- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Young women competing in the finals of the Miss America pageant have completed a whirlwind visit to the District, sightseeing, visiting the sick and performing other acts of charity, which many said was the most fulfilling part of their visit.

“Community service is very important, because you learn so much from the people that you come in contact with,” said Tiffany Jenkins, 24, of Silver Spring, who will represent Maryland in the Miss America finals in Atlantic City, N.J.

Miss Jenkins is a cum laude graduate of Hampton University and a volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s signature “Relay for Life” fund-raising program.

She said community service will always be a part of her life and that becoming Miss America 2005 would help her tell others that the 84-year-old organization is the country’s largest provider of scholarships for young women.

“This is so exciting because I’m a part of such a great legacy,” Miss Jenkins said.

Last year, the contest provided $45 million in scholarship assistance to young women, said Art McMaster, the president and CEO of the Miss America Organization. The money is also available to the more than 12,000 young women who enter state and local competitions to become Miss America.

The four-day “Washington Experience” brought together for the first time this year’s 52 finalists — one from every state and one each from the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The pageant will be broadcast Sept. 18 live on ABC-TV from 9 to 11 p.m., marking its 50th anniversary on television.

The women, 17 to 24, began their tour of the District on Wednesday and concluded it yesterday with a closing ceremony at the National World War II Memorial, where some contestants were joined by family members who served in the war.

The tour also included a visit to the U.S. Capitol and to the White House, where the women received presidential awards for their community service. They also were introduced to Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, dined at the Four Seasons Hotel, visited young patients at Children’s Hospital in Northeast and attended High Tea inside the Crystal Room at the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel in Northwest.

“We’re having a very good time here,” Mr. McMaster said. “It goes back to what we are all about.”

During the two-hour visit at Children’s Hospital, the contestants and Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap helped the children make headpieces that resembled the jewel-encrusted tiaras worn by pageant winners. Miss Dunlap also placed her tiara upon the head of many of the children, as if they were being crowned.

Contestants this year raised $72,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network.

The money is earmarked to help 170 children’s hospitals around the country, said Mariah Rice, Miss Virginia and a Mechanicsville native who attends Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Miss Rice, 24, received the Children’s Champion Award for raising $12,000.

Miss Dunlap, resplendent in head-to-toe red yesterday at the Willard, said she will always have special memories of the District.

“This is a marvelous time of year,” she said. “Everything comes full circle in Washington, D.C. Last September 3, I came to D.C. for the pre-pageant activities. It was very emotional then, as it is now.”

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