What's All This DYW Talk?

By Skylar Babin

Something you should know about me: I never ever imagined myself participating in a pageant.  I never grew up watching them on TV. I never went through the “cute bow and monogram” phase in elementary and middle school.  I was only a cheerleader for a year in 1st grade (or 2nd… I wouldn’t even remember).  Instead I played basketball on an all-guys team for years! 

However, I find so much joy in trying new activities and experiencing the fullness of life, so this summer I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a stage wearing a sequined dress answering a self-expression question in front of a huge audience and a panel of five judges.  What can I say? There I was, eagerly competing for college scholarships with a group of girls I am so proud to call my friends. 

Distinguished Young Women (DYW) has been such a blessing in my life, and I am so thrilled and thankful to be the DYW representative of Okaloosa County 2018!  Participating in the program brought me so close to the other young women I competed with, I learned a plethora of valuable skills, and the title has given me a platform to impact others. For any girls currently in their junior year of high school, please please get involved with DYW, not only for amazing college scholarships (to the college of your choice) but also for personal growth and friendships!

Something you should know about DYW:  in the words of Miss Congeniality, “Hey, hey! It is not a beauty pageant, it is a scholarship program!” DYW is a sixty-year-old leadership honorary that awards significant scholarships to college-bound girls who participate in a learning process of interview skills, public speaking, professionalism, life skills, and confidence building.  (You may recognize DYW from its previous title, “Junior Miss.”)  We compete in five different areas: Scholastic Achievement, Talent, Interview Skills, Public Speaking (Self-Expression), and Fitness.

Another aspect about DYW that I truly enjoy is its national outreach program called Be Your Best Self (BYBS). We relay the message of the BYBS Program into our communities to spread the life-success message and how to accomplish it: Be healthy, Be ambitious, Be involved, Be responsible, and Be studious.  Many girls this past year visited elementary school classes to enrich the younger minds about these great qualities, and I decided to give a speech on the BYBS Program to one of my high school classes because I know these principles are great to carry on into our young adult lives.

Not surprisingly, DYW is the only one of its kind in the WHOLE country, and I would seriously recommend freeing your hands for five seconds right now so you can applaud DYW for this achievement (if you’re reading this in a doctor’s office, it’s okay if people stare).

How it works: DYW is such an exciting process, and it is as simple as attending the meetings, rehearsing, and competing. When I joined DYW, I went to an introductory meeting where I met Mrs. Marion Taylor and Mrs. Mia Lawson, the directors for Okaloosa County’s DYW program.  There I learned all the basics that equipped me for the months to come. Each month, we girls got together to practice interview skills and fitness, and we spent some time just getting to know each other, eating, and asking questions.  One week prior to the program, we participated in DYW boot camp. THIS IS WHERE IT GETS REAL!  During boot camp, we met each day to have mock interviews, learned all the choreography for the opening and closing numbers, practiced fitness till we felt like champions, and performed our talent on stage to perfect lighting and sound.  DYW provided dinner and snacks, and after boot camp I felt the sister-bond from all my DYW ladies.  

The night of the program was so magical, thrilling, and intense.  I remember the exact moment when I was announced as the winner and received the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Okaloosa County 2018 and won over $6,000 dollars in scholarship money! Truly, I am so grateful for Mrs. Marion, Mrs. Mia, Mrs. Carole (the director for the Florida DYW Program), and all our sponsors and volunteers.

Something you should know about each program: We are all unique.  Walton County just had their first program and selected their first DYW, Mackenzie Brundage, to represent them this year!  The Walton County Program is led by Julie Stuckey who wanted to give girls in her county the same opportunities that I had in Okaloosa to compete and earn scholarship money.  In fact, Ms. Julie received $3,300 for her girls from sponsors!  Over the Christmas holiday, I was able to meet Ms. Julie and see Mackenzie (it had been way to long!) as we flailed beads and candy to little kiddos and others in the Destin Christmas Parade.

What you can look forward to: Because both Mackenzie and I won the DYW title in our respective counties, we will be competing in the State DYW Program on February 24th alongside twenty-five other girls from different counties all over Florida. I am particularly excited to give the Jacksonville and Miami representatives a giant bear hug because we are already friends through our middle school and early high school homeschool years.  BUT HERE’S THE BEST PART: For the first time in DYW history, the Florida Program will not be held in south Florida but RIGHT HERE at the Fort Walton Beach City Auditorium! This is a wonderful opportunity for us and I hope to see all of you there!

What you should know about the State Program: With Mrs. Carole and Betsy, her daughter, taking over the State Program, the State Program will be permanently held in Okaloosa and will be such a great boost for the economy.  This year, all the girls (selected to represent their cities and counties) and many of their families will meet Mackenzie and I on February 18th for an arrival ceremony, and the week will continue during State Week with special appearances, service projects, and showcase rehearsals. Another event that I am thrilled about is Community Night on February 20th at The Gulf.  Please come and join us! After all the preparation and activities, the girls and I will compete to represent the entire state of Florida at the prestigious global Nationals in Mobile in June.  Destin and Niceville each have had a state DYW in recent years (Natalie Lawson in 2014 and Mimi Taylor in 2016), which is an incredible accomplishment for our area! 

Before I sign off, I want to take this opportunity to thank the State Board and Committee.  They are so vibrant and passionate and are working tirelessly every day to make this inaugural year in our location a complete success.  In addition, I want to thank our generous sponsors: Eglin Federal Credit Union, ZT Motors, Cox Media Communications, Destin Commons, and Gulf Power.

Finally, we need YOU! All the scholarship money we receive for State and Local Programs comes directly from our sponsors, so if you feel led to support us girls in our college journey through a partnership with DYW, we’ll take pride in marketing and promoting you for the next few weeks… lavishly!  Just email florida@distinguishedyw.org!  If you would like to support on a local level, feel free to contact okaloosa@distinguishedyw.org for the Okaloosa Program or waltonfl@distinguishedyw.org for the Walton Program.

I am so eager to represent our area and am looking forward to hopefully meeting you!  The State Program is going to be absolutely phenomenal and, as Betsy always says, “When the curtain closes and the lights go out, it is not the end...it is the beginning”. 

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