I guess the best place to start this blog would be the day I received my acceptance letter into UC Berkeley and was told by my mom that there was no money for college. Yes, I had spent four years of high school killing myself to get good grades, participate in sports, student government, church, and piano lessons just to have the brutal reality that there was absolutely no money for me to attend college.
My grandmother sat with me on the piano bench, looked at me and said, “Paula-Sue if you put your mind to it, you will figure out how to get to Cal and graduate.” With that vote of confidence I was set on trying to construct a plan to get myself to Cal. I spent countless hours searching the web trying to figure out what I was going to do and low and behold I found the Miss Contra Costa County Scholarship Organization as an option to earn money for college.
Pageants? Me? No! I’m a tomboy and I don’t wear makeup, BUT… I do have a talent, I can interview, I don’t look half bad in a swimsuit…I can learn to walk in heels. So, with all those thoughts looming in my head I contacted the Executive Director of the Miss Contra Costa County Program and attended their orientation. What I found was that I could compete and earn money for college by just attending a few rehearsals and going on stage for various areas of competition. DONE! Well, shockingly I didn’t win, but I walked away with enough money to get myself to the next semester of Junior College! Whoo Hoo! That’s all I wanted at that point… but a few years later, now a UC Berkeley graduate, I wanted to go back and get my Master’s Degree, so I looked back to the Miss California Organization. This time, I won!!! I was going to Fresno in a few short months as Miss Oakland to compete for Miss California! Again I walked away with scholarship dollars for my education and was elated that all I had to do was what I already do daily, volunteer, work, interact with people in my community.
My year of service as Miss Oakland 2007 seemed to fly by. I made amazing friends like Nicole (Honaker) Cook, Brittney (Rice) Arrendano, Stephanie (Schutt) Quintal, and GH Armour. These women along with many others helped me grow outside of my comfort zone, be goofy, and yes, even how to dance…thank you Stephanie for spending so many hours during pageant week working with my two left feet so Season didn’t put me in the back!
As a titleholder I took it seriously. I made it my mission to be out in the community to share my experiences in the program, reach out to other young ladies and give them hope for higher education. Since I was new to being a titleholder, I learned as I went along and one of my fondest memories was going to the Reading Room at Children’s Hospital weekly to play and read with the children there.
Being a titleholder to me was a huge responsibility and job as you are the face of the program you represent. Through the Miss program I found amazing organizations to partner with and join like the Rotary Club of San Ramon where I have now been a member for 6 years.
Fast forward eight years… and I am now the Executive Director of the Miss Contra Costa County Program. I never imagined that I would ever be running a local Miss America Scholarship Program. However, when I was presented with the opportunity to revive an amazing and influential program in the community I couldn’t turn it down. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t all been fun, but what I have gained is fabulous friends in the program, two amazing, talented, bright and fabulous young ladies as my titleholders and an extended family throughout the Miss California Program. I’ve been given the awesome platform to provide a forum where young women are given the opportunity to learn how to achieve their maximum potential through public speaking, community service, while developing self-confidence.
Looking back I believe it was fate that I found the Miss California Organization all those years ago. I believe that all the struggles to get my degree, resurrect a local scholarship program, and getting involved in the community at every level was (and is) well worth it!
Paula (Silva) Gross
Executive Director, Miss Contra Costa County
Miss Oakland 2007