Miss Washington shows military support at family holiday event
January 2, 2013
By Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Mandy Schendel, who was officially crowned Miss Washington 2012 in July, has spent the better part of her life serving others.
At 11, she started her own nonprofit organization, focused toward helping children and teens discover leadership potential within themselves through volunteer projects with their local communities.
In high school, she said, she involved herself in “everything under the sun.”
So one might assume Schendel would fit in well among military men and women, who live a life of voluntary service to their country.
The pageant beauty, who leaves for Las Vegas on Jan. 2 to vie for the coveted Miss America title, paid her first visit to a military installation Dec. 15, when she stopped off at the Hillside Youth Center for its annual Holiday Fest event.
Though she only spent a few short hours meeting with service members and their families, it was a stint the 22-year-old considered her “ideal holiday.”
“Sincerely, it’s just an honor,” said Schendel, sitting, all smiles, at a table stacked high with wrapped gifts for children, a box of photos intended for autographs laid out before her. “I walk beside military men and women all the time, and I am always so compelled to just thank them.
“I have a huge love for the military, for what all the men and women do.”
She explained that, for an outsider, it’s typically harder to gain access to an installation, especially one the size and capacity of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But where stories of military life and the understanding of what it takes to serve are concerned, she’s not much of an outsider at all.
“I come from a long line of military family,” she said. “My mom was an Army brat growing up, so all of her stories from her childhood come from being on a military base.”
Her grandfather retired from the Army, and her father served for five years.
“The dynamic with my dad and my grandpa was that they were very structured, both having been in the military,” she said.
Schendel frequently travels to schools across the state, working to inspire youths as part of her pageant platform, “Do Something: Enriching Youth, Cultivating Leaders.”
The goal of her platform, she explained, is to help young individuals grow through volunteer work, most of which stems from a particular passion of theirs. Some, she said, just need some sort of outlet.
“Maybe they’re passionate about music, and they don’t think that they can really do much with it,” she said. “Well, maybe we’re able to put together a team and let them lead that team to go and sing at an elderly home.”
“The goal is kind of this bettering of society as a whole,” added Schendel, who also said she was often a target for bullying in high school after making strict decisions to avoid drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. “The more we have an ability to help others, I think we eliminate so many of the issues we have in society today.”
But most of the young girls who went up to see Schendel weren’t exactly thinking of a subject that complex. For them, the role model they saw in a happy, smiling woman in a tiara was enough.
“I really like her,” said 8-year-old Sydney Flores shortly after taking a photo with Schendel. “She’s very interesting and very pretty. She always smiled.”
“Girls like to see somebody beautiful, because they want to be like that,” said her mother, Isabell Flores, an Army wife who brought Sydney and her other two daughters to the event.
“They thought she was a princess, with the crown,” she said, adding that her girls were delighted to have a photo taken with Schendel. “I think that was a really good thing to see themselves in a picture with someone they’d probably like to be.”
Schendel did her best to bring her own smiles to the faces of some of her younger fans.
“Thank you, sweetheart. Nice to meet you!” she said to a young boy asking for her autograph.
“So cute,” she added with a laugh as he walked away.
“To be here, and to be able to just be around these families that work so hard and give — it is a tremendous thing, and there’s no other word than it’s just an honor to be here,” she said.
“I’m just fortunate that it worked out today, and hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future.”
Mandy Schendel competes for Miss America
Newcastle’s own Mandy Schendel, Miss Washington 2012, will head to Las Vegas on Jan. 2 in preparation for the 2013 Miss America competition.
Schendel will be among 53 national finalists who will vie for the Miss America title.
“The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison and “Dancing with the Stars” co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet will host the event.
Among the judges for the competition are Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, dancer Cheryl Burke and television host Mary Hart.
More than 300 community members attended a farewell fashion show Dec. 8, where Schendel gave attendees a sneak peek at the fashions she plans to wear for the telecast.
The competition will be televised Jan. 12 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, and can be seen at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Learn more about Schendel’s quest for the Miss America title at www.misswashington.org.