The performing arts were a tool Cierra Kaler-Jones used to overcome hardships, and they gave her a goal to work toward. Since being crowned Miss New Jersey 2014 in June, she has felt so welcomed by the community that she decided to place some of her pageant accessories in Ocean City.

Kaler-Jones, 21, of Galloway Township, appeared at the Ocean City Library last Monday for the unveiling of her portrait donated by artist David Holtzman, of Ventnor.

The portrait is accompanied by her Miss New Jersey pageant dress, crown and the heels she wore in the "Show Us Your Shoes" Miss America Parade. The gear will be on display in the library's historical museum.

"We try to take a portion of everyone's assets from Ocean City and put them in one place - our museum," Leslie Clarke, library director said.

Kaler-Jones was a contestant in the Miss New Jersey pageant four times before she was crowned. She felt it was her duty to give something back to the community.

"There were a lot of people in contest for my parade shoes, but I chose to keep them in Ocean City, where the pageant was held," she said.

Kaler-Jones is a graduating senior at Rutgers University and an Absegami High School alumna. She plans to pursue a joint law degree with a master's in education policy.

Outside of the classroom, she executes her duties as Miss New Jersey.

Her knack for contemporary dance and membership on the Rutgers dance team inspired her platform, "Empowering today's youth through arts education." The pageant queen has an ambitious spirit, aiming to be an advocate for equal access to a well-rounded education with an emphasis on art programs. She said it will be a strategy to help cultivate the next generation of leaders.

"Cierra is a delightful young lady and is a part of the city's history," Dr. Richard Stanislaw, president of the Ocean City Historical Museum, said.

Originally, the portrait was donated to the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation by Holtzman Gallery in Ventnor. Holtzman and other artists in the gallery were brainstorming about a "beauty and brains" theme. Last year, he presented a portrait of Cara McCollum, Miss New Jersey 2013, and decided to make the paintings an annual commitment - starting a collection.

"I'm happy to see it in Ocean City for a while," Holtzman said.

The portrait will return to the Holtzman gallery once it is taken down.

Contact Sekia Mangum:

609-272-7216

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