Monday, August 31, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

On Wednesday night, August 26th, I had the honor of throwing the first pitch as Miss Teen International. Not only did I have the pleasure of signing autographs and taking pictures with Arkansas Traveler fans, but I also got to throw the first pitch with Arkansas Governer Asa Hutchison. Of course I didn't want to outshine the Govenor! He even said “Tomorrow's headline reads, Teen Queen throws better than the Governor.” Let's just say that is not what the headlines read. In addition to Governor Hutchison, I was also honored to throw the first pitch with a young boy named Braden who is in need of a kidney. He was a little nervous but he got up to the mound and outshined the governor and me! He threw 47 miles an hour!

The Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchison.

Arkansas Travelers' catcher, Governor Asa, Braden and me.

Josiah, the 'real king.'

There are a lot of hard workers on the diamond at the Arkansas Travelers. They make everything on game night possible and I could not be more grateful for their hard work. Mr. Lance never fails to make me laugh. Mr. Russ Meeks, President of the Arkansas Travelers, is such an amazing person and my experience at the ballgame couldn't have been possible with out him. Thank you guys so much for all you do!

The incredibly fun Mr. Lance

The President Mr. Russ.

In addition to our fun on the mound, my best friend accompanied me to the ballgame. She has supported me through everything. I couldn't ask for a better friend who videos all of my appearances and drops everything to watch me throw the first pitch last minute. My loving parents and the people I like to call my “second parents,” my state director and her husband, Mr. Rick and Mrs. Bernee Thurow, were also there to support me! The only way I can describe the one and only International system is a family.

Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says “I'm possible.”

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Back to School Lunch Ideas

As a mom of three children, I know how hard packing lunches can be. When you have very picky eaters that can make it even more difficult. By the end of last year, I felt like I was sending them the same boring lunch every time I packed their cute Pottery Barn lunch boxes and they were only going two days a week! This year, the boys will be attending mother’s morning out 3 days and our little girl will go 2 days. I want to arm myself with more fun, colorful and healthy lunches this year and I’m hoping this will help some of you moms, working girls and even you sweet teens that don’t want to eat cafeteria food.

I’m not sure if I’m late to the game or if it’s because we have younger kids, but I discovered bento boxes last year and I love them. They make it so convenient to pack lots of different options for your babies or yourself to nibble on at lunch time. Okay next, what healthy items are we going to put in our lunch boxes? How about a peanut butter banana whole wheat wrap, with kiwi, blueberries, grapes and carrots on the side. Another yummy, hopefully new favorite, could be an almond butter and honey sandwich with greek yogurt and more berries. My kids love fruit so it has always been a big staple in our meals. What about ants on a log? Just take a stalk of celery, spread with peanut butter and make your ants out of raisins.

Is your lunch zone a nut free zone? When I was growing up I don’t remember ever having any issues with bringing peanut butter to school, but now more and more schools are going nut free. Don’t worry, here are a few ideas to get you started. Try a hummus (my kids LOVE it) and spinach sandwich. Throw in some cherry tomatoes and sweet potato fries for sides. (If your child is missing the peanut butter on his or her sandwich try substituting it for sunflower seed butter). Also, try sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cubed cheese, grapes and blueberries. This option is especially great for picky eaters since it has lots of options for them. Don’t forget to pack their water for lunch and not sugary drinks.

It is so important to teach our kids from a young age to eat healthy and to practice portion control. I hope this helps to get the ball rolling when you are at the grocery store next. If you are a creative mom, don’t forget you can make your child’s lunch look like a masterpiece as well. I would love to see it, so take a picture and post it on my facebook page!

Until the Mission is Complete,


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Value in Pageantry

I am often asked why I compete in pageants. Every "pageant girl" has a different reason for why they are going after the crown, and I thought I would share mine.

At the age of 15, I was extremely shy and it terrified me to have to talk to people I did not know. My family tried different ways to break me out of my shell, but nothing seemed to help long-term. So when I received a letter in the mail to compete in a pageant, my family was shocked when I actually wanted to do it. I remember my cousin saying "You know you will be in front of people, right?!" My goal for competing that year, and for the next couple of years after that, were purely for the purpose of being more comfortable in front of people. I knew that if I didn't learn how to present myself in front of others, I would struggle as an adult.

