, with 50%/40% of our scores coming from our interviews, the International Pageants are looking for women of substance and light. So instead of make-up, hair, and wardrobe tips, I will offer you a different kind of advice by Audrey Hepburn. You may have heard it before, but now is the time to let it resonate.

*For lovely lips, speak words of kindness

*For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people

*For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry

*For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day

*For poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone

*People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anybody

*As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others

*The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to the heart, the place where love resides.

*True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives and the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman with passing years only grows.

Seek Happiness,


Monday, July 28, 2014

Pageant Week Diet

The week of the pageant is exciting and it can be very busy with rehearsals, events and competition. But… it can also be strenuous and it’s essential to keep up your energy throughout each day. One of the best ways to do that is simply eating right. The best foods being…
  • fruits and vegetables
  • light foods such as yogurt, almonds or a granola bar
  • water or tea
All of these things will give you energy boosts and help you look and feel your best all week long.

The foods to avoid…
  • sugary products
  • dairy products
  • carbonated drinks
  • greasy or salty foods
All of these foods will leave you feeling tired or bloated so it’s best to steer clear of them.

Much love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

The Sunday Morning "Note to Self"

I have shared that I wrote myself notes to read each morning during competition week. I knew the emotional ups and downs I could experience and wanted to keep myself focused and positive. The most important note, however, was the one sealed and ready to be opened the morning after finals night. No matter what the result, this note would provide me with what I needed to hear either way.

Yes, it’s true that only one woman in each division will walk away with the crown, but every contestant has a future full of promise. It is important to remember that while you have every right to feel a sense of hurt and loss in the short term moments following the pageant, you must keep your sights on the bigger picture. Something lies ahead for you that might not be clear now, but have faith in God’s plan and move forward with pride and grace.

Should you be the lucky lady to walk away with the title, you will need to prepare yourself for the year ahead.

My Sunday “note to self” was simple: “Congratulations, Jesse. On to the next big adventure”. Find yours.

Seek Happiness,


Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Wish

I have been thinking about what I want to say to the new Miss International. However, I know that if I wait any further, the craziness of pageant week, and the overwhelming experiences of both giving up a title and realizing a dream coming true might not allow it to be possible. Please enjoy this little video that I have made to help me articulate my wish for Miss International 2014.

Seek Happiness,


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Douglas Center

With The Douglas Center CEO, Rifath Khan and her husband

It's extraordinary what a person can do when someone believes in their abilities and helps them tap into their potential. That is the case for the Douglas Center in Skokie, Illinois. The mission of The Douglas Center is to assist adults living with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities in improving their independent living skills and enrichment of their quality of life

I spent today with some very special new friends of mine. The Douglas Center trains and works with adults who have special needs…or special abilities (as I like to think). I was invited to come for a tour and to meet everyone.

For the past 14 years, the Douglas Center has been a home away from home for many of those who come here. After going through an assessment, each client works on cultivating their specific skills. Some people work on motor skills and language abilities. Others are able to go to work in the building. There are various rooms throughout the 14,000 square-foot space. Every inch of it is filled with love, positivity and possibility. Take a tour and you will understand.

What a blast! We were able to play music and play with a parachute while asking and answering questions.

The Douglas center is contracted for work through the military. Those with higher-level skills are able to sew uniforms for military medics. They also sew those green canvas duffel bags used in the military. The military doesn’t mess around, so each item must be perfect… and they ARE! Way to go!

There was also an arts and crafts room where clients will create both gift cards and jewelry (Art from the Heart Creations) which are sold in some of the hospitals around Illinois. I am hoping to help them find more places to sell such works of art!

If you look closely, you can see the gorgeous hand made blue necklace I was given, which is the perfect color for CASA!

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fore CASA Lake County

The other week kicked off with one of CASA Lake County’s annual golf tournaments held by CDW. Bright and early, we volunteers were lined up to check-in 150 players at Kemper Lake County Club. And despite the forecasters, we had a gorgeous day for golf!

After getting all the ladies and gentlemen settled in carts, I was whisked off to the 17th hole for a hole-in-one challenge. There were a host of prizes for anyone able to score a hole-in-one, including a new truck! Of course it meant making it over this water and onto the green. Several were able to get on the “dance floor,” but most lost balls to the water.

