Community Conversation with Dawn Tongish: Meet Jan Mitchell, executive director of the Miss Texas Pageant an all-volunteer, non-profit organization based in Richardson, geared toward providing scholarship opportunities for the young women of Texas. Mitchell is a solid believer in the pageant process as a way for outstanding women to find their voice and promote culture, politics and platforms in the community. Mitchell shrugs off the haters who say "pageants" are all about how a woman looks. She knows better. The Miss Texas contest requires a background of accomplisment, talent and the ability to express a viewpoint.
During her time with the Miss Texas Pageant Mitchell has kept this successfull pageant program on track. We wanted to know more about what makes a beauty queen and Mitchell was happy to answer a few questions about the program:
Dawn Tongish: Can you tell me about the mission at the Miss Texas Organization?
Jan Mitchell: Our mission at the Miss Texas Pageant is to provide educational scholarships for the women of Texas and to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community. We also want to provide a forum for today's young women to express their viewpoints, talents and accomplishments through their participation in the Miss Texas Organization.
DT: The Miss Texas Organization is known for producing smart, beautiful winners who go on to claim other titles. What is the secret behind the success of the organization?
JM: I believe the success of our organization is the quality of Texas women! Also our organization is completely volunteer so everyone involved is here because we believe in the program and we are not receiving anything in return except the honor of volunteering our time for these young women.
DT: How did you become involved with the Miss Texas Organization, and why are you so passionate about the work being done?
JM: 15 years ago I was invited to judge a local pageant. I had preconceived opinions on pageantry and what I thought it was, but I was completely surprised at what I found. I saw that the Miss America Organization was so much more than a "beauty pageant". I met girls who were interested in their education and their community and wanted to do something really special with their lives. They were strong and accomplished and I was very impressed.
DT: How do you describe the young women who compete in the pageants? Are there special qualities, talents they must possess to be successful?
JM: They must be talented, interested in community service, and wanting to further their education.
DT: How can winning or being a top finisher at the pageant change a young woman's life?
JM: Just participating as a contestant will change their life. Each girl will serve in her community and will strive to make good grades and make a difference in the lives of others. And they all have a platform that they participate in through volunteering. In the Miss Texas Pageant it's not winner-takes-all. Each girl who participates receives some form of scholarship assistance.
DT: Some people still have a negative opinion of beauty pageants. What do you say to the naysayers?
JM: I understand because before I became involved in the Miss Texas Pageant I had preconceived notions about beauty pageants as well. I found out that the Miss America Organization is different. It is full of volunteers working to help young women further their education, express their viewpoints, excel at their talent, and devoting time to community service. Does that sound like "just" a beauty pageant?
DT: What is your most memorable moment in your experiences at the Miss Texas Organization?
JM: My most memorable experience was answering the phone 8 years ago and a young woman named Shilah Phillips asking me if I could help her get scholarship funds for college. She was on her own and had no money for college. I met with her and a week later she won my local pageant (Miss Frisco). A few months later she won the title of Miss Texas. And then went on to win 1st Runner Up to Miss America. $40,000 later we both knew that the phone call the year before changed both our lives.
Contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.