After competing for a couple of years, and learning how to be comfortable in my own skin, I wanted to win! And it was not because of the crown and sash... It was because of the opportunities that came with the crown and sash. I would see titleholders go out in their community and volunteer their time for so many wonderful organizations. I knew that I did not have to have a crown to be able to volunteer, as I have been volunteering since the age of 3, but I knew that the crown could open certain doors that would allow me to serve others in a different capacity.

With the titles I have been blessed to have, and from all my years in pageantry, I learned how to carry myself with confidence, how to comfortably engage with others, determine what I'm passionate about and how to convey my passion to others. I learned how to stay focused on my dreams and how to persevere when it seemed like my dreams would never happen. I learned how to lose gracefully, as there were times when the crown did not even come close to being on my head! But most importantly, I learned that although the crowns and sashes have helped me in so many areas in my life, the one the I will always wear and that will have the most weight is the crown that identifies me as a child of God. He is ultimately the one that gave me the courage to compete in my first pageant, which would shape the person I am today. He is the one that showed me how to use the crown to serve others, and for that I am eternally grateful!

Wishing each of you a blessed and wonderful week,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Here in the south Friday night football is a big deal. From a cheerleader's perspective it is my favorite sport to cheer for during the school year. At the beginning of every season the “pump up music” even makes the cheerleaders pumped, the smell of freshly cut grass fills the air, and the fathers cooking burgers on the grill never fails to make me say, “Aww it's football season!!!”

Recently we had our opening football tournament where each team plays three other teams in our district. This is to let all the teams get comfortable and to show us all where we stand for the rest of the season. Not to brag, but the Lee Academy Cougars were the only team to win a game. Which made us very proud!

Last week we had our first real football game. We were tied for a while but the opposing team scored two touch downs on us before the game was over. Teammates were encouraging everyone to keep trying and to never give up! It made me proud seeing those boys pick their teammates up. It inspired me to encourage everyone, not just in the south, to never give up when things don't go as planned. Even if you do not win every game in life, do not make excuses, make results! In every situation the worst that could happen would be giving up. Win or lose, there is always someone supporting you!

Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says “I'm possible.” -Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Knowing the Difference: PTS vs TBI

With roughly 21 million veterans in the United States right now and even more worldwide, I thought it would be good to arm ourselves with a little bit of knowledge regarding the difference between post-traumatic stress (PTS) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in increased numbers of Veteran’s that have a TBI and many people do not know that for veterans that have been diagnosed with a TBI there is about a 40% higher chance they will also have PTS as well. Because there is a symptom overlap between the two, it is difficult to diagnosis the underlying problem.

Lets start with traumatic brain injury. A traumatic brain injury is defined as:
  • Mild traumatic brain injury is defined as a loss or alteration of consciousness < 30 minutes, post-traumatic amnesia < 24 hours, focal neurologic deficits that may or may not be transient, and/or Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) of 13-15. 
  • Moderate traumatic brain injuries entail loss of consciousness > 30 minutes, post-traumatic amnesia > 24 hours, and an initial GCS 9-12. 
  • Severe brain injuries entail all of the moderate criteria listed above, but with a GCS < 9. 

Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may include headache, confusion, blurred vision, behavior or mood changes, a change in sleep patterns, slurred speech, convulsions or seizures, depression, anxiety, personality changes.

Next, Post-Traumatic Stress is an anxiety disorder that a person may develop after experiencing or witnessing an extreme, overwhelming traumatic event during which they felt intense fear, helplessness, or horror

There are four types of symptoms of PTS:
  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms, example flashbacks of negative event, nightmares)
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal, example having a hard time sleeping or concentrating)

As you can see, there are multiple overlapping symptoms so it may be difficult to diagnose correctly, as it was the case when Justin received his initial diagnosis. TBI treatment can also be overlapped with the different treatments used for PTS. Luckily, with the advancement in these treatments, the lives of our nation’s greatest can prove to be successful. If you know of veterans experiencing these symptoms, even if they have had their veteran status for many years, point them in the direction of a VA. It is important that they get the help they need and deserve.

