The Most Preliminary Pageants! Week 32!

This was definitely the week of preliminary pageants in Arkansas!  What an exciting week!  We held five separate preliminaries, and I attended a fundraiser for an upcoming pageant preliminary!  

Because of our strong preliminary pageants,   Arkansas is definitely unique compared to other states!  Very few state pageants have more than 40 contestants competing for the state title.  Yet, unlike our state, many states with over 30 contestants have different opportunities for contestants to qualify for the state pageant.  Arkansas is one of the very few that awards only one crown per preliminary.  Other states may present 2-4 different crowns to the top contestants in a single preliminary pageant.  The smaller states hold open state pageants, where anyone can sign up to compete for the state title without winning a preliminary pageant.  I consider the Miss Arkansas Organization a huge success because of our strong preliminary pageants, which are only possible because of the directors and volunteers! 

Women's Inc. Magazine released the article on Laine Berry and The Royal We.  I was tickled for her, and happy to be on the front page of the magazine!

To begin a very busy week, I headed to Fort Smith on Monday to celebrate with the Miss University of Arkansas at Fort Smith contestants at Joe’s Grill and Cantina.  This restaurant donated $2,300 to Children’s Miracle Network so that 20 contestants can compete in Miss UAFS without paying the CMN entry fee.  Supporters of the Miss UAFS pageant packed the restaurant, and the radio station advertised the event.  It was a lot of fun and very successful!  

At Perryville High School I spoke during a Tuesday morning assembly that was completely organized by the EAST Lab students.  The students wanted to discuss suicide prevention and created pamphlets and goodie bags for their fellow classmates.  I felt my presentation about second chances and mentoring was especially appropriate for that discussion because youth in crisis may not recognize the opportunities that are available to them.  After playing the “Name That Tune” game, I ended the speech with an emphasis on relationships.  When we take notice of the people around us, we can make a difference and help prevent teen suicide. 

The girls that scheduled the Perryville assembly.

Wednesday was a great day as I met with many people.  I started by taking a tour of the Youth Home, an organization that helps change lives and save families in Little Rock.  I enjoy meeting and encouraging organizations that effectively promote second chances and empowerment for my generation. 

I spent the afternoon visiting with sponsors and practicing my talent.  At Gallery Salon, Jerry Davis showed up to take some pictures of me getting a pedicure while wearing  a formal gown and crown!  Haha!  It was pretty fun!  I met with Tommy Lyons at Venue to pick up a few gowns for the weekend’s preliminary pageants.  I also borrowed dresses from Rebekah Lane and The Royal We!  I am very thankful that I have so much help!

Thursday, I drove to Russellville to meet Dr. Jim Collins at the Russellville Rotary Club.  Jim’s introduction of me included some of his typically funny jokes.  I enjoyed sharing stories from Miss America and talking about my platform.  The audience was mostly men, but the precious little girl who came with her daddy was the most excited to meet me!  Haha!  She wanted to ask me questions throughout the entire lunch meeting! 

 Mr. Jim Collins and me!

My next stop was Pottsville Middle School to speak to the 6th grade class.  The president and vice-president escorted me into the gym and introduced me to the class.  The kids were so well behaved and participated throughout the entire program!  I mentioned that they could find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I have never received more Facebook notes from another event.  I loved it!  This one is so encouraging:

“You have really influenced me to do a lot of good things!! I wanted to thank you for that!! I think that you are very smart and very pretty!! I liked to hear about what you did in the lab!! They for sure picked the right Miss Arkansas!”

Being introduced by President and Vice President!

Thursday night, I met all of the Miss Arkansas Tech University contestants and helped with their rehearsal.  The director, Dr. Jim Collins, asked me to share some advice and encouragement with the girls … something I always love doing!  I was even more excited about the pageant on Friday since I had spent time with the contestants.  My parents met me in Russellville, where we ate dinner with the judges.  Renee Fronabarger (Nay-nay) was my official chaperone, and we had lots of fun together!  I performed twice and crowned the new Miss Arkansas Tech University, Claire Hodgson.  I then met Claire, the judges, and the Miss Tech pageant crew for a wonderful post-pageant celebration at Jim’s house.  Overall, it was a VERY well-run pageant and enjoyable weekend!  Thank you, Jim, for including my parents and me!

