There she is, Miss Lewis County 2023.
She might have just handed you a coffee or crossed the street in front of you. Maybe she’s the one reading the newspaper right now. But there is only one way to find out: From now through Dec. 10, women between the ages of 19 (by Dec. 31, 2023) and 26 who live, work or attend school full-time in Lewis County and have never been married can apply for the program, which offers scholarships and camaraderie to every competitor.
According to Shawn Peters, a member of the Miss Lewis County Scholarship Program’s executive board, there is “something for everyone” who gets involved, including money toward college, technical or career education opportunities; interview practice; honing of talent; new friends and newfound confidence. Last year, the program gave away $8,000 in scholarships that contestants have four years to cash out.
“You don't have to be a cookie-cutter-like pageant girl to be involved in Miss Lewis County,” said Miss Lewis County 2022 Briana Rasku. “You want to be from Lewis County and be true to yourself.”
Earlier this month, Rasku, a 21-year-old W.F. West High School graduate, and Peters met with The Chronicle to talk about Rasku’s time in the crown with the hopes of encouraging new applicants — even to the point where they suggested that the reporter they spoke with apply.
County misses compete in statewide programs, where winners go on to Miss America.
Peters said the young women who participate in Miss Lewis County have ranged from just being involved for local fun and exposure all the way to Miss America hopefuls.
Like her predecessors, Rasku competed for Miss Washington. However, the statewide pageant was far from her favorite memory in the crown. That was the Southwest Washington Fair. Miss Lewis County was a stalwart figure at every parade and community event, especially during the summer.
Contestants all choose a social impact initiative — formerly known as a “platform” — they adopt and encourage throughout their year of service. Rasku’s is “giving back to youth through community service,” which she focuses on in her more than full-time work as a nanny and dance teacher for children at the Southwest Washington Dance Center in Chehalis.
“It’s definitely a year of growth,” Peters said. “I think the volunteers that work in the program see the transformation in the girls from the day that we interview — because we do a preliminary interview to make sure the girls and their families are aware of the time commitment. Because it is work. Anything that’s worthwhile, I think, is a little bit of work.”
Peters and the titleholder herself describe Rasku as naturally shy. A year ago, her biggest weakness was interviewing, she said. Now, she’s an eye contact pro with thoughtful answers and a relaxed nature, skills she’ll carry with her forever.
Likewise, Rasku said the three other 2022 competitors felt the program helped them grow in confidence and that by the end of the three months of training, from January to the early March program, all four women had become close friends.
Since the first Miss Lewis County was crowned in 1962, changes to the program such as a shift in the age bracket and doing away with the swimsuit competition have made the pageant more appealing to a broader audience. After the initial interview, competitors go through months of Sundays where they will learn the skills necessary to rock their dresses, answer tough questions and perform a talent.
“Through the course of things like this you learn who you are,” Peters said. “You get a lot of people giving you a lot of information and so you have to filter that. … Our goal is to raise confident young women that are going to conquer the world. We need young leaders, we need powerful women in our community that raise the next generation and do great things. That’s the whole premise behind the Miss America Organization.”
Applying for the program is free and every contestant can walk away with scholarship money. Contestants find sponsors and are encouraged to use costumes from the program’s “fabulous” closet or from friends to keep costs low, Peters said. She added that one past Miss Lewis County even purchased her evening wear gown from Goodwill.
Learn more about eligibility or apply for the program at http://www.misslewiscounty.com/. The production for Miss Lewis County 2023 will be held on March 11, 2023. Details about the program and contestants will be announced in The Chronicle as they are released.