Authentically Blue, Authentically You | Miss Los Angeles County

If you were offered the opportunity to go back and tell your younger self some answers and give guidance, would you?

A friend and I talk about this idea often, particularly pertaining to a certain subject. We go back and forth and weigh the pro's and con's and try to find the helpfulness in each.
I always land on the same answer.

No.

Caelin Nieto Miss Los Angeles CountyI am a firm believer in that whatever experience makes it way into our path whether good, bad, wonderful, terrible, and everything in between can have meaning if we transform it into something of value; something we can be proud of.

You're probably wondering where this tangent is leading and I promise, I'm getting there.
This year will be my fourth journey to Fresno and the fourth time I have earned the honor of representing a part of this beautiful state. This time though feels like the very first time. There are moments that each one of us will experience during our lives that will change the trajectory forever. This is the story of mine.
In 2015, at 20 years old, two weeks before heading to compete at Miss California for the third time. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, or Asperger's. As of 2013 Asperger’s is now included in the Autism Spectrum, and is considered the highest functioning diagnosis within all ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) forms. I had faced anxiety, OCD, depression, and had “quirks” my entire life, (aka watching all three recently released Pirates of the Caribbean movies back-to-back on a loop from when I got home from school until I went to sleep. This continued for three years. I knew there was something different about me but after years of seeing therapists I was thrown into a slew of misdiagnoses from clinical depression to PTSD to extreme social anxiety. The list just went on. I knew deep down that there was more to my story. I knew with every new diagnosis that more was going on in my head than the categories I was being slumped into. I recognized some of the aspects were present, but many were not. I let time pass, and I continued to go through life.

While I was away at college, I really started noticing that I was struggling more and more to do what seemed like “the norm.” Life seemingly came so effortlessly to the people around me, but I felt like I was always living my life a few seconds behind. I struggled to connect, I struggled to feel like I had a place. I started going to a new therapist and she started leading me towards the only thing I'd ever really wanted: an answer. In this meeting she asked if a few specialists could come in and listen in and participate in our session and that it would be a little different. A group of four people came in. We talked, we talked, and we talked. I was asked to take written tests and a lot of the questions had to do with how I viewed the world around me, including how I viewed myself as well. I was convinced I was going to be told again I was just “very anxious and quirky.” They asked if they could excuse themselves from the room for a moment and discuss privately. When you’re waiting for answers and you have to wait it feels like you’re sitting for centuries. But I sat quietly staring at her painting on the wall that hung just a little too far to the left. To this day I still wonder if it was ever corrected.
When the specialists returned they delivered news to me that stopped my world for a moment and life was forever changed. They explained that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. I was initially overjoyed. It was the first time I felt it all kind of made sense. But then they told me that this condition is considered on the Autism Spectrum. I stopped dead in my tracks. How? How am I 20 and this is just being figured out? I thought they had to be mistaken. If this were true how could I communicate the way I do? How can I interact the way I do? They explained that although it is on the Spectrum, there are stark differences between both ends, and there are many things within that diagnosis that are tied to my high adaptability and ability to mirror people and conversations, but the experiences and way I navigate this world all point directly to one diagnosis.

I left angry. I left confused. I took all the information and handouts they gave me and stuffed them into my center console and convinced myself I'd never look again. I thought they were wrong. It was in my early moments that I now look back on and see that my lack of education lead to so many misconceptions, and common misunderstanding is something I look forward to changing.

I competed at Miss California that year but I knew I was not in my right mindset. I felt empty. It almost felt like myself had been taken out of me.

