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Miss Silicon Valley- The Final Countdown

April 16, 2015: Exactly one month until I don an extremely stylish cap and gown, walk across a platform, and receive confirmation that I will be receiving a piece of paper, in the mail in about 6 months, that says I have completed my undergraduate education. Now, I will be 24 years old when this happens, which means I did not start right after high school at 18.

11165990_1071525946195175_1258071723_nGraduating high school, like most of my classmates, I had NO idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew that I loved working with kids but didn’t really know what path of education I wanted to take. I also knew that I was not ready to leave home quite yet and knew that a four-year university would be very expensive. So I started at one of my local junior colleges. Scholarship I received from the Miss Santa Clara Auxiliary and the Miss California’s Outstanding Teen Organization helped me pay for classes while I was there, which helped a lot. I had many moments of doubt and frustration. My mom, who did not go to college, told me I had to stay in school and not give up. However, my dad did graduate from college, after seven tough years. He understood the struggle to keep going and stay motivated enough to do it. He assured me that I always had the option to stop going to college, but would have to work and start paying for things. I really think that having this option and his patience and support really helped get me on the right road. I’m not saying my mom wasn’t supportive, she just knows the regret of not going to college and didn’t want me to be in the same position as she is now. My parents have both always supported me and knew I had to make 11158193_1071524516195318_1036985890_nthe decision for myself. And I finally did. I got a plan together and finished in three years with my AA degree in Psychology and certificate in Sociology. In the middle of those years, I was Miss Santa Clara 2010. During my time as Miss Santa Clara, I gained more confidence, interview skills, and was truly changed by being surrounded by so many incredibly educated and driven women at Miss California. I saw the opportunities that I had at my feet and had help from the amazing scholarships from the Miss California Organization to continue my education.

I never had a dream school. I actually found my university unexpectedly. I was in Monterey for some races and noticed we were driving through what looked like a college town. I looked it up and there it was–California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). I immediately looked at their list of majors and found a very interesting and comprehensive degree that encompassed all of my interests. Ready for the name? It’s a mouthful…Collaborative Health and Human Services (CHHS), with a concentration option in Social Work. I took a risk and only applied there. Luckily, I got in! Or did I? Come to find out, the school’s computer system had accidently admitted a handful of students when it shouldn’t have. My admittance was revoked. After many calls, some more doubting, and lots of waiting, I was admitted again and this time it was real. I moved out of my parents’ house in Santa Clara and in to my first apartment in Seaside, down the street from school. At this time, I was 21 and definitely more ready to be on my own and start my years as a “grown up” than I would have been at 18.

11149230_1071520819529021_1964053494_nI look back at my last three years at CSUMB and I have grown so much, lost all of the doubt I had, learned more than I could have ever imagined, and had fun the whole time. I never dreaded going to classes. I found what I am passionate about and now see the light at the end of this long educational tunnel that started after high school. Six years in school seems like a lifetime when you start, but now that I am one month away from being done with it, it went by too fast! I am hoping to attend graduate school next year and get my Masters in Social Work and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I work with the older adult population now and love it. I would have never had the opportunity to work where I am now if I hadn’t chosen to stick it out and continue with my higher education.

There’s not always a yellow brick road to follow, but I’ve always liked to make my own path anyway.

Yours truly, Melissa Bowling

Miss Silicon Valley

A Point of the Crown: Service

msqlp groupThe Miss America Organization’s crowns have four points, at every level of competition. These four points are what set us apart from every other pageant and scholarship competition, and is just one of the reasons I love being a representative in this organization. The point of the crown that means the most to me is “Service.” I am currently an intern at the Multiple Sclerosis Quality of Life Project (MSQLP), a non-profit that serves families and individuals in the tri-county area of Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito. MSQLP recognizes that people living with chronic illness have unmet needs and is committed to filling these gaps by improving the quality of life of persons with Multiple Sclerosis and have expanded to serve those with Parkinson’s disease. We work with our clients and families to create comprehensive, individual plans and programs that support client independence and all of our services are free.

Our clients are offered case management services, support services, and MSQLP’s water aerobics program. We also provide our clients and community with education and advocacy. MSQLP has assisted 354 clients and over 250 caregivers since the case management program started in 2004.

After having a few months of experience within this agency, I noticed that there was a need for caregiver support. At our support groups, some of our clients bring along their significant others, who are also their caregivers. Our family caregivers expressed that they could benefit from a support group of their own, or some service that helps them feel supported. This is when I knew that I wanted to create a workshop just for the caregivers. I wanted to give them proper resources, support, and maybe some tips to better their health and wellness.

msqlp heartAs Miss Silicon Valley, my platform is Caregiver Support in the Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Community. I have created a workshop that will take place in March, for our clients’ caregivers. There will be discussion about self-care practices and coping mechanisms, a yoga therapist will join us to educate and lead the group in breathing exercises and stress relief exercises, resources will be passed on to the caregivers regarding stress management, support, and services available for them. There will also be a licensed therapist coming to discuss counseling and how to access it through insurance. I will also have them connect with each other and find support without the group, since they have a lot in common.

I am so excited to implement this workshop that I have created for our caregivers and am striving to have it implemented through different agencies in California. This workshop doesn’t have to be limited to caregivers in the MS and Parkinson’s community, and I hope to see it helping family caregivers in any community in the future!

To learn more about MSQLP, visit their website or go like us on Facebook!

Melissa Bowling

Follow my journey on Instagram: @misssiliconvalley