Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dothan

The day after I got back from my cruise, I was on a flight to Dothan, Alabama for my photoshoot with The Competitive Image/Clay Spann. Unfortunately I couldn’t go when Julianna & Shannon went because I was out of the country, but I still had a good time!

The one & only Joey from The Competitive Image picked me up from the airport & took me to dinner, then I went back to my hotel to rest up for the long day of shooting. We started early in the morning where we first decided what clothes I was going to wear.

OH MY GOODNESS!! It was my first trip to The Competitive Image, & I was blown away! They have such a great selection of clothes, & I absolutely LOVED everything that we chose for me to shoot in. Y’all are going to be impressed!!

Working with Joey was really great because he has such an eye for fashion! He even made a special run to the mall for a pair of shoes & some accessories that he thought would be good with a certain dress. What awesome dedication to my pictures!!

Clay Spann was also fantastic!! I walked in with no makeup & my hair looking pretty ragged, but he turned me into a movie star! I was so impressed with my makeup & hair for each look that we did. He really helped me come out of my shell as far as the modeling part went. He showed me different magazines with ideas for some poses, which was really helpful. I cannot WAIT to see how the pictures turned out!! Thank you guys!

Ashley Smith

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nationals


About a month out from this year’s Miss Teen International Pageant, I still find myself thinking of and drawing inspiration from the amazing, accomplished young women I met there.


My life has taught me to “never judge a book by its cover” and pageantry has not only reinforced that belief but has also allowed me to share it with others.


The power of the sash and crown is a strong tool for ending judgment and stigmas around so many people and issues.


One of the reasons I love the International system is that it gives its queens the power to change peoples’ perceptions about pageantry.


By encouraging its queens to stand up and speak out for what they believe in and to make a difference, International shows society that pageantry can be selfless and beneficial for communities everywhere.


The girls I met that week use their titles to remove the stigmas that society has about many prevalent issues such as homelessness, eating disorders, bullying, depression, cancer, obesity, and many other very worthwhile causes and issues.


During my week at nationals, I met girls from every walk of life and listened to the amazing stories that ultimately brought us all together that week in Skokie, IL.


Looking at the pictures from nationals, an outsider may assume that we were all stereotypical beauty queens.


They may assume that, since we looked perfect, we, and our lives, were perfect and everything was easy for us.


However, every girl had worked very hard to be there and overcome obstacles to make amazing accomplishments.


I believe that everyone I meet is put in my life for a reason.


However, these girls were put in my life for more than one reason; they are my inspiration, support system, sister queens, and lifelong friends.

Juliana McKee

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mexico

I have just returned from my very first cruise! We visited Progresso & Cozumel in Mexico, making this my very first INTERNATIONAL “appearance” as Miss International! Very exciting! The cruise had a lot of great activities to keep everyone occupied on board, but my favorite had to be karaoke! I didn’t get up and sing (I wanted to spare everyone’s ears!), but the people who did really had a good time, & I had a lot of fun watching them. The cruise director was really helpful & such a nice guy. Here I am with him on the formal night of our cruise.


In Progresso we decided to take a bus to Chichen Itza, which are Mayan ruins. I loved hearing about the history of that civilization, & how they lived. It’s really impressive that their structures are still around! Here I am in front of the pyramid in Chichen Itza.


When we stopped in Cozumel, we decided to do a snorkeling excursion that ended on a private beach. I absolutely LOVE snorkeling, & this time was no exception! My bit of advice – remember to put sunscreen all over your back. I put it on my face & shoulders, but my back was what was sticking out of the water for the 40 minutes I was snorkeling so I’m a wee bit burned, which is never fun!

Overall, the trip was a lot of fun & something I would love to do again! It was a great end to a busy summer, & wonderful relaxation before a big move!!

Ashley Smith

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What Makes Mrs. International Smile? Clay Spann Photography


Dreams are funny things. We all have them. Some may not have the opportunity to go after their dreams. Some may be overwhelmed by circumstances and just cannot seem to find a way. Some may just feel they are only dreams and can’t be made into reality. But others actually chase after and pursue their dreams as an attainable goal. I have been blessed because my dream of being Mrs. International has come true and the experience has been, to this point, dreamlike. And one of the best things is that the perks just keep coming. I remember sitting at orientation during pageant week and listening to director, Mary Richardson, talk about the “official photo shoot for the new queen”…and last week I did just that! I had the amazing opportunity to be in front of Clay Spann’s camera and this time as Mrs. International 2010!


