KCHS grad and Alaska's 2005 Jr. Miss Elena Bird rides with her father Bob in the 4th of July Parade in Kenai
Elena Bird takes great delight in fulfilling the duties of Alaska’s Jr. Miss. Bird has had a whirlwind summer of activities fulfilling the duties of her statewide title. She has sung the National Anthem and rode in more parades than she can remember, including Kenai’s 4th of July Parade and Soldotna Progress Days. A distinction however she is not so pleased to have is being Alaska’s last Junior Miss. After nearly half a century the National Junior Miss program has been canceled. In June, Elena had the once in a lifetime experience that many other Kenai Peninsula girls have had over the years of representing Alaska at the National Junior Miss Competition in Mobile, Alabama, “It was an absolutely incredible educational experience, it was amazing to be among all those talented and very bright young women,” commented Bird when she returned.
Elena intends to pursue a teaching degree in music with an emphasis on operatic and classical training. Her $4000 in Jr. Miss Scholarships will be a big assistance to her in achieving her higher education goals at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota. A portion of her scholarship was the result of winning the Alaska talent portion for her operatic singing. Elena says, “It’s very disappointing that the program has ended. It’s such an incredible opportunity to promote good moral values and develop excellence, while assisting young women in reaching their life goals through experience and scholarship money.”
Mary Green and Reann Pitts, Alaska’s Jr. Miss Co-Chairmen, express similar sentiments about the programs demise. Jr. Miss has been a scholarship program, not a pageant, with the emphasis on athletic, academic, community involvement, volunteering programs, etc. According to Green the Alaska program was becoming stronger with the number and caliber of girls growing each year, along with increasing support of school counselors. “It’s disheartening for me because I’ve seen it make a difference in girls lives, and given them opportunities they never would have had otherwise, Time and again a parent has commented that you would not believe how it has changed my daughter,” said Green.
The Jr. Miss program is being discontinued due to a lack of sponsorship at the national level. According to Reann Pitts, “It’s been struggling for several years and to attract sponsors, it needs to be on television, which leaves the program at the whim of the networks and in this day of reality TV some of what the networks wanted would compromise the integrity of the program. So rather than compromise those standards the national board of directors decided to close the doors,” said Pitts.
As members of the State Junior Miss board of directors Pitts and Green hope that a new program will emerge, but at this point in time they say there isn’t a comparable scholarship program to step in and fill the void. The national board is considering options for transitioning to local and state programs and a final decision is expected by the end of September. “Until then we’re taking a wait and see approach for Alaska,” added Pitts. In an ABC Nightline report last month featuring TV journalist Diane Sawyer, one of Jr. Miss’s more renowned winners, is was said to be highly unlikely that the Jr. Miss program would be resurrected, but an appeal was put out to anyone interested in helping to save the scholarship program to contact www.saveajm.com.
Soldotna became the state host for the Alaska Jr. Miss program in 1981 where it remained until its finale this spring. “The program was well supported in our local community by business and volunteers. Jr. Miss has been there year after year to shepherd girls towards their scholastic goals and life’s dreams. It is the closing of a historical chapter, yet leaves a legacy that is found in young women like reigning Jr. Miss Elena Bird whose hopes for the future are helped in becoming reality through the Jr. Miss experience,” said Green.
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