Thursday, May 23, 2024

Why Equitable Higher Education Matters to Me by Ashley Wells

I’ve always really loved school. I was always a bit of a bookworm, preferring the routine of studying, research, and reading to more social endeavors. But a question that I’ve been getting asked more often is, “why are you still even in school? Aren’t you sick of it?” My honest answer is “no”, but for a very particular reason. 

My parents are immigrants from the Caribbean, and they both grew up with very little money and with little means to better themselves. My mother grew up on the farmland of Antigua (an island in the Lesser Antilles set along the English harbor). Similarly, my father often spoke to me about how he shared a bed with four of his cousins and that he lacked money for shoes while he lived on the island of St. Kitts & Nevis. However, it was my father’s educational pursuits that allowed him to come to the United States to complete his bachelor’s degree, go on to obtain his master’s degree, and lay a solid foundation for his family. My grandmother made a promise to him that she would work as hard as she needed to so that he could graduate with both his master’s and his bachelor’s degree debt free – an incredible feat for a woman with almost no formal education. But she made it work. She valued education and the future that it could bring my father so much that she worked 12 hour shifts 6 days a week for years, cleaning houses so that my father could focus on his studies. 

It is the determination of both my father and of my grandmother that is the root of why I believe that every person – regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background – has the right to an affordable and equitable higher education experience. Today, I am a Ph.D. student at Washington State University studying American Studies and Culture. I truly believe that having the option  to go to college or trade school can be life changing, and that individuals who want to be educated should not have to go into massive amounts of debt to receive their degrees. 

While working on my master’s degree four years ago, I met my future non-profit co-founder at my institution, and we began talking about the sacrifices that we knew we'd need to make in order to eventually pay off the student loan debt that we had accumulated. Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the world, we hatched the idea for our non-profit organization, The Prosp(a)rity Project. Our organization is dedicated to leveling the socioeconomic playing field for populations most susceptible to and impacted by predatory lending and student loan debt. We are guided by a vision of furthering our presence as a nonprofit dedicated specifically to nurturing, uplifting, and advancing members of this demographic and positioning them to pay it forward to their communities. That is why our main program – The 35*2 Free Initiative –  tackles two of the most prominent detriments to financial freedom: the student loan debt crisis and a lack of access to financial education. 

Our program provides retroactive scholarships of $10,000 to qualified college-educated women combined with a year-long program of financial literacy education and career coaching to help them move measurably toward financial freedom. With women holding 66% of the student loan debt in the United States, we recognize that women are at an increased risk for being burdened down by predatory lending (Education Data Initiative). Aside from our main program, we also host an annual conference – The 35*2 Free Conference –  where we have different speakers and workshops that cater to women and their quest for financial literacy. So far, we have educated more than 150 young women around the country through workshops and training so that they can be empowered to improve their lives and the lives of future generations.

My vision is that any student – regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status – who wishes to attend college and pursue their educational ambitions, will have the resources and support to thrive in their academic environment. And I firmly believe that we can get there, as long as we work together to improve these institutions from the ground up. That is why my CSI revolves around both my non-profit organization and my personal commitment to equitable higher education opportunities. I am so proud to be a part of the Miss America Opportunity, who is already championing scholarship disbursals to young women in order to make their educational dreams come true! 

Ashley Wells

Miss Eastside 2024

The Prosp(a)rity Project



Sunday, May 19, 2024

Welcome Miss Wyoming Organization's New Board of Directors!

For the first time, the Miss Wyoming Organization board is made up entirely of former local and state titleholders! Having been on both sides of the crown, this gives us a unique understanding of the roles and the forward-focused perspective necessary to successfully relaunch our program.


Since taking leadership in the fall of 2023, we have made history with the youngest state Executive Director in the history of Miss America, Cheyenne Brown. We are now a board made up of dedicated members who span the entire state + even other states and have relocated our annual state competition to Laramie in order to bring fresh awareness to the program. We have also welcomed several new sponsors to the Miss Wyoming family in order to better support our titleholders through their year of service, increased scholarship awards for contestants, and established the Miss Wyoming Scholarship Fund; a separately registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for the fulfillment of scholarships.

We have chosen to center our branding around our “Sisterhood Era,” as we celebrate and honor the legacies of the women who have shaped our program and communities in our state while simultaneously amplifying opportunities for the young women currently competing who will become our future đź‘‘

We are immensely grateful for your support and are excited for all that is to come!
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To learn more about each of our board members, check out their bios in our Instagram highlights section!

