When a young woman approached Debi Wilson at her gym in 1984 and asked her to chaperone a week of pageants, Debi didn't realize that her participation would lead to twenty-nine more years of service with the Miss Delaware Pageant.
Today, Debi has held several years worth of board positions, and this past April, she was voted in for her fourth term as executive director.
"It was overwhelming, and sometimes it still is," says the Wilmington native. But she wouldn't trade her time spent with the contestants.
Sitting in the audience watching the contestant for whom she chaperoned walk across the state, she was hooked.
"My life has been changed for the better by knowing and working with each and every Miss Delaware. It truly is a family."
"It all came together when I saw her on stage. I thought, this is all about making her feel her best, win or lose, as long as she feels her best," she says.
Debi officially kicked off her work in the organization in 1985 when she was asked to be an auxiliary board member, a role she played for two years. In 1987, she became a "full-fledged" board member, which gave her voting rights on things like fundraising ideas, scholarships, and scheduling. The only two positions she's never held are treasurer and choreographer. She leaves those to the experts, she says.
Debi's capacity as executive directed expanded her involvement in the Miss Delaware pageant. She oversees the organization and preparation of Miss Delaware for the Miss America pageant, and all that it entails.
Miss Delaware 2011 Maria Cahill describes her relationship with the executive director as more familial than professional. Maria says she relied on Debi heavily after she won the title because it was her first Miss Delaware competition. Maria and her family looked to Debi to learn the ins and outs of the organization.
"I was lucky because we live close to each other. Whenever I needed someone to talk to, and a phone call wasn't good enough, I would literally drive over to her house. A lot of times it was overwhelming for me. She helped me stay grounded," Maria says.
Time has seen Debi develop into a well-rounded communicator. Her dealings have made her into a better public speaker and leader, and written communication comes easier to her at this point than it did in the beginning. But her life is not the only one that has changed because of the organization. To be involved is to improve one's being.
"The lives of those who volunteer with the Miss America Organization are also changed as they benefit from helping young women reach their goals. The communities in which we all live are beneficiary of the hard work that all contestants commit to their platforms," Debi says.Subscribe to fourpoints to read more about Debi Wilson and the Miss Delaware program!
Jenee Johnson is working hard for Indiana's state pageant. This local director is positive and pro-active, and the success of the program is living proof.
Jenee is the kind of volunteer that every state wants. She isn't afraid to work hard, she truly believes in the value of the program, and she is dedicated to the success of others–whether they are her contestants or other volunteers.
Her volunteerism came through a friend who encouraged her to get involved, and the rest is history.
"I've always been aware of the pageant," says Jenee. "And even though I modeled for a while, I never got involved in competing. I finally became a volunteer when I was working at a gym. The gym wanted to offer the local contestants a prize package. Once I met the contestants and my friend urged me to volunteer, it was an easy decision."
She started out helping here and there and eventually became a local director of the Miss Three Rivers pageant. This is an open pageants, meaning contestants from all over Indiana can enter. There is also a Miss Three Rivers Festival pageant that is not associated with the Miss Indiana pageant.
"I was recently asked to become a board member of the Miss Three Rivers Festival pageant," says Jenee. "It's an honor to be elected to their board. We have talked about combing the festival and the pageant, but the connection was never there. Regardless, we love working with them."
Forging relationships is one of Jenee's strengths, and it has also strengthened her pageant. One unlikely but wonderful ally for her pageant is the local chapter of Sports Car Clubs of America. The local chapter contacted Jenee and asked if her titleholder would be interested in handing out trophies at one of their events. Jenee responded positively and suggested that she also sing the national anthem. That suggestion sparked a relationship that has grown.
"It turns out that no one had ever sung the national anthem at any of their events," says Jenee. "We went and ended up having such a good time that we went to the rest of their events for the rest of the year. And they had a representative attend our pageant and give the outgoing titleholder flowers during her final walk."
Volunteers like Jenee are the backbone of the Miss Indiana pageant and, on a larger scale, the Miss America Organization. She is one of the quiet heroes who is willing to give of her time, effort, and energy to an organization that she believes in.
To read more about Jenee and volunteers like her, subscribe to fourpoints magazine!
by Valerie Clemens
What do 235 individuals who have donated 1,175 hours of their time and talents over the last five years have in common?
The answer is: They have volunteered for a "Day Of Service".
Since 2007, a day has been set aside by a group of Miss America volunteers to work with the Las Vegas Habitat for Humanity and with the support of Lowe's "Let's Build Something Together" held during the week of the Miss America Pageant. These individuals dedicate a "Day of Service"in honor of our 53 Miss America contestants for their "Year of Service" to our states. Over the years we have had three formers Miss America's, Ericka Dunlap 2004, BeBe Shopp,1948 and Kate Shindle,1998 and "The 2010 Amazing Race Contestants " join along with our Miss America family and friends from around the country to gather for fun and a sense of accomplishment by working together to help others begin a new life with a helping hand. President and CEO at Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas Guy Amato, stopped by the site again this year to welcome us and thank us for supporting the Habitat for Humanity mission which is to contribute and provide safe affordable homes for the people of Las Vegas and the world.
