Intelligence, talent and poise are taking the stage this week as the state-level Distinguished Young Women Scholarship program returns to Cleveland for another year of friendly competition.
Kay Free, new DYW chairman, has been working on the program for weeks. She believes the competition will once again prove entertaining for Cleveland and Bradley County residents.
Eighteen girls have proceeded from local and at-large competitions to the state level. Each level of the program finds contestants being challenged on five levels: self-expression, fitness, interview, talent and scholastic scores.
“These girls are very special girls. Beauty is not a part of this competition in any way,” Free said. “We are looking at scholastic and fitness. Talent is important, but so is self-expression and interview.”
Free clearly stated the program is not a beauty pageant. She said the main focus of DYW is to further the education of its participants. The focus is on the winner’s promised scholarship.
The national program was founded in 1958 in Mobile, Ala., as the America’s Junior Miss program. According to the program’s website, while many aspects of the program have changed, the goals and purpose remain the same. The AJM/DYW contest has collectively seen more than 700,000 participants and awarded more than $108 million in college scholarship opportunities.
This year’s contestants are set to arrive this afternoon at Lee University’s Dixon Center. Their week will quickly turn into a series of rehearsals, social gatherings, volunteer activities, mock interviews and general preparation for Friday’s and Saturday’s event.
There is not much down time for the girls. They have a schedule they will follow from the time they wake up until their return to their host family’s homes.
Free spoke highly of the program’s host families.
“We really depend on the host families a lot because the program does not allow the girls to stay at hotels or motels,” Free said. “That is one week of the host family giving up part of their life.”
It also gives both the contestants and host families an opportunity to forge new relationships. A week is long enough for some to grow quite close.
Added Free, “Some of them cry when the girls leave and stay in touch with them for a long time.”
Only one young lady will win, but everyone has the opportunity to be impacted by the program. Free said every female from the local to national level benefits from the interview, and from general skills they learn in the program. She explained interview skills will be needed at any stage in life. DYW ladies know how to present themselves in an interview, according to Free.
“A lady whose daughter participated in a local last year said, ‘Kay, it absolutely changed by daughter’s life.’ She said, ‘What an experience these girls receive,’” Free said. “So you don’t have to win the local or the national or the state to gain from the program.”
Changes in this year’s program include a new location, a decrease in ticket prices and the addition of eight male escorts.
Free explained the program will take place in Lee University’s Dixon Center this year.
“Bradley [Central High School] was very kind in allowing us to use [the Fine Arts Center] last year. I was there at the program and felt like it was very, very nice,” Free said before explaining the venue change. “Lee University has a little more to offer in technology and the stagehands they [provide to] us and the rooms that are available to us.”
Tickets have been decreased to $25 per night or $45 for both nights of competition. The change in price was made to make the program available to more people in the community. Those interested can purchase tickets at Perry’s Petals, Orange Blossom or at the Dixon Center ticket counter. More information can be found by calling Tonya Dyer at 423-716-3554.