I will be the first to tell you that true beauty comes from the inside. But I also know that we all feel our best when we look our best. This is where Clay goes a step beyond being an expert in photography to being a masterful artist. Master painters will say they don’t paint the picture, the picture is already there. They simply bring it to life. That is the way I felt when I was in Clay’s chair. He seemed to bring the best out of me for the camera to see. He didn’t make me into something I was not, but rather found the best in me through the lens of his camera. His talent level absolutely amazes me!


In addition, it was just plain fun. I felt like a true Hollywood star during my time at the Competitive Image and had so much fun with my fabulous director, Mary Richardson, the beautiful Miss Teen International, Juliana McKee, and the entire team at the Competitive Image…Joey, Clay and Terri. Thank you all for making me feel like true royalty! It was experience of a lifetime!

Shannon Devine

Friday, August 27, 2010

Visit to the Children’s Center at John’s Hopkins Hospital


On Tuesday, August 17, 2010, I was scheduled to visit another children’s ward in a hospital. Though I had gotten a bad night’s sleep and had woken up with a migraine headache, I knew that those complaints were nothing compared to what some of the children who I would be meeting dealt with on a daily basis.


This particular hospital’s pediatric ward is especially close to my heart because my cousin Katie is admitted there a few times a year for Cystic Fibrosis, which manifests in her pancreas. When Katie was younger, certain foods would send her into “attacks” which caused unbearable stomach pain and caused her blood cell counts to be dangerously unbalanced. We had no idea what was wrong but after visits to John’s Hopkins, she was eventually diagnosed with Pancreatitis, which they recently linked to a rare genetic form of Cystic Fibrosis. Thanks to John’s Hopkins, Katie is now able to regulate her condition by eating a diet of no-fat and very low-fat foods, and in turn, she is able to live a normal life.


When I got to John’s Hopkins, I quickly forgot about my headache and fatigue. Let me tell you, the best cure for feeling under the weather may well be the look on a small child’s face when they realize that you don’t want to run tests or talk about their ailment, but instead that all you want to do is play with them and talk about their favorite color, their favorite tv show, and what they want to be when they grow up. I have been so inspired by the children I met in the past week who have maintained a positive outlook on life, even facing extreme adversity. I am reminded how blessed I am to be healthy and to remember to live every day to the fullest and to take advantage of all of the amazing opportunities I am given, especially during my reign as Miss Teen International 2010.

Juliana McKee

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Visit to the Pediatric Ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center


On Monday, August 16, 2010, I visited the Pediatric Ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Though meeting, playing with, and talking to the children there was fun, it was also heartbreaking to see such young children confined to a hospital on a beautiful summer day.


I’ve added the children I met to my daily prayer list and I hope that they all get better and are able to lead long, healthy, happy lives. If you ever have the opportunity to volunteer with ill children, I hope you embrace that chance to allow the strength, happiness, and wisdom that they possess in spite of their age and health inspire you to grab your own life by the reins and live every day that you are blessed with to the fullest!


Juliana McKee

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Care for Carey 5K: Part 2

As I stated in an earlier blog post, Mrs. International is truly a job of service and together, with my family, I have the opportunity to champion many causes and ultimately change lives.

The Care For Carey 5K was held this past Saturday and the event was a HUGE success. I am so proud of my husband, Jason, for coordinating such a successful event for Carey Heavner. Carey is an 11 year old girl in our community who has cancer. To read more about Carey’s story visit her Caring Bridge www.caringbridge.org/visit/careyheavner

Jason & I would like to sincerely thank everyone who came out to support Carey and her family! We were truly overwhelmed with the turn-out and the support from our community.

Care for Carey 5K

Jason thanks the large crowd for coming to support Carey. The Heavner family is standing to Jason’s right

Racing to the Finish Line

Showing support for Carey. 100% of proceeds will help pay Carey’s medical bills

Can You Say ADORABLE!


