Each of the 18 young women, representing their communities from across the state, will be vying for the 2014 Tennessee DYW title. One will succeed Chattanooga’s Katie Ward, reigning 2013 DYW title holder.
It was my privilege Sunday to meet and greet the 18 young women and some of their parents as they arrived, registered and began to get instructions.
Kay Free stepped into the role of chairperson of this year’s program, succeeding Charles and Traci Fant, who served for several years. Traci is a former title holder, and she and Charles have been strong supporters of the program. The couple was on hand Sunday to greet the girls, their parents and help coordinate the effort and support its new director.
I always enjoy this day because I have the privilege of giving them an official welcome to Cleveland and get a chance to brag a little about all we have to offer. There’s no better setting than Lee University’s beautiful campus to jump-start this conversation. The picturesque campus was ready to greet the visitors. I heard from several parents who had never seen the Lee campus and were pleasantly surprised.
As I gave them the welcome, I told them of the many products that are made right here in Cleveland and Bradley County. As always with a group of young people, when I mention M&Ms candies, there are audible “ooohs and aaahs” from the crowd. Local organizations have generously helped support the statewide DYW program and it is indeed a good way to show off our community and our hospitality.
I shared the “welcome” stage Sunday with Kay Free, and also with Bernadette Douglas, vice president of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, and with my wife Sandra, who was representing Brenda Lawson. Brenda Lawson & Associates is a premiere sponsor of the scholarships for this year’s program. Bernadette shared a welcome from the Chamber and also provided items for the girls as gifts from the community.
It’s not often I share the stage with my wife, but I will admit she did a good job telling the young women attending why Brenda Lawson chose to be a premiere sponsor of the competition.
“Brenda Lawson believes in empowering young women to become all they can be. This Distinguished Young Women program helps encourage continued education by providing college scholarships. It helps with development of self-confidence and is clearly a springboard for young women to go far. That’s what Brenda is all about — empowering others to achieve,” she said.
I felt that was a good description of this year’s program sponsor — thank-you Brenda Lawson — and I thought it worth sharing ... even if it did come from my wife.
This week, the contestants will not only rehearse, but they will “give back to our community” as they do some volunteer work for Salvation Army, Garden Plaza and Life Care, as well as pay a visit to a civic club, Sunrise Rotary. This will definitely give them a “feel” for what a great community we have here in Cleveland.
Before it became DYW, it held the name “Junior Miss” because it was open to junior or senior high school girls. It ultimately changed names and the scholarship monies were increased, giving young women an opportunity to compete to further their education.
It was apparent Sunday the girls were here to learn, grow and make new friends. By week’s end, this group will have made lifelong friends and hopefully will pass on what they’ve learned from DYW to other young women in the future. More than $100 million in cash scholarships has been given away in the past 30 years.
In Cleveland, several former title holders remain active, including Traci Fant and Kellye Hicks Bender, to name only two familiar faces in the crowd of volunteers.
The 2014 program will be held Friday and Saturday and will be an entertaining event as the women compete. It will be top-notch entertainment as they perform in talent competition. The event begins both nights at 7 o’clock in the Dixon Center on the Lee University campus. Tickets will be available at the door.
Support these young women and at the same time show Cleveland’s hospitality. We are blessed to be host to the statewide event. It’s an economic boost as the visitors come from near and far to watch their respective contestants.
It’s also a great way to show off our city.