"Shocking" and "breathtaking" are just a few words used by last year's Pennsylvania International Pageant winners to describe their crowning moment.
This weekend, those three title holders will be ready to pass their crowns to the Miss, Miss Teen and Mrs. Pennsylvania International 2012 winners and watch them make their own life-long memories.
The pageant will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Jaffa Shrine Center in Altoona. Out of 25 contests, three new title holders will be crowned based on their performance in categories of interview, evening gown and fitness wear. Miss and Miss Teen competitors also will compete in a fun fashion category. Win-ners will then compete in Chicago in July for the national title.
Kaitlyn Lucas, 16, Miss Teen Pennsylvania International 2011, is from Emmaus.
Jodi Cessna of Altoona, state pageant director, said there was an increased number of applicants for this year's pageant and it is the second largest in the state.
She said the criteria the contestants are judged on is different from other pageants because of the emphasis put on the interview competition and how well they support their platform.
"It sounds cliche, but they really are looking for the total package," Cessna said. "These women are really spreading awareness about different causes."
If you go
What: The Mrs., Miss and Miss Teen Pennsylvania International Pageant
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Jaffa Shrine Center, Altoona
Details: Tickets are $15 and are available at the door
The International Pageant system also gives women of a wide range of ages the opportunity to compete. Dawn Hicks, 36, of Hanover and Mrs. Pennsylvania International 2011, loved watching pageants on TV when she was growing up. However, she never thought she would be in one, much less win it.
"I'm certainly not the typical pageant contestant," said Hicks, who is an Air Force veteran and was deployed as a civilian to Afghanistan in 2010. "It was something I admired from the sideline thinking it was for lucky girls that were groomed for that sort of thing. I never thought I'd ever do one but this system really provided married women that opportunity. ... After spending so many years in combat boots and trolling around the desert of Afghanistan, it was nice to do something for myself and put a dress on and feel like a lady for a change."
Tying into her military background, Hick chose the Armed Forces Foun-dation as the platform she helped promote for the past year. The charity provides financial and emotional support to military members and their families.
One of her biggest acts was organizing and hosting a holiday party for children who had a family member deployed over the holiday season.
"This organization, just what they did for me, I thought if I'm in any position to help them out, I wanted to do that for them," Hicks said.
Julia Pauline, 20, of Conshohocken, Miss Pennsylvania International 2011, may not have been directly aided or affected by the platform she chose, Habitat for Humanity.
But that didn't stop her from being actively involved in her local chapter this past year.
"A week before [the national competition in] Chicago, I was up on a roof building one of our homes," Hicks said. "A lot of people don't think a pageant girl would do Habitat for Humanity, actually going on to a roof and building houses. But I want to portray to girls that you can put a nail into a board and not be afraid to break a nail."
Pauline said winning the title made for an unbelievable year. Though she had been competing in pageants since age 16, she had never won a title before this.
"I'm glad it was with the International system," she added.
Pauline said the next titleholders should be sure they make the most of their years.
"Don't ever say, 'Oh, I can't do this appearance because I'm too busy,'" she said. "Make time because when you look back on your year, you want to see how many lives you've changed."
Kaitlyn Lucas, 16, of Emmaus, Miss Teen Pennsylvania International 2011, tried to do the same thing this year while representing her platform for a local charity, Angel 34, which promotes childhood cancer awareness.
"When people say the year goes by fast, they weren't kidding," Kaitlyn said. "Live in every moment and cherish all of your time. Take a step back and realize you have a big role to take on. Make as many appearances as you can and get the word out about your platform."
Being a Miss Teen Penn-sylvania International titleholder has benefited Kaitlyn by preparing her for the future and the real world, she said, adding that the International system breaks down the normal pageant stereotypes.
"It has more to do with if you can speak and inner beauty," she said. "You can look good on stage but if you aren't good at interviewing you won't have a chance to win the title."
Hicks agreed that it will flip anything people might think about pageants and pageant people if they come out to the event.
"You'll see beautiful clothes and traditional pageant stuff, but you'll also see these women who are really working hard in their communities," Hicks said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.