A HUGE “thank you” to Mrs. NC International Cynthia Griner and her family for their help on race day. Her son is pictured with Halle-Grace (above) and Cynthia’s husband, Joe, ran in the Care For Carey 5K.

Until next post, God Bless,

Shannon Devine

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Trip to Dothan, Alabama

When I first began pageants about a year and a half ago, I was deluged with a laundry list of things to obtain, practice, and do. Walking, interviewing, headshots, wardrobe, shoes, jewelry, paperwork, hair, makeup; it all seemed very daunting. My mom and I started looking up local photographers and set up a photo shoot. A short while later, a friend started telling me about a photographer named Clay Spann and how she was dying to take a trip down to Alabama to get her pictures taken by him. Then, she explained that his business partner, Joey, owned a pageant boutique which outfitted girls with the most fabulous winning pageant wardrobes, and was also located in Alabama. I think my first response was something along the lines of “ALABAMA?! Did you forget we live all the way up in Maryland?”

As she laughed at my astonishment, she typed into her web browser www.clayspann.com and www.thecompetitiveimage.com. On Clay’s website, she opened a gallery full of headshots that he had taken. As she scrolled down the page slowly, showing me each picture, I realized that they all had something in common: they were all absolutely stunning. Now, when I say “stunning”, I don’t mean plain old nicely made up and put together looking, and I don’t mean “stunning compared to how she usually looks”; each face was perfectly made up so that the women looked naturally flawless. Each was dressed to complement her skin tone, shape, and hair, and each outfit was perfectly accessorized. I realized that what each of the pictures had in common was the fact that they looked like a picture in a magazine.

I knew that a trip to Alabama had just made its way onto my laundry list. My mother, however, did not quite agree. She told me that we could find photographers and dress shops in Maryland and DC and that a trip to Alabama was expensive and unnecessary. For the next year, we tried photographer after photographer all over the DC metro area and were never happy with the product of the photo shoots. Finally, in April 2010, we planned a trip to Dothan, Alabama!

From the moment I walked into The Competitive Image, I was given the full royal treatment. Hair, makeup, and styling were all done for me and the shoot was fun and upbeat. By the time I left that evening, I had a cd of proof pictures in-hand. When my mom and I arrived home we eagerly loaded the cd into the computer and began to look through all of the proofs. Now, I’ll admit that I am by no means photogenic. Candid photos of me generally turn out alright but put me in a photo shoot and you’re left with a search for a useable picture. However, when I looked at the pictures that Clay had taken, I almost began to cry, I was finally photogenic!

My parents both decided that the trip to Alabama had been well worth it. I felt more confident competing at nationals knowing that my pictures really allowed me to put my best foot forward and make a great first impression.

Last Wednesday through Friday I was honored and overjoyed to be a part of the 2010 International queens’ photo shoots with Clay! Returning for a second shoot with him, I felt comfortable and in my element. I put all of my effort into just having fun with the shoot and was amazed by the results. Looking at the proofs was like looking at high fashion ads in a magazine- I am so excited to see the finished products on www.missteeninternational.us , the Miss Teen International Pageant program book next July, my autograph cards, and various other media throughout the year!

While it is true that pictures and wardrobe do not win a pageant, they represent you. Having pictures and a wardrobe that you are proud of allows you to open up and let your true confidence, personality, and inner beauty shine through.

If I could go back to March 2009, when I was preparing for my first pageant, I would take that trip to Alabama in a heartbeat! And to those of you who have been contemplating your own trip to The Competitive Image, or one of their trunk shows scheduled across the country throughout this year, I encourage you to schedule that trip as soon as you can! A trip to The Competitive Image is truly an investment in your future as a contestant, and otherwise.

Juliana McKee

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Perks of Pageantry


The motivation behind my entry into pageantry, and the thing that continues to drive my competition and appearances is the opportunity to use “the power of the sash and crown” as a podium and microphone to allow me to reach out to people everywhere and make a difference. I so am grateful for this opportunity and hope that I never forget to make the most of it. However, there are some amazing opportunities and experiences, which are not related to my platform or volunteering, that the crown and sash have afforded me. These are experiences which I never would have imagined possible otherwise, and I will surely never forget them!

