Princeton student Cara McCollum, a Forrest City native, won the Miss New Jersey pageant over the weekend. She'll compete for the Miss America crown in September. McCollum's platform, youth literacy, isn't one that she arrived at overnight. Here's an excerpt from our profile of McCollum in our 2010 Academic All-Stars issue:
Cara says her achievement started with a love of reading. She wrote in her All-Star application essay that books have taken her around the world, from Sierra Leone with child soldiers to California with Dust Bowl Okies. More concretely, the learning they inspired took her to the Duke Talent Identification Program, where she studied dystopian literature, and to the Interlochen Summer Academy, where she worked on creative writing.
Reading isn't a selfish pursuit. Cara started a monthly story time at the Boys and Girls Club. She donated more than 1,000 books to a children's library. She started a countywide Birthday Book program for poor children aged 5-10, an outgrowth of the Christmas-time Toys for Tots campaign. Parents who registered for toys also were provided a book. She later expanded the birthday book program to a local elementary school, with a gift book for every child. Cara's work made her a finalist in the annual Daniel Cayce Award competition for youth volunteerism.
In an interview with the Daily Princetonian, McCollum said she got into the pageant world so she could continue her Birthday Book program.
I'm originally from Arkansas, and pageants are really huge down there, so it's kind of bizarre that I didn't get involved until I moved up north. But I had a charity that I started my junior year of high school called the Birthday Book Project, and I wanted to bring it with me to New Jersey, and I just didn't have the connections within the community. And so the Miss New Jersey organization, you know — you have a platform that you promote throughout your reign, and so they literally gave me a platform to stand on. I had my support team, and I was able to get into schools and read to kids and start back my charity. It was just a really excellent way to get involved in the community.