But the program director of Centre County’s Outstanding Young Woman program said she annually takes in a handful of high school girls as her own.
They’re the young women who participate in the scholarship program that promotes leadership, professional development and networking.
“There are some years you get to have more than an attachment to them, and because there is such a small group this year, they’re like my honorary daughters,” Ripka said. “We were on the radio the other day and one of the girls was like, ‘you’re like my second mom.’ That’s one of the best parts.”
This year, the eight finalists were from Bellefonte, Penns Valley and State College area school districts.
“We’re a scholarship program; we don’t use the word pageant,” Ripka said. “One of our biggest goals is to help these ladies be prepared for their futures.”
CCOYW is a nonprofit organization founded about 20 years ago as a branch of Junior Miss, now known as the Distinguished Young Women program.
In the spring, the Centre County participants went though a preliminary process that included a set of interviews with judges, and a showcase of their creative and performing arts sets. They also had to provide organization leaders with a copy of their school transcript.
On Saturday night, they participated in the final at the Bellefonte Area High School auditorium.
It included a series of group dance numbers, a fitness piece, talent show and interview section.
“That’s one of the hardest pieces, because you don’t know what the question is and hope the nerves don’t overwhelm you when answering,” State College Area High School senior and finalist Cassandra Greenland, 17, said about the on-the-spot question. “You just have to make sure you take a deep breath first and elaborate on your answer.”
But fellow finalist Katherine Haines, a Penns Valley Area High School senior from Aaronsburg, said they spent several month practicing.
“You do a lot of practice and in the end hope you come out on top, but you could ask anyone here and they’d say it’s just an accomplishment to get to this point,” Haines said.
This year’s final scholarship recipient and CCOYW representative was Kayleigh Rine, a senior at Bellefonte Area High School, who won the bulk of the scholarship. It included $2,800, in addition to a $300 presence and presentation award.
The runner-up was Martha Dunkelberger, a senior at Penns Valley Area High School, who walked away with $1,700 for taking second. She was also the recipient of a $750 scholastic achievement award, a $300 interview award and a $1,000 income development award.
Ripka said this year’s scholarship was a total of $10,000 that was split among the finalists.
And the participants were responsible for raising the funds.
“We each had a goal to raise at least $500,” Haines said. “Basically, many of us called and visited local businesses. We described who we were and what the program was about.”
Haines has her heart set on going to college somewhere in Boston, but is keeping her options open.
“College is so expensive and this can be a big help,” she said.
The money is sent from CCOYW to the college of the finalists’ choice.
“They must be putting it toward college,” Ripka said about the scholarship awards. “They provide us with information where they’re going and we send the scholarship right to the college. There have been times where she’ll already have a full ride, which at that time, the scholarship money would help pay for a computer or books. She would just have to provide us with the receipts.”
And while finalists like Greenland and Haines said the scholarship is a key factor in participating in the program, perhaps a bigger motivator, they both said, is learning a set of skills that prepare them for life.
“I think one of the biggest things is just that we learn so much for the real world,” Greenland said. “It’s a great experience and allows you to do things you wouldn’t have before.”
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