By Jessica King
On April 28, a new Miss Ramona and Teen Miss Ramona will be crowned.
But don’t let their shiny tiaras and sashes fool you. These girls will be more than pretty faces — much more, says Pageant Director Jill Fleming.
This year marks Fleming’s second consecutive year of directing the Ramona scholarship program and her 28th pageant overall. She also directs pageants for Lakeside and Julian.
Fleming, a retired San Diego police officer who owns her own investigative service, is all about empowering girls to be stronger women.
“If they have a voice, why not show them how to use it,” said Fleming. “Pretty is great but if they have a voice, they never really need that crown in the first place.”
As far as Fleming is concerned, she doesn’t work with beauty queens, she works with volunteers — volunteers who spend a year after the pageant promoting Ramona through public appearances that often consist of hard work, from serving meals to the needy to fundraising for good causes.
They also learn about chambers of commerce, service clubs, and other facets of a community often overlooked by most of their peers.
“I have a great drive for these girls to understand what makes their community tick,” said Fleming.
The girls learn how to build a resume, and interview and public speak skills. They also get volunteer credit that they can use to their advantage when applying for colleges or jobs.
“It doesn’t just knock on the door for opportunities, it kicks the door in,” Fleming said of the letters of appreciation the girls receive from area dignitaries upon completing their year of service.
Fleming designed the pageant’s judging criteria to put a strong emphasis on interview, not the prettiest gown.
“Interview is very, very key,” said Fleming, noting the girls are given the chance to do mock interviews before the final judges’ interview.
As for the clothing, contestants will be judged in sportswear, interview suits, and evening gowns. There is no swimwear competition.
“I’ve had girls from size two to size 18 win,” Fleming said. “I tell the judges ahead of time, all the girl needs are two things — a heart and a brain — that’s all that really matters.”
Service after the pageant is not only limited to the newly crowned Miss Ramona and Teen Miss Ramona. Their princess courts are often included.
Because Fleming also works with pageant winners in Lakeside and Julian, she schedules girls from the three communities to work together during their year of service.
She calls them her 6-7-8 girls because Highway 67 connects Lakeside to Ramona and Highway 78 connects Ramona to Julian.
“When I took on Ramona, I wanted it to be a team because I think there’s fun in a team, there’s camaraderie,” said Fleming.
The deadline to apply is April 15. There is no limit on how many girls can apply but there is an age requirement for both titles.
Miss Ramona contestants must be between the ages of 16 and 24 and not yet 25 by June 1. If 16, she must be at least a junior in high school as of Sept. 10.
Girls vying to be the next Teen Miss Ramona must be between the ages of 13 and 17 but not yet a junior in high school.
Of course, both Miss Ramona and Teen Miss Ramona must be a resident of the community based on her home address. Pageant rules state she must live in Ramona for at least three months prior to the date of the pageant.
The cost to compete is $200, broken down into a $75 sponsorship and an additional $125 in ad sales. Girls sell ads for a pageant program book and, according to Fleming, it’s a fairly easy task.
A half-page ad in the program book sells for $75 but there are also less expensive business card ads and more expensive full-page ads available. Girls are encouraged to look at past program books for leads on local companies with a history of supporting the pageant.
All money raised goes directly into the pageant, funding everything from T-shirts and meals for the girls to the prizes they will receive.
No one working on the pageant is paid, Fleming said of herself and her all-volunteer staff of helpers.
Several girls and their families have already attended a first pageant orientation meeting. A second orientation meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. this Friday at the Ramona Outdoor Community Center stage.