Caelin Nieto Miss Los Angeles CountyIt was about two months into my senior year of college and situations kept arising that I thought could be attributed to ASD did I open that center console. For the first time, I read through the crumpled abandoned paperwork with an open mind. Suddenly everything I read made sense. Every possible symptom was something that I experienced daily. Every. Single. Day.
Shortly after my realization my journey really began. I started cognitive behavioral therapy. and I chose to immerse myself in the ASD Community. I wanted to know it ALL. Every possible facet of the Spectrum. I was aware that with the great differences between both ends of the spectrum. I wanted to take the hard moments that I've lived every day for 20 years and advocate for all of us. Though my struggle will admittedly never be as hard on someone on the opposite functioning end of the spectrum, I can do my part in advocating for understanding and education. As far as the Spectrum goes, I know that my diagnosis is “easy” in comparison. I live independently, I am able to communicate, I am able to build relationships. But, that does not deter from the immense struggles and the constant bumper to bumper traffic in my brain.
As you can imagine, pageants were the furthest thing from my mind. I was still figuring out “me” for what felt like the first time. When friends and family would ask what I thought about ever competing again, I would say that if I could do it authentically, as wholly myself, then yes. But – it would take time to get there.

Last year, I sat in the audience at Miss California and had a very seldom quiet moment in my brain where I realized that this was something I wanted to do once more. I wanted to tell this story. I wanted to be vulnerable. I wanted to provide strength to those who felt different, who felt like they were the odd man out. I wanted to serve as a role model. I found the strength in the struggles to want to stand on a platform and proudly proclaim that Yes, I am different, but it doesn’t mean that I am any less capable of being Miss California.

Caelin Nieto Miss Los Angeles CountyI developed my Platform “Authentically Blue, Authentically You” on the merit of just that. I serve as an Autism Speaks Volunteer Advocacy Ambassador and I see first hand the beauty of this spectrum. The advances in the medical field, the advancements of occupational, physical, and speech therapies. There isn't a cure, but the world is starting to open their hearts and minds to what the Spectrum actually is. Advocacy is one of the best ways to spread awareness and shine a light. My platform was also developed to have a universal element to it – for anyone who has ever felt different like they didn't quite fit in like they aren't good enough – this journey is for them as well. I've been.. I am that woman. I want to be the light to someone, be the role model that stood up and was relatable in the differences, not on a pedestal.

Is competing while on the Spectrum hard? Yes, but it was also hard when I didn't know I was on the Spectrum. Will I have challenges during my year as a titleholder? Yes, but I had them and overcame them when I didn't know my diagnosis. Will standing on a stage and sharing the interior of your heart be worth it (crown or not)? Absolutely. As cliché as it may sound if I could change one person's mind about the intricacies of the spectrum, if I could make one person proud to march to the beat of their own drum, to be proud of their quirks, or even someone wanting to explore their own diagnoses' further, then again, Yes. All of this will have been worth it.

Asante Sana, Africa | Miss Southland

“Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.”- Jim Rohn

 

Miss Southland Stephanie Behring The Wheelchair FoundationAt twenty-three years of age, I have witnessed more hardship and inaccessibility than most people will see in their lifetime. In 2001, my grandfather, Kenneth E. Behring, established The Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization in Washington D.C. Although this organization is something that I have been exposed to since I was a young child, it is has touched me so deeply that I plan to one day take over for my father as the President of The Wheelchair Foundation. I feel honored and blessed to have been able to support their mission on over ten different mission trips in twelve different countries.

The Wheelchair Foundation has been my gateway to seeing these hardships firsthand in a myriad of different countries and has opened up my eyes to a world that many people tend to shove under the rug. Poverty, disease, malnutrition, armed conflict and lack of proper medical care are all major struggles and causes of disability in the developing world.

To date, The Wheelchair Foundation has delivered over 1,000,000 wheelchairs to over 156 different countries across the globe. It is estimated that at least one hundred million children, teens and adults worldwide need a wheelchair, but cannot afford one. Some international organizations state that the number could be as high as 6% of the population of developing countries.

Miss Southland Stephanie Behring The Wheelchair FoundationMany times, these individuals do not attend school and are less likely to be employed. Families with a disabled family member tend to struggle financially and are pushed further into poverty often resulting in abandonment. Already suffering from the pain, isolation and indignity of a physical disability, many of these people must endure further burdens, many are forced to live on the ground or to wait to be carried to meet their most basic of needs. For many of the disabled, a wheelchair is a critical source of mobility which aids independence and integration into society, including their ability to earn a livelihood. For disabled children, a wheelchair aids their cognitive and psychosocial development.

