A Saint Mark’s High School graduate who has spent the last few years dispensing hope to women near her Florida home and beyond has offered some words of consolation and comfort to the Class of 2020. Dianne Silanskas Garvis, a member of the Class of 1978, told The Dialog that her mission in life is bringing positivity to those who might need a pick-me-up.
Garvis founded Tiaras of Hope in 2015 after her father died. She lived next door to her parents in Clermont, Fla., near Orlando.
“Losing Dad was huge. My life was taking care of Mom and keeping her alive. They had been married 57 years,” she said recently by phone.
Shortly thereafter, Garvis, who was 54 at the time, received an invitation to participate in a local Mrs. Florida competition. She said the pageant was familiar with her through her ministry called the Good Neighbor Program, which she started in 1999. Her family encouraged her to enter, and Garvis agreed if the pageant would allow her to take tiaras to children in hospitals if she won. She won and promptly bought 25 tiaras online.
Mrs. Central Florida’s first crownings took place at Give Kids the World Village, which assists children battling terminal or life-threatening illnesses. Word spread, and she started getting invitations from other organizations.
“That was three months before the state pageant. By the time I got to the state pageant, I had crowned 320 kids,” she said.
She also presented a tiara to a woman from her church who had been diagnosed with cancer. Some time afterward, she saw a post online with a photograph of the woman’s ashes on her husband’s mantle along with the tiara and what that meant to her.
“So I knew it wasn’t just me playing princess,” Garvis said.
A native of Baltimore, she moved with her family to Newark when she was 12. She attended Holy Angels School before Saint Mark’s. She moved to Florida in 1983 but said her high school experience remains a crucial time in her life.
“Saint Mark’s took a very shy girl and molded me into the woman I am today,” she said.
The root of Tiaras for Hope lay in the Book of Isaiah, which came to Garvis’ mind when she was trying to figure out for her mother, who had been widowed after 57 years of marriage.
“The Scripture in Isaiah says that God will trade your ashes for a crown of beauty was something that just came back to my heart and my mind,” she said. “I told my mom, ‘I don’t know how we’ll get through this, but we will. God promises to trade our ashes for a crown of beauty, and even though we feel shattered now, he will pick up every piece of glass and make us stronger and more beautiful than before.’”
Garvis’ success in pageant competitions continued to the national level as she won the Elite American Dream. Tiaras of Hope was formally born then. She and her mother, who was an ambassador for the Elite American Dream pageant, along with her daughter, another pageant winner, got to work. When her year was up, the organization kept going.
“I prayed about it, and I reached out to a couple of people I had met during the pageant travels and asked if they would like to share tiaras in their community. I ended up with, like, 22 ambassadors. I personally have purchased and shared — placed on people’s heads, given coronation moments — over 3,500 tiaras,” she said.
The requests expanded, and Garvis continued to crown girls and women. She gets emotional recalling the letters she has received from family members of the recipients and how making someone feel like a princess has changed their lives. That helps keep her going.
“Almost every single time I go to share tiaras of hope, I’m like, ‘This is silly. This is something a 20-year-old or a teenager should be doing.’ Then I share this, and I realize it’s not about me, it’s just about the hope,” she said.
Garvis said there is no hidden agenda and no cost to any recipient. Most times, the only cameras present are those belonging to parents. She purchases the tiaras herself. Her ministry has persevered, even through the sudden death of her mother last year. Garvis was tempted to stop then, but about three months later she received a call from a family who had someone undergoing a mastectomy.
Her ambassadors relay touching stories to her. One, from Iowa, was shot at her place of employment and had previously received a tiara. Another was a former cheerleader who had battled a rare virus that had paralyzed her.
In her message to the Class of 2020, Garvis told the graduates that although the end of their senior year seemed invisible, “We see you!” She said the Class of 2020 has been given a rare gift, forced to sail into uncharted waters, but that they have done so successfully.
“You didn’t crawl out from the ashes,” Garvis wrote. “You walked out stronger and more resilient than any teacher or professor could ever have dreamed. You, the class of 2020, have become our instructors, our professors. You have shown generations past and future, how to stay the course, sail the uncharted waters and have removed ‘no’ and ‘impossible’ from your dictionary.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, she and her ambassadors have been sharing tiaras with bank tellers, grocery store and food workers, and healthcare professionals.
“We literally could be sharing tiaras of hope and honor 24 hours a day around the world. People are hurting every single day,” she said.
“I’m just a little mom from Clermont, Fla., who lost both of her parents to cancer, who’s been on the other side of the window watching the world go on, wondering does anybody care, and can imagine what it would have been like to have somebody walk in and offer my mom or my dad that kind of gift.”
Photos courtesy of Dianne Garvis