The Miss America Organization has always been misunderstood by the public. Its mission has been granting scholarship money to very special women who are revered for their beauty, talent and academic accomplishments, as well as their well-toned physiques and personal civic-minded platforms.

These women are truly “a cut above” in every respect.

Unfortunately, the glamour has overshadowed the organization’s purpose. It’s the country’s largest scholarship competition for women.

During that one special night on national television, a young lady who just happens to be beautiful, smart and talented will have a crown placed on her head that symbolizes hope and enthusiasm and inspires other young women to never stop dreaming.

As I jog on the Boardwalk, what troubles me most is the organization, through failed leadership over countless years, has not rolled up its sleeves and worked diligently to use its visibility and high profile to create many charitable events, nor has there been a viable attempt at fund raising through marketing, merchandizing and solicitation.

Instead, the Miss America Organization has relied on handouts from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the Children’s Miracle Network and Television Programming to remain alive. Amazingly, the organization has not raised a single dollar on its own in well over 15 years. It has become totally dependent on the financial generosity of others.

It’s time to get back to the basics, to focus on who we are and what we represent. Things like motivation and support will never become outdated concepts.

We do not need a concept change. Metaphorically, we simply need a youthful wardrobe, some new mascara and a wonderful new fragrance.

We have always had the ability to raise millions of dollars and secure innovative national sponsors. The Miss America brand has always represented excellence and grace. People have embraced the success, warmth and spirit of sisterhood we have created to pass along to the youth of today and tomorrow.

But we need to protect and cherish this organization that for so many years has been admired and revered as the closest thing America has to a “royal family.”

Our organization should be raising significant funds and awarding each new Miss America a $1 million scholarship, rather than a mere $50,000. That’s how much money contestants win on the average TV game show.

But Miss America is anything but a game show.

The Miss America Organization should have a sizable war chest of money just to secure the best hosts, star-studded talent, the top judges and to stage a magnificent production. All of that needs to be surrounded by a national publicity and advertising campaign to make sure our night is no less important than any other televised awards show.

Miss America leadership of the recent past and into today has completely missed the mark for understanding our organization. They have selfishly forgotten the volunteers, the community and the very businesses that worked tirelessly to help continue the sandy beach path we first traveled 100 years ago.

Contrary to popular belief, Miss America isn’t dead. It’s not even critically ill. We are alive and breathing, but a little banged up. However, we still have the ability to serve what we were carefully constructed for: to inspire!

What we need most are leaders who are entrepreneurs with accomplished resumes and are not self-serving and short-sighted. They’re the ones who should lead us deeper into the 21st century and interweave business and marketing strategies with the thousands of volunteers across the country who love participating in the evolution and shaping of successful young minds.

We must pass the torch to the future generation of little girls whose eyes sparkle with wonderment as they gaze at Miss America with the hope of one day earning that crown and fulfilling their hopes and dreams.

In 2005, after a decades-long love affair with Atlantic City, the organization foolishly strayed away from its home to what they thought would be more attractive frontiers. But after seven years in Las Vegas, we were never embraced and loved there, and we wisely returned to our ancestral home: The Atlantic City Boardwalk.

It’s time to get it right. Show some gratitude and appreciation for a century of support by resurrecting and repairing Miss America’s broken relationship with Atlantic City and thanking this gracious community for standing behind Miss America for 90 years. Without Atlantic City, Miss America would have never become the gold standard of similar competitions around the world.

That’s because Atlantic City is Miss America, and Miss America is Atlantic City.

Suzette Charles, of Ventnor and New York, was 1983 Miss New Jersey and 1984 Miss America.

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