When I was 14, I had the unforgettable opportunity to travel to South Africa to deliver wheelchairs with my dad and some Rotarians. Though I had always felt it was my calling to serve others, it was this pivotal trip that transformed the course of my life and who I was as a Daughter of the King. Since my last trip to Africa, I had had dreams to return, but this time around I wanted to make the trip happen completely on my own. My father told me that the way in which I could return would be to fund two containers of wheelchairs- which seemed daunting at $16,500 per container.

3 years ago, that dream to return to Africa became not only a plan, but a mission. For three years, I went to Rotary Club after Rotary Club putting together presentations on The Wheelchair Foundation (TWF), spoke at local schools, and put together fundraisers hoping that people would aid me on this mission. It is still SO darn humbling to know that so many incredible individuals provided what they could to help me surpass my goal of 2 containers, in fact, these servant-hearted folks helped me raise $42,500 to bring with us to Africa!!!! (Forever saying thank you for this!)

My dream had come alive and before we knew it, we were contacting non-profits and organizations in Africa and booking our flights to Tanzania.

Stephanie Behring Miss Southland The Wheelchair FoundationWhen we arrived in Tanzania, we were sent on our way to the first wheelchair distribution at the Arusha District Commissioners Office. When we arrived, we were greeted with over 100 smiling faces of recipients, supporters, and family members. I'll never forget pulling up to the distribution and seeing so much joy and gratitude in one sitting. We were escorted to a small, white table in front of all the recipients where a few members of the Tanzanian government introduced us and spoke about our non-profit and our mission. Before we began placing the recipients in the wheelchairs, my father and I were able to give speeches of our own (it was pretty nifty to have our own Swahili translator!)

The next day marked our second wheelchair distribution which took place in Monduli at the Monduli Rehabilitation Centre where we were once again greeted with about 75 smiling and joyous faces! At the rehab center, we were able to see the rehabilitation services provided by the Tanzanian government and were able to visit with a few of the children who were recovering from amputations, limb separation, prosthetic limb attachment, or facial surgeries.

Miss Southland Stephanie Behring The Wheelchair FoundationFollowing the tour of the rehab center, we began to set up the 50+ wheelchairs we had brought with us, most of them being “kanga wheelchairs,” which are specialized wheelchairs for those with severe deformities (I.E cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, Mermaid Syndrome). Most of our recipients on our distributions were children, and upon seeing all of them, I immediately wished that we had been able to provide more of the kanga wheelchairs (which is tough because they're pricier at $650 per wheelchair versus $150 for the regular ones).

As always, it's incredibly difficult to see the disabilities and struggles that plague a third world country, and this distribution was no exception.

One of the most heart-wrenching feelings is seeing the way in which many of these people live when they are immobile. Many recipients arrived on motorcycles by being strapped to the driver, crawled their way to the distribution, used crutches as transportation, were carried on the backs of their caretakers, and some even made make-shift wheelchairs that were falling apart piece by piece.

We saw so many children that had horrific birth defects- most prominently cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus (brain swelling), Sirenomelia (Mermaid Syndrome where a baby is born with their legs sewn together), and congenital amputation (where a baby is born without limbs). A lot of these birth defects are due to lack of proper nutrition during pregnancy, excess fluoride in the water, AIDS, unsafe food and water, and poor prenatal care.

The remainder of our recipients were a mixture of elderly, people who had been paralyzed by car accidents, and people that had been involved in work accidents.

Stephanie Behring, Miss Southland, The Wheelchair FoundationOne of the most heartwarming stories from our distribution happened at our first distribution in Arusha. I had just placed this 8-year-old boy who had been paralyzed his entire life into a wheelchair when I asked the young girl next to him if she was his sister. She spoke English and told me she had been practicing so that she could thank us properly.

She took hold of both of my hands with tears in her eyes as she looked at me and said, “He is my best friend. We are best friends. We dreamed of the day that he could have his own wheelchair. I pushed him 35 miles for this. He is my best friend and now he is free to play on his own.”

You best bet I lost it at that moment.