If you are interested in volunteering or joining our board, please email misswyoming@gmail.com or visit www.misswyoming.org ✨

*It is not necessary to be a former titleholder to become a member of our board - we invite you to join us in crafting the legacy of Miss Wyoming for the decades to come!*

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lessons I've Learned by Hannah Roque

Hello Section 36!! My name is Hannah Roque, and I currently hold the title of Miss Addison County in Vermont - I’m so excited to be back with another guest blog. The Miss Vermont 2024 competition is less than two weeks away, so I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over my 5 years of experience competing. While this is only my 4th time competing for the title of Miss Vermont, my first time competing was in 2019; If you want to read more about my competition journey, you can take a look at my guest blog series here


In honor of my fourth time competing, I wanted to share the four main lessons that I’ve learned while competing in the Miss America Opportunity. 


1. Stay grateful, always.


Since I started competing, I’ve been so lucky to have incredible opportunities presented to me: I’ve attended Miss America, touched hundreds of stroke survivors’ lives through publishing my book of resources, been invited to dozens of impactful events, and many many more. Sometimes it can be hard to believe that this is my life! To keep myself grounded when I feel like I’m living my dream life, I’ve learned that it’s important to be grateful for every opportunity that comes my way. Being grateful helps me stay humble and present in every moment. I frequently think about the fact that I’m living the life I dreamed of when I was younger, so I want to treasure every moment, and being grateful helps me to do that.


2. Be your own advocate and cheerleader.


It is SO exciting to compete for a state title, but it can also be an incredibly stressful process. In my first year, I had so many questions: Where should I buy my evening gown? How should I develop my CSI? How should I do my makeup for competition, and how does that differ from my makeup for events? And so many more. It was through my experience leading up to the 2019 competition that I learned that there are resources and people who are excited and willing to help you, if you ask. It can be incredibly overwhelming to start out, but if you advocate for yourself and the things you need to succeed, you will be in amazing shape! In a similar vein, while scheduling and traveling to events across Addison County this year, I’ve learned that being your own advocate is incredibly important when reaching out to community organizations and event organizers. There are many people, especially in Vermont, who don’t understand what the Miss America Opportunity is, or what being a titleholder means. When communicating with these community members and while attending the events, it’s my job to be my own advocate and share the messages of my values, my community service initiative, and the message of the Miss America Organization. In a recent mock interview, I was told that if I’m not going to toot my own horn, then who will? This is something that I’m still working on, but I try to be my own cheerleader by sharing my accomplishments, my passions, and the qualities that I have that make me a successful titleholder. 


3. Always, ALWAYS, take the leap.


I’ve talked very candidly about the fact that I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life, especially in unknown situations. Deciding to compete was the ultimate leap, especially because I was making myself vulnerable in a way I never had before. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am endlessly thankful that I took that first leap and decided to compete. I gained confidence and an acute sense of self that I didn’t have prior to the competition. Since then, I’ve taken many leaps in my life: moving out, making major life decisions, changing careers, just to name a few. Competing has taught me that you should always take the leap when you have the opportunity. I think about all the things that I would’ve missed if I hadn’t taken that first leap, and I have absolutely no regrets. Trust yourself, and do the thing that scares you. I promise that you won’t regret it! 


4. The girls you’re competing with are not actually your competition. 


Of course every year that you compete, you’re competing against other women who have the same dream as you. Even though that is true, I’ve learned that your biggest competition is not the other delegates, but rather yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in what the other girls are doing, but that can only hurt you onstage. The most rewarding part of competing has been meeting women from Vermont that have become my very best friends. I can’t imagine what my life would look like without these women, and our friendships were born out of supporting each other rather than being competitive. Preparing for competition is a mind game. In order to succeed, you need to focus solely on yourself and your performance. If you are confident and secure in your performance, you will do well on stage. The Miss Vermont 2023 class was the most supportive competition class that I’ve ever been part of, and it’s because no one brought a truly competitive mindset. I’m truly thankful for that experience because it was so eye opening - it showed me that I’m the only person that I needed to worry about. I’m bringing this mindset into the 2024 competition weekend, and am so excited to show my best self onstage while also supporting my sisters backstage! 


I’ve had such a wonderful time reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned in my time in the Miss America Opportunity. Each year, I leave the competition knowing more about myself. I cannot WAIT for Miss Vermont 2024, and to see what I will learn through that process. If you want to follow me on my journey, and see all my competition weekend updates, follow me at @missaddisoncountyvt on Instagram! It’s so surreal that we’re so close!


Friday, March 22, 2024

Accessible Wellness by Alyssa Contreras

Ever wondered why access to wellness seems like a privilege rather than a basic human right?