At the end of the day, there were a couple of raffles and a silent auction. And although none got that hole in one, it was a worth the effort for the children we hello through CASA.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Amy Gregorio - Mrs. International 2013

While Haley and I get to share our entire week in Jacksonville together to celebrate our year, unfortunately, we will not have that opportunity with our Mrs. International. I want to make sure Amy knows how much she has impacted my life.

Dear Amy,

Timing is a curious thing but I can’t help but wonder that it wasn’t meant to be that you and I were crowned together in 2013. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that if we had never met, both of us would have gone on to live fulfilled, happy, wonderful lives. But I’m sure as heck glad that I have you as a part of my future.

You are a woman with conviction, authenticity, and one of the greatest laughs I have ever heard. Thank you for being the most incredible sister queen I could have asked for this year. There is just something about you that shines from the inside out, and when I saw you on stage that night I couldn’t ignore it – clearly, neither could those judges.

I’m so touched by your dedication to all aspects of your life – especially CASA. Your generosity is unwavering. You are an incredible wife, mother, advocate, and friend to all you meet (and you make it look easy!). Thank you for providing that source of inspiration to me. Thank you for being a pillar of strength and a source of joy when I needed either. I know that in you I have a found a lifelong friend. (And when I need ideas for the Elf on the Shelf – you will be the first person I call!)

So as we look to say goodbye to 2013 and all the blessings that it has given us, towards the very top of my list is all the time we spent together. I am fortunate for so many opportunities to share memories and laughs with you. While this is where our paths officially diverge, I know the bond we have formed will hold true in the years to come.

I am so grateful that you choose every day to show the world your true self, and that I am lucky enough to know you.

With Love,


Barnes & Noble Celeb Reader

Reading is a lifelong skill we all must have. Through my two children, I know learning to read is difficult at times for us all to learn and teach. However, the gift of being able to read about subjects you love, well, that is true joy!

I was invited to visit Barnes & Noble this weekend. I was a celebrity reader today at a Barnes and Noble bookstore. And in a time when everything seems to be electronic, including the books we “read,” I was more than happy to spend the morning surrounded by books. REAL pages and REAL covers!

They asked me to read to children and also invited my children along. Ali was more than thrilled to sit beside me to help. She was also excited to help sign autographs cards, even if they were mine.

Ali was a terrific escort for the event.

Ali was busy signing my autograph cards. “Mom! If I sign autographs, it means I am famous!!’’ Well, not exactly. Ha!

After reading several books to the little ones, we then gathered and spent time coloring.

One of the sweet and very smart readers at Barnes and Noble.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Appearance Highlights

As we are a week…. 1 WEEK …. From arriving in Jacksonville to crown our new Miss Teen, Miss, and Mrs. International titleholders, I find myself constantly reflecting on the year I’ve had, the places I’ve been, and the people I’ve met. So I’ve narrowed down to some notable appearances that were highlights throughout my year.

NASCAR (June 2014) – Janet Bolin, Mrs. International 2011, generously connected me with her colleagues in order to allow me to be a special guest at the Pocono 400 NASCAR race in Pennsylvania. Getting a behind the scenes look at race day and shaking hands with some of my favorite drivers was an experience I’ll never forget.

Syracuse Vs. Duke (February 2014) – It was a record-breaking day at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. The first match up of these college basketball powerhouses being in the same conference and the largest crowd of any regular season NCAA basketball game. It was awesome to be in that environment and meet and greet in the family fun area!

NYFW (September 2013) – While at a New York Fashion Week show speaking on behalf of United Hands of Hope House, and organization working to eradicate human trafficking, I was invited by the show producer to walk in the show along with the rest of the models. . Despite trying to explain that I am simply 5’4” (and 3 quarters), I rocked my couture outfits on the runway and will never forget it!

Jacksonville (January 2014) – My first trip to Jacksonville was full of excitement. Since I was joined by Mrs. International 2013, Amy Gregorio, there was lots of fun to be had. Exploring the Landing, media touring Jacksonville on behalf of the AHA, and attending the first annual Men Go Red – Heart Ride, it was a fabulous introduction to the city that is the new home of our pageant system!

