When 15 young women take the Reg Lenna Civic Center stage Nov. 3, months of dedication will be on display.
As part of the 2012-13 Distinguished Young Women of the Lakewood Area program, the high school seniors have been practicing weekly throughout the summer. Each young woman earned her spot in the field this spring based on her high-school transcript, after-school activities and a five-minute interview.
The contestants have received help from a group of volunteer chaperones, a committee and chairwomen as they ready to up their number of practices this month.
After Laurie Whitermore served as chairwoman of what was then known as Junior Miss for more than 20 years, and Beverly Ungerer handled the role during the 2011-12 program, Christine Yocum, Danielle Bongiovanni and Kaycee Currie are at the helm this time.
"The task itself is a big undertaking," said Yocum, a former chaperone. "For years, Laurie took a lot of this on herself. We felt that doing this all together would cut down on some of the tasks. Working together, we thought it would be a lot more fun than just having one of us do it. Plus, Kaycee and Danielle are both past participants who know a lot about the program."
Bongiovanni, a Fredonia Middle School teacher, was a contestant in 2004. She served as a judge during the past two programs.
"For me, it was a great opportunity to meet the other girls," Bongiovanni said of competing in the former Junior Miss. "The interview skills helped me in college and with getting the job that I have today. I kind of owe that to the program. It just helps you grow as a person and become confident."
Currie, a college student who also works with fifth- through eighth-graders during a YWCA after-school program, competed in 2007-08.
"The program definitely had a large impact on the person I am today," Currie said. "I would not be, without a doubt, where I am today without Laurie's help and her interview skills. I learned so much through Laurie and through the program, being introduced to things that I wouldn't have otherwise been introduced to. That's why when Christine asked me to be a chairwoman with her, it took me about five minutes to think about it. I want to give something back to the girls."
In addition to the chairwomen, the 2012-13 Distinguished Young Women Program committee includes production coordinators Maura Morgante, Molly Morgante and Tiffany Wakeley Heitzman; little sister coordinator Rosa Farrell, photographer and program booklet coordinator Cindy Ferraro; Ungerer, the treasurer, who is also in charge of tickets and interviews; chaperone coordinator Kelly Madden; and judging coordinators Judy Amatuzzo and Whitermore.
Currie also took on the role of talent coordinator.
"Outside of the practices, (the contestants) have to get together with Kaycee to do their talent," said Yocum, an elementary teacher for Jamestown Public Schools. "They also have to get together with Danielle, Beverly Ungerer and I to do practice interviews. Outside of the practices, there's a lot more that they have to do."
Each contestant has been paired with an area third- or fourth-grade "little sister" whom they mentor throughout the program. They've also been assigned chaperones, who play an integral part in the preparation for Nov. 3, according to Madden.
"The chaperone is kind of the surrogate mom," she said. "The parents have no involvement in this. This is a progression of the senior girls - of the contestants - and the chaperones are here for any guidance, a shoulder to lean on, or for advice. This is one of their first steps to moving on to college. This is probably one of the first things they've done without having their parents involved. It's a big commitment for the girls and for the chaperones."
"Stronger" is the theme of this year's program, which will be held in Jamestown at the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
The participants will compete for college scholarships, and the winner of the local program will continue to the state level competition in the spring.
"This is a scholarship program, and it's completely funded by the community," Yocum said. "Any contributions we get go directly toward the girls' scholarships."
Those who wish to contribute to this year's program can send donations to Distinguished Young Women, 128 School Ave. Jamestown, NY 14701.
In addition to cash scholarships, participants are eligible for college-granted scholarships from nearly 200 colleges and universities.
Although this year's program features some new faces and chairwomen, those who have been in charge in previous years, including Whitermore, are valuable assets to the leaders of 2012-13.
"We've been working very closely with Laurie," Yocum said. "She's our mentor. She has been walking us through this step by step."