North Carolina Trip

May 28th, 2014

My weekend was more fun than I could ever explain. It all started with a six hour drive from Jacksonville, FL to Fayetteville, NC with my daddy. Upon our arrival we immediately went to the Veteran’s Admin Medical Center (VA) where we met up with several local contestants for Miss North Carolina’ s Outstanding Teen (MNCOT), one Miss North Carolina contestant, and my very own class sisters, Cassie Donegan Miss Virginia’s Outstanding Teen and Emili McPhail Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen. We made the most of our visit at the VA where we met an Army veteran who has been married to his wife for 59 years. Every veteran we met told incredible stories to inspire us.
After our trip to the VA we went immediately to the State Veterans Home. It was so sweet to walk in and see the veterans in their chairs preparing for an “intense” game of bingo. Thankfully they delayed their game slightly in order to meet us. While at the assisted living facility I met a sweet man named Lee who wore a hat that said “I *heart* Jesus.” I told him that I love his hat and he went on to tell me his testimony and about his love for Jesus; listening to his stories was incredibly moving.
From there we went to the Special Ops Field of Flags and Museum. The Field of Flags was a wonderful photo opportunity and the museum housed incredible artifacts. While inside the museum I was honored to meet a retired Army recruiter! After the long day of travel and events, we finished our day with a dinner at Texas Roadhouse and a visit to the theatre where we saw “Return to the Forbidden Planet.”
The following morning began with a filling breakfast at Cracker Barrel, my most favorite breakfast restaurant ever. We then went directly to the General Lee museum. It was a blast seeing many original pieces from his home; we even tried on a few of the pieces he would have worn in battle (they were extremely heavy). Then we went to the Johnston Medical Center where we visited with several patients and were even given a tour of the intensive care unit (ICU)! Mrs. Charlotte, one of the patients, hasn’t used a computer in 20 years and Mr. Larry, another patient, founded the Backstreet Boys. This job truly allows me to meet the most amazing people!
After the hospital we were taken to Jewel’s Formal where we were all treated to a wonderful lunch complete with cupcakes. Yummy. Once we finished our lunches we browsed their beautiful collection of dresses. Supposedly the happiest place on earth lives two hours from me in Orlando, but any girl could tell you that dress shops like Jewel’s Formal greatly deserve that description. There were pictures of elated girls in beautiful dresses everywhere, including the reigning Miss North Caroline, Johna Edmonds. Jordan Chan, the Miss North Carolina photographer sponsor, then met us outside the store where we snapped a few photos for a miniature impromptu photo-shoot.
We then were given a tour of the Historical Howell Theater and after were taken to the Ava Gardner Museum. I was able to learn so much about her and the movies she acted in. I came home and decided to watch her old time film “The Killers!” Following our visit to the museum we got SnoCones, dinner, and finally went to an amusement park to wrap up our weekend of events. Though I’m nearly sure I got minor whiplash in my neck due to the eight times I rode the Scrambler, I had such a wonderful time being silly with the girls before I said goodbye to them (for now). I cannot wait to see them again in just a few short weeks; I wish them all the best in their competition.
Sunday morning I was blessed to be able to attend Second Baptist Church of Dunn where I played two worship songs and shared my testimony. The congregation was so welcoming and even made a special breakfast for the whole church in honor of my arrival.
I truly could not have asked for a better weekend. I am so gratefully for all of the people who made this weekend possible. Special thank you to Sandra Carroll Williams and her husband Mr. Ricks, Anita Royal, Jerry Lewis, Pastor Cox and his Wife Paula, Jewel’s Formal (who also supplied me with a wonderful gift), David Lewis, Mr. Jerry Lewis and Gene, and last but certainly not least, Curtis Faircloth who was the organizer of our whole weekend. Mr. Curtis Faircloth was so

[gallery]thoughtful to each detail of the trip; when I entered my hotel room on Friday night I found a newspaper, a bag of cookies, a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, a bag of Cajun Peanuts, and a movie. Thank you to all of those who made this trip possible. I cannot wait to see you all again in just a few short weeks.

