Building the Next Generation of Strong Girls

DSCN9498Feeling a tug on my shirt, I turn to see a little girl in pigtails eagerly waiting to talk to me. Her eyes full of light, she enthusiastically told me, “One day I’m going to be Miss City of Orange.” As a titleholder, there’s something incredibly rewarding hearing those words.


FullSizeRender-13When I was a young girl, I never could have imagined I would one day compete in pageants. I was the biggest tomboy – preferring shorts to dresses and ponytails to curls. I was the furthest thing from appearance ready! The first time I saw Miss City of Orange was at my local track meet. As I approached the podium to be handed my gold medal, I saw a flash of sparkle and a beautiful woman in crown and sash. I looked at myself – all sweaty, wearing my sports goggles – and suddenly felt very small. How could I ever be as poised and pretty as her? Sports taught me how to be a confident competitor, but I was never taught how to be completely self-assured in my own skin.


FullSizeRender-14As Miss City of Orange, I believe I owe it to my younger self to help empower the next generation of young women to feel joyful, healthy, and confident. How we perceive ourselves as children directly correlates to how we view ourselves as adults. Helping girls develop self-confidence and leadership skills from a young age is vital to their future.


TIMG_4810his past weekend, I had the opportunity to carry on a Miss City of Orange tradition by hosting the 10th Annual “Queen for a Day” event. Ten years ago, Miss City of Orange 2006, Bonnie Carmalt, the late City of Orange Councilman, Steve Ambriz, and Miss City of Orange Executive Director, Connie Benson, sat down to brainstorm a way to get young girls in the community involved in the Miss America program. From that meeting, Queen for a Day Leadership Workshop was born! This year, we welcomed 77 young women to the City of Orange Class of 2015, where they learned lessons of style, service, scholarship and success!


IMG_4806It was truly an honor to keep this tradition alive and make it my own by adding the opportunity for Girl Scouts to earn two merit badges. Watching the girls go from station to station intently listening and engaging in the lesson with the volunteers, seeing them giggle as they dressed up their group leaders for the toilet paper fashion show, and observing them put on skits exemplifying the four points of the crown – I felt incredibly blessed to be a part of these girls’ lives. It was remarkable to see how much fun these girls were having and how much knowledge they retained. When they were handed their certificates by Mayor of Orange, Tita Smith, and I put a tiara on their heads, I could see the excitement in their smiles and the pride in their parents’ eyes.


IMG_4815When we asked the girls “How many of you will one day compete for Miss City of Orange?” all of the girls’ hands flew straight up! For me, this is what being a titleholder is all about – serving your community and inspiring the next generation to become the best they can be through the Miss America Organization, which has helped me grow into a better leader, role-model, and young woman.

Together, we can build strong girls!

Paula Verkuylen

Miss City of Orange 2015