I pledge to be drug free... Week 15!

Another memorable week …! On Sunday, I accidentally dropped my phone in the dog’s water bowl. Ironically, my best friend got engaged Sunday night, and she was trying to get in touch with me all night and day! Finally, she called my mom’s phone to tell me how her fiancĂ© bought tickets to the World Series game and proposed after the Rangers won. Congrats to Amy and Josh!!

This week was busy! I traveled over 1,200 miles from west to northeast to south Arkansas, visiting three cities for the first time and meeting lots of great people! Because this was Red Ribbon Week, I spoke in five schools about the importance of being drug free!

Starting in Hot Springs, I spoke to students in pre-K to 2nd grade at Lakeside Elementary School. As soon the pre-K students walked in, one girl sighed in frustration and yelled, “I thought Miss Arkansas wore a dress!” I laughed and told her I was tap dancing that day and had to wear jeans. She replied, “Minnie Mouse can tap dance in a dress.” She was precious! I then spoke about making good choices such as being drug free and ended with a tap performance. I think that little girl ended up liking my tap dance. The children called my feet “magical”.

Later on Monday, I visited the town of Kirby for the first time. Kirby schools had put a lot of effort into creating a pageant skit for Red Ribbon Week. Four boys dressed up as “Miss Tobacco,” “Miss Alcohol,” “Miss Marijuana,” and “Miss Cocaine”. They strutted around in dresses and wigs while the emcee read the negative consequences of using each one. Then, they had a “surprise” late entry into the pageant! A pretty girl came out as “Miss Drug Free” in a beautiful white dress and, of course, won the pageant! It was so much fun! I then spoke to K-5 and 6-12 in two separate assemblies. After my “Be Drug Free” presentations, I stayed to sign autographs … but not just any autographs. Those kids wanted autographs on their arms, pant legs, t-shirts, hats, and foreheads. Wow!

There she is... Miss Drug Free!!

Tuesday morning, I spoke to Lakeside Middle School students and had a blast! These kids loved my presentation and “Name That Tune” challenge. Several times, teachers were called onstage to name the tune, and the crowd erupted in applause! I feel like they connected with my message of finding a mentor, going down the right path, and always setting an example for those around you.

Student Council Members at Lakeside Middle School

We quickly traveled from Hot Springs to Blytheville in the northeastern corner of the state to attend the opening ceremony of the College Prep Academy. I shared the stage with Dr. Glen Jones, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at Arkansas State University, to encourage and inspire those involved with the program. The Academy had received a grant to organize a special class, and around 40 students voluntarily signed up for school on Saturdays and summer days to improve their ACT scores. I admire students who take steps toward achieving success!

Thursday morning, I stopped by one of my former schools, Meekins Middle School in Stuttgart. I had a great time visiting all of the classrooms and answering questions. I challenged the students to join me in the drug free commitment for a brighter future! When it was time for questions, the funniest one was, “Is your boyfriend famous?” “No…” “You mean, your boyfriend isn’t on TV?!” “Haha, no…”

Can you tell that I am giving a thoughtful answer to a question? haha

Thursday afternoon, I traveled to Magnolia for my first time. I enjoyed having dinner with the judges and participating in the Miss Southern Arkansas University pageant. I met so many nice students in Magnolia and thought the pageant went very smoothly. University pageants are so much fun! Congratulations to Kristen Lambert, the new Miss Southern Arkansas University!

me, Kristen Lambert (new Miss SAU), and Rianne Herron (former Miss SAU)
Valerie Brown, Emcee and Former Miss SAU

Friday was an amazing day of workout, dance, and eyelash extensions! Visit Karmen at Salon 10 on Cantrell in Little Rock if you are interested in eyelash extensions!

Saturday, I had a wonderful time at the Fall Festival in Forrest City. Hannah, a college friend, met me for the event, and we loved seeing all of the kids in Halloween costumes! I especially liked the bumblebee. I was a bumblebee when I was about her age!

They wanted me to break a board. I couldn't do it. The black belt had to break it for me.

I also met an inspirational boy named TaJuan. Although he isn’t in high school yet, he is already planning for his future! He saw on the news the rising cost of college tuition and student loans. He came up with the idea to form his own clothing line, “Other People Often Envy.” By selling $10 t-shirts, he hopes to save for college. I was so impressed and thankful for his example. So many people in this world wait and expect things to be given to them. Instead, TaJuan is taking a proactive stance for his future …. Wow!

Congratulations to Kathryn Holcomb, who was named Miss Arkansas River on Saturday night! Kathryn is a very sweet girl, and it will be great to see her competing next summer in the Miss Arkansas Pageant in Hot Springs.

