Director Kay Free said she did not expect to be in her current position when she first got involved by volunteering to sell programs last year.
“Don’t sell programs,” Free said with a laugh. “You will be director next year.”
She said the public could expect to see some changes to the program compared to last year, though she declined to say what they were.
“Change is good,” she said. “Come and see what we’re going to do.”
Girls were asked to share their talents with the group as a preview of what the public could expect at the preliminary and final events Friday and Saturday nights. Distinguished Young Woman of Loudon County Savannah Moua stepped up to the microphone and shared her talent — singing — despite the fact that she had no music to accompany her. She sang an a cappella version of the song “I Will Always Love You.”
To account for a lack of time, the rest of the girls then went down the line and said what they would be showcasing as their talents. Many had plans to dance, and others were planning to sing, play instruments and perform dramatic monologues.
But talent is just one of five categories that go into determining the winner.
The program consists of various categories that make up a girl’s score. Scholastics is 20 percent. Talent and interview portions are both 25 percent each. The fitness and self-expression categories are each 15 percent.
At the end of the competition, winners receive college scholarships, which Free said have been funded solely through donations.
“We started with zero pennies this year,” Free said.
She said expenses like those for the competition events themselves were funded the same way, from an account that started at nothing and was filled with donations.
The program is worth every penny because it teaches the girls competing in it valuable skills, she said.
While she maintained that all the categories were helpful to the girls, Free said she was especially fond of the interview portion. She said it provides girls “the confidence to speak their minds” in what some would consider a stressful setting. Girls stand before a panel of judges and are asked for their views on everything from current events to their personal backgrounds.
“I would put any of these girls up against anyone applying for a job,” Free said.
Free then gave Rotarians an opportunity to ask the girls questions. One member asked how they got involved with the program in the first place.
Katie Ward, last year’s winner, said she competed in an at-large competition for girls who do not have programs in their towns and cities.
Free said she hoped there would be less of a need for at-large programs in Tennessee next year.
“That’s our plan for this year,” Free said. “We want to make sure there are programs in each area.”
The Distinguished Young Women events will take place at 7 Friday and Saturday nights, at Lee University’s Dixon Center.
Prior to welcoming Free and the girls, the club elected four new members to the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Foundation board and discussed part of the planning for the club’s fundraising gala in August.