Seniors from nine high schools vied for scholarships during the final show of the Berks County Outstanding Young Woman Scholarship Program held at Kutztown Area High School on Sept. 24.
Wilson High School senior Claire Hinkle was named the 2023 Berks County Outstanding Young Woman.
“I had an amazing experience and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it,” Hinkle said. “I think it is sad that this program is being discontinued, but times have changed.”
Hinkle also received awards in the Interview and Performing Arts categories. She performed an Irish dance to “Vanishing Lake” as her talent. What she loved most was building friendships with the other contestants.
“I have had so much fun learning the dances and rehearsing with them, especially this past weekend,” said Hinkle. “I felt like we really bonded and I just have so much love for all of them.”
She gained poise and confidence under pressure through this experience that she hopes will help her in a future career in medicine. She plans to study biology with a pre-med track in college next year.
Boyertown senior Andrea Campbell was named first runner-up. What she liked most was bonding with the other contestants. Her talent was a vocal performance.
“They’re all like sisters to me, and we’re not going to stop hanging out after this,” Campbell said. “I’m really going to miss my Sunday night rehearsals.”
This experience helped her to speak in public and more eloquently. She plans to study musical theater in college, so the performance and interview opportunities really helped her.
“It’s sad that not every girl will have this opportunity,” Campbell said. “I feel honored to be the last Boyertown contestant. There hasn’t been a Boyertown contestant in a long time so I feel really honored to be the last and the first in like 20 years.”
Fleetwood senior Francesca Snyder was named second runner-up. Her talent was a vocal performance of “Quando men vo” from “La Boheme.”
“I love this program. I learned so much. I met so many great people,” Snyder said. “The best part for me, honestly, was meeting all of these incredible and outstanding young women. All eight of them are so kind and empathetic. I have never met more sympathetic people in my life.”
Through this experience she gained more coordination.
“I definitely struggled a lot with fitness and dancing, but I really pushed myself to figure it out and get better. That was definitely a great improvement that I learned by doing this,” Snyder said.
She also gained confidence and quick-thinking skills, especially in the interview.
“I really think it’s a great way for girls all across Berks County to get involved. You get so many good skills out of it, like interview skills. I never experienced an interview before this program so it was really helpful for my future,” said Snyder.
Exeter Township senior Aashveen Randhawa was named third runner-up and the Scholarship and Achievement scholarship recipient. She performed “Concerto in A Minor” on the violin.
“I’m really happy with this experience, it was so much fun and stressful at the same time, but I think it was very worth it,” Randhawa said. “I wanted to do this program because I thought I was the strongest in terms of my Scholarship and Achievement category and it turns out I was. It really helped me with talent because I was not very confident with performing.”
The program helped her to be a more confident person and be more capable of doing things on the spot. What she liked most were the friendships.
“I formed some really close bonds with several of the girls,” Randhawa said.
She feels it is unique to be the last year of contestants but said she is sad that girls are not going to be able to participate in the future.
The Keystone Award was presented to Oley Valley High School senior Tetje Williamson. She played the theme from “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” on the viola.
“It’s a great group of people. I had so much fun learning the steps,” Williamson said. “I learned that while I might not be a classically trained dancer, I can learn new things all the time.”
Participating in the program was a great experience, especially getting out on stage and performing, building her confidence, she said.
The Aerobics and Fitness award was presented to Berks Catholic High School senior Olivia Rosa. She performed a tap dance to “I Lived.”
“What I liked most about the program was attending rehearsals because I got to know all the girls and we bonded together,” Rosa said. “What I learned from this is that we’re all a team. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter who won because we all won because we were all just so happy for each other.”
Rosa said it is sad that others will not get to experience what they did.
The Presence and Performance award was presented to Kutztown Area High School senior Julia Perella. She performed a dance to “Visiting Hours.”
Other contestants included Reading High School senior Ellyssa Elliott, who sang “I Remember,” and Schuylkill Valley High School senior Megan Raifsnider, who presented a clarinet performance during the talent portion.
The Berks County Outstanding Young Woman Scholarship Program hoped to provide a well-rounded program to help young women with public speaking, confidence, and other life skills, as well as award more than $7,000 in scholarships with the overall winner receiving at least $3,500.
“We also hope to strive to help our world’s future through our scholarship and help give young women an opportunity to help their education,” said David DeTurk, president of the board of directors for the scholarship program. “We have always received positive feedback from our contestants, and many have gone on to have successful careers and made life-long friends because of the program.”
Organizers announced that the Berks County Outstanding Young Woman Scholarship Program is being discontinued after this year.
“The downturn of the economy and public health concerns, like so many nonprofits, has hurt our program,” said DeTurk. “We have also seen a decline in contestants over the last few years, so this factor also played into the decision.”
Last year, seniors from 15 high schools participated, while this year only nine seniors participated.
“While we are sad to end the program after its long time in Berks County, we had to make a decision, and it was not made lightly by the board of directors,” said DeTurk.
Past winners were invited to attend the final show on Sept. 24 during which they were recognized for being a part of this long-standing program that was established in 1964.
“We thank all of our volunteers and our committee members, past and present, those who served on the board of directors in the past and present,” said DeTurk.
“We thank them for their dedicated service to this organization and for helping preserve this tradition in Berks County as well as dedicating their time and sacrifice to an organization to try to showcase Berks County’s outstanding young women, to show that there is still a bright spot in our community and in our world.”
Finalists were selected in the spring. Several activities were held during the summer. Weekly rehearsals began in August and culminated with two rehearsals and a dress rehearsal the week of the program. Only 60% of the judging was seen by the audience during the show.
The five judging categories were Scholarship and Achievement, Interview, Performing Arts, Aerobics and Fitness, and Presence and Presentation, each worth 20%.
For Scholarship and Achievement, a panel of educators evaluated the grade transcripts and scholastic test scores of the contestants as well as their achievements in their school and community.
For the Interview, the panel evaluated knowledge, perception, clarity of expression, sense of values and communication skills during a 10-minute discussion.
For Performing Arts, each contestant displayed a talent that was evaluated for ability and skill as well as stage presence.
For Aerobics and Fitness, judges evaluated physical well-being and stamina as well as coordination and agility during a group aerobic routine featuring calisthenics.
For Presence and Presentation, judges evaluated the contestant’s naturalness in carriage, posture, and poise in moving about the stage as well as the ability to verbally communicate with confidence.
For more information about the program, visit https://www.berksoyw.com/.