UPPER TOWNSHIP — It’s about a year later than expected, but Isabella Freund is going to Florida.
In late July, the Ocean City High School junior is set to compete in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant in Orlando, after the 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic. It’s just another of an extensive list of plans delayed and events put off.
Freund won the title of Miss New Jersey Outstanding Teen in 2020. With pageants canceled or delayed, she will now hold the title until January of 2022.
“For so many people, this year has been absolutely crazy,” Freund said in a recent interview. “For me, I was crowned in January of 2020, so I had about six weeks before the world completely shut down.”
After a few weeks of events as Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen, Freund went from a packed calendar, including a job, her pageant activities, fundraising for the Make-A-Wish foundation and school, to remote classes at home. She said she had to learn about flexibility and adjusting expectations.
“It was a huge adjustment for her. She had all this time on her hands,” said her mom, Ava. “She’s been really good with finding ways to keep herself busy.”
Isabella continued to make appearances, albeit remotely, and to raise money for Make-A-Wish, her social impact initiative, what pageant participants used to call her platform.
“I did a lot of Zoom meetings and (virtual) appearances in schools,” she said.
She also experimented with social media as a means of reaching people.
“I created my first TikTok, and I had a lot of success with that,” Freund said, and used other social media sites.
Also last year, Freund launched a podcast called “Closer Apart” with Alyssa Sullivan, a former Miss New Jersey Outstanding Teen, talking about the COVID-19 vaccine and tackling social issues, including mental health awareness during the pandemic.
“It was not only important for us to share with our audience, but Alyssa and I learned a lot in the process. It was very educational and a blast to make,” Freund said.
The national event in Florida will be the largest pageant she has entered, Freund said, with contestants from all 50 states. When she turns 18 next year, Freund will be eligible to participate for Miss New Jersey, a step toward the Miss America Competition. She described the pageant as the number one source of scholarships for women.
“Being involved in this organization is pretty cool and I can help finance my dream of becoming a doctor,” she said. Both of her parents are medical professionals. She is not just planning to add just any title to her name. “My biggest career ambition is to become a pediatric cardiologist.”
Both her career goal and her dedication to Make-A-Wish stem from personal reasons.
“That’s because of my younger brother,” she said. Antonio has a heart condition, one serious enough to qualify for a wish from Make-A-Wish.
“He had three open-heart surgeries by the age of 2,” she said. Freund said she saw how the cardiologist with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia worked with her parents and cared for patients.
“His cardiologist was able to give them a sense of hope and peace,” she said. “We are still super close to this cardiologist, and I want to do what Antonio’s cardiologist has done for Antonio.”
Now 16, Antonio is a freshman at St. Augustine’s Prep. His biggest passion is football, which his heart condition kept out of his reach. She said he has joined his high school team as a kicker, after close consultation with his doctor, who told him it would be OK if there was no contact and when he trained, he did not lift over his head.
She said he got to put on a football uniform and participate.
“His team did very well this year,” she said.
His wish was to meet the New York Giants. He ended up spending two days with the team, including having lunch with the members. He has wide receiver Victor Cruz’s cleats in his room, she said.
“It was so cool,” she said. “After being a part of that, I want to help as many kids as possible.”
She beamed when she said she’s raised more than $25,000 for Make-A-Wish. As the current New Jersey Outstanding Teen, she said, she continues to work to raise money and to educate the public and health care providers. In part, she wants people to know it is not just a dying wish.
“It’s for children with life-threatening illnesses. My brother’s a perfect example. He’s doing great. He’s healthy,” she said.
Freund grew up in the Seaville section of Upper Township, and attended Upper Township schools until she entered Ocean City High School. She said she is nervous about the coming competition, but enthused about going to Orlando, describing herself as an unrepentant nerd eager to visit the Disney, Star Wars and Harry Potter attractions nearby.
“I’m a huge Disney fan. I’m obsessed with all things Disney,” she said.
Freund is also active in sports. She said tennis and golf are her favorites. In addition, she works at a local golf course, and as a Party Princess, portraying a princess at events.
“We took a break last summer, obviously, to make sure everyone was safe and healthy,” she said. Her appearances as a pageant winner are also beginning to return, including participating in the Unlocking of the Ocean and Business Person’s Plunge to kick off the season in Ocean City last Friday.