One of the most incredible things I noticed in Africa was the immense sense of family and love that Africans have for one another. At these distributions you see family members who have taken care of the recipient for years, sometimes even decades. For example, at the Monduli Rehab Centre I met a recipient who was 104 (yes, 104) years old who had been taken care of by her son for over 40 years. Her son said that the government doesn't provide healthcare and hospitals refused to give her a wheelchair because they didn't believe it was necessary.

So for 40 years, he took care of his mother.

This blog post doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the joy and gratitude that these wheelchair distributions provide. For my readers who have never been on a wheelchair distribution, it is one of the most life-changing experiences. I don't even know how to describe what it feels like to place someone in a wheelchair- to give them independence, hope, mobility, and a new lease on life by providing a simple seat and 4 wheels.

Nothing in my life has been as rewarding as not only being able to provide the funds for 2 containers of wheelchairs, but also to be able to distribute the wheelchairs with my family. I am forever grateful.

As I did when I was 14, I once again left my heart in Africa.

Vertical Fitness Changed My Life- Miss Sacramento County

Alora Martin Miss Sacramento CountyIn June of 2016 I was trudging through life day by day. I worked 12 hour days managing a bakery and rarely had energy to do anything outside of work. I had gained weight and was overall unhappy with myself. I tried going to the gym, but after working from 4:30 am to 4:30 pm and fighting through traffic for over an hour to get home, I could rarely muster the will power. When I could barely shimmy my favorite loose-fitting jeans over my hips I realized it was time to do something.

Alora Martin Miss Sacramento CountyA friend told me about Vertical Fitness Studio which offers classes in pole, aerial silks, and lyra (aerial hoop) and said it’s a great workout that is also incredibly fun. In my mind, it was impossible for working out to be fun, but I decided to give it a go nevertheless.

I’ll never forget my first class; it was an introduction to pole class and everyone in the studio immediately felt like family. There were women who had been clients for years and welcomed me with the same warmth as they did their fellow veterans. I had an amazing experience and surprised myself with my own strength. I decided to come back the next day and the next and soon it became a part of my regular routine. After 30 days of classes I felt better than I ever had, had muscle definition in places it had never been, and had a whole new group of friends who encouraged me every step of the way.

Alora Martin Miss Sacramento CountyWhen I decided to compete in the Miss Sacramento County program it felt like the obvious choice for my talent. As you can imagine, when I brought up this idea there were many people who felt that it was not in my best interest due to the stigma of pole performers, but this is what fueled me even further to go for it. What most people don’t know is that in 2017 the Global Association of International Sports Federation granted pole sports “observer” status. This is the first step to becoming an Olympic sport. My goal is to continue to reduce the stigma against performers like myself and open peoples minds and hearts to realize that our passion and our art may look different than others, but it is just as powerful and incredible as any other.

My two year anniversary at Vertical Fitness Studio is quickly approaching and I continue to surprise myself with the things I have been able to accomplish. I am stronger than ever mentally, emotionally and physically. I will forever be grateful for having the courage to walk into the studio that first day, not knowing how much it would positively impact my life. I can’t wait to share my passion for my sport with all of you in June at the Miss California program.

There is No Art Without Joy- Miss San Joaquin County

Michael-ChekhovFamed actor and theatrical craftsman Michael Chekhov believed that the creation of art was intrinsically linked with the inherent beauty of infinite human possibility. I knew from my first exposure to his brilliant acting technique that I had found something meaningful in my journey as an artist. What I did not know, however, was that I had found something life-changing.

The technique, despite being riddled with seemingly indecipherable psychophysical intellectual jargon, is elegantly simple at its core. Drop into any Chekhov-centered acting class, and you will hear two words echo through the rehearsal space: Imagination; Concentration. Chekhov teaches us that to be artists, we must believe that we already are artists. This mindset- that to accomplish, one must view themselves as having already succeeded- has changed my perception of myself as a creative individual, a student, and an ambitious young woman. I go so far as to credit this viewpoint as being the very reason I am able to graciously represent my community as a titleholder today.