For the last two years I have been a part of the National Independence Day Parade, riding down Washington DC’s Constitution Avenue on the back of a convertible, waving to the crowds.


What young girl doesn’t dream of being the “princess” on the convertible in the big parade? I have to admit to you that I sure had that dream as a little girl, and the dream has become a reality in an almost magical way!


On another occasion I was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals Major League Baseball game. There I was (in sash and crown, of course!), walking out to the pitcher’s mound at Nationals Park, hearing my name and title being announced for everyone in the stadium as well as everyone watching on network television. After throwing the ball to the catcher, I walked off the field to call my parents who told me they had already received calls and texts from friends who were surprised and delighted to see me throw out that ball on television.


During DC Fashion Week, I accepted an invitation to be a part of the festivities, including being announced by name and title as flashbulbs popped and I posed in front of the DC Fashion Week backdrop on a red carpet- I felt like such a celebrity!


On Bastille Day, I was a guest of honor at the French Embassy. The French were fascinated with having a pageant queen there, and my Mother and I were both treated like queens. Every time I turned around there were more people asking about the International pageant system and my platform. When the time came for us to leave, I had no choice but to slip off the crown and sash and store them safely in their case so as to stop attracting attention long enough to politely make our departure. The hospitality at the French Embassy was truly wonderful and gracious, and we definitely look forward to continuing our relationship with them and the rest of the Washington diplomatic community!

In sharing these fun and delightful experiences with you, I hope I prompt you to think about the opportunities pageantry offers. If you are someone contemplating entering the world of pageantry, I hope you seriously consider what I regard to be the very best system of all: the International pageant system. I was compelled to start my journey into pageantry by International’s mission of service to others and have never wanted to leave it! When you are successful in winning a title, I hope you use “the power of the sash and crown” to really make your own mark on your community and the world. I am only blessed with one year to serve as Miss Teen International and not only I am determined to make the absolute most of my year, but hope that I can also inspire you to make the most of your own year, whether you are a titleholder or not.

Juliana McKee

Friday, August 20, 2010

Miss Victoria Pageant

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to be a judge at the Miss Victoria pageant. This pageant highlights girls ages 4-20 in the areas of interview, casual wear modeling, & evening gown. I was so excited when I was requested to be a judge for two reasons. First because I got to judge with my sister queen, Sydney Datcher, & our other sister queen was there helping out as well – it was a family affair. And second because I truly believe in the power of pageants, & if you are reading this blog, I’m hoping you feel the same way!



I can honestly say that without the benefit of competing in pageants throughout my life I would not be the same person I am today. From these competitions I have definitely gained the obvious: self-confidence. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that all the areas of competition help to promote a woman’s self-confidence! However, there are other maybe less obvious benefits I have found in these competitions: interviews, networking, poise, thinking on your feet, meeting new people, determination, & even learning how to deal with the disappointment of not achieving a goal that you have worked so hard for.

I hope the ladies at the Miss Victoria pageant found the weekend fun, challenging, & rewarding! I am extremely proud of all of them. Here I am with the new Miss Victoria, Avery Greene.


Congratulations to her & to all of the contestants! I hope Avery continues to grow throughout the year & that she uses this new title to help out & make appearances in her community. Seeing this many accomplished & determined young ladies in one room is truly inspiring! I can’t wait until my next judging opportunity! :)
 
Ashley Smith

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Greatest Love Story of All Time...

Our adoption story began in 2006. My husband, Jason and I realized we would become parents through the miracle of adoption early in our marriage. Through many losses, heartaches, sleepless nights, tears, shame, and guilt, I woke up one morning and said, “OK Lord, I get it! You want me to carry our child in my heart!” Through many trials, God was simply preparing us for the journey to our daughter, a journey that would eventually place us in a 3rd world country for an indefinite amount of time.


When we answered the call to build our family through the miracle of adoption we had no idea how many twists and turns the journey would take. The wait was incredibly hard, heartbreaking, and at times, seemed absolutely impossible! After a country change, failed domestic adoption attempts, and even being victims to an adoption scam, it’s nothing short of a “miracle” and shear determination that we found ourselves adopting the most beautiful little girl from a Northern Province in Vietnam on September 1, 2008.