This January 13, 2011, marked the 5th annual event with 53 Miss America volunteers from around the country, traveling to Clark County to paint, clean and spackle, working side by side with Lowe's "Let's Build Something Together" and Habitat for Humanity "Women's Build" volunteers. This project has been lead by Valerie Clemens from the Miss Maine Scholarship Pageant for the past five years. This year's event couldn't have been better, weather in the high 60's, not a cloud in the sky! The group gathered in the lobby at 7:15 am at Planet Hollywood to check in and meet old and new friends. We climbed onto our Greyhound Bus and headed for Henderson.
When the volunteers arrived at the site, signed waivers, they enjoyed a special surprise breakfast of "Starbucks coffee and treats." What an eye opener! Again this year as she has for the past five years, our "Habitat Angel", Miss America 2004, Ericka Dunlap greeted the volunteers and reflected on her every first Habitat "Day of Service" then she warmed the group up with her popular morning stretching exercises.Her spark and spirit always is a bright part of our day! The Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas Volunteer coordinator, Bobbi Hardy, Project Manager, Roger Cooper and our Site Superintendent, Mike Biddle made us feel like it was "ole home week" and explained how they appreciated our involvement and that this is a very special annual event that they look forward to with the Miss America volunteers. Paul Brown from the Miss New York Organization shared with the morning participants about his "Day of Service"experience in Las Vegas last year and how the Miss New York pageant family became involved with Habitat for Humanity during pageant season last summer and encouraged all of us to share this experience and take it to the next level by becoming Habitat volunteers in our home states. I acknowledged and dedicated this year's "Day Of Service" to three of our Miss America volunteers who passed away last year with a moment of silence and "confetti toss" to Robert Towle from the Miss Maine Pageant, Louanne Gamba from the Miss Rhode Island Pageant and Ric Frentz from New York and The Official Miss America Pageant Historian. Our friends, gone but not forgotten.
With motivated volunteers, we were divided into 4 groups, painting, taping, washing windows and moving roofing materials via assembly line. We went about our work with pride. Camara's snapping, people laughing and a few tears were shed throughout the morning, along with a lot of the work being accomplished, it was a very productive day. Vicki Morrison, the event's "Lollipop hostess" from Pennsylvania passed out the anticipated treats for a midmorning snack to everyone' delight.
With most of our work accomplished by 11:30 am, the lunch break came just in time with a special on site, "Taco Party" by Qdoba, Mexican Grill and all the fixin's!
After lunch we regrouped for sweep and clean up before returning to Planet Hollywood, host hotel for the Miss America pageant, to get ready for the next pageant dinner, alumni reception and pageant preliminary. But just before we left, a brightly painted hot pink ice cream van pulled up to the site with music blasting. Inside a very sweet lady asked where we were from and wondered if we would care for some dessert? Having enjoyed our delicious tacos, ice cream sounded like a great idea! After some of us (not on pageant diets) placed our orders, ordering everything from popsicles to ice cream sandwiches, I went to pay the ice cream lady, she said, "Oh, I don't want your money, look at what you are doing for my community. I want you to enjoy it and the ice cream is my gift to you!" After some coaxing, I brought our new friend out of the van, to meet our team of pageant volunteers, so we could thank her properly with hugs and high fives. On the ride home we fondly recalled the day's events and enjoyed our time together before heading our separate ways.
A couple of our volunteers summed up the Day of Service this way:
"Memories of that day include the grandmother with her little granddaughter who walked to the site to say "Thank You" for their house (from our work and other volunteers in past years)...and were so happy to see us there! There was the woman who drove by the site in her "pink bus" and could not thank us enough for what we were doing! She had finally saved enough to get her work permit and her bus that would house her business...but she was thanking us!!! Those were just heartwarming minutes to us.......and times when we realize just how fortunate we really are and how much we have! Coming in contact with some of the actual people that live there and are affected by what we do really made it so much more real for all of us." Vicki Morrison-Pennsylvania"To see so many Miss America volunteers involved was also moving for me because it validated many of the reasons that I love this Organization. It was a grassroots effort at it's finest and I was so grateful to be a part of it." Chip Brown- Executive Director of the Miss Arlington Pageant- VirginiaSpecial thanks go to Teri Galvez, the Executive Director of the Miss District of Columbia Organization for partnering our Miss America volunteers with Lowe's "Let's Build Something Together" and Ann Catron our Lowe's on site Lowe's volunteer. Thank you to Lowe's Compan ies Community Relations Manager, Kelly Persons for assistance in making this event possible for our Miss America volunteers. Also Bobbi Hardy, our Las Vegas Habitat for Humanity Volunteer coordinator for "A Day of Service" project, a reality each year.