Miss Washington County uses social impact initiative to focus on Armed Forces

McKenna Hodge with an American Flag, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of McKenna Hodge, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — McKenna Hodge spent years dreaming of the day she could reclaim her title as Miss Washington County, and that dream finally became a reality late last month.

On June 28, Hodge was crowned the 2019 Miss Washington County, two years after she initially served the community under the same title in 2017.

Hodge said she decided to compete for the title once more in order to complete a full year of service, which she was unable to do in 2017. She took over the responsibilities just before the Miss Utah pageant in 2018 after the reigning queen was unable to finish her contract. 

“I am so grateful for this year to have a full year and have those different opportunities and resources to effectively serve the community,” she said.

Each contestant has a message they adopt to bring about positive change in their community. Hodge created her social impact initiative, called Anywhere They Go, to bridge the gap between civilians and servicemen and support the troops and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Hodge’s mission statement is to “educate, inspire and serve,” and her goal is to illustrate the needs of servicemen and women, show people how they can help and influence people to do all they can to serve. 

Former Miss Washington County Alivia Snow crowns McKenna Hodge as the new Miss Washington County at the Electric Theatre in St. George, Utah, June 28, 2019 | Photo courtesy of McKenna Hodge, St. George News

“I want to support them anywhere they go, and I want them – either when they’re in the field or when they’re at home – I want to get people to recognize that they still need our help and we still need theirs.”

In 2017, when Hodge was searching for a platform she could endorse, she said serving the troops immediately came to mind. The reigning pageant queen said her love and gratitude for the men and women who serve in the armed forces began when she was young and only grew as she heard stories from her grandfather, who was a bomber pilot during World War II. 

So far, Hodge has raised about $7,000 with the American Legion by selling poppies handmade by local veterans. The funds go to the American Legion to help families who have someone deployed or are struggling in the veteran community. 

Hodge is working with the local chapter of Vietnam veterans to help facilitate equestrian therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she is also organizing a fundraiser to help veterans pay for their therapy because men and women who need treatment for illnesses or injuries they receive while fighting for their country shouldn’t have to pay for it. 

“We have so many things that are not working right in the VA system,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can at least start locally down here and then go globally.”

Miss Washington County McKenna Hodge celebrates after her crowning in St. George, Utah, June 28, 2019 | Photo courtesy of McKenna Hodge, St. George News

The substitute teacher wants to visit schools and educate kids on what soldiers do and have them write letters. She said she plans to host a “Valentine for Vets” next spring and has partnered with Adopt a Soldier and Operation Gratitude.

She said it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. One letter a month could make a great impact in the lives of soldiers and veterans.

“There is so much contention going on in this country right now for various reasons, but there’s no reason that we can’t come together and support each other … and serve those who have served.”

Hodge also represents the Children’s Miracle Network as an ambassador, and she is currently working to raise money for Utah’s Primary Children’s Hospital by selling hair accessories for $5 and $10. She said she has never felt comfortable simply asking for donations, so she decided to sell patriotic headbands and scrunchies. 

Her relationship with Children’s Miracle Network started even before she won her local title. While competing for Miss Washington County, Hodge was required to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, but she said she now has the privilege of continuing that partnership.

Miss Washington County McKenna Hodge attends the City of St. George Fourth of July Celebration at Trailblazer Stadium in St. George, Utah, July 4, 2019 | Photo courtesy of McKenna Hodge, St. George News

Hodge said the organization is special to her because Children’s Miracle Network and Primary Children’s Hospital saved her brother’s life when he was a baby. 

“This fundraiser is near and dear to me because I’ve seen the impact it has one families; I was one of those families.”

Hodge is currently looking for sponsors to help her fund service projects and her journey to Miss Utah. 

“It takes a village,” she said.

Sponsors can donate in service or monetary funds. Donations are split into four tiers: honorary, emerald, sapphire and ruby. The tiers are broken down by monetization, with the honorary sponsors contributing less than $100 and ruby sponsors donating $300 or more. Hodge said most of the money that is donated is turned right back around and invested back into the community.

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Twitter: @STGnews | @AvereeRyann 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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