Local Women Participate In Miss America Organization Preliminaries

By Elsie Walker

Their platforms included fighting homelessness and helping victims of domestic abuse. They were passionate about these causes and shared what they have already done to help others.
However, they are not candidates for office, but young women who hope to be part of making a brighter tomorrow. For many, that is one reason why they were competing in the Triple Crown pageant, a preliminary to the Miss Jersey and Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen Pageants.
As queens, it would give them a chance to get the word out about their platforms. Three local women were among those who vied for crowns on Aug. 6 at the Masonic Lodge in Budd Lake.
When the competition was over, crowned as queens were Jessica Indio, Miss Tri-County of Hammonton; Emily Cooney, Miss Tri-County Outstanding Teen, of Mantua Township; Rachelle Le Grand, Miss Gateway of Morganville; and Cianna Winkler, Miss Gateway Outstanding Teen of Verona.
Executive directors of the pageants are Sharon Rosequist, Miss Tri-County, and Kerry Milone-Clapp, Miss Gateway. Both live in Netcong and they are mother and daughter.
In addition to winning the crown as Miss Gateway’s Outstanding Teen, Winkler also won the talent portion of the competition. A junior at Verona High School, Winkler did a lyrical dance to “Not About Angels” from the movie, “A Fault in Our Stars.” This was Winkler’s third year competing in the Miss America pageant system.
Winkler said that she got involved in competing to gain confidence and that benefits of the pageants include doing the interviews which help to build life skills and “you meet wonderful girls out there.”
Winkler’s platform is “Thinking Outside the Box: Creating Awareness for Child Homelessness. She has participated in Cardboard Box Cities and will be running one in November. She explained that a Cardboard Box City is where youth spend a night sleeping outside in cardboard boxes. It has been done at her church, the First Presbyterian Church in Verona. The boxes are located near the street so people can see them as they pass by and this raises awareness of the issue of homelessness. Water and food are proved by strangers, much in the way the homeless survive. Winkler is also involved with assembling and providing bags of toiletries that people can give out to any homeless people they meet.
Although she did not walk away with a teen crown, Abbe Rodriguez, of Budd Lake, was recognized the People’s Choice winner.

“The audience votes for their favorite girl and she won that award. There was no prize, other that the confidence booster for her since this is her first time ever competing,” said Milone-Clapp.

A junior at Mt. Olive High School, Rodriguez’s interest in the pageant started years earlier at her old elementary school, when a friend shared that she wanted to do it. That stuck in the back of Rodriguez’s mind. Then one day she saw Milone-Clapp at her high school in a Miss America shirt. That rekindled Rodriguez’s interest.

Rodriguez’s platform is homelessness. She is involved with the Homeless Bus Inc. which goes into Manhattan on Saturday nights with sandwiches, socks, blankets, and personal care items for the homeless. Rodriquez is also a Girl Scout and will be working toward her Gold Star award soon.

“I’m not here to get a crown; I’m here to learn,” said Rodriguez when asked why she was in the pageant. She said that she was also there to meet new people. She feels that learning and meeting new people are two benefits of competing.

For her talent, Rodriguez sang “Cups” from the movie, “Pitch Perfect.”
The 2015 Warren County Queen of the Fair, Jessica Ervey of Hackettstown competed in the Miss pageants. It was her first time competing in the Miss America organization. After winning the fair crown, people encouraged her to compete in the Miss program.
For talent, Ervey did a jazz dance number to Justin Timerlake’s “Like I Love You.”
Ervey’s platform was Hope Garden for Domestic Abuse. It started with her work for her Girl Scout Gold Star Award. She created a garden at a center for abused women. A farmer, the Centenary College student helps victims who have been trodden down and lost self-esteem, to tend the garden and grow vegetables. Through this garden, the women learn many things; one is that “They can still grow, just like the garden” said Ervey.
Putting together the pageants and working with the contestants is a great deal of work, and both Rosequist and her daughter Milone–Clapp have done it for year. They seem to have a passion for it.
“The reason I do this is because I really enjoy meeting and working with the girls,” said Milone-Clapp. “It is really amazing to watch them grow and develop their confidence. I have seen the deep friendships that are formed between the girls and it extends to the directors and the parents. I have met some truly wonderful people and I hope to continue so that my own daughters can see these amazing young women as role models as they grow up.

Milone-Clapp had become a director after being involved in the pageant system by helping her mom.

“We are involved in this pageant system in order to help young women achieve their dreams, whatever those dreams may be,” added Rosequist. “These young ladies enter these pageants in order to win scholarship monies to further their education.  We work with the girls once they are crowned to hone their interview skills, and help to give them to build their self-confidence.”
She said that “They [title winners] receive the crown, embroidered sash, $200 scholarship, and we pay their way to Miss New Jersey [pageant].”

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