Vincenza’s life, however, is not all about glitz, celebrity and crowns, although she is the “queen of the kitchen” at her new restaurant, the Vincenza & Margherita Italian-American Bistro! The restaurant, which opened in 2014, is the brainchild of Vincenza and younger sister Margherita, 3rd generation restaurateurs. In just a little over two years, the V&M Bistro has garnered hundreds of glowing reviews and was selected for impressive recognition including Best of Delaware 2015 Editor’s Choice for Best Italian Cuisine, Best of Delaware 2016 Best Specialty Cocktails in Upper Delaware, Best of Delaware 2017 Best Homemade Pasta, Best Cocktails for the North DelaWhere Happening List 2015, 2016, 2017, Finalist in the Readers’ Choice Award 2015 for Best Italian Restaurant, and Best Italian restaurant on the 2017 North Delaware Happening List.
Inside, the chic atmosphere is equal to any New York or Los Angeles hot spot. The bar is staffed with expert mixologists who create award-winning combinations like the Caramel Apple Martini or the famous Limoncello Ice Martini served with in-house made Italian lemon ice and fresh limoncello. And, V&M’s ever changing menu contains everything from delicious pasta handcrafted on site, to freshly baked bread, plus creative takes on classic favorites like Eggplant Parmigiano with Gnocchi, Timballo, and Linguini Frutti Di Mare, as well as exclusive V&M Pizzettes.
In her spare time, Vincenza works tirelessly at Success Won’t Wait, the literacy organization she co-founded in 2002, when she was just an 18-year-old high school senior. Over the past 15 years, she has been active in promoting literacy and has helped collect and redistribute well over 1 million books to communities, schools and organizations in need throughout the US and abroad.
She is also a spokesperson for Lupus, a disease she has suffered with since 2011. In the six years since her diagnosis, Vincenza has worked tirelessly to educate the public about this often misunderstood and misdiagnosed disease. Her fundraising and awareness efforts include an annual 5K Walk and numerous speaking engagements. She even recently appeared as the cover story for Healthy Monitor's Arthritis Magazine’s expose on Lupus.
I had the opportunity to recently interview Vincenza. I appreciate her sharing her story. I hope you will enjoy this interview!
Pageants News : You won the Elite Miss Earth United States Pageant. What does it entail?
Vincenza Carrieri-Russo : When Executive Director Laura Clark decided to establish a new “Elite” division for the Miss Earth United States Pageant, she needed to find a representative to become the first ever Elite Miss Earth United States. Out of a million young women across the country, she selected me to represent this prestigious pageant! It was such an honor to be named and I am truly blessed to have joined the Miss Earth United States organization’s mission, creating something new and fresh for today’s woman. The pageant’s mission is “Beauties With A Cause” and the leadership behind the crown truly represents that sentiment. Over the course of 18 years competing in pageants, winning numerous titles along the way, I have learned that pageantry is about more than just the destination; it is about the journey. It is “Beyond The Crown.” With the full support of the Miss Earth United States organization, I have used the power of the crown to shine a spotlight on important causes from literacy to Lupus.
You are an international fashion model, actress, activist, pageant queen... you were named as one of Delaware Today's 40 under 40 in 2008 and to their List of Women in Business in 2015. What are you the most proud of? Is there something you did not accomplished in your life?
I consider myself a goal-setter. When I set a goal, I truly enjoy working hard toward it. And, although I have been honored to receive many awards, that type of recognition is not what I actually work hard toward. Naturally, I am truly grateful for the recognition. But, it’s the work behind the accolades that is really the important thing.
If I had to choose one, though, I am most proud of is the National Jefferson Award. This is generally considered to be the “Nobel Prize” of community service. It was a humbling experience to be recognized on such as scale, and I shared the evening with John Lewis, Michael Feinberg and David Levin, the King of Jordan and Peyton Manning, who were also honored that year for their contributions to public service.
You represented Delaware at the 2008 Miss USA Pageant. What was your most memorable moment from the pageant?
Competing at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, on national television, was such an incredible experience! I always say I wish I could relive the 3 weeks all over again, because it took me 9 years to get there! That is 9 years of competing in pageant after pageant and FINALLY achieving a goal. So when I finally got to Miss USA, every single moment was memorable.
If I had to pick just one memory, however, I would have to say meeting my roomie, Abbey Curran, Miss Iowa USA. She was the first contestant with Cerebral Palsy to compete in the Miss USA pageant. Her energy, determination, and bubbly personality were contagious. And, it made my Miss USA experience even better. I couldn’t of been blessed with a more beautiful and caring roommate.
Donald Trump was the owner of the MUO until 2015. What does it feel to have worked with the President of the United States?
It’s absolutely incredible to think that as a 20-something pageant contestant, I casually chatted… with the President of the United States!
How has competing in pageants shaped you to be the person you are today?
In my 18 years of pageant experience, I have competed in over 30 pageants and have lost more than won. But, I can honestly say that now I am glad that it happened that way! Throughout the process, I learned so much about myself. And, every pageant helped shaped my character into the person I am today. I learned skills that I apply in my everyday life and in my businesses.
What would you advise any young girl out there who has a dream of being a queen one day?
My five rules for pageant success are:
- Stay open minded. Everyone has something they can teach you.
- Remember that pageants are a growth experience. You may not wear the crown at the end of the night, but you will be a better competitor, win or lose.
- Stay positive. It’s not always easy. And, preparing isn’t always fun. But, a keeping a positive attitude is essential.
- There isn’t one type of beautiful. Be who you are. And, be the most beautiful you, inside and out, that you can be.
- NEVER GIVE UP!
Did you face any moment of disappointment with yourself during the pageant journey, and how did you overcome it?
There was a time when I had lost a series of competitions. Losing pageant, after pageant, after pageant could have been demoralizing. But instead, I used it to energize myself. I was open minded to change and applied those changes to help make myself a better competitor.
Of course, it’s crucial to stay true to your morals and values and never sacrifice who you are as a person. But, I found that being able to accept constructive criticism and making those changes is necessary, not just in pageants, but throughout life. So, that time actually turned out to be a real life lesson for me.
I trained harder and longer. I gave up going out as often with friends. I realized that in order to get ahead in life, sometimes you have to sacrifice.
Margherita and Vincenza Carrieri-Russo
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?
I always believed that God allows us to go through hardships in our life to help us grow and learn. Everything happens for a reason, right? Well, six years ago, I was diagnosed with Lupus. And, my life changed completely.
The majority of the people I speak with do not have any knowledge of this chronic illness. It's a deadly autoimmune disease that is debilitating. The list of symptoms is endless! It is also considered to be the invisible disease. So, individuals can experience arthritis, joint pain/swelling, hair loss, blurry vision, memory loss, migraines, skin sores/rashes, sensitivity to sun(SPF is my best friend), extreme fatigue (I hate this one the most because I love being busy), difficulty breathing (a newer symptom for me), anxiety (I've been able to maintain this pretty well), depression, and blood clots. Plus, Lupus literally destroys all major organs: brain, liver, lungs, kidney and (my biggest fear) ...my heart.
But, I refuse to allow my Lupus to stop me from doing what I love! I'm never giving up! I'm more determined and driven than ever before (I just need to schedule more sleep these days -- haha!) and be extremely disciplined with my exercise and diet.