Middlebury girl traveling to Miss America pageant with Miss Vermont

MIDDLEBURY — When Jeanelle Achee, 22, won the Miss Vermont title this past June, perhaps the only person more excited than her in the South Burlington High School auditorium was 8-year-old Abigayle Pierro.
“I jumped and then I screamed,” said Pierro, reenacting the moment as she spoke. She then ran on stage to give Achee a hug and pose for a picture. Achee has mentored Pierro for three years in the Miss Vermont Princess program, and now the Middlebury third-grader will have the chance to travel with Achee to Atlantic City for the 2014 Miss America Pageant on September 10.
“We couldn’t ask for a better role model,” said Jennifer Stocker, Pierro’s mother, referring to Achee.
“Abi and her family have become part of my pageant family, said Achee, a native of Rochester. “They have been there supporting me and cheering me on with endless support…just knowing that they are there watching (on TV or in the audience) is going to be one of the thoughts I remind myself of to bring a genuine smile to my face before walking onstage in September.”
But before going to Atlantic City, Pierro will attend Princess Camp in Orlando, Florida, part of the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program from August 13-17, with 40-50 other ‘Princesses’ whose mentors won their state’s Miss America or Miss Outstanding Teen pageants. Chloe Johnson, 16, this year’s Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen will go with Pierro to Orlando to compete in the Outstanding Teen pageant.
Pierro has been interested in pageants since kindergarten when she told her class she wanted to be Miss Vermont when she grew up. When Stocker heard about the Miss Vermont Princess mentorship program three years ago, she signed her daughter up. Pierro, energetic and lanky, has asthma, which has limited her ability to play sports and participate in other activities.
“We were trying to find something that was interesting to her. She was always interested in pageants, but I refused to put her in glitz pageants because I wanted her to look her age,” said Stocker, referring to the child beauty competitions that have become infamous thanks to reality television shows like TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras.
“(The Miss America organization) is completely different. It focuses on scholarships, it’s not about beauty at all, it’s about style, self-presentation, and each one has to have a platform, a cause that they are working towards,” said Stocker. “I think there is a big difference.”
The Princess program, which began in 2009, pairs girls ages 5 to 10 with women competing in local or state Miss America pageants. The goal is to provide mentorship, and promote Miss America’s Four Points of the Crown: style, service, scholarship and success.
Every April, all the princesses and their mentors get together for Princess Day where they each receive a crown and sash and make crafts that are inspired by the “Four Points of the Crown.” Stocker says her daughter has made many friends through the program and gained a lot of confidence in herself.
“It’s about having fun,” said Pierro about Princess Day.
Then, every June, the princesses attend the Miss Vermont pageant and have the opportunity to go on stage with their mentors wearing their white gowns.
Achee and Pierro, who think of each other as sisters after three years together, also spend time outside of those two events cooking together, exploring the area, and making charm bracelets (one of which Pierro finished on her own and gave to Achee before the Miss Vermont Pageant last month).
At Princess Camp in Orlando this August, Pierro and the other princesses will rehearse and perform in a dance number at the Outstanding Teen competition, parade through the Medieval Times theme park, and have several opportunities to meet this year’s Miss America, Mallory Hagan.
To raise money for the costs of Princess Camp, Pierro’s family will hold a Texas Holdem tournament on July 21 at the Bridport Grange Hall and a spaghetti dinner on July 23 at Middlebury’s American Legion (where Miss Vermont and Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen will be in attendance).
In the future, Pierro has her eyes set on Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen, but she will have to wait until she is 13 to enter. At that point she will start the competition aspect of the Miss America pageants and become eligible for the scholarships that come with them.
The Miss America organization is, according to their website, the largest provider of scholarships for women in the world. Achee, a nursing student at the University of Vermont, has won thousands of dollars of scholarship money through Miss America pageants. Stocker admits that with three children to put through college the scholarships Miss America provides are a draw.
Achee plans to be with Pierro every step of the way. “When Abi is ready to compete in Outstanding Teen, I will be there to help her prepare and support her 100 percent,” Achee said. “I feel responsible (as an older sister would) to make sure that she recognizes her intelligence and talents so she can develop self confidence, which will assist in her growing into a successful and beautiful young woman.”

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