by Kayla Vasilko
As equally as the incredibly welcoming Panel Discussions and supportive atmosphere, the opportunity to dedicate me to community outreach has been one of my favorite aspects of the 500 Festival Princess Program. I have participated in many different community service opportunities throughout my life that I am very proud to have had the chance to be a part of, but the Princess Program has consistently motivated me to go the extra mile in all of my endeavors this year; this motivation, and the lessons I have learned from the resulting experiences, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
When I first received the invitation to join the Program, it truly impacted my heart. An organization that promotes life-enriching events and positive impacts for all of Indiana believed in me! As I learned more about the 500 Festival and the legacy of the Indianapolis 500, I strove to become a role model worthy of holding a title associated with such a Program.
I felt one of the best ways to do this was to find and engage with as many community outreach opportunities as possible. I also took this chance to be creative as well. It is because of the guidance and support of Program and Event Director Laura Bliss that I had the encouragement I needed to do this; I feel that I was able to plan and complete so many successful outreaches as a Princess because of the dedication that Laura put into guiding our [the Princess’] whole group.
One of the first outreaches I created was called Spreading Smiles Across America, an outreach that enabled me to work with many of the 2021 Princess to create a positive video collage of uplifting jokes. The finished video was sent to hospitals across the state.
To be able to spread some kindness to patients and healthcare workers and work with my teammates to do this, especially during this difficult time of the Pandemic, was joyous.
Another outreach I had the honor of doing was a book reading for the residents of the Crown Point Christian Village Retirement Community. The residents have been feeling very sad since they hadn’t been able to safely visit their loved ones due to COVID-19, but the directors at the Community shared that the book reading really brightened their spirits.
I even included one of the cats, Munchie, so that the residents knew more than just myself was there for them and happy to interact. This outreach led me to another wonderful opportunity to connect with my passions, the next passion being my love and appreciation for animals. I spent multiple days helping the Independent Cat Society (ICS) of Westville, IN clean up their grounds and cat shelter space. With my family, I was able to rescue three stray cats from the same shelter earlier in the year, including Munchie, so the organization is dear to my heart. The ICS has taught me a lot about the importance of doing my part to advocate for the health of animals and the environment. I was so moved by my current outreach experiences with the ICS that I started a grant project to earn funding for the necessary maintenance of the non-profit, no-kill shelter, and will be continuing my Princess outreaches with the ICS well into the fall.
From here, I continued finding creative ways to engage with the community by working for another passion of mine: the environment. Amidst preparing for finals my senior year at Purdue Northwest, I was able to de-stress and help put together a remembrance garden at PNW’s Gabis Arboretum, so that everyone in the community will have a place to pause, reflect, and remember loved ones and heroes.
Thank You Packs for all PNW OfficersOne of the most recent outreaches that touched my heart was working with my team in the PNW student organization S.H.I.N.E (students helping ignite needed esteem) to put together kind gift bags of thanks for PNW’s police offices. Unlike many of the PNW team, PNW’s officers weren’t able to work from home during the Pandemic. They continued to dedicate themselves to keeping our community safe; before the Pandemic, I can also recall several occasions that the officers would sit and help students study, bring cookies during finals, and unconditionally offer kindness to campus, helping make the students feel safe and supported.
It’s because of all of this that I wanted to create an outreach to let them know there are people out there supporting them too.
From this reflection, even though each one is different, I have found a theme with my outreaches outside of going the extra mile. The Princess Program has helped me feel supported and not alone at a time when I most needed it, I want to do the same thing for as many individuals in my community as I can. Everyone deserves to know there is someone, somewhere who sees them, believes in them, and cares about them.