Sunday, I traveled to Danville to speak at First Baptist Church. This was my first time to the town, but it quickly felt like home. I first talked to girls in the youth group about purity and respecting oneself. I then talked to the church body about my experience at the Promise House, where I served as mentor to pregnant teenagers at the temporary shelter and learned so many life lessons! I especially love talking in churches.

I will be traveling less this upcoming week, but will be equally busy. I hope to finish my tap dance and will soon announce the debut of my new dance for Miss America!! I am speaking in several schools and churches and will also be speaking at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention about my experience at the Promise House. This week, I’m very excited to have two photo shoots scheduled!

Thanks again to those who read my blog weekly! It is a blessing to share this journey with friends who care! Thank you!

Outside my comfort zone. Week 14

After driving over 900 miles last weekend, I was ready to crash by Monday! This week was more relaxed than normal, and I was thankful for the chance to catch up! I learned more of my tap dance for Miss America and had several great workouts. I also finished some paperwork and scheduling … basic responsibilities of Miss Arkansas.

Monday, I spoke at a neat elementary school in Hot Springs, Langston Aerospace and Environmental Magnet. The hallways are decorated with science-related objects, and the fourth grade students are treated each year with a field trip to space camp! I really enjoyed speaking to the assembly of well-behaved students and visiting the classrooms afterward. Given the opportunity to ask a question, a little boy asked “How did you get that crown?” When I explained the phases of competition in the Miss Arkansas pageant, he didn’t understand the difference between posing in a swimsuit and actually swimming. He kept swinging his arms like he was swimming the breast stroke. Haha, I got so tickled.

Tuesday, I was asked to speak at the Saline County Vigil Against Domestic Violence. I was especially nervous about this event, considering I had never formally spoken on domestic violence, a heavy topic. After gathering ideas from several people, I formulated the bullet points of my speech. Arriving at the memorial, I recalled the days I spent volunteering at a battered women’s shelter in Arkadelphia. I shared several personal stories and talked about the critical need in today’s society for children to be mentored. By becoming positive role models, we can break the generational cycle of domestic abuse! I was so pleased with how the speech came together! Afterward, two people who hope to book me for future events asked for my business card!

Speaking outside of my comfort zone can be frightening. However, I have learned to welcome such challenges, as they produce the greatest rewards! I am so grateful for the job of Miss Arkansas and the chance to help promote meaningful causes as I travel the state. I believe each Miss Arkansas becomes a better-rounded individual after a year like this!

This week, I received the CD of photos from the shoot I had with Jessica Fleeman Barksdale in Arkadelphia. I had so much fun working with Jessica, and she is a phenomenal photographer! Feel free to check out her website(http://jessicajunephotography.squarespace.com/)

I enjoyed the Arkansas State Fair on Thursday as I walked through the entire park after getting lost! Nothing smells better than the aroma of funnel cakes and fried cheesecake drifting through the air … but I promised myself that I wouldn’t eat any since Miss America is now three months away. My home dance team from Studio Allegro competed in the state talent contest and did a great job! I was also excited to see several good pageant friends compete in the individual talent competition and pageant!

Friday, I spoke in two assemblies at University Heights Elementary School in Nettleton, Arkansas. The principal of the school is a best friend of my princess’s mother.She called to see if my princess, Riley Stephens, could assist me in the assemblies. So we took a two-hour road trip with Riley and had the best time! She is so mature and an awesome conversationalist for a fourth grader! Also, she was a huge help with the little ones. I need to invite her more often!

Principal Arnold and her family

Saturday, I joined with tens of thousands of people in Little Rock for Race for the Cure! I wore my pink sash in honor of my grandmother, Helen Glover. I love to see so many people of all ages enthusiastically support such a worthy cause!

This upcoming week will be exciting! I have appearances in at least three cities that I have never visited before, including Magnolia for the Miss Southern Arkansas University pageant. I am speaking in schools, churches, and attending a fall festival. I also hope to work on a new promotional video this week … it should be really fun!

This week was a whirlwind... week 13!

This week was a whirlwind! I broke 10,000 miles in my Buick Regal and am thankful to Allen Tillery Chevrolet for donating so generously. I started interview preparation for Miss America and began learning my tap dance! It is so fast but entertaining! I hope more than anything to dance on Saturday night of the Miss America Pageant on ABC!

Tuesday night, I had the most fun serving as a judge for the Dancing with the Stars Fundraiser in Beebe! Eleven well-known local couples performed choreographed dances in front of a packed audience with standing room only. I was really impressed with the community involvement and support of Beebe Junior High! People of all ages laughed throughout the entire show, as the contestants “showed off” for the crowd!
Fellow judges of Dancing with the Stars
Beebe students

Wednesday, I helped with the Red Beans and Rice Fundraiser in Stuttgart at the local radio station. All proceeds went to the Arkansas Rice Depot, an impressive non-profit organization in Little Rock that fights hunger in Arkansas. Although it was gloomy weather, I got to see so many familiar faces including dancers I once taught at Studio Allegro. They squealed when I asked for a picture!

