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Miss City of Sacramento: Extra Life

Hello everyone and thank you for taking time to read my blog! For those of you who do not know, my name is Ashley Ott and I have the honor of representing the City of Sacramento this year. I am 23 years old and a recent graduate of the University of California Davis with a Bachelor’s of Science in Cell Biology and minors in Chicano/Chicana Studies and Art Studio. I will be applying to medical school this June with the goal of obtaining a Medical Degree in Pediatric Oncology and a Master’s degree in Global Health, ultimately with the goal of working in rural clinics both in the United States and abroad. I am an avid pianist, scuba diver, archer and I, like many others, am a gamer.

1661179_10153956525515175_913259327_nNow, when I tell people that I’m a gamer, I usually get a wide variety of responses. From surprise to shock, each response never seems to be the same. If you think about it, however, it shouldn’t be that surprising because, in reality, we are all gamers. Whether we play video games, puzzles, sports, cards or board games, each and every one of us, regardless of age, gender or culture, cannot escape the fact that we enjoy playing games. And why not? They challenge us, they motivate us and they bring us together. From my perspective, games make us better people and they genuinely bring joy to our lives.

Three years ago I discovered the Extra Life initiative, a fundraising movement that utilizes the power of gaming to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, an organization I have been working with for the past six years. Each member commits to playing games for 24 hours during one calendar year and aims to find people who will sponsor them as they work toward accomplishing this task.

Seven years ago, the Extra Life initiative was developed as a way of honoring Victoria Enmon, a vibrant young lady who instantly touched the lives of all she encountered. Victoria was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a disease that has a cure rate of about 80%, at the age of eleven at the Texas Children’s Miracle Network Hospital; however, Tori’s battle with this disease was especially difficult. She relapsed three times and was forced to stay in the hospital for many months at time as her entire community rallied around her and her family. In 2007, the developer of the website Sarcastic Gamer reached out to his gaming community and requested that games be sent to Tori to help ease her stay. What resulted was an outpouring of love and support like the hospital had never seen, while hundreds of games were sent to Texas from all over the world.

Tragically, Tori passed away on January 21st, 2008 after a four-year battle with leukemia; however, her story and strong spirit continues to touch the lives of children throughout the country, as it was her story that inspired the creation of the Extra Life initiative. In the past seven years, gamers across the nation have raised over 14 million dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network and these funds have gone toward saving countless lives.

Extra Life 2Ten million children are treated within the Children’s Miracle Network and, whether we are aware of it or not, almost every one of us knows a child whose life was saved from the money raised within our organization. I am so passionate about the Extra Life initiative because it provides a fun and almost effortless way for you to be part of something greater – to become the person that saves the life of a child within your own community. I am so excited to announce that this year, due to the hard work of the gamers in Northern California, the Sacramento district was selected as one of the first 30 Extra Life Guild communities in the nation, an honor that will allow us to work closely with national leadership to spearhead the Extra Life movement throughout Northern California. We now exist as one of six guilds in our state that are passionately working toward increasing membership, boosting fundraising efforts and establishing corporate partnerships that will benefit the children throughout California for years to come.

Extra LifeSo what kind of games do you enjoy? I encourage each and every one of you to check out your local guild to find out how you can become involved with our organization or simply start your campaign from the comfort of your own home! You can begin an Extra Life Club at your school, compete against your friends to see who can raise more money, or turn this initiative into a family gaming night and dedicate two hours a month toward playing games together. The fundraising possibilities are endless but it is up to you to take the first step and sign up.

So how can you become involved and save a life in your community?

  1. Register and create your personal fundraising page.
  2. Try and get four friends and family members to sponsor you at $1 per hour ($24 each).
  3. Play games for 24 hours – consecutively or throughout the year! Our national day begins at 8am on Saturday, November 7th but you can begin your campaign at any time.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information on how you can get involved with Extra Life or check out our website at www.extra-life.org. Game on California and I’ll see you online!

With love,

Ashley Ott

Miss City of Sacramento 2015

 

 

 

The Mentors that Shape Our Lives

April-Drum-Smith-Miss-Mendocino-County

April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with Priscilla Ryan (left) and Gwen Adkins (right)

I went to watch a friend participate in the Miss Mendocino County Program and I said to myself, “I can sing, I can do that.”  Little did I know that watching that program would change the course of my life and bring in a mentor who shaped the foundation of my life. Priscilla Ryan was larger than life to a young woman who rode motorcycles, horses and who got the majority of her school clothes from a thrift store. She would walk into a room dressed in a white and gold St. John knit with her red hair and beautiful smile and you were mesmerized. Over the course of three years, I participated in the Miss Mendocino County Program and I learned more by not winning than by winning the title my first year. I was lucky enough to have Priscilla be my friend and director for two years before I won the title. After I won the title of Miss Mendocino County in 1993, Priscilla made me feel like a princess! My mother always says that she gave me the tools to succeed in life, but that Priscilla gave me the heels to run in. Priscilla took a girl from the woods and taught me what it was like to really, truly be confident about myself. It was more than just the shopping and going to appearances. Priscilla and her family made me feel like I was their daughter and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

There are a variety of reasons as to why someone chooses to become a local director for the Miss America Program, but I wanted to give you my perspective on why I have been volunteering for The Miss America Organization for over 15 years. When I first became a director, I was a 29 year old woman who was basically told “I had to be the director of the Miss Sacramento County Program.” I had a good job but very little resources so it was a huge task. I had to start from the bottom and work my way up in forming a program that had a variety of directors for a few years before I took over the program. It was frustrating because I wanted to be like Priscilla right from the beginning. Luckily, I had titleholders that where amazing and so appreciative of anything that I could do for them. For many years, we worked with what we called “a skeleton crew” and it was tough, but we had a really good time and the titleholders felt special even though we worked with a shoestring budget, mostly coming from my own pocket. The funny thing is that I had to retire in order to really develop my program. I have two small children and I couldn’t do it anymore. There was just too much work for a few people, but after I retired, new and existing committee members came out of the woodwork in support of the program and really starting taking on active roles as a committee and I knew then that I couldn’t leave the program.

