Sunday, September 13, 2009

Judging the Miss Fonda Fair Pageant and Mentoring with Block Institute's Brightest Star Program

At the Miss Fonda Fair Pageant with the newly crowned Junior Miss Fonda Fair, Corey Lais!

Courtney (Miss Fulton County) and myself congratulating the new Princess Fonda Fair, Kaylee Cappuccio!

Long time, no talk! I wanted to squeeze out one last long blog before I officially dive into the craziest semester EVER! (Four- 4 credit advanced level completely self-constructed independent studies). In addition to my studies, I'm thrilled to announce my new position with the YWCA-NYC as Dance Specialist at PS 209's After School Program! I'll still be working part-time at the pilates studio in Manhattan, and rejoining the Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dance after my summer hiatus (many thanks to Niall, for his un-ending "Coming to lessons this week?" emails). AND, either this week or next week, I'll be beginning my work with the students of Block Institute through Building Blocks- a drama program for students ages 4-7! YEAH DRAMA!

But before I get a head of myself, let's backtrack. Recently, I had the honor of judging the Miss Fonda Fair Pageant, in Fonda, NY (near where I grew up). This was the first pageant I ever competed in, and becoming Miss Fonda Fair in 2002 (and later Miss Fonda Fair Scholarship Queen in 2008), introduced me to the Miss America Organization.

I would like to start off by saying this: JUDGING IS AGONIZINGLY HARD! And probably something I won't do again in the near future, because I had the toughest time assigning scores to girls who have the courage to get up on stage, tell the world a little about themselves and ask to be considered for the job of representative and role model. I also have a hard time scoring the younger ones on appearance and presentation, knowing that a five year old has absolutely nothing to do with what dress she is wearing and how her hair looks and whether or not she's wearing makeup! She's FIVE! Her mom styled her! How can I judge her on the efforts of someone else?! Can't they all win? Am I alone in this? Maybe I'm just not cut out to be a judge...

None of this is to detract from the amazing benefits the Miss Fonda Fair Contestants reap from participating. The ability to speak comfortably in front of a large group of people is truly invaluable, and we cannot expend enough energy convincing young women that they are important and interesting, their contributions are valuable, and they have something to offer the world.

I've said it approximately a million times, and I'll say it again: Pageants can be relevant. Pageants can be important. Pageants can change lives. Not enough attention is paid to the fact that some pageants celebrate the strengths and accomplishments of women as individuals, and award the person who's unique achievements and attributes best suit the job of a titleholder. This stands in stark contrast to the widely held (and sometimes true) belief that pageant participants spend countless hours trying to force themselves into a mold of what the perfect titleholder should be. I cannot stress enough that of all the things I've learned competing in the Miss America Organization, one of the most important is a strong sense of who I am, what I stand for, and what my goals are for myself; Keelie Ashlen Sheridan; Gemini, liberal, Irish, carnivore, artist, student, idealist, advocate, etc, etc... And that's pretty cool. I know myself a lot better now than when I started competing, and the Miss America Organization has helped me find my voice, and given me a platform on which to stand and tell the world who I am and what I care about, and why they should care, too.

Pageants, in their varying existing forms, are not for everyone, though, which is why I'm thrilled to announce an opportunity for a new population to reap the benefits of pageants. Block Institute, in partnership with the Miss Brooklyn Organization, will hold it's first annual Brightest Star Competition this fall. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you're familiar with the work Block Institute does. If not, I encourage you to take a moment to check out their website. Through various services and programs, Block Institute serves individuals of all ages who are living with disabilities. The Brightest Star Program is a competition designed to recognize the outstanding individuals (both male and female) in Block Institute's community who exemplify the following categories:

Spirit, Leadership, Wellness, Talent, Independence, Mastery,
Fellowship, Citizenship, Growth, Community

Ten finalists were selected last night at the preliminary reception (out of a field of 32 applicants- bigger than any pageant I'VE ever competed in!), and each finalist will be paired with a member of the pageant community (current and former titleholders, directors, contestants...), who will work with them as a mentor to prepare for the Final Gala on November 12th (save the date!), where each finalist will be judged on their finals night presentation, in addition to a 3 minute video to be filmed by the documentary film crew covering the project. I just got off the phone with Kim Thomas (former Miss Brooklyn ED and co-director of the Brightest Star program), and I'm thrilled to have been paired with Hanan Makovitski- Wellness Finalist, and Joseph Carrera- Talent Finalist!

Todd Adelman of Block Institute has big plans for the Brightest Star Program, and hopes to grow from a one-institute program to a nationwide event! Wish us luck!

That's all for now! Photos from the events mentioned above and a video from the Miss Fonda Fair pageant are forth-coming!