Gina Carloto: Miss Connecticut

On her title, hardships, the importance of pageants, self worth and community involvement through service

The Miss America pageant has been around since the 1920s, empowering women across the country and celebrating the inner beauty of its contestants. 50 contestants from each state win every year before competing against one another for the title of "Miss America'. Each contestant though, brings something unique to the competition, but all with the same goal of inspiring young women. Gina Carloto, was crowned the most recent Miss Connecticut and represents the the importance of community involvement. Through her work, she shines a light on the need for acts of service locally and behind. "I'm incredibly passionate about supporting local businesses, particularly those owned and operated by women," Carloto said.

While many may believe that pageants are about getting dressed up and putting on makeup, that is a common misconception. Pageants, like Miss Connecticut, provide significant educational and financial opportunities for women. 

"Many people may not realize that participating in these competitions offers young women the chance to develop invaluable skills such as interviewing, public speaking, and time management," Carloto explained. "When I was crowned Miss Connecticut, I was simultaneously managing a full-time job in finance, homeownership responsibilities, numerous public appearances, and intensive preparations for the Miss America pageant. It was a demanding yet immensely rewarding experience that pushed me to grow in ways I never imagined."

In fact, after being crowned Miss Connecticut, Carloto earned over eight thousand dollars in scholarships. As a daughter of a single mother, Carloto saw firsthand the hardwork it took for her mom to fund her college education, truly understanding the value of scholarships. She now holds two Bachelor's degrees and an MBA in finance. 

"Looking back, I wish I had started competing in pageants sooner. Regardless of one's financial preparedness for college, the personal growth and educational benefits gained from participating in these competitions are immeasurable," Carloto told Greenwich Lifestyle.

The program also offers the flexibility to apply the earned scholarship dollars to any other higher education institution, providing invaluable financial assistance to pursue academic goals.

Carloto's road to becoming Miss Connecticut, did not come without hardship after she decided to enter the pageant following the loss of her mother to cancer in July of 2022. She shares that tragedy served as a powerful catalyst for her to become more active in the community. 

"The recent positive changes within the Miss America Opportunity (MAO, formerly Organization), including shifts in leadership and program structure, resonated deeply with me," said Carloto who for her this journey has always been centered around the power of womanhood, "With its emphasis on mind-body wellness, community service, scholarship opportunities, and women's empowerment, the program aligned perfectly with my personal mission and values.This journey has been a call to action, urging me to embody and practice the values my mother instilled in me from a young age."

Through her work, she was able to find a platform to honor her mother's legacy, launching The Grace Collective, also known as TGC. The project is aimed at promoting holistic wellness in her mother's namesake through four pillars: Health, Education, Advocacy, and Lifestyle (HEAL). "Serving as Miss Connecticut has allowed me to seamlessly integrate my advocacy work with TGC, furthering our mission while contributing to the legacy of empowering women to lead. This experience has been transformative, affirming my belief in the potential of young women to effect positive change in their communities and beyond," said Carloto.

In under one year, through this work they have been able to support over $2 million raised and provided in funds, goods, and services for health, education, advocacy, and lifestyle initiatives. Carloto adds, "Looking ahead, we aspire to further our impact by formalizing The Grace Collective as a non-profit organization, allowing us to expand our reach and continue our mission of spreading hope and healing to even more individuals in need."

GL: What is your favorite part of being Miss Connecticut? 

GC: My favorite part of being Miss Connecticut is the opportunity to inspire and uplift others while representing my state and serving my community. Whether it's through advocating for causes close to my heart, engaging with diverse audiences, or collaborating with local organizations, I cherish the chance to make a meaningful impact and connect with people from all walks of life. Being Miss Connecticut allows me to use my platform to promote positive change, spread joy, and empower individuals to pursue their dreams. It's an incredible honor to hold this title and to represent the spirit and resilience of the people of Connecticut.

Pageants also provide a platform for fostering partnerships with businesses and organizations, enabling women to become business-savvy and expand their networks, which is an aspect often overlooked. This aspect of pageantry empowers women to not only excel in personal development but also in professional endeavors.

GL: Tell us about some of the events you have held as Miss Connecticut.

GC: As Miss Connecticut, I've had the honor of organizing various events that not only celebrate community spirit but also support local businesses. One notable occasion was the Girls' Night Out (GNO) held at Bobbles & Lace in downtown Westport, where I collaborated with several remarkable women-owned businesses to create a vibrant and empowering evening. This event not only fostered connections within the community but also highlighted the importance of supporting local entrepreneurship.

While I may not have won the Miss America title, I am deeply honored to represent Connecticut until I pass the crown to my successor in June. Reflecting on my journey, I only wish I had become involved with the Miss Connecticut Scholarship Organization sooner.

Nevertheless, as Miss Connecticut and as a Forever Miss Connecticut, it's my mission to continue paving the way for the young women who are the future of this program. I feel empowered to balance my career in finance with pursuing my passions, such as benefiting communities across Connecticut through The Grace Collective. It's a privilege to uplift the women around me and contribute to positive change in our communities. It has always been my dream to practice law and provide pro bono services to cancer patients and their families, a service that deeply impacted me and my mother during her illness.

"Being Miss Connecticut allows me to use my platform to promote positive change, spread joy, and empower individuals to pursue their dreams."

"Pageantry empowers women to not only excel in personal development, but also in professional endeavors."

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