Grateful visit for generous kids
Model Petra Nemcova thanks Watchung students for helping her charity.
By LAURIE LEVOY
WATCHUNG — Supermodel Petra Nemcova swooped into picturesque Watchung on Monday, but it wasn't for a photo shoot.
Stepping from the black stretch limousine that brought her to Valley View School, the striking beauty visited with the school's 300 students to personally thank them for supporting Nemcova's Happy Hearts Fund through a successful school-wide toy drive.
Although just in her mid-20s, Nemcova has lived through a lifetime of ups and downs. Nearly two years ago, she was seriously injured in the Dec. 26 tsunami while vacationing with her boyfriend in Phuket, Thailand. Her boyfriend, international photographer Simon Atlee, was among the thousands killed in the tsunami. As a result of the devastation, Nemcova was moved to establish the Happy Hearts Fund charity. With the backing and expertise of the nonprofit Give2Asia, the fund was founded in July 2005.
The donations and goods collected through local drives, the fund's Light of Hope gala dinner in New York and the proceeds of Nemcova's book “Love Always, Petra” go to aid children who have, like Nemcova, suffered devastating loss and injury from natural disasters.
Those thoughts, though, had no place in the presentation Valley View School was about to make to Nemcova. Hand-painted signs and balloons were held up by the members of The Community Outreach Club, a new club at the school to champion altruism among students.
The toy drive for the Happy Heart Fund joins the club's 1st annual Miles for Smiles Walk-athon and the current Keep 'Em Warm Drive activity, a busy slate of charitable events for the club's first year of operation.
“It's really a spinoff from our student council,” said Dora Santos, a language arts teacher and one of the club's advisers. “We want our students to be involved in the events of their community,” she added. Kaitlin Rydberg, a resource center teacher, also helps the club coordinate their activities.
Superintendent Mary Louise Malyska discussed how proud she was of the school's Miles for Smiles Walk-athon.
“Last month the students walked laps around Watchung Lake in another community service fund-raiser and raised more than $10,000,” she said.
Santos added that $1,000 of the total would be donated to Happy Hearts Fund, in addition to the 1,500 new toys collected by students. The toy drive also awarded a private meet-and-greet Monday with Nemcova to Natalie DeStio's seventh-grade Language Arts class, which collected 375–the most–toys.
Nemcova greeted everyone she met with a hug and triple-cheek kisses, because “you can never get enough kisses or enough love,” she said.
Club members got star treatment, too: the group met with Nemcova to ask questions and take a photo with the model. Each student received a color photograph of Nemcova for a later autograph session.
Mary Ellen Olivera, a parent active in organizing the event, welcomed Nemcova.
It was during the question-and-answer session that the club's members got a first-hand social studies lesson from Nemcova. First, the model described the living conditions of the children receiving the toys, books and stuffed animals brought in by the students.
“This will make a huge difference to the children, especially children who survived the earthquake in May in Indonesia. Many kids are living in rubble and now with the monsoon coming, everything will be ruined again,” Nemcova explained.
Then the students asked their questions. One wanted to know “What made you want to be a model?”
Nemcova gave them a brief history lesson on Communism.
“I grew up during the Communist period,” she explained. “In Czechoslovakia, my home, we were restricted in our freedoms. We couldn't learn any other language besides Russian. I didn't know who Stevie Wonder was until five years ago!” she admitted.
She also explained that her modeling career began when as an adolescent she attended a fashion event, and was quickly chosen from a talent search for the life of the runway. She also told the star-struck students that “I have to work really, really hard. This life is not all champagne and caviar.”
Although still modeling, Nemcova said she is thinking of her future after the photo shoots end. Nemcova has studied fashion design and “now I am studying psychology,” she told the group.
Before the group headed to the auditorium for a school-wide assembly with the rest of the classes, and a screening of a video Nemcova brought to show the work of the Happy Hearts Fund, Nemcova and Olivera hinted that maybe, just perhaps, next year The Community Outreach Club might take a trip overseas to see for themselves “the stars in the eyes of the children” who are so happy to receive gifts.
“It will help you connect with those children in a very special way,” Nemcova said.
What you can do
For more information on Petra Nemcova's Happy Hearts Fund, visit www.happyheartsfund.org or www.give2asia.org.
Contact Greater Talent Network, America's Leading Celebrity Speakers Bureau.