Former Miss Cape May County to host benefit concert for OCNJ CARE

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OCEAN CITY — When she returned to her island home after Hurricane Sandy, Debbie Pruitt said she felt a profound sadness – and it was not just the 3 feet of water in her garage at 26th Street that brought her down.

“I was a victim, I lost a lot of things, but I was lucky,” she said.

Driving around town, she saw the ruined contents of hundreds of homes on the curb.

“I was not prepared, I did not realize how overwhelming the damage was,” she said.

So she volunteered her efforts, helping serve meals at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, working with OCNJ CARE, a non-profit organization established to help clean and restore the island.

Yet she yearned to do more.

Using the 12-12-12 concert held last week as a model, the former Miss Cape May County 1996 and Miss New Jersey runner-up is using her talents as an entertainer to host a local concert to raise money for OCNJ CARE.

Pruitt, joined by legions of local talent, will host a fundraising concert 4 p.m. Jan. 12, 2013 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 10th Street and Central Avenue. 

“This concert is designed to raise funds and raise spirits,” Pruitt said. “I thought about how I could help, and since I am an entertainer, I thought it would be nice to host a concert.

“It’s the 1-12-13 Concert. It’s not going to be as big as the 12-12-12, but it’s going to be just as special,” she said. “You don’t need a professional music contract to enjoy a career in music. You don’t need to go to New York or Philadelphia to enjoy beautiful music either. You can get it right here, and that’s what we’re offering.”

Joining Pruitt will be members of the St. John’s congregation, Debby and Jim Dalfonso, who are currently overseeing the renovation of the Gateway Playhouse, and Nancy Fox, Pruitt’s first performance instructor, among others.

“We’re going to have a lot of wonderful performers, both local and regional,” Pruitt said.

A graduate of Ocean City High School and Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey, Pruitt earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. She has worked with the Ocean City Pops Orchestra, The Ocean City Theatre Company and the Gateway Playhouse.

She taught music in Upper Township, but after budget cuts eliminated her position, she took a job as production director with Royal Caribbean cruise lines, directing entertainment as the ships traveled through England, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Russia.

While she enjoyed traveling around the world, Pruitt said she missed home.

“I loved traveling, but I started to realize that I did not want to be away from home,” she said. “We would stop in an area, and we’d have a few hours off the ship. It gave me a unique opportunity to learn the customs and culture.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, but I learned that Dorothy had it right in the Wizard of Oz, ‘There is truly no place like home.’

“I yearned to be home; I missed the beach and the boardwalk, my friends, my family. The more you travel the world the more you realize you’re just visiting, you’re looking at a slice of other’s people’s lives and you want to be home.”

Pruitt returned home in August 2012; two months, disaster struck.

“Here I wanted to come home so badly, and then this,” she said, adding that “things happen for a reason.” Had she been on a ship half way around the world, she would have been miserable and beside herself, worried about her hometown.

“It was meant to be that I was home,” she said.

Newly employed by B & B Department Store on Asbury Avenue, Pruitt said work is therapeutic. B & B was closed for several weeks after Sandy.

“We have a lot of conversations with people all day about the flooding,” she said. “People are so excited that we are open. It’s really nice to see that they could reopen the store, it looks nice and everyone just feels good to come in and support them. It’s a nice feeling to be there, very positive for me. Even though almost everyone lost something, they’re happy to see the town coming back.”

Yet there is a long road ahead and Pruitt wants to be part of making the path just a bit easier for fellow victims. Community service is nothing new to Pruitt. Two years in a row, Pruitt was awarded the prestigious Miss America Community Service Award during her competition years in the program.

“I’m very proud of that, more than anything else I’ve accomplished,” Pruitt said. “I earned that for my work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.”

Pruitt said she is looking forward to the concert and appreciates all the support she has received from her church and the community.

“Music is the universal language,” she said. “Let’s use it, let’s sit together and sing and enjoy each other’s company.”

Pruitt said she is very grateful for OCNJ CARE.

“I went to volunteer for the organization and they ended up helping me,” she said. Volunteers helped clean and repair her garage and the insulation underneath her home.

“It’s divine intervention, I truly believe in that,” she said. “We are all taken care of somehow. We need to remember, smile and take care of one another as best we can. I think this will be a wonderful thing for the New Year. I’m very excited.”

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