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Honoring our Heroes: Miss Military Star New York gives back to veterans, active service members

Miss Military Star New York
Bob Schultz Photography

Miss Military Star has two mottos: “We help those who have helped us” and “We shine for our heroes.” Since 2017, the community service-based pageant has been giving back to veterans and active military members around the state – and beyond.

Family Times recently talked to New York State Director Jennifer DeCaro about the inspiration behind Miss Military Star, the pageant itself, and what she sees in the future for the organization.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

1. Can you start by telling me a little about the history behind Miss Military Star New York, and Miss Military Star in general, and how it grew into what it is today?

Our key focus is to help our military men and women through our community service and the events that we do. We want to help those who have helped us. We really strive to help veterans in our communities all over the country who struggle with basic needs. It’s not just always active, though we do a lot with them. The organization itself started in 2017 in Pennsylvania. Our national director, Melissa Firster, started it with her daughter because they wanted to do something to give back – her father served. They wanted to hold an event, so they did a pageant, and the girls who won continued to give back to those who served our country during their reign.

Since then, we’ve grown, and now we’re a national organization. We now have a total of six states – Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, and New York. But even if they don’t have a state director, girls can still participate. It’s a fundraiser pageant. We raise money at the pageant itself, but the girls are competing to hold the title in different age divisions, and then during their year of reign, they volunteer in the community and do different community service projects related to giving back to the military, both active members and veterans.

It’s not your typical beauty pageant. Yes, they’re still doing evening gown because it’s a great experience for them to build that confidence on stage, but they also do a red, white, and blue wear and an onstage question, where they’re able to do public speaking. We want our girls to be able to be well-spoken. And then part of their scoring system is community service projects. They bring a donation to the pageant, and we provide a list of things troops and veterans need. We collect so many donations, it’s unbelievable, and then the queens who win take a bunch of it, bring it back to their home counties, and distribute it to local veterans’ outreach centers and legions and things like that – or they’ll ship it overseas.

One of the local legions here in Syracuse, they were so thankful for getting a donation this year because with the COVID-19 restrictions, they really didn’t get to do their usual fundraiser. They were just thrilled that we brought this huge box of donations to them. These are things like baby wipes, deodorant, Q-Tips, chewing gum. We brought boxes and boxes to them of all these different items that the girls had donated to the pageant, and then we also gave them a monetary donation to help with shipping costs. Most posts have connections to different platoons, and they were able to quickly distribute those items. So, we’re making connections right now with different legions, as well as the veterans hospital. We’re also connected with the Syracuse Honor Flight – we’re part of their welcoming committee. We’re all interconnected.

 2. What are some examples of past community service projects?

They’ve had to be very creative this past year with COVID. One of my current title holders is holding a fashion show fundraiser and she’s doing it virtually because we’re still limited. It’s called Rescue the Runway 2.0. The girls walk a runway wearing red, white and blue attire with their crown and sash. If they have a pet, they can walk with them. The money is benefitting a program called Operation at Ease, which takes sheltered pets and trains them to be service dogs for veterans. This is a fun way to entertain but to also give back. You can visit our Facebook page and you’ll see a lot of what we do.

3. What do you see in the future for Miss Military Star New York?

We would like to continue to grow. We’re very excited that we have so many girls that want to join our organization, they’re very excited, and we would love to get more and more recognized nationally for what we’re doing. Right now, we’re working on building a national pageant, because it will help us to do more of what we’re already doing individually as states. And when you have a national pageant, it allows the girls to get together from other states and to build that sisterhood and maybe do some service projects together as a group. We’re excited to continue what we’re doing.

 4. How can Family Times readers get involved in your organization?

If you want to learn more, you can visit us on Instagram (@missmilitarystarnewyork) or Facebook (@MissMilitaryStarNewYork). You can also contact us through email at missmilitarystarny@gmail.com if you’re interested. We have a pageant coming up in 2022, on March 26, and it will be held here in Central New York at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool. We have littles all the way up to a Ms. Division. We also have an honorary Veteran Queen Division for women who are either actively in the military or are a veteran. It’s just a great program where girls are looking to give back through volunteering and make a difference in their community.

5. Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’ve done a lot with Wreaths Across America as well. We’ve also gotten involved with some of the local cemeteries – giving back to our veterans who have passed. We not only give back to those here with us, but we also acknowledge our fallen heroes. It’s great to be a part of that…I think it’s great for these young women to gain these public speaking skills and poise and projection.

By the Numbers
Information provided by Miss Military Star New York

March 26, 2022
Miss Military Star New York will host its next pageant at the Holiday Inn Syracuse in Liverpool.

2017
Miss Military Star was founded in Pennsylvania by Melissa Firster, the organization’s national director, and her daughter.

6
States that are currently part of the Miss Military Star organization – Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, and New York.

8
Divisions in the Miss Military Star pageant. They are: Mini Miss (ages 2-4); Little Miss (ages 5-6); Junior Preteen (ages 7-9); Junior Teen (ages 13-15); Teen (ages 16-19); Miss (19 years +, unmarried); Ms (19 years +, married). There is also an Honorary Veteran Queen division.

4
Contestants compete in four categories: community service, general awareness and public speaking skills, poise and projection in evening wear, and red, white, and blue wear.

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