Move over Super Mom (yeah, you) with your amazing juggling techniques, laptop spinning on one finger, baby on your hip, and cape flapping in the wind. There’s a new trailblazer in town, one whose superpowers far out shadow us all! She’s a M.O.M. (mom on a mission) and she’s giving back to our communities in leaps and bounds, redefining what it means to do good in the world.
First up in our new series highlighting local M.O.M.s we awe and adore is Dina Manzo of “Housewives” fame and also the founder of Project Ladybug, a not-for-profit devoted to improving the lives of children undergoing cancer treatments at area hospitals. We sat down with Dina and found out just what makes her tick (and how she manages to seemingly do it all). Photos by Meg Bitton, Interview by Jennifer Law
So why did you start Project Ladybug?
It started when I became an event planner and was going to all of these charity events, thinking about how I could put my style into them and make them even better. Plus, when I was a child, my father always had us give to St. Jude, so that idea of giving was always there. So I decided to throw a “lady’s night out” and instead of going with St. Jude, went back to St. Joseph’s hospital, where Lexi was born and they gave me a tour of their pediatric oncology ward and I decided that that was the cause I wanted to raise money for. Our first event we only raised $20 grand, but that $20,000 made such a difference. And that’s how it was born. My thought process in life is if you stay positive you will have a positive outcome, and that’s what we’re trying to do, keep these kids positive.
What hospitals are you working with now?
We are at St. Josephs in Paterson, and now we are working with Sloane Kettering in the city, and that’s been really amazing, and at The University of Chicago Children’s Hospital- our next stop is L.A.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect outside of obviously helping kids who are sick?
It’s changed my life completely. It puts things in perspective. When you think about these mothers who are faced with possibly losing a child, you are personally able to make it through anything that life throws at you. I can’t think of something worse than losing a child. And meeting these kids, who for me are like little shamans, who teach you so about life in one afternoon with them.
And what do you think the impact has been on your daughter Lexi?
For me as a parent, children really learn what they see. You can tell them all day long it’s the right thing to do, but if you’re not doing it, they really won’t learn it. And I learned from watching my dad give back so it was ingrained in me. Lexi has a ladybug fund at her school that she started on her own, without me asking her to do it. Without even realizing it, I think I did the most important thing as a parent.
How do you see Project Ladybug evolving?
I would love for it to become a household name, to reach even more hospitals. I would love to have “Project Ladybug Houses” like “Ronald McDonald Houses”. I want to reach more hospitals but I want to make sure we help each hospital we are working with to the fullest extent. I love when people reach out to me on social media and say they saw a ladybug because they connect in that way.
We were thinking of a name and my daughter’s nickname has been ladybug ever since she was born. There was always a ladybug at important times in my life. And when Lexi was born there was no ladybug in sight because she was my ladybug. When we were naming the organization, Lexi said “let’s name it ladybug, it means hope” and she was like 12 at the time. I love that she thought of the name as a child and what it represents. And when I researched it, I found out that ladybug’s get their name from the blessed mother which is all about protecting children.