Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A Note From Abby

As Abby Mansolillo turns over her Miss Rhode Island crown, I'm honored to share this farewell message from her.

Photo: Daniel Gagnon

As my time as Miss Rhode Island comes to a close, I am struck by the fleeting nature of this year. 

I am reminded of one year (and 22 days ago) where my whole world was flipped upside down - where suddenly, everything that I’d known was changed. 

I remember when I was little, and I watched Miss America on the couch with my parents. I thought that I was separate from those women; I never thought I’d be one of them. 

Being the 81st Miss Rhode Island seemed light years away. I thought Miss America and Miss Rhode Island candidates alike, were light years away from me.

Every year, hundreds of women compete for their respective local and state titles - only 51, however, compete for the job, title and role of Miss America. To be in this group of women is an honor, and it is certainly life changing. 

A few days ago, Miss West Virginia (Elizabeth Lynch) happened to be in Rhode Island for approximately 24 hours. Elizabeth and I spent a significant amount of time together at Miss America, and to say that our friendship is based on talking every day would be an understatement. The fact is - we do talk every day, but that’s not the half of it. I run to tell her good news, I confide in her when I need help or a logical ear. She is truly and unequivocally one of my best friends. 

That’s what the Miss America organization does. Yes, it is about networking, inspiring other young women, showcasing talents and providing scholarships- but it is about the cherished friendships that we gain.  

I have been competing in pageants since I was 14 years old - a freshman in high school, who had no idea the world she was stepping into. Now, at almost 24 years old, as Miss Rhode Island, I toured a Blackhawk helicopter, have spoken to hundreds of students across our state about my Social Impact Initiative, “Trust Your Gut”, toured the Dallas Star Stadium, and danced to Whitney Houston during a Providence College basketball game at the Amica Mutual Pavilion. These are just a handful of the opportunities that I was given as Miss Rhode Island. I only hope that whoever follows in my footsteps (and beyond) does the same and remembers to take plenty of pictures.

Recently, I was asked what advice I would give the next Miss Rhode Island. I have so much I’d like to tell her, whoever she is, that I worry I’ll forget it all. 

I’ll start here, though. 

Every year, every class, every winner - is different. The way I spent my year may not be how she spends hers - and that is to be expected. I would tell her to take every moment she can - take the silly pictures, go to the events in the rain (but learn from my mistakes: pack an umbrella and use it), and pour your heart and soul into this year - you only get one. 

Know that you are so much more beyond the Miss Rhode Island crown; know who you are without that title. 

Back in 2015, after placing second runner- up at Miss Universe, Olivia Jordan, a former Miss USA, posted the following caption:

"Sometimes, it's just not for us. The job, the interview, the man, or, in this case, the crown...sometimes, it's just for someone else. Not because they are better, more qualified, prettier, nicer, superior to us, but because it is their opportunity, not ours.

And that's okay, because our opportunities - our job, our interview, the man of our dreams - are not for them either. They're ours. And they're often right on the other side of rejection” 

I would tell the next Miss Rhode Island the same thought that I remember replaying in my head as I stood onstage waiting (hoping) for my name to be called as Miss Rhode Island 2022 - that what is meant for you will never pass you.  Sometimes what is meant for you is on the opposite side of a “no” or a “not yet”. 

Whether what is meant for you is being Miss Rhode Island, being Miss America, or something entirely separate from pageants entirely - it will never miss you. 

I humbly thank the state of Rhode Island for making me your girl. It was an honor. 

With love, always.

Abby Mansolillo

Miss Rhode Island 2022 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Catching Up With Ava Socarras!

Ava Socarras was kind enough to visit with Section 36 just about a year ago while she held the title of Miss Lexington's Outstanding Teen. Fast forward to the present, and Ava is back with a new title, Miss Gastonia's Teen, and ready to take the Miss North Carolina's Teen stage once again. Ava was kind enough to fill us all in on what she's been up to since her last visit. I hope you enjoy everything she has to say as we catch up with Ava Socarras!