Until the Mission is Complete,

Farabe' Algor
Mrs. International 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

25 Things You Didn't Know About Texas!

The great thing about having two of your International queens from TEXAS, is that you get a 2nd dose of TEXAS facts! Farabe’ did a wonderful job going through our history and fun things to do in the state! If you have not read her blog, be sure to check it out!

If you have ever read US Weekly, you will know they have a section called “25 Things You Didn’t Know About [insert celebrity name]”. So I thought I would entitle this blog, “25 Things You Didn’t Know About TEXAS!”

1. TEXAS comes from the Spanish word “Tejas” which means allies or friends! Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet are right here in this great state.

2. The largest city in TEXAS is Houston (my hometown), and Houston is the 4th largest city in the country. However, if you have to endure the commute that I have to work, you would think it was the largest city in the world!

3. TEXAS is the only state that has had six countries rule over it. Hence the name of the theme park “Six Flags over Texas”.

4. The nation’s largest church (and my home church since the age of 2) resides in TEXAS! If you are ever in Houston, I would love for you to attend Lakewood Church with me! We will make you feel right at home and you can meet my pastor, Joel Osteen!

Being baptized by my Pastor!

5. The world’s largest freestanding statute of an American is in TEXAS! Sam Houston was the first president and first governor of Texas! A statue of Sam Houston called a “Tribute to Courage” is located on I-45 between Houston and Dallas. (Side note: When I would drive to and from Baylor University for college, I would pass the statue and would always wave at Sam!)

6. Matthew McConaughey was born in TEXAS and still lives in Austin…you’re welcome!

7. The Astrodome (located in Houston, TEXAS) is considered an 8th “Wonder of the World” due to its dome-shaped roof.

8. Houston has the world’s best medical center. Although I hope none of you reading this will ever have to use it, the resources, research and miracles that occur at the TEXAS Medical Center are like none other and world-renowned.

9. TEXAS is home to some of the top Universities in the country, including Rice University, University of TEXAS – Austin and Baylor University (my alma mater…Sic ‘em Bears!)

10. The TEXAS Rangers are the oldest law enforcement agency in North America with statewide jurisdiction. The TEXAS Rangers museum is located in Waco, TEXAS. John Wayne and Church Norris are honorary TEXAS Rangers!

11. Blue Bell ice cream is from TEXAS and will be back on shelves at the end of August…Again, you’re welcome!

12. Miriam A “Ma” Ferguson was the first female governor of TEXAS and the second woman elected governor of any state. Never underestimate the power of a woman!

13. TEXAS was just found to have the 2nd largest cockroaches in the country. They can primarily be found in Houston.

14. In TEXAS, our state shrub is a crape myrtle, our state dance is the square dance, our state vegetable is an onion, and our state flying mammal is the free-tailed bat. I find this all very interesting because I did not even know states had their own shrub, dance, vegetable or flying mammal! LOL!

15. Want to go to the largest rodeo? Come on down to Houston, TEXAS where you will be entertained by the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. The rodeo is so big, that celebrities attend and entertainers perform at each show. Come join me next year for a good time!

16. The “father” of TEXAS is Stephen Fuller Austin. A university is named after him and located in Nacogdoches, TEXAS.

17. TEXAS boasts the largest of all state capitol buildings. It is constructed using 15,000 carloads of pink granite. The dome on the capitol building in Austin is 7 feet higher than the capitol building in Washington, D.C. Go big or go home!

18. In TEXAS, it is illegal to put graffiti on someone else’s cow. I mean that should just be common sense!

19. The world’s largest parking lot is located in TEXAS at DFW airport. Good luck finding your car!

20. Seventy-five percent of the world’s Snickers bars are made in Waco, TEXAS at the M&M/Mars Plant. (Side note: Did not even know this plant was in Waco until my last year at Baylor! Only reason why I didn’t gain the “Freshman 15”!)

21. The first suspension bridge in the United States is located in TEXAS! Since it is still being used today, you can go to Waco to see it!

