Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Windham Pageant winners available for service, appearances - By Elizabeth Richards

Most small communities in Maine don’t have one pageant title holder in any given year. This year, Windham has three, all eager and ready to serve the community. 
Two of the winners come from Crossroad’s Maine Academic Scholarship Pageant (MASP), which houses twelve local pageants throughout the state from Van Buren to Kennebunk, according to pageant director Deb Landry. In the state pageant, which brings together local winners, Windham High School (WHS) sophomore Celine Baker was crowned USA National Miss Jr. Teen Maine 2015, and recent WHS graduate Kelley Wassick was crowned National Miss Teen Maine 2015. Both girls will go on to the national pageants in their category next summer. 

MASP works with two national organizations, USA National Miss Pageant and National Teen-Miss-Mrs.-MS. This year, there is a crossover in age categories for teens, which resulted in both a National Teen Miss Maine and a USA National Teen Miss Maine. This is the only year the organization will offer both opportunities.

The responsibilities for both girls are similar. Both represent the organization’s anti-bullying platform the Crown CARES (creating a respectful environment in schools). In this role, they will be peer ambassadors, visiting schools throughout the state to read to children, discuss warning signs and bullying prevention. They are also both available for community service projects and personal appearances at events.

Wassick started doing pageants in the seventh grade, before taking a break to get involved in athletics. When she was a sophomore in high school, she began competing again. Although she has competed nationally in the past, it was with an at-large title, rather than the state title. While winning a scholarship at the national competition in Williamsburg, Va. next year would be nice, she said what really matters to her is the experience. “It’s being able to compete on the national stage, and being able to gain confidence in who I am,” she said. 

Wassick is studying at the University of Southern Maine this fall. She plans to major in English, and then go on to get a master’s degree in Speech Pathology so she can work with geriatric stroke patients. 

When not fulfilling her title responsibilities Wassick likes hanging out with family. “I’m a family girl,” she said. She also works five days a week, and plans to continue working as much as possible while in school. Community service is her passion. Wassick has won five awards for community service hours performed, including an award at Windham High School for completing 856 hours throughout her four years. “That’s important to me, doing any type of community service I can get my hands on,” she said. She particularly has enjoyed working with children in community theatre, she said. 

Baker will represent Maine at the USA National Miss pageant in Orlando, Florida, next July. In addition to the anti-bullying platform, Baker has a personal platform “A Full Table.” She partners with nonprofit organizations that deal with hunger, such as Monday night community meals, Wayside Food Program, Preble Street Resource Center and others.

Her first appearance after being crowned was at the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts theater camp, where she’d been volunteering. She said she needs to do two to four appearances per month, as well as many community service hours, as part of her role. 

Baker has been involved in pageants for a year now. In November of 2013, she competed in the preliminary competition to the state pageant, and won, becoming Miss Holly High School. In that role, she performed similar responsibilities to her current role, and prepared for the state competition.
Preparation is challenging, she said, but worth it. “People have these stereotypes of the pageant world just being about outer beauty and not focusing on the intelligence and the talent that all the girls who compete have. I’ve gained a lot of skills throughout my year of doing pageants and really it’s more about self confidence and feeling good about yourself, having poise and stage presence, and the charisma to present yourself in a positive way. It really reinforces the idea of women empowering themselves to be the best that they can be,” she said. The skills she has gained, such as interviewing, public speaking, and resume writing are skills that will help her in the future, she said.

Baker is an active member of the WHS community as well. She is in the Windham Chamber Singers, heavily involved in the arts program, part of the reducing sexism and violence program, and the book club. 

Baker said that preparing for nationals will teach her a great deal, such as keeping her life balanced with school and extracurricular activities, managing her schedule, and being sure she has fun while she’s doing it. “I want it to be something that I enjoy, and right now it is. I don’t want to become too overwhelmed and stress out over everything because this is a fantastic opportunity that not a lot of people get,” she said. 

The third local title holder, Jess Toher, is part of the Mrs. Maine America pageant for married women. This year, she is serving as Mrs. Windham, and will compete in the statewide contest for the title of Mrs. Maine next April. The platform of this pageant is to celebrate marriage and the achievements of married women, she said.

When she was first approached about participating, she was not interested. But when she began to look into what it was really all about, it was exactly what she had been wanting to do for years, said Toher. “What I really wanted to accomplish going through the process is really just giving back to my community. I think that far too often, it’s easier to make up excuses not to do something than to do it. This is really my motivator,” she said. 

Toher is the busy mother of a 5-year-old son and three month old daughter. She is also a full time student, studying criminal justice at Central Maine Community College. She is a full time employee of the Oxford Casino, and owns a very small company, New England Special Occasion Consultants, where she helps people create very special moments to remember.

Being Mrs. Windham gives her the motivation to get out there and help people, she said. She wants to reach out and let people know that no event is too large or too small. She is willing to help with any kind of service, fundraising, or event in the Windham area.

Some of the things Toher has worked on to date include the Windham Backpack program and participating in a community block party. She said she really enjoys working with the elderly population as well. 

Toher has been involved in theater and commercials since she was five, but never before tried pageants. The Mrs. Maine pageant is nothing like what the stereotypical image is, she said. “It’s really about going out there and trying to achieve helping others. That’s what interests me.” 

The MASP has the goal of raising awareness of social issues, as well as fostering young women to be volunteers in their community, said Landry. “We are offering a platform for these young ladies to grow into strong, civic minded women,” she said. The national pageant goals are similar - to promote positive pageantry through volunteerism, respect, honor and integrity. The MASP is a 501c3 pageant, and 100 percent of net proceeds are donated back to Maine schools for research based bullying prevention books, curriculum and free school appearances.

All three title holders are available for appearances and service. They can be contacted via email at the following addresses: Celine Baker: ; Kelley Wassick:; and Jess Toher at

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