Miss A Columnist

World-traveler, blogger, book lover… finding beauty everywhere she looks. Mina De Caro is Italian, born and raised in small-town Southern Italy, close to medieval castles and archeological sites. She is now based in Pennsylvania where she lives with her family, but there are three different countries in the world that she has the pleasure to call home. Mina graduated summa cum laude from the University of Bari in Italy with a Master's Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures. Visual arts, traveling and her blog Mina’s Bookshelf are her favorite hobbies. With a background as export manager and a wide experience as international sales specialist, the only lands she hasn't had the chance to touch yet are the Artica/Antartica and Oceania. In an era of high-tech gadgets and electronic readers, Mina is very protective of her books, so whatever she is reading follows her around the house… with two little kids you never know when and where a crayon may leave a mark.

Interview With Philanthropist And Vocalist Dahna Bender

Today I am thrilled to have a very talented vocalist on Miss A. Everything about Ms. Dahna Bender is so heartwarming: her exceptional voice, her personal history, her philanthropic work. Fighting for the rights of animals has become a driving force in Dahna’s life. Leveraging her talents as a singer, she is once again using music to raise awareness and much-needed funds for her cause. This year, her focus is to help raise awareness about puppy mills (commercial breeding mills) and rescue outreach.

Photo Credit: Dahna Bender)

Photo Credit: Dahna Bender

Q. Welcome, Dahna. I found your biography to be nothing short of a fairy tale. Can you please share it with our readers?

A. Yes, here is my bio. I was born Grazia Massari on October 29, 1966 by mid wives, in a house on Via La Tina Street, Roma (Italy). On March 16, 1967 I was fortunate to be adopted by Louise and Harry Bender of Massapequa (NY) through Angel Guardian Home in Brooklyn (NY) and Italian Immigration. Brought over by nuns via airplane, along with other adopted children, I was the only baby and the last group of children for adoption to the USA. Subsequently, Italy stopped all international adoptions. My mother, Louise Agnes Dennaro, spent her life as an orphan at Angel Guardian Home until the age of 12, when she was taken in by a foster family. Unfortunately, she was never treated like a member of the family. Harry Valentine Bender, my dad, was legally blind from birth. He and Louise met on an arranged date. After marrying, Harry started Bender Insurance agency, with Louise as his right-hand person. When unable to conceive a child, Harry and Louise turned to the orphanage where Louise spent most of her childhood. That orphanage had subsequently been converted into an adoption agency. Despite Harry’s handicap, they were granted a baby from Brooklyn, my sister Lisa. I came three years later. With a blessed childhood filled with song, dance and study, I went on to succeed in business. Keeping my passion for music, I became one of the National Anthem singers for the NHL’s NY Islanders in 1991. Just recently, when deciding to create a Christmas CD with my long time friends and colleagues, Jimmy Greco and Russ Desalvo (now Airgomusic, the production company) it become apparent that the most important thing to me was the true way my voice and music were to be used in this world: through acts of kindness and giving. That was the birth of Giving Of The Heart. The beginning of a life of destiny. Grazia Massari, from Italy, became Dahna Bender.

Photo Credit: National Mill Dog Rescue

Photo Credit: National Mill Dog Rescue

Q. Music has been a constant in your life. Do you remember the moment when you realized that your passion would become your career?

A. There was not a singular moment. When my parents discovered that I could sing, they led me in the direction of performance. Although I loved and pursued it during my younger years, I never really had the desire or passion to be an artist in the music business. However, with the support and resources available to me at this point in my life, I have realized how I wanted to use my God-given talent of song. And that is when Giving Of The Heart was born.

Q. You’re working on a new project with some of the most outstanding names in the music industry. We would love to know what you have in store for your fans.

A. Yes, I am working with two renowned producers in the industry, whom I have known for many years. When this project came about, without hesitation, Jimmy Greco, and Russ DeSalvo were the first people I turned to and made my dream a reality. Thankfully, I consider them both my friends. Jimmy Greco is a Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer with credits including Carlos Santana, Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Frankie Negron, Co Co Lee, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jamie Lynn Sigler. Russ Desalvo is a hit songwriter and producer with credits including 98 degrees, Celine Dion, Trisha Yearwod, Marc Anthony, BeBe Winans, Tina Arena, Sophie B. Hawkins, Mya, Jennifer Paige, Natalie Grant, Michelle Wright and Amber. What I have in store for my fans, after this year’s CD, is more Christmas CD’s to come every year, hopefully with celebrity artists coming forward and volunteering their talent to help an amazing cause. It’s my goal to make this a life-long project to help bring awareness about the cruelties of the commercial dog breeding industry. Ultimately, I want to raise significant funds, and help save as many dogs as possible from a life of abject misery.

(Photo Credit: Dahna Bender)

Photo Credit: Dahna Bender

Q. Your upcoming CD sounds like a wonderful Christmas delight and a generous act of kindness. Please tell us how you will be using your incredible talent to benefit a charitable cause.

A. All of the profits from my project will go to National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR). My goal is to educate the public about the cruel realities of the commercial dog breeding industry, “puppy mills”. NMDR rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes breeding dogs discarded from puppy mills. The tireless voluntary efforts to help these innocent and abused dogs is led by its founder, Theresa Strader. I thank God for being blessed to be able to have the resources and support to accomplish this goal for the greater good. I have believed from its inception that a completely selfless act of kindness can only be successful if its purpose is pure. I always knew that pet stores bought their puppies to sell from puppy mills. One day last summer, I was driving out east to our Greenport house on the north fork of Long Island, and I came across picketers outside a pet store. I pulled over and spoke with them and got the name of the woman who was in charge. The woman, Barbara Dennihy, who has single-handedly fought to change NY State legislation with regard to puppy mills and pet store sales, enlightened me about the commercial dog breeding industry. It was then that I decided to take action and somehow help. I became aware of NMDR through Barbara. After meeting Theresa, the founder, and the volunteers during my visit to their Kennel in Peyton Colorado, I knew this was the organization I wanted to help. With that the CD Giving Of The Heart was born. I am looking to sell at least 500 thousand CD’s. There’s no limit to what I am trying to raise. The more the better to help NMDR continue and survive. Funds to help them become more of a National Organization. It’s currently unaffordable to send a person on a plane to deliver a pup. Prospective owners need to come to Colorado, which inhibits adoptions. Just one of the things the funds will hopefully help change.

Dahna, thank you so much for sharing your moving and inspiring story. The collection of holiday classics Giving Of The Heart will include Silent Night, Sleigh Ride, O Holy Night and more. It will be made available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and other digital retailers along with a hardcopy CD that can be ordered through Argo Music and on Dahna Bender’s website.

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