What if I told you that achieving fitness and nutrition goals shouldn’t be reserved for the privileged few? What if there was a way to make wellness accessible to all, irrespective to economic status or prior experience? Welcome to Accessible Wellness- where we challenge the status quo and pave the way for inclusive, equitable access to physical facets of well-being. 
I’m Alyssa Contreras, the founder behind the initiative Accessible Wellness. With the mental and physical costs that accompany financial constraints, living a healthy lifestyle is not easy.

Accessible Wellness strives to break down these barriers and collaborate with local fitness and nutrition companies to host free events and classes for underserved communities. By offering free resources, classes, and education about the benefits of physical fitness and proper nutrition, I hope, through Accessible Wellness, to empower people to take charge of their well-being and lead healthier lives. 

My journey began with a realization of the familiar barriers preventing many individuals from embarking on a path to better health. Drawing upon my education and expertise in exercise science, coupled with my certifications as an Exercise Specialist and Yoga Instructor, I leveraged my knowledge to design inclusive and empowering wellness programs. By offering free resources, individuals from all backgrounds can access valuable information on exercise, nutrition, and overall well-being. From an early age, I have always been drawn to the transformative power of fitness. I looked up to people who I thought were the epitome of healthy. It led me down an obsessive path where I ended up with an eating disorder in my pre-teen years and through high school. I got all my information based off of internet advertisements like, “Get a Flat Tummy in 3 Days!” I blissfully ignored the symptoms of tiredness, and weakness. It was a struggle to get through and recover from. 

Fortunately, I have since been over two years recovered and have grown a healthier relationship with all aspects of fitness and wellness. Though, through this experience, I have been motivated to use my education for good and focus on spreading correct information, free resources, and love to everyone struggling with their path to a healthier lifestyle. 

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Miss Ohio class of 2024 as Miss Greater Columbus. My title provides me with a unique platform to promote Accessible Wellness and inspire others to prioritize their health. 

-Alyssa Contreras

Friday, March 8, 2024

Regenerative Tourism by Shyla Victor

HawaiĘ»i, viewed by tourists as merely a beautiful tropical vacation destination. Being born and raised in HawaiĘ»i and working in the hospitality industry, had a great impact on my interpretation of tourism. Tourism is HawaiĘ»i’s main private capital. Although there are still families today that continue to live a sustainable lifestyle, HawaiĘ»i residents are no longer able to solely rely on hunting and gathering to survive. HawaiĘ»i has changed to Western ways and is now reliant on imported foods and products to sustain. My mission is to educate and emphasize the importance of this transformation to a more regenerative industry. 

Regenerative Tourism, “The idea that tourism should leave a place better than it was before'', defines the nature of how my ancestors lived. I am fortunate to have a year of experience educating myself and others on Regenerative Tourism. I’ve been a Pono Pledge Ambassador for a year, under the Island of HawaiĘ»i Visitors Bureau, collaborating and educating on the 8 principles that encourage safe, responsible, and respectful travel while on HawaiĘ»i Island, and throughout the State. With this opportunity, I have taught in several classrooms, hosted educational booths, incorporated programs within businesses, and traveled across seas to educate visitors, and residents, of the Pono Pledge. When I began, there were 20,423 people who signed the pledge. I am proud to say that there are now over 3,000 more signatures, totaling 23,875 as of March 5th.

Promoting this idea of being regenerative is beneficial for the people and the place. For example, tourists who travel to Hawaiʻi come for the beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery, but their return depends on how nice these places actually are. I had a vision, spoke with the County of Hawaiʻi Mayor, Mitch Roth, in June, and within 3 months hosted a Community Day, partnered with the County of Hawaiʻi, Department of Public Works, Community Policing Division, and Keauhou Shopping Center. On September 23, 2023, over 50 volunteers helped pick up 942 pounds of trash along the Hokuliʻa Bypass. Following the clean up was a celebration at the shopping center with free food for the volunteers, live music, and kid activities for all. This experience left me speechless with the community's involvement. Networking within our community has had a huge impact on the many opportunities, like Community Day, I created and became a part of. My goal is to continue Community Day annually and also encourage other businesses to provide similar opportunities for the visitors and residents to partake in across the State of Hawaiʻi.

Tourist “hot spots'' can be found within seconds at the click of a button. As the next Miss HawaiĘ»i 2024, this platform will help continue educating my community on how to care for our home and the world. Especially for those on vacation, having the opportunity to give back is a simple way to encourage involvement from everyone. Networking with businesses around the Island and State of HawaiĘ»i, to include the Pono Pledge or community service opportunities through their businesses, will accelerate the Regenerative Tourism transition. Through partnerships with HawaiĘ»i Tourism Authority, the management of a regenerative tourism industry will improve. Encouraging more visitors to support local and keep the funds within HawaiĘ»i, will greatly benefit our economy and overall quality of life for our Hawaiian people.

