How Entering A Contest For A Sparkly Hat (Unknowingly) Changed My Life And Can Change Yours Too

I remember watching my hometown’s local pageant since I was a little girl and when I was 17, I entered and learned that I actually knew very little about what these pageants actually entailed. If there's one thing I've realized over the past few years that I've been involved in the Miss America Organization, it’s that you will begin to undergo a transformation into the very best version of yourself. Just by entering a local competition for the Miss America Organization (you don’t even have to win!), you will gain the following:


Jill Santos Miss Napa County graduateScholarship– As one of the largest scholarship providers to young women in the world, the Miss America Organization has paid for over half of my college education to date. I finished my undergraduate studies in 2.5 years, and this would not have been possible, nor affordable, had I not gained the scholarships from this organization. Many local preliminaries will guarantee every contestant a scholarship just for participating. If you do happen to win the title, there are even further opportunities to gain scholarships through awards, advertisement sales, placement, and more.


Jill with former Miss Napa County winnersSisters– You will meet the most incredible like-minded women who are passionate about their communities, their education, and their careers. You will meet your closest friends, find a second family. The Miss America Organization defies the stigma of a stereotypical “pageant girl” because the women I've met are some of the most intelligent, talented, and kind people I have known.


Professional Skills– Before entering a local competition, contestants must complete paperwork including a Resume and a Platform Statement, providing the opportunity to work on resume and writing skills. In addition to this, the interview and onstage question portions of competition teach us how to communicate effectively and think on the spot. As titleholders, we are required to attend public events, speaking engagements, interviews, and the like, which tests these skills even more. We are taught to communicate effectively to voice our thoughts and opinions in a professional way while still remaining personable. Participating in pageants has taught me confidence in speaking to and with people from all different walks of life. After graduating college, I was never nervous to attend job interviews, conference calls, presentations, and networking events in my professional life because of the experiences the Miss America Organization had offered.Jill Santos Miss Napa County speaks


Personal Skills– All contestants in the Miss America Organization choose a personal “platform,” a good cause for which they volunteer their time and promote in their communities. My platform is “Music Therapy for the Elderly”, a cause I choose to promote because of my passions and life experiences. In a way, this has been a “platform” throughout my entire life that this organization has allowed to come to fruition. Having a platform encourages contestants to get involved in the causes we are passionate about on a greater scale, bringing personal action and passion to community change. Your platform will allow you to increase your voice, establish yourself as active member in your community, and fuel your passion to follow your dreams. The work I have done with my platform has brought me the happiest experiences, the most creative ideas, and the hope to create my own nonprofit in the future.


Jill Santos Miss Napa CountyThere are so many reasons other why I advocate for the Miss America Organization, but these are some of the major ones that have truly transformed my life. Sure, I can stick on false lashes and walk in 5 inch heels now, but more than that, I attribute so much of my educational success, professional success, and life skills to this organization. Others who are or have been involved in the Miss America a Organization will share similar positive experiences. For those who are unfamiliar with this organization, I hope I have opened your mind, or at least offered a different perspective, to pageantry. I hope you consider getting yourself, your sister, or your friend involved in the Miss America Organization.  You will gain the scholarship, sisterhood, professional skills, and personal skills I described, and so much more. The crown is just icing on the cake.

Meet Team Napa County

Hi guys! Miss Napa County, Hazel Payne here again! So I was thinking what to write about in my second guest blog. I was thinking, typing, deleting, while texting my Executive Director, Sarah (also while submitting my last item of Miss California paperwork). Then it hit me! What better blog to do than to give you guys some insight of those that have helped get me to where I am now. There has truly been an army behind me in these few years of my pageant career, and I am so blessed to have such an amazing team behind me this year! I want you guys to learn a little about a couple of people that are more than just mentors to me. Meet the Lopez’s!!!!

photo 1Everyone meet Sarah Lopez (formally Sarah Rutan), she is currently the executive director of the Miss Napa County Scholarship Organization. Sarah is not only my fabulous Executive Director, one of my truest friends, but also is my Miss Napa County sister! Sarah was Miss Napa County in 2008! It was the first title she held in the Miss America Organization. It’s pretty great having a director who holds such passion for the title I wear across my heart this year, as it holds a special place in her heart as well. Sarah was also Miss Northern California Regional in 2009, and Miss Marin County 2011. That’s right guys, she hit the hat trick! As I prepare for Miss California in just as few months I am so lucky to have an executive director who has been through it all, a few times. We all have those who are giving us such valuable advice about those 10 days in June, but I also feel so very blessed to have a mentor who has experienced the craziness herself. She has made me feel so ready and excited to represent the wine country on that Miss California stage.

photo 5Sarah is also married to Gabino Lopez. Some of you may know Gabino as he is a certified judge with The Miss California Organization. Gabino was also the Executive Director of the Miss Solano Scholarship Organization up until just this year. He recently passed the Organization down to Sarah Portugal, Miss Solano 2010! Gabino has always been in my corner, ever since I began competing. He has continued to support me in my pursuit to be up on the Miss California stage. Not to mention, Gabino makes the most delicious food! He keeps me well fed in our weekly meetings. Gabino holds a very special title too! He was recently crowned a forever ‘Mr. Solano’ at this year’s pageant. We thank him so much for all that he has done with the Miss Solano Scholarship Organization over the years. Having Gabino there for interview prep has also been so rewarding. It is nice to have the help of someone who is not only intelligent, but also holds knowledge from a judge’s point of view. Although he is no longer an Executive Director, I think of him as my honorary other Miss Napa County Executive Director.

