By Andrew Yourell
The Granite State Room was filled to capacity on Tuesday night for Chi Omega’s Mr. UNH competition, which was hosted to support the New Hampshire branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Eleven competitors took part in the fundraising event, which included a talent, swimwear, formal wear and question and answer portion. A Chi Omega escort accompanied each contestant, and Chi Omega President Kenzie Kolanda, Panhellenic Council President Brittany Marien, current Ms. New Hampshire Holly Blanchard and 10-year-old Joey Giordano, who was granted a wish by the foundation, judged the event. Bobby Evans, representing the UNH Club Rugby team, was named the winner.
The event raised about $3,000, and the sisters of Chi Omega are hoping to get their alumni to match the night’s fundraising total.
“I personally think it went really well, especially from where we started,” Courtney Merrill, Chi Omega’s philanthropy chair and the event’s chief organizer, said. “I’ve just seen the event grow as a whole so much. The room used to never be full, now it’s full, and we were over capacity tonight.”
Tuesday marked the 10th time Chi Omega has hosted the event, and Merrill, a senior, has been involved in each of her four years. The event is the sorority’s biggest fundraising event of the year, and Merrill estimated that the sisters put in well over 150 hours going to back to last year.
“It’s just such a great organization to be involved with,” Merrill said of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the benefactors of the sisters’ hard work. “I think it really hits home to a lot of people on campus.”
Nobody knows how true that is quite like the Giordano family. Joey, who judged the event, was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer—medulloblastoma—in 2013. He immediately began undergoing treatments, which included a number of surgeries, 31 radiation sessions, four sessions of chemotherapy and having to relearn the use of his left arm and both legs.
Amidst the tragedy, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Joey a wish, and upon his request the family sent the Giordano family on a Disney cruise.
“For Joey, it was the first time that he was in control of anything having to do with the cancer,” his mother, Libby Giordano said. “With Make-A-Wish, somebody finally said, ‘What do you want?’”
The Chi Omega sisters played an emotional video detailing Joey’s experience with Make-A-Wish, before Libby spoke to the crowd about the charity’s work making the dreams of young children with life-threatening illnesses come true. The most important thing the Foundation provided, according to the Giordanos, was a sense of normalcy.
“Just seeing the smile on his face, going down the waterslides, waiting in line to get the ice cream cone,” Joey’s father, Joseph, said in the video. “It was just the way things were, and the way they’re supposed to be.”
Remission for cancer can only be diagnosed after 5 years of clean scans, but after nearly 2-and-a-half years without a positive scan, Joey has earned a “no evidence of disease” billing from doctors. The brain scans he had to go in for every 3 months were recently extended to once every 6 months.
While Joey is doing well, his family decided to stay involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and when the Chi Omega sisters reached out, the Giordanos were happy to help.
“It’s nice to be on the giving end rather than the receiving end,” Libby said. “It’s our mission to give back to all the people that gave to us.”
While the purpose of the night was serious, the competition was anything but. Talents included several songs, a rendition of Drake’s Hotline Bling dance, a moped trick video and a roller-skating extravaganza.
Evans, the competition’s winner, stole the show with his rendition of Amos Lee’s Sweet Pea. His crooning performance and shirtless appearance in the swimwear portion had many in the crowd swooning, but Mr. Rugby was humble after the win.
“I thought there was a lot of good competition,” he said, laughing when asked at which point he knew he’d won.
“When they said my name,” he grinned.
Evans added that the event was more fun than he had expected when he had joined in, and the fact that it was for a good cause only made the experience that much more enjoyable. He ended his interview with a piece of advice.
“For anybody who really wants to do it, or missed it this year or was just on the fence this year,” he said, “it’s so, so worth it.”