Katie-Elson-Miss-San-Joaquin-County-BlogIn his manifesto To the Actor, Chekhov writes that four elements must be at the center of any artistic endeavor. He refers to them as the proverbial “Four Brothers” (a play-on the plays of his famous uncle, Anton Chekhov). They include: a feeling of ease, a feeling of form, a feeling of entirety, and a feeling of beauty. These feelings must be radiated from within, and if one element is lacking, the entire creation (“creation” here meaning anything from a single movement of the human body to an entire symphony orchestra concert) will not succeed. Though they sound initially complicated, they are beautifully practical. Ease allows us to move and radiate lightness, peace, and grace from within. Entirety allows us to remember that whatever our endeavor, we are always working toward a larger goal. Form keeps us focused and concentrating on our next move and. Finally, Beauty (often translated to “joy”), reminds us that with all we do, we must feel a warmth and a happiness in our work. It is the presence of these four elements in all of my work, artistic or otherwise, that has truly helped me gain new insight on my abilities in my art as well as my day-to-day life.

So yes, armed with my yoga mat and well-loved copy of To the Actor, each week I delve into hours of Chekhovian study. I transform my body into a human speaker to produce “sloth-like sounds;” I “move and seethe” through a sharp and angular invisible plane; I take “sacred naps” as I allow myself to relate my five senses to my immediate surroundings; and I even cross an imaginary threshold into a sensory realm that Chekhov calls “the Higher Ego.” These odd terms and goofy-sounding exercises may seem to the outsider merely a reflection of the stereotypical “flighty artist,” but, upon closer look, are all executed with purpose and with meaning. At the very heart of Chekhov, he invites us to radiate. From within the heart and soul of ourselves, we emit light, beauty, joy and the very best of who we are. That concept, whether it be applied to a working actor, a titleholder, a student, or a career professional, makes Chekhov universally beautiful. I end by inviting each and every one of my sister titleholders to practice radiating in all they do, for we are blessed with the ability to shine inside and out. Chekhov believed that we ourselves are art, and, as he famously said, “there is no art without joy.”

Rayna Patel | Miss Yorba Linda

Rayna Patel Miss Yorba Linda Bollywood DanceHello! My name is Rayna Patel and I am Miss Yorba Linda 2018. I am so excited to have the opportunity to serve my hometown this year, and support my community in every way possible. I am currently 17 years old and a second semester senior at Valencia High School. Throughout my four years of high school, a lot has changed in my life but one thing has always stayed constant: my passion for Bollywood Dance. I have been doing Bollywood Dance for 12 years now, and my love for this unique dance style grows more everyday. Bollywood comes from the combination of two things: Bombay and Hollywood. It includes the unique, cultural texture of India’s classical and folk dances with elements of jazz, hip hop, Arabic, and Latin forms. I love Bollywood because while it so cultural, it is also very diverse and includes many other dance forms. No matter one’s ethnicity, gender, or age, everyone can connect through Bollywood Dance! It is a true gift to be able to have something that can Rayna Patel Miss Yorba Lindaincorporate all kinds of people.

Bollywood Dance has always been my escape from reality; I feel like my true personality and passion is shown through each of my performances. Especially in today’s generation, it is so easy for one to lose touch with their roots and background; but Bollywood has been my constant reminder of my culture and religion. Dancing at the largest Bollywood school in the nation brought not only the gift of dance and cultural appreciation- but also many life long skills, such as cooperation, dedication, time-management, compassion, and perseverance. I truly would not be who I am today if it weren’t for Bollywood Dance!

Rayna Patel Miss Yorba LindaAt our dance school, we teach dance. But we wanted to do more than that! So, we launched the NDM Bollywood Outreach Program, a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire, connect and empower our students through community service! NDMBOP works to inspire active volunteerism in both local and global communities. We engage students through our philosophy to “Live, Love, Dance, and Serve” our community needs and to provide our students a voice through more than just their dancing capabilities. I am so grateful to be a part of the Student Body this year and have an active role as Secretary! Some events we’ve done include teaching Bollywood Dance to senior citizens, make sleeping mats for homeless veterans, beach clean-ups, teaching the Hindu culture and dance form to children with special needs, and more! I hold this program so close to my heart because it combines two of my favorite things: Bollywood and Service. I’m ecstatic that we found a way to express Bollywood dance while also giving back to the community.