22. No, we do not ride horses to work in TEXAS. Yes, we do say “y’all” multiple times in regular conversations! And the fact that this is the first time that I’ve said “y’all” in this blog is a sin!

23. More wool comes from the state of TEXAS than any other state in the United States. Which is funny because with this TEXAS heat, we are probably least likely to have wool jackets!

24. El Paso, TEXAS is actually closer to Needles, California than it is to Dallas. So needless to say, if you take a road trip in TEXAS, you’re bound to say “Are we there yet?”!

25. In April 2016, three queens will have to give up their crowns to their successors. To find out who will win, come to TEXAS!!!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Arkansas Fun Facts

I certainly have to express my pride for living in the Natural State by informing everyone about a few Arkansas Fun Facts:
  • Diamonds were first discovered in Arkansas, and Arkansas remains the only state in which tourists can dig for their own diamonds to keep. 
  • Arkansas is home to several “World Capitals” for example Hope, Arkansas is the Watermelon Capital of the World, Stuttgart, Arkansas is the Duck Calling Capital of the World and hosts the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest of which I have attended a preliminary round. 
  • Native Arkansan Freeman Owens is the first person to ever add sound to film. 
  • It is actually illegal for the Arkansas River to rise above the Main Street Bridge in Little Rock.
  • Arkansas is home to Walmart!
  • The mispronunciation of the state name is strictly prohibited by law. It is “Ar-kan-saw.” 
  • The one and only Johnny Cash was born and raised in Arkansas. 
  • The Little Rock Nine that took place in the historic Little Rock Central High School influenced many people around the nation.
  • The famous author John Grisham was born in Arkansas and lived throughout Northeast Arkansas. I am proudly a resident of this part of the state. 
  • Arkansas is also home to Dillard's, one of the top department stores in the country.
  • Now we can also say that Arkansas is home to the Miss Teen International three-peat!
Arkansas also has many places to visit such as several nature parks, camps, and adventure/water parks. For years my family's favorite place to vacation has been Greers Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas. We own a pontoon boat that we absolutely enjoy tubing, wakeboarding, water skiing, and kneeboarding behind and of course just floating!

One of my favorite things about living in Arkansas is the school spirit. I can remember wearing my Arkansas Razorback cheerleading uniform when I was a little girl and have dreamed of becoming a student at the University of Arkansas all my life. I hope to fulfill that dream someday! Woo Pig Sooey!

Another thing I have gained from being a native Arkansan would have to be my southern accent. I do not know whether to define it as a good or bad trait, but I have tried my best to tone it down.

I hope everyone has the chance to visit Arkansas at one point in their life!

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'" - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Where We've Come From

I was thinking back on my journey to what got me where I am today. It wasn’t a long, over thought process honestly. Don’t get me wrong. I have been living my platform for 7 years now and we have been actively making strides for the betterment of our veterans long before I decided to put my pageant heels back on. I met my state director, Rachel Hedstrom, a few years back when she was actually Mrs. Texas International. We kept in touch over the years, but I had no desire to compete in pageants again. I put the brakes on that when I was in my young 20’s or so I thought.

After having our little girl, I couldn’t wait for her to be in her first pageant. My husband wasn’t having it which made me more determined for him to see how amazing a pageant could be… for a young girl. I emailed Rachel, who was now a state director for the International pageants just to see if she knew of anything for our sweet little girl. She didn’t, but somehow convinced me to meet her at Starbucks to talk about ME entering a MRS. Pageant. Boy, did that backfire on Justin. Ha! With only a week until the state deadline and one month before the actual pageant, I decided to bite the bullet and compete again. Justin was totally fine with it shockingly. I googled everything I could possibly find about the International pageant and loved everything I saw. I knew what my platform was going to be, clearly, but what in the world was a platform sheet I thought. Google quickly became my best friend until I received my official Texas contestant handbook in the mail the next week. Now, three weeks away from the big weekend. Luckily, Rachel had the state sponsors listed and I was able to convince them to take me on out of pity I think.