Project Sunshine (October 2013) – Project Sunshine hosts events for children with various medical conditions. I loved helping out at the Halloween Carnival in Harlem, decorating crowns and fairy wings, making healthy “boo-nanas”, and hanging with Cookie Monster!

Disney (February 2014) – Being in the land where dreams come true and seeing bright little faces look up to me was so touching. No, I am not one of the princesses that they have come to know, admire, and sing along with… But I think that was even better. They looked to me as a real person and I hope I inspired them, too!

Special Olympics (March 2014) – I am always very vocal about my love for the Special Olympics. These athletes make my heart so full. As I cheered them on and awarded them their medals at the aquatics finals this year, I have never been so happy to receive wet hug after wet hug. The real red letter moments though were seeing the faces light up when they learned that I had remembered their names from last year!

Seek Happiness,


The Show Down

No way!

It was an adrenaline rush I had not quite experienced before. Think, “jumping out of an airplane.” It seems like a fun experience to try, but then you find yourself at the plane’s door, about to take the leap of faith. Time to stare down possible death. It’s only afterward, once you have survived with feet on the ground, that the rush kicks in and you think it was the most fantastically frightening, yet awesome experiences.

Here I was, perched atop my horse and about to enter a show ring at an “A,” rated show with hundreds, if not thousands of horses. I have never done such a thing and then a couple of weeks ago, I was approached about giving it a try. WHY NOT? Quincy (Quite Charming) handled himself quite nicely the other week with my trainer. WHY NOT? I would do a beginner class. It would be a fun experience. And then…show time! And with any show, it’s also a lot of, “hurry up and wait”…which gave me time to think. 

Odd as it sounds, horse shows are much like pageants, specifically the hunter and equitation classes. Quincy or “Quite Charming,” has to have his hair done (professionally braided) ever so perfectly. Like most horses, he even has a tie-in tail extension for added fullness and weight. His nails (or hooves) need to be healthy and polished; Quincy’s figure (conformation) must be correct and he should look fit and athletic. Of course a horse must stand out, so he also needs to sparkle (shiny coat.) And that’s just on the outside, yet it will be judged the moment he enters the stage (ring.)

Once “on stage,” does he possess confidence and poise when facing intimidating obstacles like loud speakers, jumps, crazy horses and crowds? Is he willing to work, use manners and show quick thinking? There are MANY more important qualities that are judged which are about more than looking good. As a beginner, I am trying to understand the intricacies. But, I do know a horse does not just walk in a ring and win without a lot preparation. It takes years for many to be worthy of a win and because hunters/equitation classes are subjective to some extent, it really can come down to a judge’s preference. A different day, a different outcome!

I’m a proud mamma.

Luckily, for me, Quincy was on his game. I botched a couple of things, but we still pulled out a couple of blue ribbons and a 4th place the first day. The next day we managed to win both our division championship and the Classic. We were awarded gorgeous ribbons along with a silver bowl and huge silver plate! AND like a true pageant journey, challenging yourself to be your best and to overcome nerves is worth more than any ribbon or prize. But they sure are pretty! Now, go take that giant leap.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

Monday, July 21, 2014


The pageant is just a week or so away and many of you probably have everything together and maybe some of you don’t, but either way it’s reasonable for all of you to be feeling a little stress right about this time.

A little stress can be a good thing now and then, but too much of it can leave us pulling our hair out. So, for those of you feeling the tension… remember to pause, take a step back and breathe.

If you’re feeling frustrated, walk away from the situation and get some fresh air just to take your mind off of it. It will help refresh your mind so you can tackle any situation with ease.

Make sure you eat plenty of healthy meals and drink lots of water, as well as get a good night’s sleep. You’ll wake up full of energy and ready to start the day!

And remember… don’t stress, do your best and forget the rest.

All my love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

CASA Awards for Excellence

The Texas sized ballroom was enormous.

Today we celebrated some of those dedicated to helping abused and neglected children during the annual CASA Awards for Excellence. It was held during the national conference in Texas. CASA CEO, Michael Peraino, and I hosted the affair for 1200 of our closest CASA friends from around the country!