Brandi from the Arkansas Rice Depot and Gary Riefis at the Red Beans and Rice Fundraiser.
Girls from the dance studio!

Thursday, I was privileged to judge the Arkansas Healthcare Association Nursing Home Pageant. Those women are awesome! The contestants’ ages ranged from 66-104! The common advice from all of the women was to enjoy life and surround yourself with positive people. I value their wise advice! Congratulations to Ms. Shirley from DeWitt for winning the pageant with her humor and charm!

Contestant at the nursing home pageant!
Queen Shirley!

I joined the Arkansas Student Leadership Forum for dinner on Thursday. The weekend I attended the Forum as a college junior changed my life. Later that year, I attended the National Student Leadership Forum and the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. I was honored to return as a speaker for the Forum to encourage students to become mentor leaders. Visiting with the students after the session, I was blown away by their passions to change the world. My generation has so much to offer!!

Jessica Brogdon is the brains behind the Arkansas Student Leadership. She does a great job!
Mark and Matthew from Rwanda.

Friday, I reunited with the Arkansas Rice Depot for another fundraiser in Conway. This time, Justin Acre and Pat Bradley were there to promote the Red Beans and Rice Fundraiser on The Buzz radio station. I always have fun while on air with the Buzz! This time around, they gave me a chemistry quiz since I was a college chemistry major. Pat labeled the session, “Nerd talk with Miss Arkansas.” Haha! They were so funny! I expect an invitation back to the studio for birthday trivia!

Pat Bradley and Justin Acri from the Buzz radio!

I stayed with Hollyn, a college friend, and her family on Friday night. Even though I arrived late Friday night, Hollyn’s family had prepared a beautiful family dinner for me! If you ever want to quickly become my best friend, then invite me over for family dinner! It was awesome!

Saturday was a long, yet rewarding day! Hollyn and I left at 7 a.m. for the Susan G. Komen Race in Texarkana. Hollyn’s mother is a survivor of breast cancer and this event is significant to her family. I met many more courageous women at the survivor breakfast. Later, I participated in the opening ceremony and shot the gun to begin the race. The race was incredibly organized and successful as over 9,000 individuals walked in the Race for the Cure.

Shooting the gun to start the race!
Hollyn's family!

At the race, I wore a pink sash with the words “In Honor of Helen Glover.” My grandmother overcame breast cancer 31 years ago. This year, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and has begun chemotherapy. She is a strong, compassionate woman. She has been so faithful to her church and Bible study for many years! I don’t think she knows how much I admire her! Thankfully, she reads my blog every week and should be surprised to see this! So Maw-maw, you have no choice but to get stronger because I want you to be at the Miss America Pageant. We already have your plane ticket!

Proudly wearing my "In honor of Helen Glover" sash in the opening ceremony!

After the race, I drove to Little Rock for the Promise House reunion after 20 years of ministry. I served as mentor in the Promise House, a shelter for pregnant teenagers, in the summer of 2009. I saw a girl that I worked with in the house and her new baby! Regina looked so pretty and happy. I am very proud of her for graduating high school, working to support her family, and maintaining friendships that she formed in the Promise House.

Current and former employees at the Promise House

Regina's precious baby, Par'ris

Saturday night, I met with girls from Second Baptist Church of Conway. We enjoyed dinner in a beautiful home before we sat down to discuss life. I briefly spoke about overcoming challenges with self-esteem and then answered the girls’ questions about a variety of issues. Remembering how difficult high school was, I encouraged the girls to serve as a light for Christ among their fellow students. Whether you recognize it or not, you have great influence among your friends!

Sunday was a beautiful day in Fayetteville! Renee and I joined the judges for the Miss University of Arkansas Pageant for lunch. Since the mascot is a razorback, Renee bought a pig nose for me to wear as I met all of the judges for the first time. Haha … we always have a good time together! We had to eat quickly in order to make it to the pageant. Congratulations to the 14 contestants and the new Miss University of Arkansas, Tracy Neal! Go Hogs Go!

How do I look?!

I have lots of work to do for the upcoming week! I will work very hard on my new dance and in the gym. Working on scholarships for Miss America and interview preparation are also on my agenda. I look forward to speaking in schools and at the Boys and Girls Club. May Colossians 4:5-6 be my prayer for this week, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

The moments I live for... week 12

Although some may call me a beauty queen, I see myself as a businesswoman. While holding the title of Miss Arkansas, my responsibilities include marketing and advertising the Miss Arkansas Organization. I’ve had a lot of fun creating two YouTube videos and plan to make more in the future! I hope you have been keeping up with my Facebook, twitter, and blog… which are some additional tools I use for marketing the organization. The Miss Arkansas Pageant Board, under whose direction I work, is incredibly supportive. I directly report to my boss, Jessie Ward Bennett, a former Miss Arkansas and Executive Director of the board. I often meet with sponsors who support the Miss Arkansas Organization by donating scholarships, prizes, or services. I strive to make sure they know how much we appreciate their support, and I hope to enlist even more sponsors throughout the year. Wouldn’t you call me a businesswoman?!