The point of this is, don’t over think doing something that you want to do. If you set your mind to do it, do it all the way. I had the odds, and time, against me. I knew I wanted to win because I put myself in that mindset the day I committed to doing the state pageant. With that being said, I also knew that if I didn’t win I would survive and still be me. The same wife, mother and veterans advocate. A crown would never change that and you shouldn’t allow it to change you either. If your goal is to compete and win your state title OR become the next Mrs. International 2016, start working towards that goal now. I love Blair’s sign off, “If you believe in something, believe in it all the way.” Believe in yourself and prove to YOU that you can be and do whatever it is that you have set your mind to.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Plans for My Year as Miss International

I’m so excited to share the plans that I have for my year! After I won Miss Texas International, I sat down to think about how my year would look. Winning Miss International allowed me to create an “extension” plan as I would have a few extra months to carry out my original goals! Here are some of the things that you will see during my year:

- I work very closely with the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and am currently their Texas Ambassador. I will continue to work with them on our joint effort to break the stigma associated with mental illness. Since NAMI has a national presence, I have the ability to visit their other offices throughout the United States in order to connect with state directors and board members to focus on expanding the outreach of my platform 'Healthy Mind, Successful Life' in their areas.. NAMI also has invited me to be a speaker at two of the NAMI conferences coming up this Fall where over 4,000 mental health professionals will be in attendance. I am beyond thrilled about this opportunity, because although I will be there as Miss International, this is a huge step forward in my career too!

- I also work with H.U.G.S. For Autism and am their official spokesperson until 2017. We specifically work on making sure students with autism have the accommodations they need to be successful at school without having to worry about bullying and judgment. The “No Bull” Pledge is used for any student to make a commitment to not bully or not be a bystander to bullying. We will continue to go into schools to make sure students understand the effects of bullying and have them take the pledge! 

- In my efforts to “start the conversation” about mental health, I will be going to schools to talk to students about mental illness and being comfortable asking for help. I will teach them positive coping skills that they can use in their daily lives to hopefully be able to reduce the symptoms they are experiencing and eliminate the need for professional help. However, since I am fully aware that the need for professional help will more than likely be here to stay, I will continue to provide people with the resources that are available for them. As Miss Texas International, I started visiting different facilities in order to meet with staff and know what is available for those who need professional services and I will continue to do this as Miss International. Although I am a licensed therapist, and even refer patients to different facilities, there are still resources that I am not aware of. So this has been a wonderful learning experience for me too!

- I have had wonderful opportunities to meet celebrities over the years. I have realized how much influence they have over our society. So I thought, why not include them in a conversation to talk about how they maintain their mental health in the hopes that others will follow in their footsteps. Right before the Miss International pageant, I was able to conduct an interview with Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, and his interview is posted on my personal website I am very excited about the interviews I have planned for this year and can’t wait to share them with you!

- Finally, I will work with the American Heart Association to continue to encourage people to live heart healthy lives. The interesting thing about it is a lot of the tips that are given to stay “heart healthy” are also ways to stay mentally healthy! I have been able to attend a fundraising luncheon and a gala in the last couple of months, and it has been really encouraging to see people financially give in order for the AHA to continue the research that is needed to save lives. Since I have gone through the AHA media training, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to speak on heart issues in support of the Go Red Campaign. 

I am so excited about what this year holds and the opportunities that will come my way. I also love how my platform fits in with my sister queens platforms too! Due to the fact that I have worked with veterans with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), I fully support Farabe’ in her mission to help those who have fought for our country. I'm excited to join her next weekend for what will be a great event! Since my parents have incorporated volunteerism in my life since I was 3 years old, I applaud Jules’ efforts to encourage people to go out and volunteer! I always encourage my patients to volunteer and gain new perspectives on life. I can’t wait to help her reach some of her platform goals as well! I have also been connected with Houston Rockets Dwight Howard’s foundation D12 and Breathe Again. I really appreciate the support they have given me these last few months and I believe there is tremendous potential to continue to bring our platforms together over the next year!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Year

As Miss Teen International, I plan to spread awareness of the great need for volunteers and encourage teens to spend a few hours with a group of friends doing a random act of kindness to help others. There are so many organizations worldwide that need volunteers.. ten millon to be exact! We CAN make a difference if we each were to help just one of these groups. I want to educate teens about how we can be the change we want to see.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” A quote from John F. Kennedy that greatly but simply explains what I want to encourage. A song that has had a great influence on my life would be Michael Jackson's Man In The Mirror, if you have never heard it here are some of the Lyrics,

“I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
take a look at yourself and then make a change”

Just the pairing of these words made a huge impact on me and a huge goal for my year is to have the same impact on others to “start with the man in the mirror!”