There were so many obstacles along the way and our journey was not an easy one, to be honest, it was the most difficult thing we ever imagined! Not only did our journey have twists and turns there were many “close calls”. Just to give you an idea…the day our application was received at Carolina Adoption Services (CAS) to adopt from Vietnam, CAS closed the Vietnam program! Luckily, we were able to remain in the program only because our application was post marked before that date. We quickly compiled our Dossier and it was logged in Vietnam on September 13, 2007. We were told by our first coordinator that we should receive our referral of an infant girl, 3 months old or younger by November 2007 and travel in December. We were so excited! We made sure her nursery was ready and clothes were in her closet.

In November 2007, the USCIS changed the format for I-600 approvals between the United States and Vietnam. What did this mean for us? We would not be traveling in December 2007 or January 2008 and we were now behind a multitude of other families to receive a referral and by this time we were on coordinator #3! We were told to expect to travel by spring of 08. Months came and went with no word from USCIS. On July 19, 2008, we received heartbreaking news. USCIS had issued a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) which basically said, “Go find a birth mother”. 43 other families received the exact same letter that day. We were devastated but we knew one thing, not bringing Halle-Grace home was not an option! We were beyond determined to continue the fight, not only for our daughter but for 43 other children who remained institutionalized in the Tuyen Quang orphanage. After weeks of fighting for the children, which included a trip to Capitol Hill where Jason presented our story in front of Senators, Congressional leaders and staffers across the country we finally said “enough is enough”. Our daughter was now 9 months old and we were determined to bring her home!

In order to do so, we had to sign a “risk waiver” stating that we fully understood and were prepared to live outside of the US for two years or until Halle-Grace received a US visa. As a military wife, I was accustomed to being away from Jason but I knew this would be very different. Even so, the decision for me was a no-brainer; I was determined to be with my daughter. She needed me as much as I needed her! We signed the paperwork and boarded a plane in late August, 2008, and adopted Halle-Grace two days after the plane landed in Vietnam.

This photo was taken just minutes after we met Halle-Grace face to face at her orphanage in Tuyen Quang, Vietnam.

Jason holding our tiny miracle after our “Giving & Receiving Ceremony” on the drive back to Hanoi

After weeks of living in our daughter's birth country and learning about her beautiful heritage, Halle-Grace received her US visa on September 30th. We immediately made plans to be reunited with Jason in the US.


God’s perfect plan for our family had prevailed through all the twists, turns, and close calls. We were determined and He was faithful!

Although it is not my blood that flows through my daughter's veins it is in fact her heart that beats inside my chest. From the moment our agency matched her to us I no longer lived for myself, but rather, for Halle-Grace. Regardless of the worldly means by which she came to us, there is NO DOUBT in my mind our family was created in Heaven.

Adoption made us complete…
 
In my eyes, this is the greatest LOVE story of all time…

Until next post, God Bless,

Shannon Devine

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Empire State of Mind

Holy Cow!!! Check out my picture up in Times Square in New York City!


I need to give a big Thank You to everyone at the Mrs International Pageants & our PR Firm for making this happen. What a wonderful opportunity for me. This is something that happens once in a lifetime! Thank you!

Ashley Smith

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Delaware Boys & Girls Club Visit


On August 12th, I visited the Boys and Girls Club in Dagsboro Delaware. I spoke to a group of second, third, and fourth graders about living a healthy lifestyle on behalf of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.


I shared my own story of losing my 12 year old cousin to heart disease and how it inspired me to re-evaluate my own lifestyle and realize that I hadn’t been taking care of my heart.


I told them that not all children are born with healthy hearts and that those born with healthy hearts should take full advantage of their luck and take care of their hearts.


They shared ideas of easy changes they could make in their food and eating choices, recreational activities, and even things like sleeping habits to positively alter their lifestyles and take care of their hearts.


The warmth, enthusiasm, and respect that they showed really made the visit great and reminded me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to reach out to so many children and not only share my story and inspire them, but also hear their stories and be inspired myself.


Juliana McKee