 Dinner with the judges before Miss Arkansas Tech University

Miss Arkansas Tech University, Claire Hodgson

Saturday morning, I headed to Arkadelphia for the Miss Ouachita Baptist University brunch with contestants and formers.  The brunch was something that I initiated to get to know and encourage the girls competing.  I sent invitations to all of the formers and several came for the brunch.  Even more formers showed up for the pageant!  I wanted the contestants to recognize the Miss OBU legacy, a sisterhood of which I am very proud to be a part!  It was powerful to hear the testimonies of the former Miss OBU titleholders, and I know the contestants enjoyed them!  We shared lots of laughs and support! 

All contestants competing in Miss OBU

I then traveled back to Little Rock to speak to the Lutheran Laymen’s League about my platform.  They attentively listened to my speech and asked questions for 45 minutes!  I appreciated their enthusiastic support for my platform and my passion for working with young people.  It was definitely a feel good moment!

Returning to Arkadelphia, I prepared for a busy evening with six wardrobe changes!  Directors Justin Harper and Kirt Thomas always do an incredible job of producing the show, and this year was no exception!  I was so thankful for the help of emcees Bethany Whitfield and Bethany Briscoe-Toney, former Miss OBU titleholders, and John Jacob Lively, Student Senate President.   Once it was time for the opening number, the audience was teeming with excitement!  The welcoming applause when I entered onstage for the first time made me feel right at home!  The contestants faced stiff competition throughout the pageant.   The court of honor was very entertaining as they kept the show rolling.  I was sincerely touched by Bethany Whitfield’s kind remarks as she dedicated her performance of the vocal solo “Legacy” in my honor.  Becca Woodall worked very hard to produce an awesome slideshow of my year as Miss OBU and Miss Arkansas.  The night was practically perfect until the announcement of the awards.  We were all onstage when two BATS swooped above the audience several times to stir up a commotion.  We laughed and joked about it before moving on to the crowning.  Congratulations to Mary Lacey Thomson as she capably executed a Faith Hill song and captured the crown!  She will be an outstanding representative for my alma mater! 

Miss Ouachita Baptist University, Mary Lacey Thomson
 Bethany Toney, Mary Lacey Thomson, me, and Bethany Whitfield!
Kirt, Mary Lacey, me, and Justin

Also, congratulations to the three other young women who were crowned on Saturday!  Maegan Inzer will be returning to Miss Arkansas this year as Miss Greater Jacksonville!  Congrats to Alex Farmer for earning the title of Miss Western Arkansas!  Sarah Sutton was named Miss Greater Camden; welcome to Miss Arkansas!

On Sunday, I spent the evening with the youth and parents of Woodlawn Heights Baptist Church in Conway.  Every year, they have a True Love Waits program, and I was invited to be the keynote speaker of this year’s program.  I always use a water illustration while I speak on purity, and I felt like I really connected with that audience through the illustration.  Afterwards, I enjoyed meeting the group of inspiring young men and women!

Advice for this week:  We can never say thank you enough!  I think each titleholder could list the benefits and personal growth she has received from competing in the Miss America Organization.  However, that opportunity is only possible because of those who volunteer!  Please recognize the generous people who direct, coach, judge, and sponsor so that you may have a good pageant experience.  We are forever indebted to them for their help and service!  My favorite form of appreciation is an old-fashioned written thank-you note!  Since being crowned in July, I have written approximately 1,200 thank- you notes.  I hope you take time to thank those who volunteer with the Miss America Organization!  

Never Give Up! Week 31!

I’m so pleased to share these photos from photographer Steve Newby.  Dr. Michael Cooper, an exceptional dentist and strong sponsor of the Miss Arkansas Pageant, will use them throughout the year in magazine ads.  Thank you again, Dr. Cooper, for my Durathins, which look natural and beautiful! 