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'" - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Everything is bigger in Texas. That couldn’t be truer of a statement. We moved to Texas three and a half years ago, after living in Utah and Georgia before that. While we did love the great outdoors of Utah and being closer to family in Georgia, we are thrilled with calling Texas home .We live about 25 minutes from Dallas. The town we are in has grown exponentially in the past few years. If we didn’t want to leave our mini city, we truly would not have to because we have everything we need to keep us fed, clothed and entertained.

Texas geography occupies about 7% of the United States and is the second largest state after Alaska. From the Coastal Plains area extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Plains area in the Panhandle, Texas truly has a region that most everyone would enjoy, especially if you crave 105 degree weather in the summer. As I am writing this, the meteorologist says we are getting a cool down. We are expected to drop to 97!

Originally its own country, called the Republic of Texas, we decided to join the rest of the United States on December 29, 1845. Our beautiful state flower is the bluebonnet and they are gorgeous! Everyone here loves to have their pictures made in bluebonnet fields in the spring. The mockingbird is our state bird and definitely has one of the prettiest songs of any bird native to North America.

If someone was coming to visit Texas for the first time there are definitely some stops I would recommend. First, head straight to Austin, the state capital. In Austin you will find lots of amazing organic restaurants, beautiful architecture, and some sort of festival almost every weekend. 

Next, head south about 75 miles to San Antonio. Here you will be able to stroll along the historic river walk for more yummy food and lots of shopping. You can even take a water taxi from one end to the other to get the full experience. 

A short drive from the river walk is the Alamo where The Battle of the Alamo took place and where Texas took the victory over Mexico to receive its freedom. After visiting the historic parts of San Antonio, make sure to drive over to Brooke Army Medical Center. BAMC has 40 beds that are designated for its burn victims. The hospital and staff provide comprehensive care for more than 250,000 military beneficiaries living throughout the area. A drive to Houston is up next where you will be able to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This will probably be the kids’ favorite stop! 

Two hundred forty miles north will take you to Dallas. In Dallas, you guessed it, more great food. Food trucks, ethnic food, and the best steaks you will ever have. 

I hope you brought your cowboy boots because you have to experience a real life Texas rodeo at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

As you can see, Texas has lots to do for everyone. I also encourage you to attend the Mrs., Miss, and Teen Texas International pageant April 8-10. I’m looking forward to visiting your state soon. I hope you have yummy food.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pageant Week

Last week I had someone tell me “Wow, you just went in and won your state title and the international title like it was nothing. You make it look easy!”

Although the comment was flattering, it could not have been further from the truth! There were many times during my years in pageantry when the crown was placed on another contestant's head and not mine, but that taught me great life lessons. You see, when the crown was placed on my head on August 1st, that moment captured 12 years of hard work, persistence and prayers. It really was a dream that came true!

So you may wonder, what it was like to finally fulfill a dream. Well, let’s rewind for a minute….

The beginning of pageant week started on a high note, as I came in early to watch the Mrs. International pageant. Although I was excited to see all the women compete, I was a little biased since my sister queen was competing! By the end of the night, my sister queen, Farabe’ Algor was now the international queen! My teen sister queen and I could not have been more thrilled for her! But I will admit, the pressure was now on!

I am really glad that I came early as I was able to take that Sunday before pageant week started to be able to rest. I slept in, went to brunch with my family, worked on my personal website and then spent time in prayer as I prepared to enter what would be a mentally and physically tough week. For those of you who compete next year, I highly recommend coming in a day or two early so that you have time to collect yourself before beginning the week of competition!

I was so excited about orientation, as I would finally get to meet all of the other contestants that I only knew through Facebook and Instagram! I feel a special connection with the pageant system in that faith is a huge part of the Richardson’s mission. So I loved the fact that we started orientation with a prayer, and I also loved having Bible study after orientation with some of the contestants! It really helped calm my nerves and allowed me the opportunity to share my faith with others!

