Thursday | August 25, 2016
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Scholarship pageant strives to inspire, empower young women

Lexie Ayers about three weeks ago considered quitting the Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant.

The 18-year-old freshman was stressed from attending the University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii, coaching cheerleading at Konawaena Middle School and working at Oshima Surf. But juggling responsibilities wasn’t the reason.

“I was worried that I didn’t fit the mold,” she said.

Ayers has always been a pidgin-speaking tomboy and sports enthusiast, who enjoys cheering with her squad on the sidelines and being a jock that switches interests from one season to the next. She said her family never imagined her as a pageant competitor. Following her announcement, her mom jokingly warned, “You know you can’t be a tita, you have to be a lady.”

What drew Ayers to compete in the pageant was not the crown or cash. It was the mission: to empower young Big Island women to be strong, smart, independent and caring leaders in their communities, she said.

“The goal is not to look like a model or become a fancy debutante,” she said. “This is about self-discovery, getting comfortable in your own skin, defining who you are, wanting to further your education and having the opportunity to serve your community.”

A hard part, she added, is dealing with others’ expectations. During a heart-to-heart, Tracey Apoliona, the pageant’s executive director, said the crown is what the winner wants it to be. Her words ignited Ayers’ competitive spirit not to quit. She hopes her participation helps people embrace their individuality and follow their dreams, even the far-fetched ones.

Miss Kona Coffee, Miss Aloha Hawaii and Outstanding Teen will be crowned Nov. 3 at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the 42nd annual pageant begins at 6:30 p.m. Thirteen young women, ages 17 to 24, are competing this year for many prizes. Topping the list is a $1,000 or $1,500 scholarship, depending on the title. Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Aloha Hawaii will also become eligible to compete in the Miss Hawaii Scholarship Pageant.

By showtime, the contestants have spent more than 200 hours preparing. At least eight hours on the weekends, they’re attending classes to master production routines and interviews. But they all must also learn about coffee production, do presentations on current events, showcase a talent and volunteer locally.

Cathryn Orton, a 19-year-old UH Center at West Hawaii sophomore, entered the pageant to overcome her shyness — something she’s accomplished through classes, by attending events on her own and seeking sponsorships. But an unexpected gain was the pageant forcing her to explore what her community really had to offer, from a 10-day Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build to coffee berry borer prevention workshops. Eventually, she connected to those organizing a children’s center at Na Kaulana O Ulu Wini, the low-income rental and transitional housing complex mauka of Costco. A part of Solid Rock Youth, Orton plans to help create empowering programs for the children’s center.

Contestants must develop a platform and be active in it; many are focusing on issues they live with daily.

Kealakehe High School sophomore Keahi Delovio, 15, said no parent ever wants his child to suffer from hunger, but for her 4-year-old sister, that’s a constant struggle because as a baby, her sister was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare disorder affecting her metabolism, making it work about half as quickly as normal and cause insatiable hunger. Those affected lack the trigger telling them their stomachs are full, which can lead to stomach rupture or it predisposes them to obesity. To cope, the family has become more serious about food, monitoring it closely and preparing perfectly portioned meals, as well as exercising more.

Delovio is spreading awareness and educating the public about the illness, working with friend and Department of Health employee Grace Miyata to help local families and raise money for research and eventually, a cure.

Hawaii Preparatory Academy sophomore Anela Deaguiar, 15, isn’t new to the pageant world. She won the 2010 Young Miss Kona Coffee competition for girls ages 10 to 12. Deaguiar called the pageant experience a sisterhood, rather than an unfriendly competition.

“We’re taught to throw away our flaws, be who we are and share our passions and voice. It’s really all about thinking positive, and the biggest competition is not the girls you’re running against, but yourself,” she said. “This experience is a great foundation for life, whether it’s overcoming personal obstacles, gaining confidence to speak eloquently in a crowded room or just setting a goal and accomplishing it. No matter who wins, I feel like our relationship as friends and desire to be good role models will continue.”

Tickets, costing $30 with a Kona Coffee Cultural Festival button, are available at Gone Again Travel, Kona Coffee & Tea Co., Kimura Lauhala Shop and Wally’s Watch Service. About 100 tickets will be available on a first-come basis at the door.

Contestants for Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Aloha Hawaii are Lexie Ayers, Guinevere Davenport, Meighan Halmas, Sloanne Hewlen, Mahina Kahoalii, Tiffany Kutsunai, Rebekah Mersburgh and Cathryn Orton. The Outstanding Teen contestants are Anela Deaguiar, Keahi Delovio, Leena Fuksa, Kuulei Ichishita and Miranda Lugo.