“But I am,” she wrote.
Gina, a junior at Foran High School, has been named this year’s Miss Emerald Isle and in that capacity will reign at the annual Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which will be March 9 at 1 p.m. in downtown Milford.
Gina said she is 50% Irish on her father’s side, and speaks quite passionately about her great-grandmother, Marie O’Brien, a feminist who came to America from Ireland with her husband, Thomas McGowan, when she was 15 years old.
She also speaks highly of her great-grandfather, who worked for General Electric when he came to America and then owned a pub named McGowan’s in New Haven.
Gina’s grandmother, Helen McGowan Raucci, shared stories about Marie and her husband and their Irish heritage. Through her, Gina developed a love for her Irish roots and the stories that make up that bloodline.
The local girl makes a point of attending each Milford St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and for the past 10 years has actually been in the lineup with her father, Tom Raucci.
Tom, also into his Irish roots, usually drives one of the vehicles in the parade, and Gina has been riding along with him for the past decade.
When it came time for this year’s round of Miss Emerald Isle applications, she was compelled to apply.
“I felt like since I have been in the parade so long, and since I am so proud of my Irish heritage, it was a good way to show that and to get involved in the community,” she said.
Parade organizer Martin Hardiman said he was very impressed with Gina when she was interviewed for the crowning role of this year’s parade.
He doesn’t judge the applicants, but he sits in on interviews and noted that Gina displayed not a bit of nervousness when she was asked questions about her community service and her Irish heritage.
“She came in like she was applying for a job,” Hardiman said.
And while this is not a big part of Gina’s story, she did point out in her essay to the Emerald Isle Committee that she has a disability, one that she hasn’t let stop her from making a difference in her community.
Spinal muscular atrophy causes her muscles to be weak, and forces her to wear leg braces. When she started high school, she looked forward to joining a sports team but realized with her medical condition that she could not. So she signed up as manager of the girls’ soccer team so she could contribute and be a member of a team, she wrote in her essay.
And she’s been involved in her community in other ways, too, working at a Board of Education Ready to Learn program with preschool children, and she founded a club at her high school to raise awareness about the slaughter of dolphins and other marine life.
She has even created a website, thisisforthedolphins.weebly.com, where she explains the plight of dolphins in Japan and encourages support for their protection.
“I want to end the slaughter in Japan and in the Faroe Islands,” she states on the website. “Dolphins are in desperate need of help all around the world but mostly in Taiji, Japan. Taiji has been slaughtering dolphins for years now and still are not giving up.”
Since she was a toddler, Gina has been passionate about marine life, and she guesses it may stem from watching the movie Free Willy when she was very young and impressionable.
The interest stuck, and her career goal is to work as a marine trainer in Florida some day. She plans to study marine biology and psychology in college to prepare for the work.
Gina is the daughter of Beth McIlhoney and Tom Raucci, and she has a stepfather, Ray McIlhoney, and siblings Bailey McIlhoney, 15, and Raymond McIlhoney, 12.
She will be crowned Miss Emerald Isle Feb. 17 at a ceremony in honor of her and this year’s grand marshal, William Healey, at Aldario’s Restaurant from 6 to 10 p.m. Cost to attend is $40, and people interested in going may call Hardiman at 203-878-2865 or 203-415-6288.