The day around Jacksonville was so much fun, and I want to thank the city for treating us like royalty! I loved learning how to make candy at Sweet Pete’s, and although I did not buy any while we were on the tour, I did make a hard dash to the store after the pageant was over! Being the sports fan that I am, I had such a great time touring Jaguars stadium! I may or may not have been trying to get some tips that I could send to my Houston Texans! Just kidding…maybe! 

Since this system has a mission to give back to the community, I am really glad that we were able to add this to our week. Making blankets to send to the children’s hospital was incredibly special. I was so excited to go to the PACE Center as I really like working with teenagers and young adults. There was one girl who really touched me, as our goal was to speak into the lives of these girls who have gone through so much. However, this young lady spoke with such peace and positivity. Although she had a rough past, she continued to smile, and I could really see the joy and gratitude that she had in her heart. I will never forget her.

One of my favorite parts of competing is the interview phase. My interview time was at 12:30, so I was able to rest and do my devotional before meeting the judges. I remember walking in with so much peace and feeling as though I was just having friendly conversations…at no point did I feel like I was being “judged”! But I think that speaks to how amazing our judges were.

From rehearsals to prelims and then making final preparations, it was now the morning of the final show. I remember waking up and telling God, “You know the plans that are for my life. If that includes this crown, then I thank you in advance. If it does not, then I will continue to be grateful with the title of Miss Texas International.” I do not remember much of the final show as it all seems like a blur now…so I can not wait to get the DVD! I do remember standing with the other ladies thinking that any of them would make an amazing Miss International, as I could not be more impressed with how beautiful, smart and passionate all of the contestants were. I do remember them calling my name as the winner and tears streaming down my face. In just that instant, I felt God say “It’s yours…I trust you to do the work I’ve called you to do.”

Just like my pageant week started with a prayer from Mrs. Richardson, the week ended with a prayer too! Miss Alaska, asked if she could pray over me before I left Jacksonville. I really do appreciate the prayer that she prayed over me for so many reasons, but mostly because it showed how strong our sisterhood really is. 

So I end this blog stating that I am very committed to the honor and responsibility that comes with being Miss International 2015. I also want to thank those who have supported me to, through and since the pageant! The prayers and encouragement mean the world to me. I also encourage my fellow pageant sisters to come back next year, if you feel that God has called you to do so. We all know that only one person can win the crown, maybe next year it will be you!

His faithful servant,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Nationals & My Crowning Moment

The main piece of advice I remember hearing at Orientation was to “have fun!” So, that is exactly what I did. I knew regardless of the results given on Saturday night it was my decision if the only thing I wanted to take away from the week was a shiny crown. I can still remember every single moment because the week at Nationals was the week of a life time.

Our day out in Jacksonville gave me a chance to connect with all of the contestants. I met so many amazing girls that I hope to keep in touch with for the rest of my life. Having the opportunity to compare southern lifestyle and accents with northern and foreign cultures and languages was so refreshing. I have no doubt that I met some of my lifelong best friends!

Another great thing about our week is that it teaches you responsibility and punctuality. When we were given a time, we were to meet in a designated spot fifteen minutes prior.. No Excuses for tardiness! I am a rule follower so I always made sure to give myself plenty of time to get ready for the day!

The week flew by so fast. I literally cried backstage right before our final opening number because I was so sad to leave the incredible women I had the pleasure of spending the week with. The girls behind me in the line up were the best friends a girl could ask for and I could not bear thinking of never getting to see them again, but we will find a way back to each other some day. The friendships I made at Nationals I will NEVER forget. If I could start the week all over again I would do it in a heartbeat. I would also try not to embarrass myself at orientation the second time around.. In other words, be prepared to answer ANY question.

My crowning moment felt unreal. As Miss Teen International 2014 placed the crown on my head, I was thinking how thankful I was and still am for all of the love and support given to me by my friends and family. I was also looking forward to my year and the goals the International System and sponsors will help me achieve.

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'" -Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015