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‘Real Housewife’ in Chicago promoting charity

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

When last we saw her, Dina Manzo was renouncing the world of wealth-fueled catfights and marathon shopping sprees, calling it quits on “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

In Chicago this week, the former cast member of the highest-rated installment in Bravo’s popular reality TV franchise, said her focus these days is raising money to help families fighting pediatric cancer, through her three-year-old foundation, Project Ladybug,

“Thank God I haven’t personally been affected in my own family, but my dad was always a huge supporter of St. Jude Children’s Hospital when I was a kid,” Manzo said at the Drake Hotel Tuesday. Manzo was in town for three days to promote an April 7 fundraiser for her newly established Chicago chapter of the foundation.

“There are a lot of wonderful charities you can help, but these children don’t make this choice. They should be running, jumping and playing. Instead, their lives are hospitals and treatments,” said the woman known more for the lavish lifestyle she and her sister Caroline Manzo, sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita, family friend Teresa Giudice and trouble-maker Danielle Staub lead in affluent Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Halfway through last year’s second season, Manzo left the New Jersey series — fourth in the franchise showcasing lives of wealthy housewives in Orange County, New York City and Atlanta — to avoid conflict with Staub.

The Chicago chapter of her foundation, Atia’s Project Ladybug Fund, is named for three-year-old leukemia patient Atia Lutarewych of the West Town neighborhood, who was diagnosed at 17 months and is a patient at University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital.

It was after Manzo met Atia’s mother at an anti-cancer fundraiser here last year — then met little brown-haired, bubbly Atia — that Manzo decided to launch the Chicago chapter to help families at the U of C’s Comer.

“Atia literally stole my heart. Each new chapter is named after a child that personally touches me,” Manzo said.

Manzo started Project Ladybug, providing financial and other non-medical support for families, in 2007 at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson, N.J. A second chapter, Julien’s Project Ladybug Fund, serves children at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The April fundraiser here at the Near North Side Grossinger City Autoplex, which Manzo promises will be “over the top,” is being thrown with Manzo’s brother, celebrity chef Jaime Laurita of north suburban Barrington, whose clients range from Madonna to Aerosmith.

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“My husband and I were actually really big fans of the show, so Atia was very familiar with it,” said Atia’s mother, Laura Lutarewych. “When Atia met Dina, it was cute. She immediately said, ‘That’s Dina with the blue eyes from The Housewives!’ Dina is just an amazing person. We’re grateful for her commitment to this cause.”

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