Making a difference: Pennsylvania International Pageant at Jaffa March 16

The International Pageant System has defied stereotypes since inception and focuses on contestants’ desire to make a difference and raise awareness on various topics.

The 2019 Miss PreTeen, Teen, Miss, & Mrs. Pennsylvania International Pageant takes place March 16 and the winners will represent Pennsylvania at the International Pageants in Charleston, W.V., in July. Last year, Pennsylvania winners enjoyed success at the International level.

Selected as Mrs. Pennsylvania International in 2018, Carmen White placed as third runner-up to Mrs. International. Miss Teen Pennsylvania Dalaney Johnson, 18, of Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County, placed in the top 10 at the International Pageant.

“In 16 years (from PA) we have had 10 in the top 10. We have had two International evening gown winners, an International fitness winner and a Miss Congeniality,” said Jodi Cessna, state director for 16 years. “I used to direct other states including New York — I had a Miss International from New York in 2013.”

Additional reigning winners Madison Kunst, Miss Pennsylvania International 2018, and co-winners McKenna Ross and Madelyn Sheffel, Miss PreTeen Pennsylvania International 2018 will also be present at the upcoming competition.

White said the highlight of her reign came addressing medical providers at a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) conference and spreading the word about her “Start By Believing” campaign.

“I encouraged them to reframe their language in medical reports, along with their in-person conversation, to reflect trauma-informed practices that encourage victims to feel supported rather than blamed,” she said.

In the era of multiple movements that promote respect for women for their intellectual attributes, this system stayed ahead of the curve, said Cessna, who served as Mrs. Pennsylva-nia 2003.

Since the mid-80s, The Mrs. International pageant system emphasized contestants’ interviews and replaced the swimwear competition with an aerobic wear competition.

“Start by Believing” is a project through End Violence Against Women International and intends to change the way we, as a society, respond to allegations of sexual assault. The simple message is this: When someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, you start by believing them. If you respond with support, rather than criticism, blame, or questioning, that person disclosing is more likely to take the next step and take advantage of formal support services,” White said.

“And, if that individual is already making a disclosure in the context of formal support services, they are more likely to experience positive effects that encourage them to stay engaged. (For example: if they are treated with kindness at the hospital during their forensic examination, they are more likely to speak to the police. If the police respond positively, a victim is more likely to be willing to testify in court.) Asking “how can I help you?” or saying “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” can make a world of difference to someone who is fearful of the judgmental response that may follow their disclosure of being assaulted. This positive dialogue starts the journey to survivorship.”

Prior to being crowned Mrs. Pennsylvania, White represented the City of Reading. She resides in Mohnton, a small region within the Greater Reading area. As a married woman with a career as a public interest attorney, White said the Pennsylvania International Pageant program focused on community service and family values like her own within a “high-quality production,” including an extensive web and social media presence.

“Simply put: I have high standards for myself, and it was evident that Jodi and Scott Cessna (producer) had high standards for their pageant …” (and) “put on a high-quality production, all while encouraging women to pursue their personal goals. Jodi and Scott Cessna, as a husband and wife team, have dedicated approximately 15 years of their marriage to this mission. They are organized, professional, and reliable. … I have also observed that in other Mrs. pageant systems, the directors were more focused on themselves than their contestants, and it appeared that some contestants scored better when they brought a higher number of people to the competition venue (thereby drumming up more money for the organizers in ticket sales). I could go on, but the secret sauce for me was feeling like I was in good hands with the Cessna Family and there was no funny business behind the scenes.”

In her travels throughout the Commonwealth and meeting with residents, White said she didn’t anticipate adults’ reactions to the accoutrements of the title: “I was amused by how the eyes of adults lit up when I would pull out my sash or crown at an appearance. “‘So sparkly!,’ they would say.”

Her second platform reflected her family’s experience with heart disease. “The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign was my second platform, as it is for all Mrs. International contestants. This was special to me as my mother suffered a heart attack in 2011. She survived, and it inspired me to become a Les Mills group fitness instructor.”

Johnson, through her organization called Dala-ney’s Looking Glass, reaches out to youth to promote the power of body positivity.

“Throughout my reign I was able to go to approximately 25 different schools and organizations where I spoke to a little over 1,000 youngsters to teach them the importance of just being genuinely nice and promoting a positive self image,” Johnson said.

After high school graduation and college, she plans to continue with Dalaney’s Looking Glass project.

Advocacy efforts like Johnson’s and White’s set the International Pageant system apart, said Jodi Cessna, “I feel most people think pageants are all about external beauty. Ours is about passion for a cause, the want to make a difference, confidence, public speaking and beauty — both external and internal.”

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: Miss PreTeen, Miss Teen, Miss and Mrs. Pennsylvania International Pageant

When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the pageant starts at 7:30 p.m. March 16

Where: Jaffa Shrine Center

Tickets: $20 at the door