Several distinguished young women will take the stage in November to display their talents and to compete for scholarships.
The 2012-13 Lakewood Area Distinguished Young Women program, formerly known as Junior Miss, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, at the Jamestown High School auditorium. The program was held at The Reg Lenna Civic Center in previous years. Within the last month the chairwomen chose to relocate the program to Jamestown High School.
The 15 young women participating in this year's program were accepted based on a school transcript review, community and school activities, and a five-minute interview.
Co-chairing this year's program are Christine Yocum, Danielle Bongiovanni and Kaycee Currie. According to Yocum, this year's theme is "Stronger."
"The theme is basically to empower young women to be the best that they can be," said Yocum. "We have 15 young women and 15 of their little sisters from schools all across the county. They will be judged in a variety of categories, one of them being a fitness category to show that they are physically strong. Another is the academic category that shows that they are mentally strong. There will be an opening number, a talent portion, a poise component, the little sisters will be doing a production, the judges will deliberate and then we will crown the winner."
Each young woman who places in a category will receive scholarship money to go towards her college education. The winner will be given the opportunity to represent the area at the state competition in Albany scheduled for February. All state representatives will compete for a share of more than $130,000 in cash scholarships, and the opportunity to represent the national program as the Distinguished Young Woman of America. Representatives from all 50 states will travel to Mobile, Ala., for the 56th annual Distinguished Young Women National Finals, scheduled for June 27-29.
There are many benefits and good reasons for young women to get involved in the program, said Yocum.
"It's so great for the girls," she said. "One of the things they've talked about the most this year is the friendships they've made with girls from different schools. They also talk about the interview skills they've acquired, and how being part of a big group gives them a sense of empowerment. They are smart girls to begin with, but the show will challenge them to utilize all their talents. They are definitely going to shine that night because it's all about them, their talents and their aspirations. And, we're all very proud of them."
Jessica Fortney, a Chautauqua Lake High School graduate, 2011-12 Lakewood Area Distinguished Young Women winner and first-runner-up in the state competition, is currently a freshman studying physics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
"One of the requirements to getting into this college is to have an interview, and I think that the Junior Miss interviews really helped me interview well to get into this college," said Fortney, of Mayville. "Of course the scholarship money helps too."
According to Fortney, competing in the state program was a different, but fun, experience.
"It was kind of a whirlwind of events all in one week," she said. "I was thrown into it with all these girls that I didn't have a lot time to get to know. But, it was definitely good for me to be away from home for a week with a different family because I think that prepared me for college too."
Fortney's professors have also expressed how impressed they are that she was involved in the program, and that she managed to place first-runner-up in states, she said.
When Fortney competed in the 2011-12 program, the theme was "Journey On," which she said was similar to this year's theme of "Stronger," in that it empowered her as an individual.
"It definitely gave me a sense of confidence that I can go out into the world and do anything that I put my mind to," said Fortney. "It's not a beauty pageant, but rather a lot of it has to do with your academics and how well you can present yourself in an interview. You also have to be talented, and a lot of girls when they go into it don't have a specified talent that you can perform on stage. So, some girls did monologues. I played piano, a Mozart piece entitled 'Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman;' which is a variation of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.'"
Fortney encourages anyone interested in the program to try out, she said.
"Even if you don't get anything out of it monetarily, you will still get the experience," said Fortney. "But, most of all you'll make friendships that will hopefully last for a long time. I didn't even feel like it was a competition until they were announcing the results. I just felt like we were a bunch of friends that got really close over the time we had together."
In addition to the chairwomen, the 2012-13 Distinguished Young Women Program committee includes production coordinators Maura Morgante, Molly Morgante and Tiffany Wakeley Heitzman; little sister coordinator Rosa Farrell, photographer and program booklet coordinator Cindy Ferraro; Beverly Ungerer, the treasurer, who is also in charge of tickets and interviews; Currie, chairwoman, took on the role of talent coordinator; chaperone coordinator Kelly Madden; and judging coordinators Judy Amatuzzo and Laurie Whitermore.
There are also 15 area women who donate their time to be chaperones for the participants, said Yocum.
Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students or seniors. Tickets are available through the contestants, little sisters, committee members, chaperones and at the door. Raffle tickets to benefit the scholarship program are also available. And, a 50/50 drawing will be done during the night of the event.
For more information on the program visit ajm.org.