by Karlin Andersen
Nine women anxiously stood on stage hand in hand waiting for one of their names to be called. After many long moments under the hot lights, the emcee announced Whitworth junior Mikayla Scharnhorst as Miss Spokane 2016.
Years before wearing the title crown, Scharnhorst wore a patient’s bracelet at Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane.
An elbow injury she suffered at age 3, combined with conflicting diagnoses and extended healing time, caused Scharnhorst to make many visits to Shriners Hospital. For the next year Scharnhorst will volunteer at Shriners Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospital while completing her year of community service for the pageant.
“One of my major goals was to volunteer at Shriners,” Scharnhorst said. “This is the hospital that I went to;because I came to [Shriners in Spokane] it is really close to my heart.”
“When kids are undergoing these adult diseases, adult injuries and illnesses and spending time in the hospital there is a huge stigma surrounding them so a lot of their normalcy is lost in that,” Scharnhorst said. “And Shriners in particular and other non-profit children’s hospitals do a really good job of being there for the kids.”
Scharnhorst’s opportunity to volunteer at Shriner’s comes with her win of the Miss Spokane title in January. She originally entered the pageant in 2014 and was encouraged to continue competing by 2013 title winner Hannah Schuerman.
“I wouldn’t have encouraged her if I knew it wasn’t worth it because of all the opportunities and networking that you get to do as Miss Spokane, of course Miss Washington and of course Miss America,” Schuerman said.
The Miss Spokane Scholarship Organization began in 1912. A local preliminary to the Miss America competition, the program aims “to build a better community by enabling young women through opportunities for scholarship, personal and professional growth, and community service,” according to the Miss Spokane website.
“The opportunities for service are really good through the program,” Scharnhorst said. “I kept doing it because I liked challenging myself and putting myself out there to grow.”
Along with interviews and technical and dress rehearsals for the pageant, contestants participate in service work in the months leading up to the competition. Contestants have the opportunity to win scholarships and awards through winning different parts of the pageant such as best interview or Director’s award as Scharnhorst did. The program’s emphasis is on interview and talent rather than beauty, Lauri Pounder, Miss Spokane’s executive director, said.
“I think that is something pageants can sometimes get a bad rap for the Miss America program in particular is very service-orientated and very academically-orientated,” Scharnhorst said.
Scharnhorst said she believes in tangible change in a community and hopes her service and fundraisers can impact the children being treated at the hospital. A possible fundraiser would partner with Build-a-Bear, allowing community members to build and donate bears on a designated day to patients in the hospital.
“When I was at Shriner’s one thing that I remember and still have a collection of at home, is you get a stuffed animal every single time you attend the hospital for a visit,” Scharnhorst said.
After the fundraiser was successfully held in Texas by friends, Scharnhorst decided to bring the fundraiser to Spokane.
“[Shriner’s is] going to want to use her as an advocate or an ambassador just like they did to me and I loved it, and I think she will really like it too,” Schuerman said.
Scharnhorst already serves as an ambassador for the hospital through connecting with other organizations helping Shriners patients. Before the pageant Scharnhorst volunteered with Para Sport, a competitive athletic organization for children and adults with physical disabilities. Many of the athletes in the organization are also Shriners patients, Scharnhorst said.
“They really encourage you to not let your disability or your ailment define you, but let it be a part of your story but not your entire story,” Scharnhorst said. “A lot of those kids are from Shriners hospital too, and a lot of them don’t have arms, but they do competitive athletics. It’s not defining their story; it’s just a part of them.”
Scharnhorst’s appearances may bring her around the state for the next year while she participates in local parades and completes her service work to the Spokane community. Until the Miss Washington competition in June, Scharnhorst will practice her interview skills and take dance lessons.
Contact Karlin Andersen at firstname.lastname@example.org