It was a way to thank everyone for the work they do for CASA and to recognize several key people who are out there in the trenches everyday for CASA kids. We honored judges, advocates and other change agents. Afterward, I was able to meet some of the convention speakers including author Tom North.

Tom North’s true life story is much more impactful than the made-up version.

North, is one of eight children, who together with ten Beardsley children, became the basis for the family featured in the 1968 film, “Yours, Mine and Ours.” It starred Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. Later, in 2005, a newer version starring Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid was made.

Following the death of his father when he was 7 years old, Tom says he and the other North children went from a life filled with love and happiness, to living a nightmare. The stepfather’s violence, abuse, and even sexual abuse created a world of intimidation, turmoil and depression for the North children. Not exactly what audiences saw on the big screen.

It was a life, according to North, involving a stepfather with serious mental illness. But due to the movie’s sunny portrayal, the kids had a difficult time telling police about the abuse and an even harder time at home when their “stepparent,” learned they tried to get help. His book it titled, “True North,” and gives an in depth look at a tragic family glorified on the silver screen. It was a good book to begin on the flight home later that day, although painful to read. My wish is this book will educate others and offer hope to those surviving similar circumstances.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Loss of a Grandchild to Abuse

This is such a precious picture of a sweet boy named Owen. It’s a snapshot from a fun day and a happy child. But you’re not seeing the entire picture of his young life. I was asked to sit down and talk with Beth Feely while I was in Colorado. I want to share her family’s ordeal of losing Owen to abuse. Beth comes from a strong background of faith and I believe it is faith that has gotten her family through the last couple of years. They hope others will take the lessons they learned to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Owen Reak

In 2012, Beth offered to pick up her 19-month old grandson Owen and watch him overnight. Her son (Owen’s dad) was in the midst of a divorce. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Amber Reak, was living with baby Owen and recent boyfriend, Justin Keel.

Beth was told Owen had just been to the doctor. He started throwing up earlier that day. Abdominal x-rays were clear, so doctors believed he had a bad case of the flu.

The grandparents watched over him that night as he was still sick. They decided if he was not getting better by daylight, they would take him back in to see doctors. Early the next morning, Owen was found dead in his crib.

Justin Keel

It is a dark lesson at the expense of a child. It was not the flu. Owen had a rupture in his small intestine from blunt force trauma. It was the boyfriend, Justin Keel, who delivered the fatal blow that took 36 hours to kill Owen. Owen’s mom had a hard time believing her boyfriend was to blame. Keel tried to blame it on his dog and fled out of state.

Those around Owen now see the small signs of abuse, they hadn’t recognized then. There were more bruises than normal on Owen. His leg was broken leg a few weeks before his death (while in the care of Keel) that was blamed on a high chair. DCFS was in the process of investigating that injury, but allowed the toddler to remain in the care of his mom. The same person who lied to DCFS about her boyfriend remaining in her home. It seems everyone failed Owen.

For Beth, out of all the pain Owen experienced in his very short life, she finds a small bit of comfort in that final night. She knows at least he went to sleep in her arms feeling loved. And a small bit of Justice; Justin Keel has now been sentenced to the maximum of 36-years in prison. Please keep this story in mind. 

Should you EVER notice:

*Changes in a child’s behavior

*Changes in eating

*Unusual injuries or bruises in strange places/more bruises than usual

*Returning to earlier behaviors such as bedwetting or hard time sleeping

*Changes in a school performance or attendance

*Fear of going home

*Lack of personal hygiene

*Risk taking behaviors, such as using drugs/carrying a weapon

*Inappropriate sexual behaviors

Listen to your instincts. Report any abuse by your state’s child abuse hotline. Here’s is a link to each state’s hotline:

Or Childhelp can assist you in finding the correct contact 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

My Volunteerism Story

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

One day can change your life. And no, I’m not talking about the day I was crowned Miss International 2013, I’m talking about May 27, 2009. On this day I was wrapping up a two week missionary trip to Kenya in the tiny and destitute village of Embulbul. To get there was an arduous process of significant fundraising, culture immersion, and heath screenings – but I knew it would be worth it. On this day, like each before, we filled our water bottles with the clean water we were guaranteed and ventured out to the school we had been working with without giving it much thought. My little friend, 5 year-old Valentine, saw this water bottle and looked up at me, her eyes twinkling, and said “water is magic”. No sooner did the moment sink in did I see Valentine run over to a trough of standing, contaminated water, scoop it into her hands, and drink it. Clean water. Our most basic human need, and they had none.

