"As far as our history is concerned, this will be our 55th program, and we have had four [state] winners -- of course, Mary Jon Garrison being the first in 1958. Then we've had three of the last four year's winners from Bartow County," said Myra Hufstetler, DYW's local program director, referring to her daughter Abbey Hufstetler, Caroline Lloyd and Mary-Clayton Gilbert. "So we feel like we have a really rich history that way.
"And also, of course, the most important thing [about participating in DYW] is the girls are getting scholarship money to go to school. So we are giving that scholarship money at the local level. And then if we can work with those girls and help them to do their very best at state and they're able to win additional money, of course, that's a huge plus."
Formerly known as Bartow County's Junior Miss, this year's production will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. at The Grand Theatre. During the upcoming competition, the participants will vie for $4,900 in scholarships, showcasing their skills in the areas of academics, talent, fitness, interview and self-expression.
The seven young women will include Avian Brown, North Cobb Christian School; Kandace Connell, Woodland High School; Courtney Fox, Excel Christian Academy; Jacqueline Glass, Woodland High School; Abby Kollhoff, Woodland High School; Amber Leker, Adairsville High School; and Sarah Beth Jenkins, Woodland High School.
While the contestants will compete in scholastics (20 percent of the overall score) and a 10-minute interview (25 percent) prior to the public competition, on Saturday they will be judged on talent (25 percent), fitness (15 percent) and self-expression (15 percent). The winner will receive a $1,300 scholarship to attend any accredited college or university and enter the Distinguished Young Women of Georgia program this summer.
Along with serving as a role model for this year's participants, Gilbert is choreographing the contest's opening number.
"This year's contestants, we have a smaller number but there's definitely a lot of talent there," Gilbert said, referring to the DYW program featuring fewer contestants due to school conflicts. "We have a good variety of performances. So it's not like everyone's doing the same talent ... and that's a great thing to see, especially with such a small number of contestants. They are great, quality girls and they're very sweet and we love having them a part of this year's program.
"I also think that there's a lot of growth that's happening. The girls that are participating, this is a big step for them. And I think that's another great thing to see because that's what Distinguished Young Women is all about. It's about learning to be your best self and these girls are discovering that along the way. It's been a lot of fun to get to know them. There [are] girls from different schools and it's just an opportunity for me to be a part of my community and be a role model for girls who are my peers."
Echoing Gilbert's comments, Hufstetler also believes the competition inspires each contestant to "be your best self." Along with participating in Saturday's program, the young women also have reached out to the community, talking to members of the Boys & Girls Clubs' Cartersville Unit and helping youth audition for Advocates for Children's upcoming talent show, "Every Child's a Star."
"The girls have gone to the Boys & Girls Clubs here in Cartersville and they presented the Distinguished Young Women's national outreach program, which is Be Your Best Self," Hufstetler said. "Be Your Best Self has got five categories. The girls [share] that you be your best self through being healthy, being ambitious, being involved in your community, being responsible and being studious. So they present a program, where they go through a curriculum basically where they talk about those things and what those are and setting goals, [such as] being involved in your community, being involved with the people around you at a younger age and of course being more involved the older you get, and being studious -- making sure you're making the best grades.
"... It's trying to make sure kids at whatever age are doing their best to be their self and grow into the best person that they want to be. ... And also this year, Mary-Clayton Gilbert -- our last year's winner and state winner -- has taken on the project of being chairperson for 'Every Child's a Star,' so the girls are also helping with that. So we've had girls that helped with the auditions and they are doing some of the behind-the-scenes work to get everything ready for 'Every Child's a Star.' So we're really trying to make sure the girls understand that even being a part of this program, it is [important to give] back to your community as well. So we try to make sure that there's community service involvement. It's just not all about their one-night program or the rehearsals that they're doing. Let's give back to our community at the same time."
Tickets for the local program will cost $13 per person and will be available in advance or at the door. For more information or to obtain tickets, call 770-386-7343 or visit The Grand Theatre ticket office, 7 N. Wall St. in Cartersville, Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. and 12:30 to 5 p.m.