Gabrielle Walter, Miss New York 2017, talks with children at the Bernie Wohl Center
One wants to be a doctor. Another dreams of going to Disney World. One aims to be president of the United States (inspired, she says, by President Obama). And one wants to be a mermaid.
Every child in the room had a goal. And Gabrielle Walter, better known as Miss New York 2017, wanted to hear them all.
“Draw a big triangle,” she urged the classroom full of campers at Goddard Riverside’s Bernie Wohl Center Summer Day Camp. “Now write or draw your dream at the top.”
Wearing a sparkling tiara and sash, Walter was in constant motion: handing out paper and crayons, getting down on the floor to draw with campers, springing to her feet to exhort them to think big and be strategic.
Walter is pretty busy chasing dreams herself these days. On September 10 she’ll compete for the title of Miss America in Atlantic City. She’s also a third-year law student at the University of Buffalo School of Law, a talented vocalist, and the founder of DreamUp America, an education-based initiative that helps kids choose a goal and plan for it.
“There are three things that will help you get to your dream,” she told the campers. She taught them the acronym OWN: First, seek out Opportunities. Second, Work hard every day. Third, build a Network of support.
That network begins here and now, she added, pausing so that every child could turn to his or her neighbors and say, “I support your dream.”
She had the children outline steps they would take toward their dreams, and called several of them forward so they could lay out their plans to their campmates.
When the hard work was over, it was time for a little fun. Walter plunked herself down on the floor so the children could touch her crown. She doled out high-fives and hugs and posed for photos.
Getting up close and personal with the tiara
Walter said she began giving DreamUp America workshops at schools and community organizations in order to share what she’s learned with younger people. “One of my favorite parts is to see how kids really expand their imagination and broaden their horizons of what they can possibly achieve. In these workshops they’re able to really explore that and have fun,” she added.
“I have been so fortunate to achieve my dreams, and I want them to know, hey, I believe in you.”