Who knew that it would snow on Monday?  Thankfully, the roads were clear by the afternoon so I could make it to dinner with CITGO executives.  As CITGO schedules conferences in different states, they love to ask state titleholders to attend the conference and break the ice.  They have already met Miss Indiana, Miss Wisconsin, Miss Michigan, and Miss Texas.  It was fun to talk about our mutual friends/Miss America contestants over dinner.  Oh … and did I mention that they treated me to the “best steak in Arkansas” at the Capriccio Grill in the Peabody … yum! 

On Tuesday, prior to the conference, we had a photo session.  I opened the actual conference by welcoming the group to Arkansas and thanking them for the service they provide for our state.  I told a few stories of my year as Miss Arkansas and shared several laughs.  It was such a fun surprise when they handed me a box of chocolates… it was Valentine’s Day after all!! 

I then headed to Stuttgart to speak at the Rotary Club.  My dad has been a member of the Rotary Club for many years, and they always invite Miss Arkansas to speak.  One year, Miss Arkansas held a dance contest among a few men within the group.  My dad won the dance contest, and Miss Arkansas actually crowned him with her crown.  The newspaper took a picture and placed it on the front page of the newspaper!  I told this story in my closing statement in every pageant interview for the past two years.  I would always end by saying, “I want to be Miss Arkansas so that my dad isn’t the only one in the family who has worn the Miss Arkansas crown!”  Haha!  I think it was an effective closing statement because it was unique, humorous, and memorable. 

This year at Rotary Club, the buffet ran out of food because of the surprisingly large audience!  I was thrilled to see old friends and familiar faces crowd the Stuttgart Country Club.  Since most of the audience already knew me and my platform stories, I decided to share stories from my year as Miss Arkansas.  We laughed and joked throughout the entire program.  I appreciated their interest and sincere support.  It will always be one of my favorite public speaking moments. 

The only thing that kept Wednesday from being a perfect day was the humid atmosphere, which caused a bad hair day.  I guess we all have those days every once in a while!  Mom and I met my PawPaw at the Arkansas State Capital building. Governor Beebe greeted us in his office, and we took several photos with my Senator, Eddie Jo Williams, and my Representative, Tiffany Rogers.  PawPaw served in public office on the state level for decades, so the capitol feels like home to him.  If you can only imagine, PawPaw wanted to introduce me to EVERYONE!  Haha!  My PawPaw makes me feel so special. 

After lunch, I was introduced to the House of Representatives.  They all stood and welcomed me with a hearty round of applause!  We then walked to the Senate floor, and I was given the opportunity to speak before the Senators.  I told them of the comments Miss America Teresa Scanlan shared with the contestants at the Miss America contestant meeting in August.  “A lot of people think Miss America is a celebrity.  I think Miss America is closer to a politician.  The reason is because you always have to present yourself in a positive light instead of hiding from the public.  Therefore, you are representing something larger than yourself.  You are representing your state and organization!” 

Wednesday night, I traveled to Miss Arkansas State University to watch Kelsey Dow crown Chelsea Treadway.  Congratulations, Chelsea, and best of luck as you represent your university at Miss Arkansas!  The pageant is strongly supported by the campus, and the audience was very energized!  I especially enjoyed talking with Kelsey, who was recently crowned Miss Arkansas USA!  I believe she is a beautiful girl from the inside-out, and I am excited that she is representing Arkansas at Miss USA.  Go Kelsey!! 

I spent Friday with my business manager, Mrs. Vicki Rima, in Hot Springs.  She arranged for a meeting with the Sentinel-Record, the Hot Springs newspaper that has supported the Miss Arkansas Pageant for decades!  Then, I met with the leaders of Men Mentoring Young Men, and we shared ideas and encouragement associated with mentoring.  I spent the lunch hour at the Jackson House serving free lunches to the needy.  Finally, I visited a center for disabled adults, Abilities Unlimited Inc.  The adults had been excited about my visit for a week!  They had prepared cards, one kind man sang me his rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly,” and several dressed up to meet me!

The serving crew at the Jackson House!

She wore that beautiful dress just for me!  Thank you Abilities Unlimited for welcoming me!