When I arrived home, moved and deeply affected, I noticed that my school was fundraising for a water tower in an African village. We were going to give little Valentine the resource that she so needed. And this wasn’t made possible because I hopped on a plane and performed a grand gesture, but by volunteerism. It was because of volunteers: time, energy, contribution – that dollar by dollar, hour by hour, this priceless gift would be possible. And in that moment of realization, my life would never be the same.

The lesson is this – each act, each contribution – no matter how small is building towards a greater impact. It is these small acts that change the world.

One of the defining moments of my life – being tickled by precious Kenyan children to the point of laughing tears of joy

My sweet Valentine – the girl that changed everything

Seek Happiness,


Exciting News

Today, I have some very exciting news…

I have been chosen as a possible candidate to be a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

For me this is an absolute dream come true! Opportunities like this can’t be matched.

As a national spokesperson my main job would be to represent the American Heart Association at local and even national events, speak on their behalf and give interviews with local newspapers and radio and TV stations.

I hope and pray that through this my connection with the American Heart Association and its mission will grow even stronger and that I will truly be able to change lives.

I’m extremely grateful to the American Heart Association and International Pageants for helping me achieve so much this past year. I never dreamed I would have such an opportunity!

All my love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

Saturday, July 19, 2014

It's All in the Appearance

It’s all in the appearance, or is it?

By now you may notice some ladies seem to have the ability to turn up just about everywhere making countless appearances on behalf of their titles. When do they sleep? How do they maintain a job, school and/or family while showing up at the opening of an envelope? Good question. Some have husbands, family and friends to help should they have children. Others may have a job inside or outside the home that allows flexibility. Still, you may wonder if they even have a life outside of making appearances. Unless you walk in their heels, you will never know. Still, I have heard the conversations before. And this is my take:

Go ahead, make a ton of appearances. It’s a great way to showcase the system. But take a step back and ask yourself how each appearance assists your platform or the system. Make those events count. And believe me those are the ones hardest to find. Riding in a parade is fine, but scoring a story in the news is better. Showing up at an event and doing the step and repeat is fun, but speaking at that event is much better. And an added bonus is others will figure out you have more to offer than a pretty face! It is not who makes the most appearances that matter. And some may venture all over the world and call their travels appearances, but what was done on behalf of their platform? 

In other words, don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated by what someone else has been up to. My platform, CASA, is highly confidential. You will rarely see me posing with a child who has suffered abuse and neglect for that very reason. Slapping on a crown and banner and snapping a picture is a quick and easy way to “appear,” as if you are doing something. Whip off those heels that are killing your feet and switch out the cocktail dress for some jeans and work gloves. Get some serious work done. Ask how you can be of the most help to the organizations you would like to work with. It may not be glamorous, but it may just help your platform in the most beneficial of ways. And THAT is truly rewarding.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

4th of July Parade

If you are a titleholder and you have never been in parade, I urge you to inquire about the next major holiday parade in your area. It is such a fun way to interact with your community and you can almost guarantee there will be little princesses lining the street whose faces will light up when they see you. In the past I have ridden on a fancy convertible and waved, but this Independence Day I walked the parade route… I’m not sure if I would have had it any other way!

The crowds were donning their red, white, and blue, and I was able to talk with and THANK local fire and police departments, area veteran organizations, as branches of active military before starting out on the parade route. One thing I always try to do in my travels is if I see a service man or woman to thank them, they most certainly don’t hear our gratitude enough, and on a day like the 4th of July – they are the stars!

I joined the walking crew of our Erie County Clerk, Chris Jacobs, and walked the route giving high fives, hugs, taking pictures, and throwing the occasional piece of candy. Talk about an up-close and personal experience and I loved EVERY second of it!

Thank you to those who serve and have served to protect the freedoms of the United States.

With local Ladder Co. 6 

Taking a brief stop mid-parade to commemorate the day – love the giant flag in the background!

