Role Models

A dozen young area women on the cusp of graduating high school will take the stage in November to compete for college scholarships.

The 2013-14 Distinguished Young Women of the Lakewood Area program, formerly known as Lakewood Area Junior Miss Scholarship program, is set for Saturday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Jamestown High School auditorium.

Prior to the show, the 12 young women participating in this year’s program were accepted based on a school transcript review, community and school activities, and an interview. During the program itself, the young women will be judged on a fitness routine, a talent routine, self-expression and poise, in which each will answer an on-stage question. The contestants have been practicing for the show since July.

Co-chairing the program for the second year are Danielle Bongiovanni, a SUNY Fredonia graduate who participated in the 2004-05 program; Kaycee Currie, who participated in the 2007-08 program before studying at Jamestown Community College and University at Buffalo; and Christine Yocum, who has served as a chaperone for many years, and although she never participated, she wishes she had, she said.

According to Bongiovanni, this year’s theme is “Born This Way.”

“The theme empowers them to be themselves, and embrace themselves as they are,” Bongiovanni said.

“The show will begin with an opening number that includes the ‘Born This Way’ theme,” Yocum added. “Following that, each contestant will individually do a fitness routine, which is pretty lengthy and strenuous. Then they are judged on their individual talents, and we’ve got all types such as piano players, dancers, singers, a xylophone player and a comedy act. From there they change into knee-length dresses for the poise routine that is choreographed by our community volunteer chaperones, who act almost as surrogate mothers because parents aren’t involved. Then they’ll be asked a question on-stage before the judges deliberate to pick a winner.”

The winner of the Nov. 2 competition will secure herself some scholarship funds, as well as the opportunity to compete in the state-level competition. The winner of the state-level competition is awarded further scholarship funds, as well as the opportunity to compete at the national-level. In 2007-08, Katie Racitano, of Frewsburg, won both the local an state-level competitions to participate in the national competition.

Each participant is paired with a “little sister,” which is an area youth who is mentored throughout the program. The little sisters are chaired by Rosa Farrell, and will also perform in the Nov. 2 program. Several ‘little sisters’ have also gone on to be ‘big sisters’ in the show, such as Francesca Galbato, Olivia Valone and Shelby Adams, who will participate in this year’s competition.

“Each contestant has an area ‘little sister’ who is a third- or fourth-grade student,” Yocum said. “The contestants serve as ‘big sisters’ and role models for them with their academics, talents, fitness and future aspirations. So, the ‘little sisters’ really get a sense of being in the show, and will maybe someday want to be a ‘big sister’ in the show.”

According to Currie, participating in the program herself was very rewarding. In addition to acting as a chairwoman, she also advocates for it by recommending it to others.

“I made friends that I never would have made if it wasn’t for this program,” Currie said. “I also think that it furthered my general abilities and character. I honestly feel as if I’m a better person because of this program.”

Bongiovanni agreed, adding that it’s a confidence builder that helps with interview skills and imbues positive changes that last a lifetime.

“It’s definitely a beneficial thing for senior girls, and we’ve seen many of them grow from the beginning to the end of the program – it’s a great experience for them and us,” Bongiovanni said.

Brynne Deppas, winner of the 2009-10 Lakewood Area Junior Miss Scholarship program, will act as master of ceremonies for the 2013-14 Distinguished Young Women of the Lakewood Area program. Deppas is a graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland, where she majored in communications.

“Coming back and being on the other side is very weird – but it’s exciting,” Deppas said. “I loved being a part of this program as a senior in high school – it taught me so much. So, the opportunity to come back and share my experience and what it taught me is really fun.”

In addition to the three chairwomen, the 2013-14 Distinguished Young Women of the Lakewood Area program committee includes: Beverly Ungerer, Laurie Whitermore, Judy Amatuzzo, Tiffany Wakeley-Heintzman, Maura Morgante, Molly Morgante, Jennifer Sears, Kelly Madden and Kathy McMaster.

For more information about the program visit www.ajm.org.