Miss Thurston County Scholarship Program: Serving Communities, Promoting Success
Ask any of this year’s contestants, or any of the community members and businesses that have worked the past two months with a group of amazing young women vying for the Miss Thurston County title if they consider the scholarship program to be a “beauty pageant” and you’ll get a resounding “no” across the board.
Instead, they’ll tell you how they consider the opportunity to grow individually into successful, confident women all while earning scholarship money to further their education anything but that.
But hey, I’m an outsider, and admittedly a bit averse to the Miss America pageants I watched on television back in the 70s and 80s. As a young girl who considered herself pretty average, I did not see myself in the elegant, confident, and incredibly well-spoken candidates as they glided gracefully in insanely high heels across the stage. And don’t get me started about the swimsuit competition …
That being said, I found myself feeling insanely proud and a bit misty-eyed as I sat in the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for Arts in Olympia this January and watched Angelia McGoran as she was crowned the new 2023 Miss Thurston County, her “competition” surrounding her with congratulatory hugs, their own eyes brimming with tears as they shared in her success.
And I know for a fact that each of those girls was celebrating Angelia’s win, because none of them saw themselves as “losers”. I know for a fact they each walked off that stage with a strong sense of self, confidence, and knowledge that comes from knowing they can be anything they set their mind to with the tools they’ve acquired over the past two months in the program and the strong bonds they’ve formed.
The Miss Thurston County Scholarship Program is a non-profit formed in 1975 by individuals with the goal of helping local young women achieve success. This year’s title holder will compete in upcoming Miss Washington competition this summer in Olympia and could potentially vie for the title of Miss America. Candidates benefit from personal, professional, and educational growth, and the program has distributed over $80,000 in scholarships to help young women cover educational expenses.
And while a lot of the scholarship funds are donated by local businesses and organizations, the girls themselves take part in the fund-raising. Alicia Sego, former Miss Thurston County and of of the program producers, shared, “Every candidate running for Miss Thurston County and Miss Thurston County Teen is responsible for promoting the program and obtaining scholarship funds. This helps them learn how to promote our local businesses, build relationships within our local community, and inspire the candidates to engage with small businesses and build scholarship money.”
When I walked into the first workshop with the girls I was met with an incredible amount of energy and excitement and not a little bit of that youthful enthusiasm “older” people like myself pine for. After giving them a few minutes to chat and catch up, Alicia Sego, a former Miss Thurston County title holder and the current program director, gathered the girls into a circle, providing them the opportunity to “check in” and connect with each other as a group. Each girl was able to share whatever was on her mind – unburdening themselves of difficult experiences, sharing accomplishments or challenges they overcame – and I began to see just how strong a sisterhood was being formed in these weekly workshops. It became clear rather quickly that these young women were forming bonds that would last a lifetime, learning the life skills necessary to be beneficial members of their communities.
Connecting isn’t the only benefit the workshops provide. Each weekend the girls learn skills like resume building, interview preparation, fitness and nutrition, and budgeting. In addition to workshops, the girls must also participate in at least two community service events during the program as well. Providing service to the community is something the winner of the Miss Thurston County crown will need to know well, as she’ll be reaching out to various community civic groups, partners, and venues during her year-long rain to share provide education about the issues concerning her social platform.
Most definitely, style is an aspect of the program, and that’s more than how a person looks or what they wear. It represents their personal brand, their self-confidence, and their self-awareness. But just as important is the service these young women provide by sharing their social impact initiatives. This year’s title holder and music teacher, Angelia McGoran, hopes to educate Thurston County on the importance of music in the lives of people struggling with mental illness.
As I spoke with each contestant, I was impressed at how much thought and concern for their peers and their community went into their social impact initiatives. Issues like sexual violence in teen relationships, helping people get the resources they need to deal with mental illnesses, being respectful of yourself and other within your community, and supporting survivors of psychological abuse, just to name a few.
Leading up to this year’s competition, I spent some time getting to know Miss Thurston County 2022, Amber Barton getting to know more about the program and her time as the reigning title holder. I first met Amber when she worked with us to shoot some video for Experience Olympia & Beyond and I have never met anyone more engaging, sincere, and kind. Watching her interact with people at each of our locations, her enthusiasm for all things Thurston County was infectious.
But she wasn’t always as self-confident, she admits. “I never in a million years dreamed I’d win this title. I was just a little, almost bald-headed foster child growing up in Missouri,” she recalls. After moving to Washington, she began looking for ways to connect with people in her new community when she saw an ad for Miss Thurston County on social media and made the decision to apply. “For me, one of the most important aspects of this program is that it teaches young women how to feel good not only on stage, but how to feel good about themselves and their life in general.”
Working throughout Thurston County with children affected by homelessness, Amber has made a point of simply being transparent throughout her year-long reign. “It's been revealing learning how to separate myself from being a title holder and just being Amber,” she shares. “There are some days where I'm in my muck boots down in the mud in the homeless encampments working with the kids, and then I go home and shower and get dressed up, because I've got a gala to attend that evening.”
Nearing the end of her reign, I asked her about her final days as the reigning Miss Thurston County as we sipped on coffee at Olympia Coffee Roasters one afternoon. “There are a lot of amazing girls who follow my social media. I love being able to encourage them and I’ve reached out to many of them to let them know I see something in them, and I think they could really benefit from the program.”
2023 Miss Thurston County and Miss Thurston County Outstanding Teen Candidates
While Amber has gracefully passed the crown on to Angelia, I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of her involvement in the program, nor as a mentor to other young women with the desire to make an impact on their community in the same way she has.
Learn more about the Miss Thurston County program.
Stay tuned as we provide coverage of the upcoming 2023 Miss Washington Week here in Olympia, June 25 – July 1.