I won my title in November 2022. I was so excited because I was going back to Miss North Carolina Teen with so much passion. Gastonia is a rather large town in the Gaston community of North Carolina. Winning this title meant no more long drives to Lexington, although I do miss the small town feel. Gastonia is about 30 minutes outside of my hometown of Charlotte. 

My main goal was to continue with my Community Service Initiative. Being that it was a new year I had some ideas to “rebrand” my plan. The first thing I did was come up with a different name. While I loved focusing on kidney disease, I felt that I could also raise awareness for other causes. So, I came up with “Baseline: Advocating for Your Medical Health”. The purpose being to reach people within the community and schools. I want to eventually make Baseline a nonprofit. I plan to continue holding my talent show and princess party with the hopes of them only getting larger. To date I have raised almost $3,000 for the National Kidney Foundation, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society. I have found the Gastonia community to be extremely welcoming. 

I was honored to be able to write an essay for my academics. I have managed to maintain a 4.3 GPA while holding a title. Scholarship is the pillar of Miss America, and I feel like I have put my heart and soul into this system and love what I am able to accomplish.

I have accomplished a lot of what I set out to do as a local titleholder, especially if you look at all I did last year. I think each of us bring unique qualities to the table. This is a large class of highly talented and intelligent young women. I continue every day preparing for Miss North Carolina Teen by incorporating #MissAmericaFit as a healthy lifestyle. I do believe that once you have been to the state level you are more prepared. I try to practice something each day! You can never over prepare! It’s critical that you focus on your race and not what everyone else is doing . This is going to be a good year! 

I’m ready… and would love nothing more than to be Miss North Carolina’s Teen! 


That sounds like a good plan to me!

As you attempt to keep up with everything Ava has going on, I encourage you to check out her CSI's Instagram account, website, as well as her entire linktree. Her title also has an Instagram and Facebook account you'll want to check out. They're great ways to keep track! 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Mweni Ekpo Visits Section 36 Forevers!

Mweni Ekpo
 is the founder of Mock With Me, a pageant interview practice service. I was thrilled 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 Mweni Ekpo visits Section 36 Forevers!

What can you tell me about your program, “Mock With Me”?

“Mock with Me” is a service that provides aspiring queens with interview practice opportunities and feedback from a seasoned pageant judge. I myself spent 5 years competing in Miss America local competitions when I was a college student.  Eventually I ended up relocating from my home state of Mississippi to Indiana to attend law school. During the summer after my first year of law school, I actually placed in the Top 5 at the Miss Indiana competition. Since then, I’ve spent the last 25 years judging competitions at both the local and state level.

What made you decide to start that venture?

My sister was interested in starting a new career as a copywriter and wanted to use me as a “guinea pig” first client. She needed something to market on my behalf. And after some thought about what skills or services I could offer the world, “Mock with Me” was born. My sister built me a scrumptious-looking website and wrote all the copy herself. I officially launched in October 2022. And I love how the business name “Mock with Me” literally describes the service that I offer (*You* come mock with me.) and because my initials are ME, it also means – Yes – *You* go “mock” with M.E. – as in Mweni Ekpo. That’s why you’ll see the “ME” from my logo written in all capital letters.

What has been the most rewarding part of the sessions?

I love meeting with aspiring queens and watching them have “Aha” moments based on the feedback I provide. It is very rewarding to help someone become more comfortable with their interview skills or to confirm that they are indeed interview ready and prepared to command the interview room come competition time. I provide a safe space for clients to work out any kinks before they stand before the judges. I’m like a personal trainer for interview – helping clients get in optimal condition in order to ace their interview. Clients have the option to purchase recordings of their mock interviews, which I highly encourage.  Those recordings can then be used by the client and/or their director or prep team to determine how best to move forward.  We’ve all heard the statement “Pageants are won in the interview room.” Indeed they are. If you can get the judges to fall in love with you there, they’ll be rooting for you for the remainder of the competition.

