Two residents of Camden are set to make their mark in the upcoming 2023 Miss Arkansas pageant.
Hope Hesterly and Gabriella Tidwell will compete for the title of Miss Arkansas as two of the 47 contestants that will be competing in the pageant starting on Saturday, June 3.
Camden has not had a representative win the Miss Arkansas pageant since 1985, when Christi Taunton won the title.
Both Hesterly and Tidwell are looking to obtain more than just the title, however. Both hope to earn scholarships that will benefit their futures and careers and provide support to their community.
Hesterly, a recent graduate of Southern Arkansas University and the current Miss SAU has been a member of the SAU cheerleading squad for four years, is a student ambassador and has a love for mentoring.
"Mentorship is really important to me," Hesterly said, "That is my community service initiative and the reason I wanted to get involved in the Miss Arkansas organization. That's why I wanted to become Miss Southern Arkansas University in the first place."
Mentorship is an important aspect of her life, going back to being raised in a single-parent household. She was able to find extra support from mentors, she said.
Hesterly has already earned her bachelor's degree in education at SAU and plans to pursue a Master's and then a Ph.D. in the field so she can pursue her desire to be a mentor herself.
Outside of the classroom, she has already provided mentorship while at SAU. Hope has worked with the Magnolia Boys and Girls Club as well as other groups since being named Miss SAU.
"What I found is," Hesterly said, "when you have a support system, you're able to overcome your challenges and all someone really needs is to have someone there to support them, and mentorship can provide that for others. I think the thing that stands out the most to me is by giving a little bit of your time and your love. you can help someone else so much."
Tidwell is just finishing her freshman year at Henderson State. Tidwell was named Miss Henderson State this year and will compete for Miss Arkansas before returning for her sophomore year.
Tidwell is also looking to provide community support for others based on her personal experiences. Her community initiative is to help individuals with speech disorders.
"I decided to compete for Miss Henderson State University not only because of the scholarship opportunities, but because of my community service initiative," Tidwell said, "which is raising awareness for individuals with speech disorders. So for my entire life, I struggled to pronounce the letter 'R' because I have a speech impediment, and so I've made it my mission to raise awareness and bring hope and a clear purpose into the lives of those who struggle with speech disorders."
Tidwell is not a beginner when it comes to competing in the Miss Arkansas pageant. She was a contestant in the 2022 Miss Arkansas pageant, which was eventually won by Ebony Mitchell of Eureka Springs.
"It was one of the best experiences," she said. "I'm really excited to be able to go back and, of course, represent the school. I'm really excited to meet all of the girls and all the candidates this year and just gain more experience and, also, share my platform with the rest of the state of Arkansas."
Both Hesterly and Tidwell are happy to be sharing this experience, they said. These contestants look to make a significant impact in their communities. They will both look to make Camden proud starting this Saturday, June 3.
This story has been edited from a previous version to correct the misspelling of Hesterly's name and provide clarity.