By Isaiah Negron
Every year on October 31st, philanthropist and animal advocate Michele Riggi dons a regal wedgewood gown and her best princess smile for her annual Halloween Extravaganza at the Palazzo Riggi in Saratoga Springs, NY. From a glittering full-size carriage with live ponies to attending footmen, Riggi's Cinderella distributes hugs and chocolate bars to any trick-or-treater who steps up to her royal dais. "It's so much fun to do this for the community," says Riggi. "This year we will be giving out $100 bills every half hour among the chocolate bars and 101.3 The Jockey will be streaming the event live. So there will be even more excitement this year." In addition to the cash surprises hidden with the chocolate, there is also a contest for guessing the weight of the giant pumpkin Riggi sits by. The winner will receive a one year membership to the local YMCA. "We will be serving 140 gallons of hot cider and 2,400 hot cider doughnuts as well," she adds.
But this Cinderella isn't just about pumpkins and ponies. As a prominent animal activist, Riggi has invited Homes for Orphaned Pets Exist (H.O.P.E) Animal Rescue and their adoptable pets to come be her special guests at the party. "We want our focus to be 'Adopt, Don't Shop.' So many pets need good homes," explains Riggi, who has worked with the the Saratoga County Animal Shelter and owns 42 pooches of her own, which she calls her "little divas." She says, "I don't think a house is a home unless you have a pet." This year, Riggi is also implementing a Fast Track line for special needs guests, allowing them expedited access to the Saratoga's Princess. "You have no idea how many special needs kids come to this event and stand in line for an hour, waiting to see Cinderella. It's heartbreaking," she admits. "The Fast Track line will be right at the front of the property so anyone with special needs can skip the line and come right up to me."
Riggi also serves as President of the National Museum of Dance. The museum has honored everyone from Fred Astaire to Ann-Margret Smith for their contriubutions to dance and recently opened the Mr. and Mrs. Ronald A. Riggi Theatre. She says, "The theatre will honor dancers in film and will serve as a black box theater for opera, acting classes and performances." Michele also supports the New York City Ballet and is a sponsor for this year's Career Transition For Dancers' Fall Gala on October 6th, which helps dancers define and develop skills for post-performance professions. Special guests will include Angela Lansbury, who is this year's Rolex Dance Award Honoree, James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera and Chuck Scarborough. careertransition.org With a heart filled with compassion and the drive to make things happen, Michele's star shines brighter every year.
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