Many thanks to the sponsors that I visited with this week. Check them out!
-Ann Marie Gibbs, personal trainer at Fine Line Trainers

-Mary Davis, manicurist at Gallery Salon

-Dennis Harris, hair and make-up stylist at Breathe Salon

-Tony Bowls, dress designer, who is from Arkansas

-Jane White Cosmetics, make up lessons and eyelash extensions

-Advanced Aesthetics, facial and skin care products

-Allen Tillery Chevrolet, vehicle sponsor, who fixed the nail in my tire!

Expect more to come!

On Tuesday, I visited my best friend/college roommate’s classroom to read “How Full is Your Bucket?” to her first graders at East End Elementary. They are a very smart class, and Miss Moore is doing a great job! They asked lots of questions and wanted me to come back to visit! Miss Moore said they were excited to see my surprise autographed photos in their mailboxes the next day!

Wednesday, I arrived 45 minutes late to Cato Elementary after the GPS took me on a wild goose chase in the forest. Thankfully, everything worked out, and I got to speak to both groups. I first spoke to fourth and fifth grade girls about self esteem… a very important message for girls to hear! When it was time for questions, one of the teachers asked if I could talk about the scholarship money I had received. I told the students that over four years, I have received $33,000 in scholarships from competing in Miss Arkansas. One girl squealed and asked, “Oh, do you live in a three story house?!” I smiled and replied, “No, I live in an apartment.” You should have seen the confused and disappointed look on her face! Haha.

Another question was asked after I mentioned that I had worked with pregnant teenagers ranging in age from 13-18: “Why do 13-year-old girls get pregnant?” Talk about a tough question to answer for that young group! I explained that some girls don’t have role models in their lives to teach them how to make good decisions, respect themselves, and form healthy dating relationships. Several equally important questions concerning bullying and self-image followed. I was so thankful to hear the pre-teen girls ask such thought-provoking, sincere questions. Those are the kind of moments that I live for as Miss Arkansas.

Also on Wednesday, I visited with Tony Bowls at the Royal We in Conway to talk about my wardrobe for the Miss America Pageant. We discussed several options for evening gown, talent, and onstage question. He will design and make several gowns, and we will choose the best. It can be a fun yet overwhelming process! In the end, I know the wardrobe will be fabulous!

Friday! I finally returned to Ouachita Baptist University to celebrate Homecoming! I was honored to receive the Milestone Award as the distinguished alumni of the class of 2011! Along with the other five milestone recipients, from the 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, and 2001 classes, I spoke to prospective students and filmed a promotional video for Ouachita. I joined staff and alumni for lunch and an evening social. Friday night, I attended an incredible Tiger Tunes Show… a performance competition among clubs and fundraiser for student scholarships.

Speaking to prospective students about my Ouachita experience.

Several girls after the Friday night show of Tiger Tunes!

Saturday, we experienced the most beautiful morning at CabotFest, where I participated and performed at the opening ceremony. The delicious, fresh-squeezed lemonade was such a treat! I always love attending festivals in Arkansas!

Saturday afternoon, I returned to Ouachita for the Homecoming football game and official presentation of the Milestone Award. It was great to visit with so many fellow graduates and old friends! My college roommates and I watched the final night of the Tiger Tunes show and then spent the night in Hot Springs. Congratulations to EEE for first place and awesome costumes! Also, I was so proud of my Tri Chi sisters for receiving the crowd favorite award! :)

Josh, me, and my parents at the Homecoming football game!

During halftime of the football game.

Recipients of the Milestone Award for distinguished alumni!

My roommates and I before the final Tiger Tunes show!

So proud of my sister for her performance! Tri Chi won the Crowd Favorite Award!

In the pageant world, Courtney Welsh was named Miss Three Rivers!! Congratulations and welcome to the Miss Arkansas Pageant family! This upcoming weekend, I will be traveling to the Miss University of Arkansas Pageant on Sunday to watch Kacey Keefe crown a new Razorback representative! Woohoo!

Also this week, I will be assisting with several fundraisers! There will be events for the Arkansas Rice Depot and Race for the Cure. I was asked to judge a Dancing with the Stars competition and a nursing home beauty pageant! I begin working on my dance for Miss America and start with interview preparation! I am excited to speak at the Arkansas Student Leadership Forum and meet students from all over the state … so much to look forward to!