I am so excited to be able to share my love for Bollywood on the Miss California stage for my Talent! Through my piece, you will see the true beauty the Indian culture embodies, and my modern yet classical take on it. I’m so excited for this once in a lifetime opportunity to compete for the title of Miss California, and I cannot wait to represent my hometown in June! I am honored to be Miss Yorba Linda 2018, and I cannot wait for what’s to come this year, and the plans I will manifest. Follow @missyorbalinda on Instagram to keep up with my journey throughout the year!

Miss Delta Valley- Kayla Schmidig

My name is Kayla Schmidig and I am Miss Delta Valley. I decided to include some fun facts about what makes me who I am and some interesting things that I think you all will enjoy. From Israel, to strawberry festivals, Harry Potter, world peace on the big stage and how to survive New Years Eve in Times Square, these are fun facts and inside the life of what makes me Kayla Schmidig– your quirky girl-next-door.

The Science of Sound- Katie Wayland

 

An apprehension engine makes some of your favorite sounds in scary movies!

An apprehension engine makes some of your favorite sounds in scary movies!

I’m Katie Wayland, Miss Orange Coast, and I work in Audio Production! My interest for this field began non-traditionally as a child who simply loved scary movies. Sound design is truly an art form, as evidenced by one of my favorite tools: “The Apprehension Machine”, or “The Nightmare Machine”. This was a custom-built instrument by composer Mark Korven for the purposes of creating those haunting noises in all of your favorite scary movies. Instruments like this (homemade machines creating indecipherable noises) are what make this such an accessible craft.

 

Glory Days at Orange Lutheran

Glory Days at Orange Lutheran

I began fiddling (pun intended) with unique instruments at a young age, including my recorder, accordion, miniature harpsichord, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel. I would set up microphones facing stereo speakers to amplify and manipulate sound, mostly waging psychological warfare on my parents and siblings with my now worn down “Elvis: The Greatest Hits” CD.

I am currently an audio editor at Wayland Productions, employed by my extremely talented (and patient) brother, Kc Wayland! (It’s not nepotism if you complete the internship program.) Kc got his start in animation, working his way to being a well-respected writer, producer, engineer, and educator. We began working together when I wrote the opening score to his audio drama (We’re Alive: A “Zombie” Story of Survival) at the age of 15 using the most rudimentary of tools to create a haunting vaudeville/post-apocalyptic melody using my out-of-tune piano, and a broken guitar.

Creating in the studio

Creating in the studio

I am so grateful for the scholarships I have earned at the local and state levels of the Miss America Organization, which have funded my entire education; from community college all the way to studying Independent Music Production in the extension program at the University of California, Los Angeles!

With my background in music, and love of technology, this career is a natural fit. It is at the intersection of STEM and the arts, giving me the perfect niche to utilize two skill sets, and create unique sounds every single day.

When Joy Came to Stay

Miss Orange County BlogSeven years ago, I never expected the life altering announcement my parents presented to me and my siblings: they were adding another foster child to our family of seven. Although there is an element of excitement with a new addition, this was not the case when thinking about the extra responsibilities that would be asked of me once this six-week-old arrived in our home. 

Upon picking her up from the Department of Human Services, she did not reflect a child coming out of a middle-class environment; rather, she looked more like a baby from a third world country.  She was swollen, had open sores, was unkempt, and most of all, displayed absolutely no emotion. Although my family tried to welcome her with unconditional love, she cried all day and night, many times to the point that her eyes could no longer produce tears.  My older brother, Jordan, and I didn’t want to be home because the screaming was too much for us to handle. My mom juggled a sixth month old, a two-year-old and a kindergartener all while trying to calm this new baby. Honestly, I am not sure how my parents managed to have my brother and I in traveling sports teams, three young children, and a baby who couldn’t seem to find contentment. 