What short or long-term goals do you have for Mock With Me?

The next few weeks will be super busy as many of my clients are preparing for state, national and international competitions that will happen this summer. So my short term goal is to provide them the support they need, so that they can be confident going into their next level of competition. As for my long-term goals, I would love to have clients in all 50 states, and I would also like to expand my international presence. I’ve already worked with clients from Canada, and I look forward to helping queens from other places around the world.

What has surprised you the most about running Mock With Me?

I am surprised at the number of aspiring queens who fail to realize the importance of honing their interview skills through practice. There is no way to improve at any skill unless you actually *do* it, and so many aspiring queens just assume they’ll magically be “fine” once they enter the interview room even though they may not have worked hard enough to ensure their success in that regard.

What has been the most challenging aspect about running Mock With Me?

As a small operation, the most challenging aspect about running “Mock with Me” has been getting the word out about my services. I know that there are so many titleholders and aspiring titleholders who could benefit from what I have to offer, and it can be frustrating knowing that many of them may never know I exist…..


I definitely know about that challenge.

As always, I want to give many thanks to Mweni 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 Mweni and everything she has going on. I would definitely suggest checking out her website, and following her on Instagram at her Mock With Me account. 

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

Thanks again Mweni!

Monday, May 1, 2023

Cancer Isn't Kuhl

You may remember Amanda (Debus) Kuhl from her interview with us here at Section 36. Or maybe you know the former Miss Delaware's Outstanding Teen and Miss Delaware from her constant presence in that organization. Or maybe you know her through her husband, current Nationals pitcher Chad Kuhl. But none of that is the reason for this post.

Earlier this year, during a routine doctor's visit, Amanda was diagnosed with breast cancer, at the age of 30. Soon afterwards she underwent a double mastectomy. Amanda has made the decision to share her journey in an attempt to increase awareness. 

With that is mind, as she started chemotherapy this week she joined with Washington Nationals Philanthropies to "strike out cancer" by raising funds and awareness for breast cancer treatment and research.

I hope you'll consider donating to the cause, by following the fundraiser link. Your donation will assist two very important breast cancer nonprofits in the DC area, Breast Care for Washington DC and The Previvor

Whether you are able to donate or share the link to fundraiser, any help would be appreciated.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Committing to Confidence - a Blog Series by Katelyn Andrist

 Your soul is attracted to people the same way flowers are attracted to the sun - surround yourself only with those who want to see you grow. 

We have to start appreciating all that we bring to our own lives.

When you are living your life confidently, freely, and without restraint, your energy will glow. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Working Memory - A Disability Awareness Month post with Ginger Ragaishis

With Disability Awareness Month upon us, it seemed like a good time to talk about hidden disabilities. Miss Southern Vermont's Teen Ginger Ragaishis has been a fierce advocate for hidden disability awareness, through her Defying Limits website. She has advocated for people, like herself, with a hidden disability, urging them not to limit themselves.

To help with that goal, we wanted to share a video Ginger has made talking about working memory. This video does a great job explaining what may seem like an abstract concept. I know that after watching it, I certainly had a better understand of what Ginger talks about, and what she struggles with. I can't recommend the video enough.


As we go through Disability Awareness Month, or any month really, I encourage you to visit the Defying Limits website and Ginger's YouTube channel to learn more about hidden disabilities.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Committing to Confidence - a Blog Series by Katelyn Andrist

Let yourself heal - in your way and at your own pace.

Every step taken in mindfulness brings us one step closer to healing ourselves. 






Remember this, sometimes your wound is not your fault but your healing is your responsibility.  

-Katelyn Andrist

A Note From Abby

As  Abby Mansolillo turns over her Miss Rhode Island crown, I'm honored to share this farewell message from her. Photo: Daniel Gagnon As...