With Erie County Clerk, Chris Jacobs, and my friend and county veteran outreach coordinator, Thea

Some fun post-parade with Miss Claire!

Seek Happiness,


Friday, July 18, 2014


As temperatures soar this summer, it’s important that we all know how to beat the heat and prevent a heatstroke. Especially for those of you who like to get active and like to do it outside.

To cover the basics a heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature rises to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit and organs can’t function properly.

As we all know, the best prevention method for anything is awareness and education, so it’s essential to learn the signs of heatstroke.

The symptoms of a heatstroke include…

Body temperature of 104 F or greater
Lack of sweating. Skin will feel hot and dry, unless heatstroke is cause by exercise.
Nausea, vomiting or both
Flushed/red skin
Rapid, shallow breathing
Confusion and/or unconsciousness
Muscle cramps or weakness
Strong and rapid pulse

Heatstroke is life-threatening so if you suspect that someone is suffering from a heatstroke, you should immediately try to cool them down. Take them out of the sun, give them a cool beverage to drink, preferably water, and fan them with cool air.

Having witnessed several heat strokes over the years, I want everyone to be safe this summer and take precautions.

So take care and have fun this summer!

Much love,

Haley Pontius

True Inspiration

Following the VIP CASA cocktail reception during the National Conference, I was invited to a private dinner with a couple of National CASA staffers, a couple of key National CASA sponsors and one man who captured us all with his humor, insight and vulnerability.

Jimmy Wayne is a country music singer and songwriter. He’s not only a celebrity spokesperson for CASA, he is working to help foster children aging out of the system who have few options of how to move in to adulthood. (Check out his campaign, Project Meet Me Halfway)

So sit down, grab your coffee or whatever’s your preference, and let me tell you about the rare gem we spent the evening with because you have so much to gain from him and even more reason to love him.

Jimmy Wayne is one of those men you meet and instantly like. He can handle anything in stride, and for good reason. He HAS handled it all. And that makes him accepting of others and almost a Rhodes scholar when it comes to those he meets. Jimmy makes everyone feel special…they way he deserved to feel as a young boy.

Given his life’s journey, thus far, Jimmy should have a PHD in human behavior. He most definitely deserves a Masters in forgiveness and resilience.

I don’t know his whole story. None of us can when you think about it. But I plan to read his upcoming book that comes out this October. Jimmy survived neglect on many severe levels and witnessed horrors you would normally only see in a Quentin Tarantino flick. No lie. What he spoke of during dinner, broke my heart, but made me, and the others, admire his strength.

Discarded at a bus stop, Jimmy lived in an unsafe group home and so he found himself on the streets. An elderly couple with open hearts brought him in to their home where he was give a foundation of faith and encouraged to find his gift for telling stories through music.

This has all been penned though a life of journals he kept while becoming the person he is today. And here we were…a table of women and Jimmy. We were hanging on his every word because he has that magical mix of being honest, earthy, funny and endearing. I swear just looking at him; you could see that young 7 year-old boy.

Conversations at the table that evening will stay there, but their impact followed me home to Chicago.

Walk to Beautiful is co-written with best selling author Ken Abraham and will be released October 7, 2014 which can be pre-purchased through Amazon.

The next morning I was putting a roller in as I got ready for the awards luncheon. That’s when I heard Kathie Lee (from the Today show) mention Jimmy Wayne’s name. WHAT!? She talked about his book, “Walk to Beautiful,” and how much it impacted her. I believe she said she sobbed through parts of it. It seems Jimmy has the Midas touch; only instead of turning everything to gold, everyone he touches becomes inspired. That is quite a gift to be given. May his life as a boy and young man remind us we CAN triumph. And may we take care of all of OUR children. I have said it before and will say it again; every child deserves to feel safe, loved and important. It is up to US as adults to help children see and believe in their potential.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio 
Your Mrs. International

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shopping in Honor of Karen

A friend invited me to a night of shopping in honor of her friend, Karen, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her third child. It was aggressive and so began treatments while she was still carrying with her now 15-month old daughter. My friend tells me Karen was that special person who faced life, and all of its challenges, head on. She single-handedly raised 26-thousand dollars over ten days for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. This night was to honor her fighting spirit.

The event was held in a home with an indoor basketball half-court.