If you would like to read, watch, and sign the Pono Pledge, please visit ‘ponopledge.com’. “E Ę»apo i ke aĘ»o a hoĘ»ohana, a e Ę»oi mau ka naĘ»auao.” Those who apply their teachings increase their knowledge. 

Me ke aloha nui,

Shyla Victor

Miss Hawaiʻi Island 2024
@misshawaiiisland






Monday, March 4, 2024

Ime Ekpo Visits Section 36 Forevers!

Ime Ekpo
 is the founder of Walk With Ime, a pageant consulting service. I was flattered that she wanted to visit with us and talk about her business and how is can benefit others in the pageant world. I'm sure you'll love to hear what she has to say.

So, let’s see what happens when Ime Ekpo visits Section 36 Forevers!

What can you tell me about your program “Walk With Ime”? 

Walk with Ime is a pageant service designed to help aspiring queens take command of the stage with fundamental modeling and styling techniques. My goal is to help restore the lost art of poise that pageant titleholders are traditionally known for but which is sorely lacking today. 


What made you decide to start that venture? 

Walk With Ime was a happy accident born out of my sister's business, Mock With Me.  Both my older sister Mweni and I were successful pageant girls years ago. So when I wanted to start a business utilizing my marketing skills, she founded Mock With Me - a service that offers interview practice opportunities and expert feedback to aspiring queens - giving them the confidence to command the interview room on competition day. Mweni had a client who mocked with her many times and was a great interviewer but who competed in several local pageants without placing or winning a title. After Mweni showed me a video clip of the client competing in evening gown during one pageant, I noticed some things about her performance that I thought she could improve on with proper guidance. So I offered to give the client some help with her walking. I also advised the client on how to restyle her hair to be more flattering and impactful. We worked on adding poise to her fitness and evening gown walks. And after only a couple of sessions with me, the client secured her first placement of the season – and it was First Runner-Up! After three additional sessions with me, the client finally won a title, and Mweni and I were so overjoyed! Mweni had observed my first session with the client, and she was very impressed with my knowledge and with how easily I taught the client. She suggested that I consider coaching, and before too long, Walk With Ime was born.


What has been the most rewarding part of the sessions?

Paying goodness forward. When I was a doubtful young woman, the goodness of the women who volunteered their time to my pageants was instrumental in helping me become confident, poised, and fearless. Years later, I remember and honor those women and am truly grateful for the knowledge they willingly shared with me and that I’m now passing on to others. So if I can impact another pageant girl's life the way I was impacted, that's reward enough.


What short or long-term goals do you have for Walk With Ime? 

I'd like to see Walk With Ime serving queens in all 50 states and I aspire to serve 500 queens in 5 years.


What has surprised you the most about running Walk With Ime? 

The poise fundamentals that I'm teaching queens today are the same fundamentals I learned well over 20 years ago. What's most surprising is that those fundaments STILL hold true today even though they are not universally practiced. And it surprises me how quickly queens can improve their performance enough to win a crown, simply by applying these fundamental principles.


What has been the most challenging aspect about running Walk With Ime? 

It's difficult watching beautiful, talented, and intelligent girls and young women measure their beauty against others based on social trends. Some deal with so much pressure to look a certain way to align with today's beauty standards, even when those trends don't enhance their natural beauty. I wish more pageant contestants would have the courage to make choices based on what most flatters them rather than based on what everyone else is doing.


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I can definitely see how that would be a challenge.

As always, I want to give many thanks to Ime for doing this interview, and for sending along the picture to be used. 

I'm sure that after reading this, you may want to find out even more about Ime and everything she has going on. I would definitely suggest checking out her website, and following her on Instagram at her Walk With Ime account. 

And, if you talk to her don’t forget to tell her you saw her on Section 36 Forevers!

Thanks again Ime!

Monday, February 19, 2024

Eating Disorderder Awareness Month by Kailey Herren

As eating disorders continue to run rampant throughout our society, so do the misconceptions about them. TV, film, music, and social media has taught us that someone who suffers from an eating disorder is young, often female, has an emaciated frame, and rarely eats. While a small percentage of people with eating disorders fit this description, most do not. Studies show 1 in 20 Americans will be affected by an eating disorder in their lifetime, and 20 million of them are women while 10 million are men (NEDA). It’s safe to say these numbers do not wholly reflect the amount of people who will suffer from eating disorders as so many of them either don’t recognize their disordered eating or don’t have access to a physical and mental health care team who can properly diagnose and treat them, among various other reasons. 