photo 4I credit my decision to choose my platform regarding ending child sexual abuse to these two. I can remember sitting in their kitchen and just getting to the core of why I would speak up about the issue. As you guys may remember from my last blog, I am a survivor. I remember being scared to speak of the issue that many were not wanting to hear, but they gave me the confidence to stand in my truth, and stand up for others. I wouldn’t be where I am in my platform if it wasn’t for them giving me the initial courage.

photo 1(1)As the years have gone by, we have truly become lifelong friends. I was even blessed enough to witness the two of them finally say ‘I do’ this past summer. I couldn’t imagine a better team behind me as I head to Miss California for the first time this year. I know that I am in the best hands! No matter what happens, I have already walked away with so much more than a sash and a crown. I truly have made lifelong friends and memories to cherish for a lifetime. To Sarah and Gabino, thank you! Thank you for never doubting me, and knowing one day it would be my time!

Hazel Payne
Miss Napa County

Miss Napa County: Darkness to Light

Hazel with her sister titleholder, Miss Solano Arielle Sumilhig

Hazel with her sister titleholder, Miss Solano Arielle Sumilhig

Hi guys! My name is Hazel Payne and I am honored to have just been named Miss Napa County 2015. Many times people often think that us “pageant girls” have it all; the looks, the smarts, the seemingly “perfect life”. Many times though, that is not the case, and my life was anything but that growing up. I am writing this blog to give you insight on me, my life, and my mission for change.

The reason I started pageants is I fell in love with all you could do as a title holder. Your crown truly is your microphone, and there is so much opportunity to make an impact. Fast forward to 2013, I was crowned Miss Vacaville 2013 (USA system). I knew that in my year I wanted to make the biggest impact I absolutely could, I would stand behind my platform and spark the conversation that has been long brushed under the rug.

IMG_0042My platform is Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. This platform hits home to me because I am a sexual abuse survivor. I can remember saying to myself at as early as six years old that one day someone would know my secret. I kept that secret until I was 18 years old (I am now 22). I knew I wanted to make this my platform because I wanted someone to hear my story and find the inspiration to speak up and tell someone.

So there I was lying in my bed one night and the idea came to me: I would create change. I would start a petition. Last February, I had started a petition on that was directed towards Vacaville's city council. My intentions were for the council to require any organization that works with kids to have sexual abuse prevention training among their staff and volunteers. The petition gained a rapid 200+ signatures in just under a couple weeks. The movement got the local media attention, and CBS 13 News, News 10, The Daily Republic, Vacaville Reporter; Vacaville Magazine etc. all had coverage on it. Fast forward a couple months, and I had the leaders within Solano County at my door. People from Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs, Superintendent of Schools, Teachers, Counselors, Therapists, Mayors, Councilmen members, etc. all wanting to know more about what I was trying to do, and how they could help with change. So, the idea grew from a local city push, to a county wide want quite quickly. In August of 2014 I was finally at a place where I could present to the county of Solano about the mission. I spoke to about 100 leaders of Solano County on the training I hoped to soon adopt within these youth organizations. I was even featured in about what I was trying to do in Solano County.

I am what is called a Certified Facilitator (the first one in Northern California at that) for the organization called, Darkness to Light –End Child Sexual Abuse. (Fun fact: Former Miss America, Mallory Hagan also supports this organization as well) I receive no compensation for it, but rather, I am facilitator because I find it completely necessary to educate other adults on how to protect our children. Darkness to Light is who I completely support, and encourage receiving training from. Their curriculum is short (about two hours), to the point and as someone personally tied to the subject, truly gives an accurate depiction of the effects such crime has on the victim. But you leave feeling inspired, and empowered to use the knowledge you just gained to help end this crime in your work area and personal lives. My role as a facilitator is I am able to personally come and train others as Stewards of Children, and provide you the education on how to recognize, react and respond responsibly to child sexual abuse, and give them the tools to help prevent it. The sad statistic is 1 in 10 kids (reported cases) will experience this horrible crime before they are 18. And unfortunately, no town is exception to this. Some of you might be personally tied to this matter in some way as well. But by being proactive, my hope is to bring that statistic down.

Since last February, I have helped to train several organizations and more will join them soon. To me it is not about the crown, the sash, or getting to wave in a parade, it's about the impact you make. I do this with or without a crown on my head, and I know I will fight for this as long as there is someone needing hope. The plan is to adopt a law that would require such education in youth organizations and places. It is in the works as I have several state officials wanting to help support it. No child should ever have to live in a life of fear. I know this isn't the conversation people want to hear, but it is one that we need to hear. It's time to have a change in policy. This change would be an incredible step for not only our state, but this country. I do it for the little girl asking herself right now, “why me”. I do it for those who cannot find inspiration in themselves. “One day I want someone to look at me and say, because of you I didn't give up”.