The Miss Southern Oregon USA and the Miss Southern Oregon Teen USA 2008 pageant was held Friday night with over 200 people in the audience at the Historic Ashland Armory. It marked the end of a 10-week workshop sponsored, in part, by Ashland Parks and Recreation.

"It's all incorporated, they teach them interview skills, job skills, public speaking. There's a whole set of life skills associated with this," said Joy Bannon, the recreation coordinator for Ashland Parks and Recreation. "It's important to find role models in this media world we live in."

The workshop was called a Personal Empowerment Workshop and was held every Saturday morning since March building up to the Friday night pageant, which was an optional event for the girls in the workshop.

"The girls have learned so much and developed so much that the pageant is kind of a bonus," said Tami Farrell, 2003 Miss Teen USA and host of the pageant.

Twenty-five girls participated in the workshop and 15 of those girls entered the pageant to compete. During the three-and-a-half-hour competition the girls participated in the classic areas of pageant showmanship. With a swimsuit competition, interview and evening gown competition the girls demonstrated the skills they had learned in the prior weeks of the workshop. But to Stephanie Farrell, Tami's mother and the organizer of both the workshop and the event, the whole thing was not about the pageant but about how far these girls have come.

"We're not about just the pageant anymore," she said, "we're a personal development program. I felt it was more important to develop the character of young women than have a pageant." The pageant began four years ago when Tami Farrell won Miss Teen USA. She had been working closely with a local charity, Sparrow Clubs, when she won and chose the group to be her sponsored charity as part of her role as Miss Teen USA, the charity then became a national endeavor of "kids helping kids."

After Stephanie Farrell supported her daughter through success as a beauty queen, it was suggested by Donald Trump, who owns the Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and the Miss Universe pageants, that Southern Oregon hold a preliminary pageant for his competitions. That's where Stephanie Farrell came in. In creating a preliminary pageant, Farrell teamed up with Sparrow Clubs to create a partnership that would help young women find strength in who they are and develop a love for charitable work, she said.

This year is the first year that Ashland Parks and Recreation got involved, providing spaces for the workshop to be held and organized the funds, $220 paid by each girls, that sponsored the program.

"It's an important program to young women everywhere &

not just Ashland," Bannon said. "It's really important life skills. These young girls are making the transition from middle school to high school and learning how to be comfortable in their own skin and it's important to do this in a supportive atmosphere."

As the hour crept toward 11 p.m., the 2007 Miss Southern Oregon USA, PJ Steers, as well as the 2007 Miss Southern Oregon Teen USA, Krystle Gutzman, took their final walk wearing their crowns. The judges tallied up their scores and elected Kacie Abercrombie as the 2008 Miss Southern Oregon Teen USA and Jaci Cederberg was crowned the 2008 Miss Southern Oregon USA.

For the next year the girls will work closely with Sparrow Clubs raising money for children in Southern Oregon who are in need of funds for medical care.

Despite the fact that only one girl from each category can walk away with a crown, Stephanie Farrell reminds the girls that they have grown so much in the past weeks.

"It's not about who walks away with a crown on your head, you've all come so far," she said as tears fell from her eyes. The girls waited patiently on the first floor of the Historic Ashland Armory before the show. "You girls have worked so hard. It's your night to shine &

go shine." To find out more about the workshop or other community events happening in and around Ashland, contact Ashland Parks and Recreation at 488-5340 or go to /files/APRDsum07online.pdf to view a summer recreation guide.