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January 20, 2005

Young Bush worker goes to ball

From: Waterbury Republican American - Waterbury,CT,USA - Jan 20, 2005

Thursday, January 20, 2005

By Rafe Bartholomew

Copyright © 2005 Republican-American

WASHINGTON -- All of Marilyn Austin's third-graders at Polk School in Oakville will be watching the inauguration today on the classroom television -- except one.

Nine-year-old Nicole Festa from Watertown won't be in class. She'll be in Washington, watching President Bush take the oath of office and mingling with big-time spenders and decision-makers at the Constitution Ball -- a reward for the hundreds of phone calls she and her father made urging voters to cast their ballots for Bush.

"I'm excited to be here and to go to the White House," Nicole said.

That was one of her first tourist stops after she and her father, Michael Festa, an investment Realtor, arrived Tuesday afternoon. She hopes to meet Bush at the ball in the plush Washington Hilton and have her picture taken with him.

Nicole, who was born deaf, received a cochlear implant when she was 4. She also uses a hearing aid. Her impaired hearing kept her from speaking until after the implant, however, and she has a speech impediment because of the late start.

But these obstacles couldn't stop Nicole in her mission to help re-elect Bush last fall. She spent more than 18 hours on Election Day and the day before calling New Hampshire voters and urging them to vote for Bush.

By the time the polls closed, she had made 560 calls.

Security and the war on terrorism were the issues that convinced her to get involved in the campaign. When she thinks about the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States, "my heart gets scared," she said.

Nicole used her belief in Bush as a guardian of national security -- developed during many evenings of watching Fox News with her father -- to push through her fatigue on Election Day.

"I felt tired, but I had to help my dad," she said. The pair woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Election Day to start calling voters. It was important to re-elect Bush because "he had done something good," she said.

"He made us safe."

Besides manning the phones, the Festas spent weekends traveling to county fairs throughout New England to distribute Bush pamphlets and sell homemade Bush T-shirts with painted-on slogans like "Love You, W" and "Team Bush, Moral Clarity" to raise money for the campaign.

Most people responded warmly to Nicole's campaigning, her father said. "How often do you see a 9-year-old working for a political campaign?"

Not everyone was so pleased with the pro-Bush message, however. "Some hecklers at fairs would throw campaign literature at her or food," he said.

But the volunteer work was worthwhile because Bush won and Nicole is getting the once-in-a-lifetime experience of attending an inaugural ball, Festa said.

The inauguration trip is meaningful for both Festas, but in different ways.

For Nicole, it's a real-life fairy tale. She gets to visit Washington and be a front-row witness to history. She gets to wear a glamorous violet-red gown to the Constitution Ball, where she might meet the president. Also important, she mentioned, she gets to miss school for a day.

For Michael Festa, it marks an experience he once thought he would never witness.

"This was the first major commitment I saw my daughter undertake and stick with way beyond the expectations of a 9-year-old," he said.

"When you look back and see that five years ago your child couldn't speak except for sign language, but is now advocating on a presidential campaign, it almost takes my breath away."

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