Saturday, we celebrated 80 years of the Miss Hot Springs Pageant!  Wow!  One of the Miss contestants is deaf, and she took the stage with great courage!  I consider her to be an inspiration!  Also, Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen’s princess performed a ventriloquism act that was modeled after the talent of Miss Arkansas 2010 Alyse Eady.  She was precious!  Congratulations to Samantha Hudon who was named Miss Hot Springs!   It will be wonderful to see you on the Miss Arkansas stage!

Skylar, me, and Samantha

Also, congratulations to Mary Ellen Hunthrop who was named Miss Southeast Arkansas!  I am very excited to see you compete in Miss Arkansas this summer! 

We have lots of preliminary pageants this upcoming, but I am most excited about Miss Ouachita Baptist University!  Hope you can make it to Arkadelphia for the incredible show on Saturday night as I give up   my crown to the next deserving representative!  woohoo!

One year ago, I was named Miss Ouachita Baptist University! 

The bit of encouragement that I would like to offer present and future contestants this week is to NEVER GIVE UP!  I watched Samantha and Mary Ellen earn crowns this weekend.  They are girls who competed in multiple preliminary pageants and never gave up.  I experienced a journey like this, too!  In 2009, I lost three preliminary pageants and never qualified for Miss Arkansas that year.  In 2010, I competed in four more pageants before winning Miss Cotton Belle.  When I finally won, I was sincerely appreciative of the title and had improved my skills!  I learned more of who I am and had overcome the fear of failure!  That year at Miss Arkansas, I won a talent preliminary and placed 3rd runner-up among 42 outstanding young women.   Never give up on achieving your goals! 

Starting the Bucket List... Week 30!

Monday, I headed to my alma mater for a Miss Ouachita Baptist University planning meeting.  It is always good to be on campus, especially when the Miss OBU Pageant is right around the corner.  We are working through lots of details to make this year’s pageant the best ever!  Student Senate is helping by donating volunteer hours and additional scholarships.  They would like to make Miss OBU the largest event of the semester, spring’s counterpart to Homecoming in the fall!  I hope you are making plans to attend Miss OBU on February 25 at the Jones Performing Arts Center in Arkadelphia, Arkansas! 

Tuesday started early as I headed south to Monticello.  I was invited to speak to the 5th -12th grade students at Drew Central High School, where my best friend, Leslyn Jacks, is the choir teacher.  I got to visit her classroom, meet her students, and catch up a little on life.  She then introduced me to the school audience, and they absolutely loved my “Name That Tune” game.  Once I opened for questions, there were two students in particular who I remember.  The first was an older special needs student, who asked if I could dance with him to the music.  I asked the audience to “show some love” for this young man, and they erupted in cheers.  We turned on the music, and he danced his little heart out!  I was touched by the support he received from the student body!

The second question came from a girl who admitted her struggle with school.  She asked me, “Have you ever had a bad year?”  I responded, “Life is what you make it.  You are faced with choices every day, and it is up to you to make the right choices.  If you love life, then life will love you back.”  When I later checked my Twitter, a student from Drew Central had tweeted my response, “If you love life, then life will love you back.”  You know you have been an inspiration when a student tweets one of your quotes!! 

From Monticello, I traveled to Conway for a quick photo shoot for Women’s Inc. Magazine in Arkansas.  Laine Berry, owner of the Royal We, is the featured woman of the month, earning the coveted spot on the cover!  She asked me to wear my fabulous Tony Bowles white evening gown that the Royal We had sponsored for me to wear at Miss America.  The magazine should be released in late February. 

Speaking of magazines … have you seen Fourpoints Magazine this month?  Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen Ashton Campbell made the front page and a four-page spread.  She looks amazing in all photos, including the photo of her as a cute little girl!  I just can’t brag on her enough! 

Wednesday was a day off!  I ran numerous errands, washed 3 weeks worth of clothes, and got a massage!  We all need a day off every once in a while just to catch up! 

Thursday, I visited several courageous patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  Most of the kids in the playroom were very young, but their parents seemed even more excited to see me!  Sometimes, we forget that the parents of sick children need just as much attention, care, and encouragement.  Spending time with children and parents was time well spent! 

