The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


October 16, 2013

Winner wonderland

United Way of Southern West Virginia kicks-off fundraiser with pageant style and substance

Typical beauty pageants have more baggage than can be accounted for by makeup cases and wardrobe carry-ons. There are entire television series based on pageantry’s shimmery shenanigans, from precocious toddlers in sparkly tiaras to the best oxymoron this side of bittersweet: Honey Boo Boo.

Miss Utah 2013’s clarion call (to men specifically) on how to “create education better” and Miss Teen South Carolina 2007’s revelation that ignorance in matters of the Middle East is due to a shortage of maps have each done their part in perpetuating unsavory stereotypes.

On the contrary, organizers of the Nov. 2 Wonderland of Trees Charity Festival Pageant to kick-off United Way of Southern West Virginia’s popular pre-holiday fundraiser are determined to build a better pageant.

The first Wonderland of Trees Festival Pageant began with the idea of getting residents of all ages interested in the United Way’s mission.

Jennifer Meadows, co-owner of Jean Ann’s Bridal and a fashion merchandiser with pageant experience, prefers events designed to benefit charity; she has helped organize and has competed in several pageants specifically created to help her community.

“I’ve been driven by working for charities since I was a little girl. When Margaret O’Neal (United Way of Southern West Virginia executive director) said she wanted to do a pageant, I immediately volunteered.”

Pageants have also earned the reputation of costing big bucks, but charity pageants like the Wonderland Pageant are meant to build, not bilk, a community, confirms Meadows. Just as Mr., Miss, Teen and Mrs. Wonderland will have to demonstrate compassion and initiative, so will the pageant delivering their titles.

“This is a competition; there will be winners, but all proceeds from the pageant after expenses will go to the United Way. Those who enter can even count it as a tax deduction. It is considered a donation,” Meadows explains.

Call it a win-win, as winners will abound at the Wonderland Pageant — including those who take top prize in their respective categories (0-12 years; 13-15 Teen; 16-21 Miss; 18 and up married Mrs.; and Grand Supreme winner) and the charities benefiting from the entry proceeds, determined by the United Way.

All participants will receive a crown or medal and winners in the Teen and Miss 16-21 categories will receive small but significant scholarships.

What co-organizer and Crossroads Mall Manager Kathy Housh is most excited about is being part of the first pageant in the area to have a Special Needs contestant category, described as “a pageant within a pageant,” and where every participant is truly a winner.

“They each get sashes and crowns and they all get to feel special. I just think it’s the coolest thing. We need to do so much more for our special needs residents,” states Housh.

The dreaded interview question will be in play for those main category contestants ages teen and above, but Meadows and Housh emphasize the questions aren’t meant to intimidate, but to serve pageantry’s original intent — to prepare the best spokespersons to speak out on behalf of their charity.  

“Our desire is to have a quality pageant that will give our participants some real opportunities. Winners will be out in the community hosting events and volunteering for the United Way,” describes Housh.

While there will be loveliness to spare on stage, she assures surface attractiveness will not have the final say in success.

“This is not a focus on vanity. This goes deeper.”

Meadows explains how the pageant is no less glamorous for its benevolent focus, describing how contestants compete in each of three segments: interview, a Sense of Style (featuring ensembles reflecting their personalities in red, green or gold) and in a traditional evening wear segment.

Winners will further their leadership skills by assisting the United Way at the Wonderland of Trees Grand Reveal event Nov. 7 and at the culminating tree auction Nov. 22. They will also maintain active posts at charitable initiatives throughout the year.

The pageant with integrity has gotten early entrants thinking about what they want out of life, about their desires for the greater good and about gaining experience at volunteerism. That, in keeping with the theme of building a better pageant for a better community, is what Housh and Meadows intended.

“I think this can really be a life-changer for some young women,” Housh adds.

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