Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Small Town Girl Makes Good in Vegas

The best thing I ever did was to leave western New York. The hardest thing I’m doing in my life is to stay away from there. I often think about where I would be right now if my parents hadn’t died. For sure, I’d probably be living either right down the road from them, or maybe even with them. After all, I was the only girl with three older brothers and from the looks of my father’s side of the family daughters did not stray too far from home. Perhaps there would have been more children, more daughters, but we’ll never know.

What I do know is that because of my family history, I developed a sense of rootlessness early on that enabled me to make a break from ties that bound me to one place, at least in a physical sense. My heart will always, always belong to New York.

I first left home right out of high school and went to a college two hours away. I missed my boyfriend and friends and didn’t really like the program I was in, so I returned home and did a semester at the local college. That taste of freedom, however, must have settled in because I couldn’t stay put. In an effort to break ties, I packed up and went to Washington State to stay with relatives until I heard back from a college in California that I’d applied to. I received word of my acceptance in spring 1977 so I packed my few belongings, said farewell to more family and headed out on my own again. I didn’t know a soul in southern California, but it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t find my way.

For the next ten years I lived there where I met both of my husbands, had two little girls, created long-lasting friendships, and continued to develop into who I would become. Then, an opportunity to work in Las Vegas came my way and I took it.

That was in 1987 and I’ve been here ever since, except for a few forays into leaving Las Vegas. I keep saying I don’t like it here; I miss green vegetation, rain, thunderstorms, and cool summers. What I have come to realize is just how fortunate I’ve been in living in this community, and the realization that I have planted roots here that have harvested an amazing life. I have experienced some incredible moments, pretty good for a girl from rural New York.

When they say Las Vegas really is a small town they mean it, in the way that long term establishment allows for a person to make those tiny little connections that develop into a huge network of people. The one that stands out most for me is the close encounter I had with the biggest name in Las Vegas: the Wynns. Yes, those Wynns; of the mega casinos and the world-renowned art collection; the unofficial king and queen of the desert. For three years I worked for one of Elaine Wynn’s charitable organizations. Through that work experience I was a part of an inner-circle that brought me and my co-workers in close contact with Mrs. Wynn on a regular basis. In addition, we participated in events that I never would have imagined I’d be invited to, much less be a part of in an intimate way.

I remember so clearly being hired by the organization. I’d received a phone call out of the blue to come and interview for a position as a volunteer coordinator. After meeting John Pucci, the co-chair, along with Elaine Wynn of the Greater Las Vegas Inner-City Games(now called the After-School All-Stars).

I was directed to head to the Strip to meet with Mrs. Wynn herself. As I headed up a marble-encased elevator to the top floor of the famous Desert Inn (no longer in existence), I couldn’t help but reflect on my humble beginnings. How surreal it was for me, a girl from Corfu, New York about to meet face-to-face the most powerful woman in Las Vegas.

Mrs. Wynn was (and still is) beautiful and gracious; she made me feel comfortable right off. Our meeting went well and I must have passed the test as I was hired.

During my tenure with the organization I had a glimpse of the Las Vegas only some very privileged people get to see. Fundraisers for the GLVICG included events such as: the grand opening of a Louis Vuitton store, a Today Show visit with Al Roker, and attending the exclusive black-tie opening of The Wynn casino. During one staff meeting I asked Mrs. Wynn if it would be possible to see the collection of art that she and her husband (that would be Steve Wynn) owned. She invited the entire staff to their home where the art work was housed at the time. Christmas parties even included socializing with Mrs. Wynn and others in an informal way. What an experience, right?

(John and Lisa at the opening of The Wynn)

I no longer work for the organization so those inclusive days are over, at least on that level. I have retained more than memories, however, as the friendships that were forged during those years are still very much a part of my life, as are the business relationships created.

From where I stand now I can attest to the small-town community that Las Vegas is. The seeds were planted over twenty years ago and the network that has grown has given me those roots I so long ago thought would never tie me to one place. Dare I say it - Las Vegas is “home?”


Joanna Jenkins said...

What a great post-- and one that hit "home" for me. I always say I spent the first half of my life trying to get out of my small Ohio home town and the second half of my life trying to get back! Like you, I've moved around a lot. I'm glad you've found a sense of community in Las Vegas. I'm in Los Angeles, and although it's a great place, It's not really "home", even after 20 years.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. It's nice to meet you. I'll be back soon.

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

Thank you for stopping in Joanna. Nice to meet you, too. I'm looking forward to getting to know you through your blog. Where in LA? I go to Simi Valley all the time.

Ranna said...

I feel the same way, Lisa. What a privilege it was to work with GLVICG (now GLVASAS) and get to know Mrs. Wynn and work so closely with such incredible, influential people in Las Vegas. But even more so, GLVASAS brought me to meet you... and I still consider you a very good friend even to this very day. You taught me that the ability to write is a gift...and to use it! :)