As I enter my final month as Miss Massachusetts, 21 young women from around the Commonwealth are busy practicing their talents, hitting the gym, reading up on the news----and preparing to take my job. I've invited each contestant to be a "guest writer" on my blog and contribute a piece that demonstrates her unique personality, interests and experiences. Over the next several weeks, members of the Miss Massachusetts Class of 2017 will be featured in this series as we "Countdown to the Crown". This week's featured contestant is Miss Bristol County, Jillian Zucco.
Hi, Miss Massachusetts/Alissa Musto fans!
Jillian Zucco here! I’m super excited to be featured on this awesome blog. (Thanks, Alissa!) I am the current Miss Bristol County and can’t wait to compete for Miss Massachusetts at the end of June. I am a Registered Nurse working on a hospital telemetry unit with plans to pursue my Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree very soon. I am also a singer, dancer, choreographer, vocal instructor, EMT, change-maker, and foodie, who loves to read, camp, kayak and work out. I’d like to share with you a few stories that have impacted my life forever.
When I was very young, my mother started a children’s community-service singing troupe called “Showstoppers.” We performed at nursing homes, assisted living programs, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities where the residents/patients did not have access to live musical entertainment otherwise. My mom held auditions each year, and each year the group grew in size and talent. My most memorable volunteer experience EVER happened with Showstoppers, and I remember it so vividly. We were at a nursing home, and it was my turn to sing a medley of 1930s big band songs. While I sang “I’ll Be Seeing You,” I noticed a commotion in the audience. I saw staff members crying. People were huddled around a man in a wheel chair. I was concerned, but continued to sing. Afterward, we learned that the elderly gentleman in the wheel chair had been in a mute and catatonic state for quite some time. Staff members reacted as he took his wife’s hand and began singing the song with me to his wife—the first time he engaged with her in more than a year! Who knew that a 12 year-old could make such a difference in the lives of an elderly couple? I will never forget this day.
When I was 16-years-old, I travelled to Washington D.C. with a 4-girl pop band with which I had been recording and performing. It was a business trip, as we had meetings with a couple of labels and interviews at radio stations. On our schedule was a mini concert we were to put on at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I was tired. This was after a late night and an early morning waking. I was sad. I was missing a big family event back in Massachusetts. We arrived at the hospital and were led to a large crowded room with men and women in wheel chairs, some with missing limbs, some in body casts, others with parts of their faces covered, or bandages covering large wounds. I wanted to cry. Every single one of them were soldiers who were seriously injured because they fought for my freedom. They fought for me to be exactly where I was- safe, whole, and free. I saw the families of the soldiers. Spouses, siblings, parents, children, spending time with their hero or anxiously waiting for their hero undergoing tests or medical procedures. They were tired, soldiers and family members alike. They were sad, with much better reason than I had. My loved ones were safe at home because of them. It came time to sing, and we started with the National Anthem and then performed some popular songs and originals. We ended with “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America”. When we were done, patients and family members came to us THANKING US for entertaining them and taking them away from where they were for a while with our music. SERIOUSLY?! Members of our incredible Armed Forces were thanking us?! I held back tears as I said to each one, “No. Thank YOU for your service. All I did was sing— something that comes easily to me. YOU are the reason I am here and am able to do this.” I wondered to myself how four girls doing what they enjoyed deserved gratitude from real life heroes.
I’ve worked as a personal care attendant for children and young adults with special needs beginning when I was in high school and throughout nursing school. I can honestly say that I’ve learned something profound from each and every individual I’ve worked with. However, I was often bothered by some things I witnessed or experienced with them. I was bothered when my 12-year-old special needs cousin couldn’t partake in after-school dance class like all the other girls because her aides didn’t understand her abilities. I have taught her choreography before which she performs independently with Showstoppers, the singing troupe I told you about previously. I picked her up from dance class one day, excited to see what she was learning, as I, myself, am a dancer. I saw the aide standing behind Olivia holding her arms in the air and waving them for her. I then saw her use her hands to hold Olivia’s shoulders and turn Olivia around in a circle while the other girls were spinning themselves. I was fuming. I waited until the end of class to tell her aide that Olivia can do every single movement herself without help. She didn’t believe me. I explained what she does in Showstoppers to which she dramatically responded “WOW, OLIVIA!” I left but was sure to tell Olivia’s mom what I saw since I wasn’t sure if I would be picking Olivia up from dance again to follow up.
SO many individuals with special needs and disabilities are underestimated. I try to avoid using the word “disabled” because I don’t believe that condition exists. Even if they need total assistance or are dependent, they still have abilities, and therefore they are “differently abled”. Not disabled. They deserve to have opportunities to shine and learn and express themselves just like we “able-bodied” people do. That is why I decided last year to create the Miss Inspirational program- to provide a platform for girls with special needs and disabilities to share their stories and talents. We just had our second annual program. Each year, I’ve had about thirty girls and young women from all over our Commonwealth take the stage to show the audience the special ways they communicate and express themselves- be that speaking, using a device, sign language, body language, etc. I provide each girl a dress or gown, courtesy of the Cinderella Project at Gifts to Give, in which they walk, wheel, or are carried across the stage while the audience applauds. Each participant shares a talent or special ability. Some have included singing, dancing, playing an instrument, programming a speaking device, sewing, school work, surfing, poetry, comedy, cheerleading, and more. There’s not a dry eye in the audience. I have realized by producing this program, I am doing more than providing these young ladies with this opportunity. I have realized that I am simultaneously raising awareness and educating the community about these special people. Each year we’ve had a packed audience celebrating the ABILITIES and achievements of these incredible individuals. The day Miss Inspirational takes place has become my favorite day of the year.
I chose to share these three stories with you for a few reasons. 1. These experiences impacted my life immensely, affecting my outlook, my attitude, my career path, and more. 2. It sounds cliché, but these experiences have taught me how much one person actually can make a difference. I knew that just by participating in volunteer projects, I was doing something nice. However, I didn’t know until after each experience exactly how much of a difference was actually made. 3. These stories are not what most people think of when they think “volunteer.” People usually think about clean-up projects, planting, picking up litter, etc. These services are necessary and meaningful. However, I want you to know that volunteering can be FUN. There is something for each person’s individual talents and interests. 4. Lastly, I was not alone in any of these stories. In the first, I was performing in a show with a group of other children. In the second, I was with three girls and our production team who made the Walter Reed Hospital performance possible. In the third, I had a whole committee as well as fifty volunteers who helped me behind the scenes. There is strength in numbers. With more individuals involved, a greater difference is made. AND it is more fun. As you may have already guessed, this sums up my platform entitled “Choose a Cause, Make a Difference”… But it can be yours too. I’m hoping this inspires you to do something nice for someone. You never know how much of a difference you might actually make.