Today, youth in America are making strides to change the world around them. From powerful social media movements, to political organizing and protesting on the ground, the voice and passion of young people have convinced society to take us seriously. One major component in youth engagement that is overlooked is youth empowerment. When youth are “empowered,” they have the skills, critical awareness, and opportunities to positively impact their own lives and the lives of other individuals, organizations, and communities.

Stephanie Matheson, who'll be competing for the crown of Miss Oregon USA next weekend, chooses to advocate for this cause. She is currently a high school teacher with an endorsement in Social Studies - "I do my best to empower my students by making my classes about more than just the specific subject. Relationships are everything, and when students know you care about them, it gives them a sense of confidence. It's important for them to be aware of what's going on, and when they're informed, they tend to care more. I want them to find their passions and do something with it; whether that is starting a club at school, fundraising for a cause, and getting involved in their community.  I periodically will have them do other activities such as Dream Boards - we then talk about the importance of having our goals visible and what we need to do to attain them. I try to give them as much choice as possible so that they have a sense of ownership" - she explained.

As someone who struggled with anxiety and depression in high school, she wants her students to feel empowered and know that she's there for them - "I want to make sure they know I believe in them and I am in their corner; that way they learn to believe in themselves and have confidence in who they are. It's important to me that they leave my classroom as passionate, caring, contributing members of society" - she added.

In the past Stephanie has worked for a mentoring non-profit, as well as interned with Mercy Corps - an international humanitarian organization.  Her other platforms include Women Empowerment, which ties in perfectly with her company EmpowHER Apparel, Mental Health Awareness, and Building Cultural Bridges -  "I have thousands of community service hours working with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Oregon, Klamath Basin Youth Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Children’s Cancer Charities, and countless other organizations, as well as serving as a mentor" - she added.

If she wins the crown of Miss Oregon USA the beautiful Stephanie will have the opportunity to represent her state in Miss USA 2018. The state has never won the competition however the highest placed Miss Oregon USA was Gail Atchison who finished 2nd runner-up to Barbara Peterson in 1976. The most recent finalist was Jennifer Murphy in 2004. 

Check my interview about her preparation for the upcoming pageant below!

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The Fourth of July celebrates the birth of the United States as a country. Yet teenagers who have enjoyed its rights and privileges seldom understand what it takes for a country to become and remain an independent nation. A recent poll states that only 35 percent of millennials are patriotic. That's why Presly Pedigo, has started a nonprofit organization called "Freedom Fighters. "I help instill respect for our country’s service men and women in young kids. I work closely with my local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars Chapter) for community service as well." she explained.

Who is Presly Pedigo ? She is a junior in High School and she's involved with student council, FCCLA, and BETA. She was her sophomore class president, and she plans to run again for office in the fall. She is dually enrolled in college, and she takes pride in her academics. In her spare time she loves to travel, paddle board, and hang out with her friends.

Presly will have the opportunity to compete at the 2018 Miss Tennessee Teen USA Pageant in October. Tennessee is among the most successful states at Miss Teen USA in terms of number and value of placements. In the 1990s, they were placed first. They have the third (equal) highest number of semi-finalist (or better) placings and are one of only five states to have received more than three awards. Additionally, Tennessee is one of only three states (the other two being Oregon and Texas) to have won the Miss Teen USA title more than once.

I had the opportunity to interview Presly about her preparation for the pageant. I appreciate her sharing her story. I hope you will enjoy this interview!

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4 months ago she had major surgery for an extremely rare Brain and Neck tumor; paraganglioma. If she wins Miss North Carolina USA 2018 the beautiful Victoria Vesce would like to advocate her platform of brain tumor awareness into a much larger audience. 

She underwent 6 weeks worth of Radiation at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, USA. This was a life or death situation - "I came out Victorious! I had determination I would fight. I had to teach myself this summer how to walk, talk, eat, and eventually walk in heels again! Now I am back, better than ever! Four days after my last radiation treatment, I started law school. This experience has humbled me beyond belief and has made me a stronger human being!" she explained

Victoria has been a NHL cheerleader, and the past 3 years she was a NBA dancer. She traveled and danced at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and Shanghai Global Games. Currently, she is a Juris Doctorate Candidate at Charleston School of Law, along with being a model and spokeswoman for NASCAR. 

I had the opportunity to interview her on her preparation for the next Miss North Carolina USA Pageant. If she wins she will have the opportunity to compete at Miss USA 2018. The state won the Miss USA Pageant two times; in 2005 with Chelsea Cooley and in 2009 with Kristen Dalton.

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Generally Iranians have very high esteem for Zoroastrianism as a faith and regard Zoroastrians as genuinely authentic Iranians who preserved the ancestral faith. It is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. Found by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago. This religion makes Shiva Abadi proud of being Persian-American - "Zoroastrianism believes in three things: Good thoughts, good words and good deeds. This is how I was raised and still practice to be the best version of myself through this phrase." she explained.

Shiva Abadi, who'll be competing in Miss California USA later this year, graduated from the University of California-San Francisco at the age of 25 with her Masters of Science in Dental Hygiene. She has been practicing Dental Hygiene for the past 5 years in clinical, advocacy, volunteer, and educational setting. As an educator for Waterpik, she gives continuing education units to Dentists, Registered Dental Hygienist, and Registered Dental Assistants. She practices Dental Hygiene 4 days a week at a state of the art dental office in San Diego and enjoys preventing diseases, improving oral health, educating and connecting with her patients.

