Monday, August 30, 2010

Open Letter to My Readers,

Dear Readers,

So... a long, long, long time ago, I participated in this pageant. Or rather, I participated in this scholarship program for young women. It was awesome, as I loved being on stage at the time-- who doesn't love parading around on stage in a beautiful dress?! (There was no swimsuit element in this pageant, thankfully.)

Well, crazily, I won that competition, and became Montana's Jr. Miss 2007. And so began a short, but incredibly fun time during which I was a "title holder." Basically all I did with this pseudo-celebrity status was start a chess program at my local Boys and Girls Club during the year, and then the summer after, I went down to Mobile, Alabama to compete in Nationals.

But even though it was a short-lived adventure in which I didn't really maximize on all the opportunities I was being given, it was still an AMAZING experience. The program, America's Jr. Miss (now called Distinguished Young Women), did everything in their power to make every one of us 51 ladies (50 states + D.C.) feel beautiful, intelligent and welcome during Nationals.

The mission of the program was, and still is, to promote self-confidence in women by encouraging them to become the best they can be. They do this by providing college scholarships and creating a program in which we were able to shine as leaders (through public speaking opportunities and the chance to be role models for younger women).

From their website:
Our Mission

Distinguished Young Women is a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.

  • By encouraging continued education and providing college scholarships
  • By developing self-confidence and the abilities to interview effectively, to speak in public, to perform on stage and to build interpersonal relationships
  • By encouraging and showcasing excellence in academic achievement, physical fitness, on-stage performance skills, and the ability to think and communicate clearly
  • By creating opportunities to beneficially inspire the lives of others
While I no longer participate in pageants, I am eternally grateful for all that I was given through this program. I met a huge number of amazing, loving people, many of whom I am still in contact with over three years later. My self-confidence increased by leaps and bounds by having the chance to start programs (like my chess program), give Be Your Best Self talks, and be a role model to the younger women around me (both in the program and outside it).

Anyway... why am I going into all this, you ask? Well, for starters, I've had a unusually large number of conversations about pageants lately. Somehow it came out in Philadelphia that I was in pageants in high school, and naturally, lots of the girls wanted to know what that was like, etc. There was a lot of criticism towards pageants (not surprisingly), and while I did my best to defend them, I'm not very good at verbal debates. Give me a pen, and I'll argue away, but I lose my train of thought too easily when I'm talking.

Anyway, look for a post in the next day or so about pageants (their pros and cons). I don't have time to finish that post today.

But... moving on to the most important reason for why I am writing to you about pageants....

The Distinguished Young Women program is nothing like the pageants you've heard or read about. They require a high GPA and test scores. They look at your high school transcript and extracurricular activities/volunteer hours, etc. There is an interview, onstage question, evening wear, and talent portion, but there is NO swimsuit competition. Instead, we do this little dance/aerobic routine on stage (the goal is to show that each woman has embraced a healthy lifestyle, etc).

It is a program in which young women's interests come first. And they have, more than once, turned down the chance to integrate a swimsuit competition into the competition --even though it would increase their ratings, they refuse to allow this element into their program. For that reason, and many others, I have a lot of appreciation and respect for the Distinguished Young Women organization.

And now to why I am writing this...

The national headquarters for Distinguished Young Women is in Mobile, Alabama-- an area hit hard by the BP oil spill in April. Traditionally, the program has received significant local support, relying heavily on in-kind donations to successfully host their national competition-- which in turn enables them to give out over $100,000 in college scholarships (and make over $80 million in scholarships available to all the local & state competitors). Unfortunately, because of the environmental disaster, local charitable contributions will be significantly down this year.

However, there is a chance for the program to receive this much needed funding, in the form of a Pepsi Refresh grant. The Pepsi Refresh Project is hosting a competition to award $1.3 million dollars to projects that will refresh communities in the Gulf region -- not just environmentally, but also economically and culturally. There are four different categories (ten $5K awards, ten $25K awards, ten $50K awards, and two $250K awards), and the Distinguished Young Women program is currently in the running to receive one of the $250,000 awards.

The problem is, only the top two ideas will receive funding, and we are currently in FOURTH! So close!

This is where I need your help!

It is YOUR votes that will make the difference. Those who already know and love the program have been voting diligently, every day, for the last month. But there are only two days left and we aren't there yet.

We need you, the reader who hasn't heard about this amazing program and this amazing Refresh grant, to vote. It is YOUR votes that will make the difference here.

Please take five minutes out of your day today and tomorrow to log in and VOTE (using every email account you have -- I have five votes every day because I have five email accounts).

Also, if you are like my mom and don't like to give away your email or personal information, don't worry. Just be sure to uncheck the boxes at the bottom (that ask if you'd like to receive things in the mail, etc), and you'll never hear from Pepsi. I promise. I've been voting for the last month and I've never gotten anything from them (on any of my accounts).

So go to... ... and please, please, please vote!

I will love you forever.

A Former Jr. Miss

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... A few thoughts to pass the time...