What a perfect place to set up a dozen vendors.

A percentage of the sales go back to support TNBC in honor of Karen. She passed away a few months ago, leaving behind her husband and three young children. My friend told me so many wonderful lessons she has taken from time with Karen. It is not the material items children will remember most, but the memories and experiences you give them. She learned to take those trips NOW. Spend time with your children NOW. Face life with a, “bring it on, I can take it, ” attitude. It is profound how people can leave lasting imprints on us, even after they are gone. It was touching to see how my friend’s community is surrounding Karen’s family with love and support, even when it comes to helping with ponytails and class schedules.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio

Ride for Roswell

So many of our lives have been affected by cancer, within ourselves, our families, or our friends. Whether we have lost someone or our are proud of our survivor, I think we can all agree that a world without cancer is one that we would all want to live in.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute was one of the first medical centers in the US dedicated solely to cancer research and treatment. They have seen many miracles and advancements within those walls, and are dedicated to finding the ultimate cure.

Their annual fundraiser, Ride For Roswell, is incredible. Bicycle riders can sign up by pledging to raise money towards their journey. The event features courses of al lengths, from 104 miles to a 3 mile family ride.

I loved being able to help riders kick off their trek and celebrate their return. The event raised over FOUR MILLION DOLLARS and over 8,000 riders participated. Everyone there, - riders, volunteers, sponsors, and spectators were troopers considering the 80+ degree weather! Such a heartwarming and exciting day, congratulations to all involved!

Caught up with my friend JoAnne, a cancer survivor. She is riding for her friend who she has lost to lung cancer. 

Our friends, the Lavelle family, rode the 3 mile family fun course. We cheered them on at the start. 

Riders at the starting line

Seek Happiness,


Interview Competition

Interview is possibly the most important phase of competition at the International Pageant. This is your one chance to really connect with the judges and show them who you are. But, there are a few questions that whether or not the judges actually ask you (which they will) it’s important to tell them the answers at some point in the interview.

These questions are…

What is your platform?
Why is it your platform?
What have you done with your platform?
What are you going to do with your platform? A.k.a. What is your plan? (Letting the judges know that you have a plan of action after the pageant is a huge plus. This is very important.)

Other questions that you will very likely be asked are…

Why do you want to be Miss Teen International?
Why did you choose to compete in the International Pageant?
Why should you be the next Miss Teen International?
What makes you different from all of the other contestants?
What do you think are the most important qualities that Miss Teen International should possess?
How will you promote the International Pageant?
How will you promote the International Pageant and/or your platform internationally?
If you could work with any past Miss Teen International, who would it be? (Please know the history of the pageant and who the past titleholders are. Hint: We’re all listed on the website.)
Other typical questions include…

What is your greatest achievement?
Who is your role model?
What is “success” for you?
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing teenagers today?
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
How did you prepare for this pageant?
If you were judging this pageant, what characteristics would you look for when choosing the winner?
What inspires you?

I do hope this helped!

All my love,

Haley Pontius 
Miss Teen International 2013

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cocktails for CASA

This week I headed to the Big D…Dallas, Texas. The National CASA Conference was held at the Gaylord Texan Resort. True to the style of Gaylord and Texas, this resort was humongous, over the top and completely family friendly. Only, I didn’t bring the kids with and I should have!

There was a miniature train exhibit, lazy river and acres of pools I am told; although, I didn’t have the chance to check it out. It was time for the National CASA Conference!

I was invited to a very special CASA cocktail reception the night I arrived. There were several National CASA board members and this year’s award recipients. There were also a few of the keynote speakers for the conference.

CASA CEO Michael Piraino gave wonderful introductions to us all

In the midst of greatness…here I am with Jackie Davis

Jackie Davis is a President in the making. He is a former foster child finishing up at the University of North Texas. His speaks about his experiences as a foster child and his involvement with PUSH (Persevere UNTil Success Happens). He is very charming and genuine. It was a pleasure to meet so many people who represent the facets of CASSA and the children we serve.

And then it was off to dinner. It included me, 4 other women from National CASA and national sponsors and a country music singer you will get to know a bit more in my coming post…and for very good reason.

Be the change!

Amy Gregorio
Your Mrs. International