An extra special holiday season!

December 25th, 2013

The month of December has been a busy one filled with many events in my community! Most recently, I was involved with my church Christmas Spectacular! Though it took many long hours of rehearsal, it was so worth it! When the music started and the moment came to perform, everyone brought their best to truly make it spectacular!

The night before the Christmas Spectacular, I volunteered at and also ran in “The Festival of Lights,” a 5k in my hometown… and my favorite race of the year! This run has two parts to it: the first part was a one-mile fun run for young children and then a 5k (3.1 miles) that anyone could run.  As a volunteer, I was able to hand out medals to the little kids as they crossed the line after their one-mile run.  Many of them were very young, so it was sweet to see the pride and accomplishment on their faces as they crossed the finish line.   Not only did this event benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, but it also provided a way for the runners to celebrate the holiday by decking themselves out in Christmas lights and jingle bells.  Even though it was 80 degrees at the start if the run, we did our best to bring a festive Christmas spirit to Florida anyway!

Two other events really made this December extra special.  I was honored to sing a duet with my best friend, Erica, at a senior adult banquet. This was an annual event put on by our church where the high school department served the senior adults.  We hosted a dinner and performed for them… which they loved!  Erica and I sang “O Holy Night”… my favorite!  We also spent some time just sitting down to talk to the senior adults.  It was one of my favorite events of the year!

Just one week later, on December 20th, I was a part of a big holiday concert held at The Murray Hill Theater in Jacksonville.  The theater invites different local artists and I was incredibly honored when they asked me to take part!! Each artist put their own spin on two different Christmas songs.  The two songs I chose were, of course, “O Holy Night” and “Santa Baby”!

Although a busy month, the events I was able to attend as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen made this December one to remember.  As we get ready to celebrate this Christmas, I wish each of you a happy, healthy and safe holiday with friends and family!  Merry Christmas, everyone!

With love,

Leah

 

Nina’s Homecoming!

November 22nd, 2013

A 7am flight was just the start to what would be an incredible weekend in Syracuse, New York! I stepped off my first connecting flight and was instantly greeted by Michele, my tour manager for this next year! We sat and talked about everything as we waited for the flight that would take us to Syracuse, and after an hour and a half flight, some airline pretzels and a couple of very uncomfortable seats, we finally made it to our destination! Once we landed I turned on my phone to let my mom know that I was safely in New York; unfortunately, she had some bad news for me: I left all of my makeup back home in Florida. Panicked, I checked only to find that she was right! Thankfully, Michele was extremely helpful and after catching a ride to our hotel and checking in we made a walk to the nearest Rite Aid and bought 30 dollars worth of drug store makeup to make it through the incredible weekend ahead.
Our visit to New York consisted of many different events from delivering books to the Onodoga library to singing at a hockey game. However, I would have to say my favorite day of the weekend visit was Saturday. We woke up at 9 o’ clock, had some amazing waffles for breakfast with Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen Krysta Prehoda, and then we were off to the Golisano Children’s Hospital where we talked with children and helped them make their own crowns and sashes! From there we went straight to the mall where we signed autographs for 600 people for just under two hours. It was surreal to see that many people excited to see us and talk to us! I don’t mean to brag or anything but our line was longer than Santa’s.
That night we went to Nina’s homecoming where we celebrated our new Miss America. It was nice to spend time with her again and be a part of the welcome home party for her. I am excited to see what her year holds.
Sunday was just as exciting as I had the chance to perform beside amazing women including, Kelsey Griswald, Miss Oklahoma, Crystal Lee, Miss California, and, of course, Miss America, Nina Davaluri.
There are so many people I would like to thank from Michele to Mrs. Prehoda for helping make my time in Syracuse so special but I’d like to give a special thank you to the people of the Miss New York Organization for allowing me to be a part of such an exciting event! Congratulations, New York. You did it again!

Being Miss America’s Outstanding Teen… it’s truly a marathon!

