Real Housewives of New Jersey alum Dina Manzo is the “happiest” she’s ever been since creating Project Ladybug, a non-profit organization that helps enrich the lives of children with life-threatening conditions. The mom-of-one opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about the importance of giving back, her “pretty amazing” 14-year-old daughter Lexi, and her plans to return to the small screen soon.
CBS: Tell us about Project Ladybug and the launch of Julien’s Project Ladybug Fund at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
DM: “Sloan has been so welcoming to Ladybug and has embraced our mission by working alongside us every step of the way. Our shared goal is to see these children leave the Center on their way back to full recovery. Their well-being is top priority.
People from all over the world come to Sloan for treatment and Ladybug will raise funds for plane tickets so families can be together during these trying times. Among many other things, we will also host birthday parties and holidays too. I believe that mindset is half the battle, so Ladybug will give kids incentives for treatments. The goal here is to change their mindset of chemo from a negative to a positive.
Think like a kid. If you knew each time you had to do something challenging it might make it a little less scary if there was something to look forward to in the end. On a case by case basis, they will be able to choose a ‘prize’ that they will receive at the end of treatment. They will receive points towards this prize with each treatment.”
CBS: Why is this project so close to your heart?
DM: “Julien’s Project Ladybug fund is named after an 8 year old boy named Julien Collot that was diagnosed with Adult Leukemia. Julien had two bone marrow transplants and is currently free of Leukemia but now suffers from Graft-Versus-Host Disease, a serious complication from the transplant. After all he’s been through, he embodies the spirit of Lady Bug. He makes everyone smile and lifts everyone’s spirits!
His mom Jacqueline and I share the same passion for this cause. She has her own foundation that raises money for research at Sloan and now she’s my partner in this NY Ladybug fund. I was so inspired by her and just fell in love with her and her son. I am proud to call her my friend.”
CBS: Tell us about your teenage daughter Lexi. How old is she? What is she into?
DM: “I am so proud of her. For a 14 year old girl, it’s pretty amazing that she loves nothing more than to give back. She’s a freshman in high school and has started a chapter for Ladybug there. They organize things like car washes and bake sales and they make cards and deliver gifts too.
She was approached to do modeling etc. when I was on the show, but she wasn’t that interested. She even said to me, ‘I don’t want to just be famous – I want to be a role model for young girls and give back.’ She is such a good person and she has a huge heart. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still 14 and loves to hang out with her girlfriends and drive me nuts, but for the most part I think she’s a pretty exceptional young lady.”
CBS: What do you teach Lexi about self-esteem? How do you empower her toward good decisions during the teen years?
DM: “I teach her to believe in herself – girls can be very mean. I tell her to know who you are and as long as you do the right thing and are doing good for others it doesn’t matter what people are saying. You only need the approval of the people you love and your family.”
CBS: Will we see you return to Real Housewives of New Jersey? Or maybe a move to Real Housewives of New York?
DM: “Well, I really can’t say much on this topic, so let’s just say I won’t be missing from TV altogether. You may see my face pop up somewhere in the near future!”
CBS: What are your holiday plans? Do you have any special traditions?
DM: “We are doing things differently this year. It’s hard to keep a child grounded in today’s society. We are going back to the basics this holiday and what they should be about. I want to her to feel the spirit of the holidays and not buy into the commercialism of it all. It is so much more rewarding to give than it is to get. These kids [from Project Ladybug] have really helped me grow. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I owe a lot of it to Ladybug – and my husband and daughter of course! Now, nothing petty gets to me. I know what’s important and these kids have taught me that. And for that, I’m very grateful.”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
DM: “I’m launching Atia’s Project Lady Bug at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago. Atia is a three year old little girl and her mother Laura is a cancer survivor too. They are both so inspiring. I’m really looking forward to working along side them.”
Learn more about Project Ladybug by clicking here.View Slideshow »»