There are 4 main types of eating disorders that are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the handbook used by physical and mental health care professionals for the purpose of diagnosing individuals. The four main types are: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake  Disorder (ARFID). There are other socially recognized forms of eating disorders, like Orthorexia (a preoccupation or obsession with “clean eating” and exercise), that you won’t find in the DSM, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be treated. Professionals who are specialized in treating eating disorders understand that eating disorders are nuanced and, while there are many shared  behaviors amongst them, they aren’t all exactly the same. To learn about eating disorder subtypes, go to: https://www.montenido.com/6-lesser-known-eating-disorders/ 

Contrary to common belief, Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder type in the United States. BED is characterized by eating an unusually large amount of food in a specific amount of time. The eating happens regardless of fullness, and is often met with a significant amount of shame. Food might be consumed at a fast pace and in secrecy. Someone who suffers with BED might be known for dieting but may not show a significant amount of weight loss. For those who haven’t suffered from BED, it can be easy to assume that the sufferer has the ability to stop eating at any point and control their portions. Like all eating disorders, it’s far more complex than that. BED is often a result of a restrictive diet or a desire to restrict (i.e portion control). While the behaviors of BED differ greatly from that of someone with Anorexia Nervosa, what fuels the disorder shares notable similarities. For more information about BED, go to: https://www.montenido.com/myths-about-binge-eating-disorder/ 

Bulimia Nervosa is similar to BED but has a compensatory aspect that differentiates it. A compensatory behavior might look like purging (vomiting), unnecessary laxative use, and over-exercising. People with Bulimia don’t always experience a binge before utilizing compensatory behaviors–restriction is still an element of Bulimia, so any food intake may trigger a behavior though binging is common. Other signs you might notice in someone who may be struggling with Bulimia includes quickly leaving after meals, hiding food, over-exercising before or after meals, frequent bathroom visits, Russell’s sign (a physical sign of purging (vomiting) located on the knuckles), and red and irritated eyes. For more information about Bulimia Nervosa, go to: https://www.montenido.com/bulimia-nervosa/


Anorexia Nervosa is what comes to mind when most people hear the words “eating disorder”. It’s not uncommon to associate this diagnosis with a thin or underweight body frame, but less than 6% of people with eating disorders are underweight (https://www.feast-ed.org/). While the severity of Anorexia Nervosa is often determined by BMI, and other factors, weight is not indicative of how severely the eating disorder is impacting one’s physical or mental wellbeing. For this reason, getting a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa can be difficult for many, which limits access to higher levels of treatment, especially for those in larger bodies. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by restriction of food often leading to weight loss, intense fear of weight gain, discomfort with one’s body, and denial of the seriousness of the condition. For more information about Anorexia Nervosa, go to: https://www.montenido.com/anorexia-nervosa/ 

The final diagnosis we’ll be covering is Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Unlike most other eating disorders, it is not rooted in body-image issues or a desire to lose weight. It is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adolescents and affects adults at a lower rate. Many professionals have identified a potential correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ARFID but more research is needed to draw any major conclusions. ARFID is characterized by restrictive eating due to lack of interest in food; avoidance of certain textures, smells, appearance and flavor; and fears of consequences associated with eating like choking, vomiting, or having an allergic reaction. People experiencing ARFID may only have a few foods they feel safe eating, which can lead to serious health complications like malnutrition, stunted growth, and more. To learn more about ARFID, go to: https://www.montenido.com/food-intake-disorder-arfid/ 

Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that require treatment tailored to the individual and often consists of working with a qualified therapist, dietitian, primary care provider, and psychiatrist. Eating disorders are typically co-occurring, meaning there are other mental health disorders that are affecting and being affected by the eating disorder, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and more. Eating disorders are not a choice and are complicated by both genetic and environmental factors, and those who struggle with them deserve equitable access to quality care. 

For those who are not yet in recovery, and in recovery alike, you are not alone. Your battle is real, it is hard, and can feel isolating. Everything we do in recovery feels counterintuitive and scary but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The risks we take in pursuing recovery are worth the pain we must feel as we journey toward a life not ruled by our eating disorders. We are more resilient than we know and we are capable of experiencing life to the fullest. Your darkest days may not yet be behind you, but I can assure you that, if your commitment to recovery is persistent (not perfect) and rooted in living according to your values, your lightest days are ahead of you.

Why Equitable Higher Education Matters to Me by Ashley Wells

I’ve always really loved school. I was always a bit of a bookworm, preferring the routine of studying, research, and reading to more social ...