My sister after we adopted her

My sister after we adopted her

One day, something finally clicked. My mom remembers that it was a Tuesday to a Wednesday. She just stopped crying and her eyes began to light up. The curling screams were replaced with fits of laughter; and where the seemingly burden of life once dominated her eyes, joy now fills her every move. This defining moment forever changed the climate of our home as her newly discovered joy pushed back the dark cloud of uncertainty that once shrouded her heart and ours.   When it came time to legally adopt my little sister, my parents reflected on that transformational day and appropriately gave her the name Kiana “JOY” Reed, for now joy fills her heart where it was once being filled with sorrow.  

Our story reminds me of another often told of a little girl seen throwing starfish back into the sea after they had washed onto the shore due to a large storm. There were thousands of starfish, and each time she walked up to one, she would pick it up and throw it back into the sea. After doing this for some time, an older man came and asked her, “Why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” Upon hearing this, the little girl stooped down, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the sea saying, “I made a difference to that one.”

Miss Orange County BlogOften we are faced with extremely large problems, such as the more than 400,000 children in America’s foster care system, and focus on the seemingly insurmountable odds that stack against us when it comes to finding a solution.  Because we feel inadequate to being part of the solution, it is easy to abdicate responsibility to others who we feel have the capacity to find an answer to the problem.  We may even question why someone doesn’t do something about it without stopping for a moment to realize that we are “someone” who can absolutely make a difference.  Adopting my little sister may not seem like we made much of a difference when it comes to solving the overwhelming issues within the foster care system, but I am confident that it made a profound difference in the future of a child who may not have been born into our family, but was born for our family and discovered eternal joy as a result. 

Blessings,

Kyla Reed

Miss Orange County

 

The Ten Minutes that Changed My Life: From California to The White House

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Soaking it in in front of the West Wing

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being the next Kennedy in The White House.

As a child, I looked up to my mom and grandmother, who modeled charity and compassion through their commitment to serving others. Service quickly became ingrained in my life. Saturday mornings meant serving breakfast at Loaves and Fishes, summer afternoons were spent tutoring with Super Stars Literacy in Oakland, and August meant stuffing backpacks for Foster a Dream. Nothing gave me more joy than using my own two hands to serve others in my community. I was constantly seeking out bigger and better ways to make a greater impact.

When the President comments that he loves the glitter...

When the President comments that he loves the glitter…

In eighth grade, our class began to learn about the federal government and how leaders in Washington, DC had the ability to appropriate funding and direct efforts to support their constituencies. It was then that I became determined to work in The White House, where serving others could be a full-time job.

Through high school and college, I chased opportunities to lead, grow, and serve. During my junior year at UC Santa Barbara, I decided to apply for the UCDC program, which allows University of California students to live and work in Washington, DC while receiving units and taking classes at night. I remember going in to meet with the program advisor and listing the internships I was applying for. When I brought up The White House Internship Program, he laughed.

I shared the dream that I’d had for over ten years, and the response was laughter. The advisor told me that my chances were “slim” and that I should “explore other options.” Leaving the office, I refused to feel defeated – instead, I shook off his doubt. I resolutely decided that I would rather try and fail than not apply at all.

Two months later, I received a call from a blocked number while walking home from class. The voice on the other end of the phone said that it was “Jessica, calling from The White House.” I just about fell over.

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Surprise! I got to welcome Jessa and the Miss America class of 2017 to the White House!

With little time to think, I pulled it together and ran off the busy walkway into a grove of trees. Jessica asked if I had ten minutes to interview, and I exuberantly responded “Of course!” For the next ten minutes, I interviewed like my life depended on it. I told Jessica about my leadership on campus, my passion for working with young women, and my involvement with the Miss California Organization. After just 10 minutes and seven seconds, we ended the call. I stood in that wooded area off the path for a few moments, thinking that those ten minutes may have been the best ten minutes of my life. I had interviewed for The White House! Little did I know, it was only the beginning.

Three months later, I walked up the steps of The White House for the first day of my internship. I spent those months working harder than I ever knew possible, leading speaker series events with senior staff, writing memos, organizing community service events, mentoring high school students, and so much more. A highlight was getting to present President Obama with a birthday card on behalf of my intern class!