April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with her Director, Priscilla Ryan

April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with her Director, Priscilla Ryan

When a young woman decides to compete in my program, the fun begins. I always feel like Priscilla when we start discussing wardrobe and planning on what areas the contestants is strongest at for talent. Over the years, I have literally watched young women transform from a girl to a young woman in a very short period of time. It is an amazing process to see a sometimes awkward, but brilliant young women come into her own. I think of Priscilla often and even though she is no longer with us, I always feel her smiling down on me as I help the contestants, whether they win the crown or not. It is not always about just working with the titleholder, but helping to prepare ALL the contestants. Sometimes the girls who don’t win the title learn more than the one who gets to wear the crown. Those are the contestants who come back and win the next year.

The reason I volunteer my time for the Miss America and Miss California Programs is because of the sense of family. As a network of volunteers, we get to celebrate everyone’s successes. Believe me, there are some family squabbles, but overall, you cannot replace the feeling of watching these young women succeed and knowing that you may have had a very small part in helping them along the way. Priscilla changed my life! She not only gave me scholarship money (that paid a large portion of my schooling), but she taught me that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to.

April Smith
Miss Mendocino County 1993
Director, Miss Sacramento County/Miss City of Sacramento

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect
The phenomenon whereby the greater the expectation placed upon an individual, the better they perform.

Page 0    Children are gifted with an incredible innocence and a clandestine view of the world but, somehow, as these children grown older these gifts are lost. Filled with love, hope, desire, and a limitless capacity to dream, children take in life experience like sponges and begin to build the lens in which they view the world one moment at a time. Sometimes we don’t always remember that it is us who shape this lens and the world in which children view it, and it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

As a child, my mom and I lived in a small apartment in a seedy part of town. We were very low income and, during that time, my mother worked three jobs just to afford to live there. She sacrificed everything for my education and, as a toddler, my mom gave me only educational games – toy stethoscopes, doctor’s kits and even purchased my first microscope when I was seven. She enrolled me in piano, clarinet and violin lessons, I studied graphic design and computer programming at age eight and swam competitively everyday, hoping that my developed talent might one day earn me a spot at Stanford. Everyday, my mom told me that ‘education would be the key to my freedom’ and I have lived by those words ever since.

I never believed I was any different from my classmates. I only knew that while they were complaining about eating vegetables for dinner, my mom and I went to McDonalds for 10-cent hamburgers that we froze to eat throughout the week. But, when I was in elementary school, I became the lucky victim of a social experiment that utilized the power of positive thinking in what is now termed as The Rosenthal or Pygmalion Effect. In this afterschool program, teachers pooled a selection of both advantaged and disadvantaged students and told us that we were ‘gifted’. We had the opportunity to skip class to go on special fieldtrips and take special classes that allowed us to push our limits of thinking beyond the classroom. Looking back, I don’t believe there was one child in our group that did not graduate high school and continue towards a life of success, and I know now that this was because we were told that we could.

Page 0(1)Another definition of the Pygmalion Effect states that it is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy where, if you think something will happen, you may unconsciously make it happen through your actions or inaction. Let me be the first to tell you that this effect is 100% tangible and true. Believing that you CAN accomplish something will open more doors than you could ever think possible. Somehow, a little girl who grew up in a studio apartment in a bad part of town became a published author, a UC Davis graduate, a pianist, a world traveler and the director of the Children’s Miracle Network Second Life Organization throughout Northern California – all because someone believed in me.

Looking back, I know that I was a truly blessed child as I was given every opportunity to succeed. But, on top of that, I was surrounded by people who believed that I could succeed. Unfortunately, not every child is so lucky. The adult world places stigmas on different social groups, limiting their dreams and desires to activities society deems fit. Whether it be age, culture or gender, children often find themselves categorized and their futures determined before they’ve ever had the opportunity to choose. As a woman in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, it seems like finding my place in the workforce is a constant battle against social stigma. Though society has come a long way in 50 years, remnants of this still remain as we often find ourselves fighting to prove our worth in fields where we are still the minority.

Here in lies the reason I find the Miss America Organization to be so incredible. Not only to we support STEM initiatives, something that is truly near and dear to my heart, but we also encourage women to pursue their childhood dreams and provide the platform to make this possible. As competitors in this organization, we are celebrated and encouraged to follow our hearts as doctors, astronauts, art teachers, computer scientists, politicians, mothers and home keepers. A title gives us the motivation to become the best version of ourselves that we could possibly be and to continue spreading this message by tirelessly serving our communities. From the moment we are crowned, we somehow become a beacon of light and a person of influence to children throughout the country. We are given the incredible power to change and shape the lens in which these children view the world and it is up to us to give them the power to accomplish the great things they dream of for themselves – through the power of positive thinking.

Ashley Ott
Miss City of Sacramento 2015