October 25th, 2013

In September of 2012 I told my mom I wanted to enter the Miss Jacksonville/River City’s Outstanding Teen Pageant: my first pageant ever! As usual, she supported me 100%!  As we were signing up, we noticed that there was a mandatory rehearsal on December 16th and, of course, this caught my eye. You see, I’ve been an athlete my whole life and had finally committed to doing a marathon: a grueling run of 26.2 miles that’s considered the greatest test of endurance.  The problem, however, was that December 16th happened to be the day of my marathon. When I pointed out the predicament to my mom she said I could pick one to pursue. I could either follow through and run my marathon, or I could chase a new goal and compete in my first pageant. The decision was so difficult that I had to pick the best answer: both! From the outside, it must have looked like the silliest thing! I would wake up at 5:30, run several miles, come home sweaty and red, shower and then slip on some heels and practice pivot turns in the kitchen!

 

As crazy as it seemed, I woke up on that chilly December morning and prepared myself for the grueling task ahead of me. I slipped into my teal running shoes, wrote 26 names on my arm (a person to pray for every mile), and set myself at the starting line of my first marathon. Only 4 hours and 42 minutes later I crossed the finish line and fell on my knees.  I did NOT want to get up!  My legs were already sore, my body was shaking, and I felt nauseous.  At the same time, however, I was crying from the excitement that I had just done something that had been a dream of mine for so long!  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to soak in the moment as my biggest brother, Ben, picked me up, threw me over his shoulder and carried me to the car. In the moment of joy I forgot I only had 45 minutes to get ready for my rehearsal!

Thankfully, God has truly blessed me with amazing sisters. After I took a quick shower, my little sister blew my hair dry as my older sister did my makeup while my mom ironed my clothes. I felt like I was being pampered for a wedding… minus the wedding part.  Just a few moments later, I went to my rehearsal, arrived on time, and learned all of our dance moves, fitness routines and walking patterns. It was one of the most tiring days of my life yet, believe it or not, it was one of the best!

Having been a homeschooled student my parents have really instilled in me self-motivation; I can’t just know what needs to be done, I need to get myself up and take care of it. They’ve taught me how to prioritize and manage my time. If I have class at 9 and church at 4 but want to fit a run in, I might have to wake myself up at 5:30 in the morning to do so!

Throughout the two months I’ve spent as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, I’ve been asked by many people how I am going to balance my new responsibilities in addition to school, my social life, and extra curricular activities.  I simply tell them, “I feel like I’ve been training for all of this my entire life,” and I truly have. Whether it’s running a marathon or completing the whole SAT Prep book, I believe that every lesson I’ve learned in my life has prepared me for this year and so far, I’m beyond excited to be where I am!!

Until next time,

Leah

A week of songwriting in Nashville

October 14th, 2013

Thursday morning of last week I woke up at 5:30 to my mom standing over my bed saying enthusiastically, “you leave for Nashville today!” Most mornings it might be hard to wake up so early but, because of the occasion, I shot out of bed.

After two flights and lugging my guitar and carry-on case halfway across an airport, I found myself in Nashville, Tennessee: my dream destination. I quickly found that the image I had of Nashville seemed to be very true as I was surrounded by live music the moment I stepped off my plane.

The week quickly progressed from there as I met incredible people, learned amazing things and even got to record a song of my own! I felt so out of place among such talented songwriters, but I knew these were the best people to learn from.

My favorite part of the Songwriters Workshop had to be Saturday night when we all gathered together and sang our original songs. It was a time I will never forget as person after person plucked up enough courage to share something so personal. By the time it was my turn to share, I had heard a little bit of everything: country music, love songs, sad songs, worship songs,  and even a song about Taylor Swift! I decided I’d sing my song “The Night,” a song I wrote Christmas Day for a friend. The joy and encouragement I felt from my fellow songwriters was wonderful and the excitement carried through to Monday morning when I had the opportunity to recorded my song.  I never thought that I would meet Margret Becker, famous Christian songwriter, let alone record my own music with her. She encouraged me to continue writing and performing and no doubt I will!

My week in Nashville was so amazing and I am so grateful for all the people who made it possible! I cannot WAIT to go back!