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

One of the best days, South by South Lawn

After my internship, I was extended the opportunity to stay through the fall as an Associate. Those next four months afforded me the chance to work with the Presidential speechwriting team, assisting with five speeches for the President and First Lady. I also worked on major events, including Halloween, the Italian State Arrival, and South by South Lawn. After eight months, I came home to California a changed woman – still determined to live a life of service, but far more empowered and confident in my ability to do so.

The detail that my interview for The White House was ten minutes is not lost on me. I had just completed my year as Miss Ventura County 2015, and had spent countless hours training to rock a ten-minute interview. Without this experience, there’s no way to know if I could have closed the deal and secured my dream job. The Miss America Organization has given me the tools to succeed and the strength to believe that I am capable of anything I can imagine. This program empowers us to step out of our comfort zones, to embrace challenges, and to do it all for the sake of service.

Each of us is called to serve, and I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunities afforded to me through the Miss California Organization. As Miss Yosemite Valley this year, I am determined to make every moment count and to use this platform to encourage others to do the same.

Thank you for reading – go out and chase those “crazy” dreams because you never know what might happen!

Jane Kennedy
Miss Yosemite Valley 2018

Play Ball- Miss Sierra Nevada

Hey ya’ll! My name is Blaire Bostwick and I am so excited to be your Miss Sierra Nevada 2018. I was born and raised in the Central Valley and love my community more than anything. So much so that my community inspired my platform, “A Heart for Service” in which I hope to inspire volunteerism in communities throughout California. I have been blessed enough to complete over 175 community service projects since starting my platform but one ongoing project sticks out above the rest.

Image_3I heard about my local Miracle League Association in Visalia three years ago and had no idea what it was all about. I volunteered on a whim and I am beyond thankful that I did. Due to a shortage of coaches my first year, I was asked to be a coach and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I have been a coach ever since and it has been an incredible journey.

Miss Sierra Nevada Blaire Bostwick Miracle LeagueFor those who don’t know about The Miracle League, it is a baseball association for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. These amazing individuals don’t always have the same opportunities to be involved with their local sports teams, so Miracle League makes sure that they don’t only feel included, but that they feel celebrated. Miracle League provides an environment where players get to try every position, hit home runs, and have fun with their peers all while playing on a special rubberized turf field that allows for wheelchairs and walkers to move around with ease. We use a buddy system within Miracle League, where every player has a buddy that helps them play the game and they build relationships with the players, allowing them to feel supported. This association makes sure they have the physical and mental support necessary to have a ball while enjoying America’s favorite pastime!

Miss Sierra Nevada Blaire Bostwick Miracle LeagueThrough Miracle League I have been able to meet some of the most incredible kids ever. All of my players have the biggest hearts in the world and they enjoy the game on a level I have never seen before. They have learned and entirely understand the value of teamwork. One of my favorite moments of every game is when my team is up to bat and they stand on the third base line to high-five their teammate rounding third and headed to Home! As if that doesn’t put the biggest smile on their faces and mine, most games they line themselves up around the field to high-five and cheer on the teammates of the other team! Even my kiddos who can’t communicate verbally, show through their actions how much they enjoy the game and love their teammates!

Through my volunteerism with The Miracle League, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations who serve children and adults with disabilities. My passion for these kids and adults have inspired me to start my own dance program for students with special needs, volunteer in special education classrooms, and be an annual volunteer for The Special Olympics. These experiences have fueled my education as well as I completed my Undergraduate Thesis on the subject of special needs in the work force, and am now in a School Counselor Graduate program in which I hope to be an advocate for students with special needs in the educational system. Who knew that volunteering on whim would transform my life!

Image (1)Special needs advocacy is such an important issue, and I’m thankful to be a voice for all the kids and adults who have changed my life through these Organizations. Children and adults with mental and physical disabilities should feel as much a part of society as everyone else, and I am so blessed for organizations such as Miracle League who work hard everyday to make that happen.

YOU can get involved too! Go online to www.themiracleleague.net to find your closest Miracle League or find your local Special Olympics event and sign up to volunteer. And remember, we need to be the change we with to see in the world!