Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña

Beautiful inside and out — Special needs advocate, pageant contestant, mother of three

1-2015-6-9-OBrien-Izabella-G-LOOK24896-as-Smart-Object-1-copy-683x1024Meeting Izabela O’Brien you can’t help but be struck by her stop-you-in-your tracks looks. But don’t let appearances deceive. Izabela works hard to balance being the mom of three active daughters, running a non-profit for special needs children, and capturing pageant crowns.

I was born in Krakow, Poland and my parents settled in the Chicago area when I was 10 months old. They expected me to speak fluent Polish so it was important to them that I not only speak Polish in the home, but also attend Polish school every Saturday. For eight years I studied Polish reading, writing, history and geography. I went on to attend Loyola University Chicago where I majored in Communications with an emphasis on broadcast journalism.

My husband Dan and I met at a fundraiser in Chicago called the Green Tie Ball in 2000. The Green Tie Ball is hosted by Chicago Gateway Green, a non-profit dedicated to greening and beautifying Chicago’s expressways, gateways and neighborhoods. Three years later we were married.

3-2015-6-9-OBrien-Izabella-G-LOOK25502-as-Smart-Object-1-copy-683x1024On-the-Go Mom

Dan and I are the parents of three daughters: Alina is 10, Yvette 9 and Ireland 7.

Alina attends Villa Maria, and Yvette and Ireland attend Greenwich Academy. All the girls are extremely active in extra-curricular activities. Alina is a swimmer and equestrian. Yvette studies all forms of dance and enjoys golf, tennis and lacrosse. Ireland enjoys dance, soccer, golf and tae kwan do.

Alina, our oldest, is the hardest working member of our family. In 2007, she was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), an autism spectrum disorder. Since then she has devoted many hours participating in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and occupational therapy, in addition to attending school. As a family she always keeps us grounded and real. Alina has a special gift because she makes everyone around her become more compassionate and self-aware.

The initial days post diagnosis were extremely dark, but because of our unrelenting attitudes of living life to the fullest we lifted each other up and quickly learned that we were meant to be her proud and fearless parents.

Fearless Special Needs Advocate

The Fearless Angel Project provides families who present a financial need with a place to turn when they are in need of additional funding for their child’s therapies. My inspiration for starting this organization came when Alina was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. My husband and I were fortunate enough to have the resources to provide our daughter with the educational opportunities, and the therapeutic and biomedical treatments necessary for her to live a happy and rewarding life with improvements along the way. Along this journey I was shocked to learn how much insurance does not cover, even though these therapies are recommended and considered the “gold standard.”

The teachers and therapists who have worked with Alina through the years have an unrelenting drive and attitude. I quickly learned that they are our fearless angels. In June, we held our first event luncheon and were able to award three families with scholarships that will be used for summer programs such as swim therapy, ABA and biomedical treatments. There are thousands of families with children who have developmental disorders. They struggle emotionally and financially every day to pay for these services and unfortunately cannot provide their children with the same chances of improving. I feel that this is simply unfair to those families who already have so much on their plate. I wish I could help each and every one of them through The Fearless Angel Project, but this is a good start.

Completing and Competing

I dislike having unfinished business and after my closest friends recently presented me with a birthday cake decorated with a replica of me wearing a Mrs. Greenwich sash, I took it as a sign that the timing was right to go for Mrs. Connecticut 2015. I had been involved in the Miss USA circuit in my early 20s and had placed as fourth, third and second runner-up in Ms. Illinois USA. Unfortunately I “aged-out” and could not compete again.

I feel that this is a great example for my daughters to see that regardless of one’s age, if you feel unsettled in your pursuits and goals, you should always pursue your dreams. On March 21st all three girls were present at Foxwoods and witnessed their “mommy” getting crowned as Mrs. CT 2015. It was the best feeling in the world to see them screaming with joy.2-2015-6-9-OBrien-Izabella-G-LOOK25236-as-Smart-Object-1-copy-683x1024

The process for preparing for Mrs. America is both mental and physical. I don’t believe one should do anything unless you plan on putting forth 100% and believe in your heart that you can win. I went to Mrs. CT believing I can win and I plan on maintaining that philosophy. My goal is to bring the Mrs. America crown back to Greenwich. I truly believe the women in Greenwich all exemplify what a Mrs. America represents: beauty, brains and an unrelenting passion to serve others.

It does take a lot of time and commitment to prepare for a pageant. However, just like any profession, if you love what you are doing then it doesn’t feellike work. I have amazing individuals helping me. My state directors Elaine and Ray Paolo are a state title holder’s dream. They are always a phone call away with advice regarding attire, personal appearances and, most important, emotional positive reinforcement. They are not kidding when they say you are part of their pageant family and welcome you with open arms.

Physically, regular exercise is important. My Mrs. America sponsor is Terry Conrad of Naturallyou here in Greenwich. Terry makes sure I have a weekly skincare regime in place to help me look my absolute best for the national competition. I feel like I am glowing every time I walk out of her office.

Being a Mrs. CT does not mean you are perfect, it means you are real. I drive, drive, drive my kids all over Fairfield County, work constantly on The Fearless Angels Project, attend recitals, games, school meetings, photo shoots, appearances and sometimes I snap at my kids. I do it all with real love and passion!

I’m naturally “on.” What you see is what you get. The pageants are glamorous, which I enjoy very much. In the Polish culture I was surrounded by women who always took great pride not only in their accomplishments, but in the way they presented themselves externally. It became apparent to me at an early age that a woman should dress up, put on some make up and heels and not be afraid to stand out in a room and be noticed.

Team Effort

Unfortunately, the downside is definitely the time. There are only 24 hours in a day and I often cannot fit all my goals for the day into a 24-hour period. I often say I wish I could either clone myself or require less sleep.

Emotionally my family is my rock and constantly reminding me I can do this. However, I am an extremely blessed woman because in addition to my family, I have the best girlfriends in the world. They are 100% in on this journey and constantly volunteering to help me prepare. You can count on hearing their support at the national competition.

My daughters and husband are incredibly proud and excited to attend the national pageant. The title has allowed me to have a louder voice and wider audience for The Fearless Angel Project and long after the reign is over the mission will continue.

Thefearlessangelproject.org

Clothing by Saks Fifth Avenue, Greenwich