ATLANTIC CITY — When it comes to strengthening the ties between the Miss America Competition and Atlantic City, Suzette Charles has lots of ideas.
A golf outing. A 5K run. A bike ride on the Boardwalk. Meet-and-greets with the contestants. Selling T-shirts in the shops along the Boardwalk.
For now, the Miss America Organization’s Atlantic City liaison, and Miss America 1984, may have to settle for the two $1,200 scholarships she gave out Wednesday to two Atlantic City High School graduates. The Boardwalk ceremony marked the first time two women with no prior involvement in Miss America received scholarships from its foundation.
“I’ve been put on hold,” said Charles.
The Miss America Organization has been dealing with discord this summer, its members split over the leadership and direction of the organization after a decision to eliminate the swimsuit segment of its competition. But the appointment of an ambassador to Atlantic City, seen as a way for the organization to strengthen its connections here, is hardly controversial.
Still, Charles, who grew up in Atlantic City and Mays Landing, said she wishes she could do more in the community to promote the competition, adding she has brought forth ideas to the administration but only received approval to move forward with the scholarships.
“I understood my role to be parlaying relations between Atlantic City and various areas, trying to get the community involved,” she said. “I did anticipate my role to be different than it has been.”
Regina Hopper, the new president and CEO of the Miss America Organization, said Thursday she’s appreciative Charles took on the role of community liaison, and the goal was to have her “facilitate that closer working relationship with people in Atlantic City.”
Hopper said many people have expressed interest in planning events in the city this year, and there have been discussions with city leaders about ways to have a larger presence in the community. Some of the suggested events, such as a golf outing, could fit in during future years of the competition, she said.
She said she would “love to” continue giving back to Atlantic City.
“The community has been so supportive of Miss America,” Hopper said. “One of the goals of the new board of leadership was to make sure Atlantic City knew how much we support it.”
The organization has been changing since controversial emails were made public in December from its former executive chairman and CEO, employees and other board members using vulgar language to describe past contestants’ weight and sexuality.
As a result, the organization named a new board, Hopper as president and CEO and Gretchen Carlson as the new Board of Trustees chairwoman. In March, the organization said Charles would lead the Atlantic City task force.
In May, Miss America Executive Director of Operations Karen Nocella spoke to members of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber and said they wanted to devote year-round resources to giving back to Atlantic City.
Hopper, speaking in June about the organization and its changes at a women’s conference for the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, also said the organization would have a strong presence in Atlantic City.
She said the organization has been working with the mayor’s office to come up with ways to bring in the community during competition week. For example, the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative will conduct a civic leadership and advocacy training workshop in the city Sept. 8, the day before the competition finale.
With fewer than 60 days left until the competition Sept. 9, Charles said she hoped to be able to include more people and businesses in the Miss America parade Sept. 8, such as the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance. She said she got approval for it Thursday.
“It’s an Atlantic City event, it’s not just the Miss America parade,” she said.