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Miss Wantagh contestants offer volunteer visions

Angelica Balitsos, 15, of Wantagh, responds to a

Angelica Balitsos, 15, of Wantagh, responds to a question during the interview portion of the Miss Wantagh pageant. She was announced as Miss Wantagh at the Fourth of July parade. (July 1, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

With the spotlight on her, Shayna Held didn’t hesitate when asked with whom she’d want to be stranded on an island.

“I would want to be stranded on the island with someone who knew how to get off the island, so I could get back to my home to my family and the town of Wantagh,” said Held, 15, a junior at Wantagh High School who went up against six other local teens Monday night in the 57th annual Miss Wantagh pageant.

Contestant delivered speeches touting their accomplishments and altruism to a crowd of roughly 75 people at Wantagh High School. Then they fielded questions from Ella Stevens, pageant coordinator and president of Wantagh’s Fourth of July Association, which hosts the contest.

When asked how she would give back to Wantagh if she won $10 million in a lottery, contestant Angelica Balitsos, 15, said she would help the community’s homeless population. Michele Steinberg, 16, said she’d use the winnings to repair homes damaged by superstorm Sandy.

Each contestant also outlined the passion project they would work on if awarded the 2013 Miss Wantagh title. The causes ranged from science enrichment to scoliosis awareness to shop local campaigns.

Aspiring teacher and Wantagh native Kaitlyn von Runnen, 16, said she planned to establish a youth network to encourage more nonprofit volunteerism among people in her age group.

“Volunteerism is a major part of who I am and what America is based on and we should continue that tradition,” said von Runnen, a junior who volunteers for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County and her church, Saint Frances de Chantal in Wantagh.

For her potential project, senior Stefanie Wenz, 17, who wants to be a nurse, said she would visit injured children in hospitals.

It’s an idea based on recent experience. Wenz, who plays varsity lacrosse for Wantagh High School, spent two days in a surgical intensive care unit in April after suffering a laceration to her liver during a game when she collided with a fellow player. Although she cannot resume contact sports until September, she’s been hitting the track to stay in shape, so she’ll be ready for her senior season. After graduation, she’ll attend Marist College on a lacrosse scholarship.

Through the healing process, Wenz said she learned to better appreciate everything she has in her life, including her ability to play lacrosse. “It could be taken away in a second,” she reflected.

Hailey Orgass, the 2012 Miss Wantagh, used her title to coordinate a variety of initiatives, including an anti-bullying event in October 2012 at Wantagh High School.

“Although I might not have ended bullying once and for all, I did raise awareness and give a voice to those who weren’t able to stand up for themselves,” she said during her speech Monday night. “They now know they are not alone.”

Choosing a winner has become increasingly challenging each year, because all the contestants have impressive resumes, said Jim Colotti, who has sat on the judges’ panel for the past decade. Colotti, who runs the Wantagh.LI website, said he grades the girls on their “community involvement, poise, articulation and sense of humor.”

The judges’ votes were tallied Monday night, but Miss Wantagh 2013 will not be revealed until Thursday at a ceremony following the annual Wantagh Fourth of July parade, which kicks off at 10 a.m.

All of the contestants will receive gifts donated by local merchants. The winner and three runners-up will also receive monetary prizes, which are dependent upon how much is raised throughout the year. Organizers didn’t immediately have a total.

The pageant coordinator didn't know how much has been raised this year.

If she won, current contestant Shayna Held would be the second person in her family to take the Miss Wantagh title. Her sister, Eden, was crowned the 2009 Miss Wantagh.

“My family was in tears, because they were so proud and I want to make them proud as well,” said Held, who aspires to become a certified public accountant.

Regardless of whether she does win the title, Held intends to proceed with plans to encourage the community to replace the many that were destroyed during superstorm Sandy.

No matter what the outcome, Eden Held, 20, said her sister will still be “Miss Wantagh at heart.”

She added, “Just because you have a crown or a sash doesn’t mean anything as long as you keep doing what’s right for the world.”

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