Friday, I met with Charles Flynn from Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home, the parent organization of the Promise House pregnancy shelter.  I worked as the 2009 summer intern at the Promise House and am always interested in Promise House updates.  I plan to schedule some visits to the Promise House and other children’s homes soon! 

On Saturday, I met my parents at Valley Baptist Church in Searcy for a father/daughter Valentine’s Banquet.  We were amazed at the turnout, as almost 200 people attended the banquet.  The little girls dressed up, painted their fingernails, fixed their hair, and arrived with giddy smiles.  All of the fathers were in suits and ties and had bought corsages and boutonnieres as if it were prom.  Following dinner, I shared stories from my childhood while expressing a deep appreciation for my dad.  I challenged the fathers to always set an example of unconditional love and grace so that we daughters may better understand our heavenly father.  “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”  Psalm 103:13

The next morning I returned to Valley Baptist Church to share my testimony in both church services and speak with the youth group.  I enjoyed being a part of their church family for the weekend and appreciated how welcome they made us feel! 

I talked with a former Miss Arkansas this week who told me to start working on my Miss Arkansas bucket list.  I have about 5 months left so I need to take every opportunity to make a difference.  I have always wanted to be remembered as a mentor and encourager.  So I will probably end this blog each week with a tip to current titleholders who wish to acquire the best job in Arkansas this July. 

Tip #1  Start to develop your platform now.  Miss Arkansas spends her year talking about and promoting her platform.  Probably 75% of my Miss Arkansas appearances require some kind of public speaking.  Practice speaking to audiences of all ages and types and both genders for as many different events as possible.  Also, think about how to promote your platform inside the state and country.  If you compete in Miss America, you need a plan to promote your platform nationwide. Even if you don’t ever make it to Miss Arkansas or Miss America, your time is not wasted in developing the passion to volunteer for a purpose.  In fact, volunteering may open doors you never dreamed of!  So get involved with your platform issue! 

Once again, thank you to everyone who reads this blog.  I really enjoy sharing this journey with all of you!  

What the Miss America system is all about! Week 29!

On Monday, I packed my bags for the week and headed to Huntsville.  Mrs. JoAnn Tice, director of the new Miss Madison County Pageant, invited me to stay at her house and attend many appearances that she had booked around the North Central area.  It was my first experience in this part of the state, and I had so much fun! 

I started the week with an appearance at Express Dance Studio in Huntsville.  Speaking to the girls and boys about my love for dance, I encouraged them to savor their time in the studio!  I absolutely loved cheering as they performed for me!  Then, I tapped for them, took pictures, and signed autographs.  I hope to visit more dance studios and encourage young dancers! 

Tuesday, I visited St. Paul schools to share my message of “Second Chances through Mentoring.”  Ms. Sue, my chaperone for Tuesday, is an energetic and caring woman!  I was thankful that she drove me down the winding pig trail.  Once we started the program, I noticed a kindergarten boy who kept dancing on the front row during my “Name that Tune” game.  I asked him to come forward and show us a few dance moves!  He was great!  The audience erupted into applause after he gave us a few Michael Jackson spin moves.  I will always remember St. Paul for that special entertainment! 

Wednesday was such a productive day!  I was very appreciative to have Ms. Sue and Cami as chaperones throughout the day!  We started with a school presentation in Kingston, where the kids were very attentive and interactive!  We then went to Green Forest so that I could talk to the elementary students.  I was very impressed with the school because all students in 3rd-5th grades brought iPads to the program and took pictures or wrote notes.  I have never had that happen!  After lunch, I had fun speaking to Forest Heights Elementary School in Harrison.  I got to spend some time with Principal Oswalt and tour the school.  They made me feel right at home!  Most of the other schools that I visited last week were in towns with populations of around 2,000 or fewer.  Although they are small schools, their students’ academic achievements are impressive.  For example, two students graduating from Huntsville will be attending MIT, and one student will be attending Stanford in the fall.  Wow!

Speaking to the kids at Kingston

How full is your bucket?  Green Forest Elementary School!  

