Teenagers compete in the Miss Volunteer | contest News, Sports, Jobs

ABOVE: Sophia Keister, a senior at Blue Earth Area Schools, on stage at last weekend’s Miss Teen Volunteer America pageant in Jackson, Tennessee.

FAIRMONT– Over the weekend, Sophia Keister, a senior at Blue Earth Area Schools, competed for Miss Teen Volunteer America in Jackson, Tennessee. Keister placed 16th and won the People’s Choice award.

The Keister family, consisting of Sophia, her brother Sam, and her parents Amy and Travis, moved to Fairmont about four years ago from Blue Earth.

Sophia’s journey through the contest is different from many others. He hasn’t followed since he was a toddler, but only started participating in December 2022.

“A family friend, Emmy, reached out. She has always been in pageants and was recently crowned Miss World America,” Sophia explained.

Emmy is the director for Iowa, which runs the Miss Teen Volunteer Iowa pageant. The Miss Teen Volunteer and Miss Volunteer programs are still new. In fact, it was started two years ago by Allison DeMarcus.

Emmy shares information about Sophia with DeMarcus, who then contacts Sophia. Because Minnesota did not yet have a program or a director, Sophia did not enter the contest to receive the title Miss Teen Volunteer Minnesota. Instead he answered a series of questions and proved himself worthy through his volunteer work.

Because it’s a new program, Sophia is actually the first to be named Miss Minnesota Youth Volunteer.

“They are trying to grow it to all states. There are some large titles, but by having a large size, it helps get the name out,” Amy explained.

To prepare for the contest, Sophia did some training with a consulting firm from Alabama. That helps her prepare by discussing interview skills, what to wear, and what to expect.

For the Miss Teen Volunteer America pageant, each entrant must have a SERVE initiative. Sophia explained that SERVE stands for Scholarship, Education, Responsibility, Volunteerism and Empowerment.

“We have to have something we love that we can express,” she said.

He is working with Thumbs Up for Mental Health to bring his programs, the No One Sits Solo and Power of PATH curriculum, to area schools. He has made a presentation to the Blue Earth Area School Board and is waiting to hear back on whether his curriculum will be accepted.

“It has to do with anxiety and suicide prevention. I showed anxiety so I thought it was something I could express and help people relate to it.” Sophia said about the program.

Another service project that Sophia pioneered is considered a dress collection. Sophia started collecting prom dresses, bridesmaids and formal gowns. She founded the business, Prom It Forward Minnesota, while looking for a place to donate her own ball gown.

“I thought I should reach out to them because I know a lot of my friends don’t need their dresses anymore either,” she said.

Prom It Forward is selling dresses at a discount and proceeds will go to the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center. Sophia took to social media to ask for donations and ended up getting close to 100 dresses which she took to a store in Sauk Rapids for a sale event in February.

In addition to the volunteer work he does, his other leadership positions are considered. Sophia is treasurer of the National Honor Society at Blue Earth Area Schools and vice president of the class of 2023. She has also been team captain of the varsity basketball team for the past two years.

“For two years, every week I shopped for the residents of New Life Manor in Blue Earth. I pick up her groceries and ship them every week,” she said.

On the first day of the Miss Teen Volunteer America pageant, Sophia said she met 40 other contestants, as well as the first young woman to be named Miss Teen Volunteer America. They also met Miss Volunteer America, as well as the program’s founder, Allison DeMarcus.

Sophia admitted that because she had never entered a pageant before, she was nervous about meeting the other contestants, many of whom had been doing pageants for years. However, that ended up being one of her favorite parts about the whole experience because she found everyone to be nice and fun.

“I got lots of friends. I will be in touch with someone from every state now,” she said.

As the mother of a contestant, Amy said she was nervous to enter, especially since pageants weren’t as prevalent in the midwest as they were in the south.

“I was nervous because he was a free man and had never entered a pageant, the girls would not be nice to him. It’s not like that. That’s very inclusive. They call it fraternity and it’s true.” said Amy.

After practice the first night, the preliminaries were held the next two days. To that end, each contestant underwent a six-minute interview where they were asked about their SERVE initiative and how they handled the name Miss Teen Volunteer America.

Overall, contestants are judged on their talent, interview skills, evening dress, and fitness and health.

“I’m worried about the talent part. Lots of girls will sing and dance but I’m giving a monologue about leadership and perseverance. It was my first time on stage. My monologue is kinda funny and I give it while wearing my basketball uniform.” she said.

Overall, Sophia placed in the top 16 and won the People’s Choice award because voting opened online. The entire contest can also be viewed online so Sophia competes knowing her family and friends are watching, cheering her on.

He said since he started the whole process of the contest, his friends have been very supportive.

“They’re like, ‘we can see you doing this. This was meant for you,’” she said.

Along with support from friends and family, Sophia has a number of people and businesses supporting her by sponsoring her participation in the pageant. These include Prom Pageant Couture, Seifried Portrait Design, Artistry by Arica, Bash Fitness, Fairmont Ford, Culligan, Bevcomm, Juba’s, Gandgennett Dental, and Minnlow Crop Insurance.

“Sponsorship is a huge thing for contests,” said Amy.

While Sophia said she was sad the pageant was over and done with, she will be defending her title as Miss Minnesota Youth Volunteer until the end of the year. With that he planned to schedule some time to read in the class of young students. She will also manage the Miss Minnesota Youth Volunteer Instagram and Facebook pages.

As for what’s next, Sophia plans to attend Iowa State University in the fall where she will study business management and fashion design.

Sophia is open to continuing the contest. Since she will be in Iowa next year, she is considering competing in the Miss Volunteer Iowa pageant.

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