"Every contestant that is in the pageant is open to [receive] this People's Choice Award," said Regina Wheeler, deputy director for the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "They do give one [award] per pageant. So one for the Miss and one for the Teen. It's $1 per vote. So anyone that attends the pageants can go in and vote. All of that cash goes to Tranquility House at a very key and vital time in their financial year. So many charities such as [toy drives and] things like that step up and assist families at this time, but we have to remember that people at Tranquility House, many, many women become displaced at the holiday season for various reasons.
"It can be a very trying time in families. Therefore, it is very, very vital that they get this support at this time of year. So the People's Choice supports them as well as [Tranquility House] is the official philanthropy for the pageant. All of the contestants bring goods -- gift cards, donations, diapers, toiletry items, various things that one might simply leave home without. So these are very, very vital goods that are brought in for Tranquility House. We're just happy to support them. We think it's just a really important charity for this organization."
Formed in 1985, the domestic violence center and its shelter meets the needs of women and their children by providing a safe environment for them to temporarily stay and work toward future goals like securing housing, education or a job, if needed. Typically, the individuals reside at the shelter for 30 to 60 days, during which a support group, legal advocacy and community resources are at their disposal.
"It always means a lot to us on many levels," said Sandra Bruce, executive director for Christian League for Battered Women. "No. I, the women that are here, it gives them a good feeling about themselves. They see that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it and that they can overcome a lot of hardships that they've had.
"All of the girls, the women that I've talked to have been so uplifting, so positive and that is just really good for our women," she said, adding their donations through the years have ranged from toys and baby items to blankets and clothing. "... It just overwhelms me to see the generosity of these beautiful, young women and to know that they are thinking of someone that's less fortunate than them. It just overwhelms me."
In 2010, the People's Choice Award raised about $4,000 for Tranquility House, Wheeler said. As in the past, this year's funds will go toward the nonprofit's operating budget.
"With the economy as it is, everything is sort of tight at this point and [this money] will help us with providing services," Bruce said. "When a woman comes in to us, she may need clothing. She may need medical. She may need legal advice, these sort of things. [When] the women come in and when they had to leave their home, [they] have nothing basically.
"We help them try to get back on their feet by finding them apartments, by helping them find jobs. We refer them to a lot of the Bartow County resources around so that they can get back on their own two feet and regain their self-esteem."
Tonight and Saturday, 130 young women will vie for crowns in the Miss Georgia USA and Miss Georgia Teen USA pageants at Woodland High School's Performing Arts Center. According to the CVB's data, 17-year-old Samantha Plott -- a teen contestant -- is Bartow County's sole representative in the competitions.
During the pageants, the contestants will be judged equally in three categories: interview, swimsuit and evening gown. The winner of the Miss Georgia competition will advance to the Miss USA Pageant, the precursor to Miss Universe. The Miss Georgia Teen USA winner will compete in the Miss Teen USA Pageant.
Seats will cost $35 for the combined pageants' preliminary shows today at 7. The final shows, which will cost $40 each to attend, will be conducted Saturday at 3:30 and 8 p.m. for the Miss Georgia Teen USA and Miss Georgia USA competitions, respectively. Admission will be half-price for youth ages 13 and younger at every show.
Tickets can be obtained at the Performing Arts Center, 800 Old Alabama Road, an hour prior to each competition. For more information, call the Cartersville-Bartow County CVB at 770-387-1357 or visit www.notatlanta.org/missgeorgiausa/.