Traci Dunn-Fant, DYW co-chair of the event, said, “This is one of my favorite activities. I think I find it so fun to see the young ladies interact with the residents! After a long day of practicing, it is so refreshing to see the young ladies forget about the events of the day and have fun. Monday practice can be a very stressful day for the contestants. Typically this is the first day that they practice their talent and sometimes it can be somewhat stressful. They appear to forget about all of this when they perform and spend time with the residents at Garden Plaza. This activity brings the focus back to what service is all about, and what this program promotes.”
Every local and state DYW program has a community service project their girls participate in. In some cases, there are several community service projects the girls are involved in.
Holly Kesley, State Committee and former Cleveland’s Junior Miss 1997, said, “I think the Garden Plaza service activity is one of the most important things our girls do all week, because although it is a service activity, the girls truly get as much out of it as the seniors. The first day of rehearsals is intense and at times, frustrating for the girls. Stress levels run high and they are all still trying to get to know one another, as well.
“This gives them an opportunity to shake off the day’s stress, let their hair down, so to speak, and just have fun. It’s a huge bonus that they are also learning about giving of themselves in service to others. The seniors get an opportunity to interact with these outstanding young women, the young ladies get a chance to learn from some of the wisest people in our population, and they also have time to get to know each other better in a pressure-free environment,” Kesley said.
“And because this is the first evening activity of their busy week, it helps set the tone for the girls in what this program is all about — namely, that this is not a ‘beauty pageant.’ This is a program that encourages personal excellence in every aspect — scholarship, service, physical fitness. By starting the week off serving others, we can hopefully instill in these young women the importance of using their God-given gifts in a spirit of service, rather than personal gain.”
Residents at the Garden Plaza were especially grateful for the community service and entertainment the young ladies provided them. Margaret Farris, who has been a resident at Garden Plaza since September 2011, said, “I wish everyone could attend this event. Everyone is so nice. I’m really enjoying myself.”
Louis Corington, a resident for six years, said, “This is a great place to live! They have a lot of activities here, which you can attend or not. I’m very fortunate to be here and I’m enjoying talking with the young folks this evening.”
Mack Crawley, a resident for two years, added, “I think it’s neat to come in here and meet these young people! We learn what their life was like compared to ours and just share experiences. It’s great.”
Fant, who served as Cleveland Junior Miss and Tennessee Junior Miss for 1991, said, “I have to admit that I was a little cautious when we initially set up this activity in 2009. However, each year, the participants share with me that this activity is one of their favorite activities. We even have some ladies who stay in touch with a resident who has touched them so deeply.
“One example is our 2010 Tennessee’s Junior Miss, Chelsea Milligan (who choreographed the fitness routine for this year's state program). She met a couple in 2009, and this couple deeply affected Chelsea. She stayed in contact with them. The girls enjoy performing for the residents of Garden Plaza, and they also love serving ice cream to each resident. Aside from these activities, I believe that the conversations and stories shared between the contestants and the residents have the largest impact on these young ladies. The wisdom and experiences shared help the young ladies see the value of sharing time with others.”
In addition to The Garden Plaza community service project, the distinguished young ladies will also be donating food to The Caring Place, in Cleveland. Since the core of the Distinguished Young Women program is community service, its “Be Your Best Self” program is a highlight of the event.
According to Fant, the only African-American winner from Tennessee to compete on the national stage, young women in general around the ages of 16 and 17 seem to be preoccupied with what is only going on in their world.
“This experience teaches them to value others and to understand the value of serving others,” she said. “Part of ‘Being Your Best Self’ is not only setting and attaining your goals in life, but fostering and developing relationships with others during that journey.”
In addition to The Garden Plaza community service project, the young ladies will also be donating food to The Caring Place, in Cleveland. For the 2013 State Program Year, each State Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee participant will also give back to the community by making blankets for children who are undergoing traumatic events in their lives. They will then donate them to the local Project Linus chapter.
Distinguished Young Women is a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments. The program has provided life-changing experiences for more than 700,000 young women and more than $93 million in cash scholarships have been awarded at the local, state and national levels combined.
The Distinguished Young Women Tennessee state competition event will last through Saturday at Bradley Central High School’s Fine Arts building. This is the 55th Anniversary program, and the fourth class of young women to compete at the State Program in Cleveland. In addition to cash scholarships, Distinguished Young Women participants are eligible for college-granted scholarships from almost 200 colleges and universities. More than $50 million in college scholarship opportunities were provided last year.
Distinguished Young Women, formerly America’s Junior Miss Scholarship Program, is sponsored by the City of Mobile (Ala.), Mobile County, Eastern Shore Toyota, Encore Rehabilitation, Mobile Gas-A-Sempra Company, Regions Bank, Alabama Power Foundation and Master Boat Builders.
For more information about Distinguished Young Women, visit www.distinguishedyw.org.