Forest Heights Elementary School in Harrison

After three school visits, I stopped by to see several Miss Arkansas sponsors, including the Harrison Convention & Visitors Bureau, Salon Ellen, and Rebekah Lane Formalwear.  Susan Farmer owns the dress shop, and I had so much fun shopping with her!  I found an unforgettable pink cocktail dress and evening gown!  I was so pleased!!

Then, Mrs. Jackie accompanied me to the Harrison Boy’s Ranch, where we had the best time!  The ranch is a part of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home Ministries, an organization I have worked with through my platform.  The 30 boys, 12-18 years old, who live on the ranch gathered in the chapel.  After talking about second chances and mentoring, I opened the floor for questions.  At first, they drilled me on my football knowledge.  “Who did you expect to be in the Super Bowl that didn’t make it?”  “Who is your favorite college football player?”  I did my best to answer.  When they started to ask me about girls, I did a much better job answering!  “How do you suggest asking a girl out on a date?”  “What qualities do you look for in a man?”  “What is your favorite pick-up line?”  We had so much fun!  I think the boys really enjoyed it and seemed to be soaking in all of my answers! 
Mrs. Jackie and I before the chapel!

Thursday, I was back in Little Rock to give a speech at the Arkansas School Personnel Association Annual Conference.  I challenged the superintendents and vice-superintendents to hire faculty who will serve as mentors to their students.  I thanked the administrators for their service and dedication to education.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be an advocate for my generation with such an influential group!

Friday, I spoke at Huntsville High School and Elementary School.  I had the most handsome escort, Cami’s son Jaxton.  He spiked his hair and wore his tie just for me!!  The high school students were very interactive and respectful!  I think they enjoyed the assembly!  The elementary students were precious.  They actually performed a song and dance and signed a book for me! 
My handsome escort!  Mr. Jaxton! 

Calling the hogs at Huntsville High School!  

Huntsville Primary School!

The kiddos showing me their song and dance!

Huntsville is the hometown of Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen Ashton Campbell, and if you haven’t noticed yet… I am a BIG Ashton Campbell fan.  She is beautiful, extremely intelligent, and goal-oriented.  Arkansas is very lucky to have a representative like Ashton, whom I proudly call my sister!  Ashton’s second-grade little brother, Alek, seems to have a little crush on me.   When I stayed with Ashton’s family on Friday, I told Alek, “Tell all of your friends that Miss Arkansas is spending the night at your house!”  He replied, “I already have.”  Haha!

Friday night, Ashton and I helped with a fundraiser pageant for all ages.  The entire town of Huntsville came out to support the girls!  Saturday morning, I visited another dance studio in Huntsville to encourage young dancers.  That night, we helped with the Miss Madison County Preliminary Pageant. Businesses from around the town gave over $3,000 toward scholarships, and the audience packed the room to capacity.  Most of the girls had never competed in a preliminary pageant so Ashton became everyone’s coach! More than ever, I saw how a preliminary pageant can empower young women!  The girls competing in this pageant were beginners, but the town supported them in their quest to become Miss Arkansas!  Mrs. JoAnn Tice and her pageant committee were dedicated to helping these girls with interview skills and onstage presence!  I am certain the contestants walked away from the pageant feeling encouraged about their increased self-assurance and proud of the skills they gained.  This is what the Miss America system is all about!

Mrs. JoAnn and me!

All of the titleholders that attended Miss Madison County!  

Congrats to Miss Madison County Kayla Williams and her princess!

After the pageant with Ashton and her best friend, Brennan!  

Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl with the youth at Conway’s Central Baptist Church.  My college roommate and best friend, Lauren, was my chaperone, and it was fun to spend the day with her!  I shared my testimony during halftime and emphasized that failure isn’t always considered failure in the big picture.  God always has a plan for our life so that we can become more like him.  After halftime, we finished watching the game.  I was definitely sweating those last few minutes so I was happy to see the Giants secure their Super Bowl victory!

Lauren and me!

Next week will be a great week!  I am speaking in schools, visiting Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and participating in a photo shoot!  I am looking forward to a few church appearances this weekend.  Also, we have started planning for the Miss Ouachita Baptist University Pageant, the local title I held when I was crowned Miss Arkansas.  Mark your calendars for February 25 because it will be one phenomenal show!!