When a princess wearing a crown comes to read a story, she definitely captures the attention of the preschool set.
“She has a wonderful reading style, and she really engaged the children,” Maureen Moffit, director of youth services for the Atlantic City Free Public Library, said of Miss New Jersey Cara McCollum, who was a guest reader at story hour in late August. “And the kids really enjoyed the crown. They wanted to know if she was a real princess.”
Since 1989, all Miss America contestants have been required to have a public-service platform. McCollum’s platform, “Giving the Gift of Reading,” focuses on children, as do more than half of the platforms of this year’s 53 contestants. Other child-related topics include fighting child sexual abuse, special education, childhood grief, children’s cancer and youth in politics.
Each contestant chooses her own platform, and all of them also advocate for the national platform, the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for 150 children’s hospitals around the country.
Miss America board member Regina Hopper, who was Miss Arkansas1983, said the platforms are a way to show that all contestants in every pageant leading up to Miss America are involved in their communities, a primary message of the Miss America organization. Some contestants promote established charities, and others start their own, with their work continuing long after they have turned in their crowns.
“It’s a way for them to say what is important to them,” Hopper said. “Even if they don’t win, they spend the year promoting their platform in their own state.”
Miss New Jersey is not the only contestant to promote reading. Miss Alabama Chandler Champion’s platform is “Chandler’s Challenge: Reading is Believing ... Don’t Stop Believing.” Miss North Carolina Johna Edwards promotes “Readers to Leaders: Promoting Literacy in America’s Youth.” Miss South Dakota Tessa Dee’s platform is “Project Bookworm.”
Two contestants this year are promoting military issues. Miss Connecticut Kaitlyn Tarpey has chosen “Our Time to Serve: Housing and Hiring Our Veterans.” Miss Nebraska JaCee Pilkington’s platform is “Operation Remember Me” to serve veterans and their families.
Hopper said having Miss America as an advocate immediately raises the profile of whatever issue she is promoting. That promotion involves making almost daily public appearances, traveling some 20,000 miles a month.
“People have no idea how hard Miss America works,” said Hopper, who has accompanied Miss Americas, including Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, to events on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Hagan’s platform is child sexual abuse awareness and prevention.
Clint Curry, senior manager, public relations for the Children’s Miracle Network, said the partnership with Miss America, which began in 1987, has raised about $8 million so far, with 60 percent going to Miss America for scholarships and 40 percent going to its 150 member hospitals. Miss America serves as a national spokeswoman for the group, as do the 53 state contest winners.
“The awareness level is a huge value,” he said. “They are all poised and articulate, and we are happy to have them as a voice for the kids.”
Each year since 1988, Miss America has awarded Quality of Life scholarships that recognize three contestants who have excelled in their involvement with the CMN hospitals and their own personal platforms. This year six contestants have been nominated for the $6,000, $4,000 and $2,000 scholarships, including Miss Rhode Island Jessica Marfeo, who was treated as a child at one of the CMN hospitals. Her platform is “Be Friends First.”
The other five contestants are Miss Arkansas Amy Crain, Bullying Prevention; Miss Georgia Carly Mathis, Heart Health; Miss Michigan Haley Williams, Conquering Childhood Grief; Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick, Full Plates, Healthy States; Miss North Carolina Johna Edwards, Readers to Leaders; and Miss South Carolina Brooke Mosteller, College Application Day. The scholarship winners will be announced Sept. 12.
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