In her spare time she loves hiking, camping, swimming, playing the piano and taking her motorcycle or manual car out for a ride in the canyons.

Here we bring you the untold facts about Shiva’s life and also her ideas, objectives and opinions… Have a look!

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Indian-Americans constitute less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Yet you will find them at the helm of great companies such as PepsiCo and MasterCard; as presidents and deans of America’s most prestigious colleges; at the pinnacles of journalism; dominating fields such as technology, scientific research and medicine; and thriving in industries such as hospitality, transportation and real estate. They have also achieved extraordinary success in government.

Monika Patel's parents migrated to America in hopes of being able to create a better life for her family. Like most immigrants like to call it, Following the American dream. Growing up with a traditional family Monika faced many challenges appropriating to the American culture. "I was always treated differently, no one wanted to understand where my family came from, they would just point and laugh at me or tease me for having dark skin. The kids ended up telling me I looked “unusual” I always hoped that one day my differences would be put aside and I would fit in with the rest of the crowd." she explained.

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This year, Monika Patel will have the opportunity to represent the indian-american community at the prestigious Miss Texas USA Pageant. And it is not common to see Indian-American beauties in major national pageants of the country.  There was a lot of controversy when Nina Davuluri won Miss America title in 2013. The first placement of Indian-American beauty in Miss USA was achieved by Pratima Yarlagadda in 1999. 

The next and the most recent Indian-American to achieve success in Miss USA is Chhavi Verg. She even spoke fluent Hindi on the Miss USA stage. Her presence in Top 10, Top 5 and then Top 3 was not a surprise.  In fact many wanted her to win because her final answer was good.  However, she had to settle with 1st runner-up placement.  Nevertheless it is a huge achievement. 

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Let us hope to see soon an Indian-American winning Miss USA. It would be interesting to see how the country perceives the event!

So, who is Monika Patel ? She is studying Psychology and Fashion at Texas State University.

She also works at a gear manufacturing company. She assists in creating company culture making sure they do not follow the footsteps of the corporations that have failed before them. When she first started working at Rave Gears she was learning the ropes of Quality Procurement so she took a reverse engineering approach to the system so she can one day maintain a scale of multiple department instruction. During the summer she was able to work full time and she got the opportunity to manage work flow and follow production. Her logic for choosing this type of work is because of her focus in Industrial Organizational Psychology.  Working in an industrial environment is not glitz and glam. But it just goes to show that it is very possible to have beauty and brains.

She was born in Chicago and moved to Texas when she was about the age of five. She was put into a very small Christian private school where she quickly learned to lean on God for answers. "I had bowed to my fate taking into consideration I had to coexist in a dual Hindu/Christian life. Trying to find harmony within the two cultures was difficult for me to evaluate on my own, especially as a child." she explained.

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It will be her first participation in a pageant. The beautiful Brandi Brown, 26, will compete for the title of Miss New York USA 2018 later this year. New York is one of the most successful states at Miss USA, and is ranked third in terms of number and value of placement across all years of competition. New York's strongest run was an unbroken string of placements from 1957 to 1966. New York also had a streak of 3 consecutive 1st runner-up placements from 1972 to 1974. If Shanna Moakler is counted, New York has the third (equal) highest number of Miss USA victories. They also have the third highest number of semi-finalist (or better) placings (33).

Who is Brandi Brown ? She currently works full time in the pediatric department as scheduling maintenance at a medical group in Westchester County, NY. She is also a self taught fashion designer, and run her own fashion design business "BQueen". "I started BQueen in order to make all women, all shapes and sizes feel like the queen they are in a custom garment made just for them using their own unique measurements." she explained.

Everyone’s body type is unique and pageantry can have a place for every girl. On stage and in the interview room, be proud of who you are. There is room for every background, age, and size in pageantry.  Brandi explained that many people told her "you're to short to do pageantry" or "you're to thick to do pageantry". That's why she started studying pageant systems and what they stood for - "I was shocked to find out its way more than having a gorgeous face or looking picture perfect in a swimsuit. Its about knowing who you are as a person, having a voice, and being aware of whats going on around you in today's society for the most part. I was very disappointed in myself for wanting to alter my appearance to fit in, instead of trying to lose the weight my focus is now on toning!"

I had the opportunity to interview the beautiful Brandi on her preparation for the next Miss New York USA Pageant. Lets know a little more about her below!

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In a pageant confidence is the key. Anyone who has ever pursued their dreams knows that they are never as simple as you set out expecting them to be. Don’t let that deter you. Confident winners do not let setbacks deter them from their goals or allow others’ opinions to deter them from their full potential.

Perseverance in pageantry is a valuable lesson that applies in every other area of life. The best things in life are challenging. Know that whatever setbacks you may have, they don’t define you. 

The beautiful Michelle Laino will compete for the crown of Miss New York Teen USA 2018. This will be her 5th time. She believes that you don't need a crown to be a queen - "Every year I competed I got to know myself more and more. That was the most important thing I have done to prepare, is to know myself inside and out. I think the most important part of preparation in pageants is getting to know who you are and why you are competing." she explained.

Michelle, 18, graduated high school and she is currently enrolled in a personal training certification program. After she obtains her certification she plans to continue her education in nutrition. She works as a sales associate at Club Pilates - "I just really love fitness, exercise, and the human body. As for extracurricular work, I have a health blog and I also volunteer at Gilda's Club, which is an organization to help families, friends, and patients affected by cancer." she said

Michelle's dedication towards her goals, and her success which has been a result of her ambitions and efforts, will surely take her long on the road of victory! Discover more about her story below

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