Chasing Her Dreams

In high school, Emma Patel built and installed a Little Free Library on the Indian Creek Greenway in Morrisville to give people access to books.
In high school, Emma Patel built and installed a Little Free Library on the Indian Creek Greenway in Morrisville to give people access to books.

To watch videos of Emma Patel strolling across a pageant stage wearing an evening gown and a sparkling crown, you’d never know that beneath all the glamour, her goal is to perform her own stunts as an action hero in the movies someday.

The former cheerleader from Cary is dreaming big as a freshman at Pace University in New York City, where she’s studying television and film acting and soaking up all the Big Apple has to offer.

“Going from a small suburban town and landing in New York City was a big leap, but I am very much a city person,” she said in a recent Zoom interview from her dorm room. “I feel like I’m made for the city.”

At 18, she has already made her mark on her hometown. She attended Green Hope High School for two years before transferring to Crossroads Flex High School to finish her senior year.

Emma Patel holds several pageant titles, including Teen Miss North Carolina Earth USA.

Her dreams took a hit during the 2020 pandemic, but while the lockdown put the brakes on her prospects, it didn’t crush her spirit, and she’s making up for lost time.

“Back home, I took only one theater course and did it online because it was Covid-time,” she said. “I never got to see people who had a creative mindset like me, but now I get to collaborate with others in person, and I love it.”

Patel grew up with her mother, Joshna Patel; her stepfather, Shivas Gilotra; her brother, Dylan Patel; and their dog, Coco.

“They are my home and they’re my people, and they support me, no matter what,” she said. “They are the ones who have believed in me and helped me believe that I can achieve anything.”

Across her teen years, Patel has been racking up achievements on the pageant circuit, and to date, she has won several titles, including Miss Teen World America New Jersey, Teen Miss North Carolina Earth USA, and Miss Teen West Cary USA.

But Patel’s contributions stretch much further than the pageant stage. She has become a major fundraiser for the American Heart Association through a nonprofit she formed in memory of her father, who died of coronary heart disease when she was 10, and to honor her mother, who survived a major heart attack two years ago.

She put purpose behind her grief and formed H.E.A.R.T. for CAD (Coronary Artery Disease). So far, the organization has raised $35,000 through events she planned, participating in the Triangle Heart Walk, selling T-shirts, and organizing other activities. She is a social media ambassador for the American Heart Association.

“I am very passionate about heart disease awareness,” Patel said. “I feel it’s important because a lot of people don’t know that 93% of the population suffers from some form of heart disease without knowing it,” she said.

She is planning to host a heart walk in New York this spring.

Patel also champions sustainability. In high school, she collaborated with a teacher and built a Little Free Library out of recycled materials and installed it at the Indian Creek Greenway in Cary.

Emma Patel is dedicated to community service and focuses on preserving the environment and fighting heart disease through her nonprofit, H.E.A.R.T. for CAD.

“We even dug the post hole and added the cement ourselves,” she said.

A global book-sharing initiative, the Little Free Libraries program places cabinet-sized swap centers in neighborhoods and parks. The libraries encourage people to leave books they no longer need for others to read.

“This isn’t just about recycling books. It helps people who can’t afford to buy books — and I feel everybody deserves to read books of all kinds,” she said.

Patel says her passion for service was inspired by her late father.

“When my dad passed away, I wanted to find my purpose in life. And when my mom had her heart attack, it gave me the final push to go do what I want, because I wanted to make her proud,” she said.

For Patel, paying it forward goes beyond setting up free libraries and helping raise heart disease awareness. It’s about paving the way for other young people to follow in her footsteps and do the same.

“If I were giving advice, I would tell younger kids that there will be people along the road to success who will say you are not capable of doing what you want to do, and I’ve experienced that firsthand,” she said. “Just let that negativity motivate you to prove them wrong, because if you want something bad enough, you’re going to go get it.”

What Patel wants is action.

She counts Formula 1 auto racing and the exciting Marvel, Harry Potter, and the Fast and Furious film series as her favorite entertainment — and her inspiration to pursue acting.

“My all-time favorite movie is Spider-Man: No Way Home, and that’s what made me realize I want to appear in action films someday,” she said. “I think my love of stunt work was sparked from my cheerleading career.”

Patel has already proved she can do whatever she sets her mind to.

Some people may think super heroes appear out of nowhere in masks and capes to save the day. But they come in all shapes and sizes, and their superpowers come to light in the good deeds they perform for their community and for humanity.

And they may even show up wearing a crown and a sash.


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