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Distinguished Young Women build bonds that last decades

Washington County celebrated 50 years of the Distinguished Young Women Program, formerly Young Woman of the Year and Junior Miss, on July 15 in Chatom.  The 2024 scholarship winners were joined on this anniversary by former participants to celebrate decades of helping young women excel.

Women stand together on a stage under the banner that reads "Distinguished Young Women"

The mission of the organization is to empower young women to reach their full potential by providing scholarship opportunities for college as well as personal development to become confident leaders.

DYW is the largest scholarship program for high school girls, giving out over $1 billion dollars nationally. Washington County’s local program is consistently one of the highest-ranking local programs in the country in scholarships provided and has been in the top three for the last five years.

This year, Washington County gave $24,525 in scholarships to eight participants who spent the last nine months preparing for the program by attending life skills workshops, mock interviews, and talent preparation.

The participants in the Class of 2024 include: Allie Floyd, 2024 DYW of Washington County; Margaret Flowers, first-runner up; Madyson Jackson, second-runner up; Mikaya Thompson, Talent, and Self-Expression winner; Brookelyn Keith, Fitness and Talent winner; Nour Jabnouni, Fitness & Interview winner; Sanaa Thomas, Community Service Award; and Kaylee Williams, Scholastic, Essay, and Spirit of DYW winner.

2024's participants stand together, presenting certificates

 The 2024 DYW of Washington County contestants said they felt the love of the community shown through donations to the scholarship fund, donated meals, and gifts from area businesses.

Along with the Class of 2024, past participants from the last 50 years were invited to join the current group. They celebrated with a reception before the program, a memorabilia display, and a “Has-Been Walk", where they introduced themselves on stage and performed for the audience during intermission.

This year’s contestants enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to help celebrate the anniversary, some celebrating alongside their mothers and sisters who were involved in past DYW contests.

Rebecca Lowe, a 2003 participant, was one of the alumni who came to celebrate the anniversary. She said, “Over the last 22 years I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing DYW as a Little Sister, participant, judge, committee member, and parent. It’s given me a unique perspective on this program, and I feel very blessed to be involved with our local program each year.”

She added, “DYW holds many wonderful memories for me, but none greater than getting to perform with my daughter Lexie this year. We were both talent winners, 20 years apart, so it was just really special to be on stage here celebrating 50 years.”

Floyd, 2024 DYW winner, said, “I have learned that to be your best self is to not change who you are, or to be someone you are not, but to acknowledge who you are and strive to improve yourself.”

Margaret Flowers, 2024 first runner-up, noted, “I have learned the value of the five ‘Be Your Best Self’ principles (Healthy, Ambitious, Involved, Responsible, Studious) and many organizational skills. I've also learned to value the fact that, though we have so much in common, we are all unique in our own special way.”

2024 DYW contestant Mikaya Thompson added, “I started out very nervous and scared for the future, but, as I started to place value on every practice, I've learned that hard work and dedication will be the only thing to get me through this program but also through the rest of my life.”

It is no surprise to have so many participants come back to celebrate the program. It is common for past Junior Miss and Distinguished Young Women participants to believe the program gave them both confidence to be their best selves while giving them life-long friendships.

At a reception hosted by the Woman’s Club, 2023 contestant, Alexis O’Neail told the audience, “The whole reason I feel confident enough to go for the career that I want to go for is because of doing DYW and gaining the confidence to be on stage in front of a bunch of people and doing things that I normally wouldn't do.”

A colorful display of programs, pictures, and attire adorn a celebratory table

Finley Richardson, Mobile County's Distinguished Young Woman for 2023, added, the scholarship competition “gave me a sisterhood that I never could have imagined, and it was more than just the girls that I competed with.” She said the sisterhood will last well into the future. “We will always be bonded through the program.”

Older alumni agreed. Destiny Chafin, a 2017 contestant, noted, “With it being seven years since our program, it's nice to look back at the memories. We had a really good time our year.”

Alicia Atcheson, a 1998 contestant, said, “With the interview process, we were able to be really prepared for college scholarship applications and for job interviews and it was kind of, in a way, an on-the-job training. Since I went into the field of public relations and worked a lot in media, I felt comfortable standing in front of television cameras when being thrown questions from reporters and it gave me the confidence to feel like I could do that.”

Jessica Massey Ross, 1997 Junior Miss, agreed. She said, “This program offers participants opportunities to develop stronger life skills like public speaking and interviewing— skills that are useful as you prepare for college and future careers. The scholarship money and prizes were just a bonus—the real prizes were skills I gained and the friendships I made.”

Kristen Richardson, a 1998 contestant and current chairman of DYW of Washington County, said, “As a member of the committee it has given me 20 years of relationships and friendships with the most distinguished of Washington County, from participants to committee members.”

She added, “As a mother, it’s given my daughter countless big sisters to look up to and call on. I’ve experienced all parts- participant, chairman, judge, mother to a participant, and representative. I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to serve by giving back to the young women of Washington County. I look forward to each group of participants and enjoy seeing their growth.”

Tags: Chatom

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