Miss A Columnist

Kristen Kwiatkowski is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about many different subjects. Having previously written for Miss A Annapolis, Kristen is pleased to continue this exciting journey with Miss A Philadelphia. Since she was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, it is wonderful for her to get back to her hometown and discover all of the new aspects of the city as well as enjoy all of the old favorite places and exciting events which the Philadelphia area offers. Kristen has spent many extraordinary years as a military spouse and has had the opportunity to live in many different locales while experiencing the flavor and flair of these different regions. Kristen enjoys writing about various topics including food and wine, fashion, charity events, restaurant reviews, cultural events, music, online marketing and more. Ranging from informative review pieces to creative short stories, writing has become an enjoyable way of life for her and one which she is not soon to leave behind.

Charity Meets: Leah Sykes

Leah Sykes, Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2014 (Photo Credit: Jenn Cady)

Leah Sykes, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014 (Photo Credit: Jenn Cady)

Leah Sykes is Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014 as well as a musician and student who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. She has been involved with many different charity and philanthropic efforts both before her time as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014 as well as during the holding of this title. Having founded the organization A Beach for EveryBODY, Leah not only loves donating her time to other causes but to forging a path of her own via her organization. Leah enjoys traveling throughout the country in her role as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014 and meeting new people in addition to helping to make a difference in many important ways. In her free time, Leah enjoys running outdoors and taking part in marathons for fun.

 

Occupation: Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014; student; musician

Website: http://www.reverbnation.com/leahsykes

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LeahSykesMusician

 

Q: What are three words which best describe you?

A: Self-motivated: I’ve been homeschooled my whole life, so I know how to motivate myself to get work done!; Determined: I put all I have into all that I do. If I’m going to run, I’ll run a marathon; if I’m going to serve, I’m going to start my own foundation! (both of which I’ve done); YELLOW! Whenever I think of things that are yellow, I think of happy things that make you smile, so I think YELLOW describes me well.

Leah Sykes reading to children at the Philadelphia Free Library (Photo Credit: Michele Grzegorczyk-MAOT)

Leah Sykes reading to children at the Philadelphia Free Library (Photo Credit: Michele Grzegorczyk-MAOT)

Q: What is your role, where are you based and what inspires you most about your work?
A: I am Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2014 and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. The thing that inspires me most about my work is the amazing people that I meet! I have traveled to many cities in America and have spoken and performed for some incredible people. I’ve visited children in many hospitals. I go to these appearances hoping to make a difference in someone’s life and have found that these experiences impact me tremendously.

Q: Was there anything in your past which pointed you in the direction you’ve taken?
A: When I was 12, I participated in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen “princess program” in the state of Florida. The princess program allows you to be mentored by one of the titleholders in your state. It was a wonderful way for me to see what the organization is about and also meet many of the amazing girls that take part. Because of this, I fell in love with the program. The experience also inspired me to start singing, which I continue to do today!

Leah singing at the 2013 Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Leah singing at the 2013 Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Q: What experience in your role are you most proud of?
A: In November, I performed for children at the Philadelphia Dream Academy and, at the end of our question and answer session, a young girl came up to me and told me she wanted to be exactly like me when she grew up. That meant so much to me!

Q: Why is giving back important to you?
A: Because we have been blessed with so much! My family has always been involved with charity projects and being able to help people means the world to me because when you see the need, all you want to do is help!

Q: How has giving back helped you?
A: My grandmother passed away last year from ALS, but before then so many people would come to us and ask how they could help not only my Mima, but also my family and my grandfather. I am thankful to have the opportunity to pay forward to others the kindness that was given to our family.

Leah at the airport on her way to Nashville (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Leah at the airport on her way to Nashville (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Q: How do you incorporate giving back into your life?
A: I’ve started my own foundation called A Beach for EveryBODY. The goal is to make the beach accessible to everyone despite their disabilities. Because of her illness, my grandmother was placed in a wheelchair. I saw many of the things that she loved be taken from her, such as the beach. This prompted my mom and me to meet with many different people in our city to understand what it would take to make the beach possible for everyone. Much more than a ramp to get a handicapped loved one on the beach, A Beach for EveryBODY is a beach park with a goal to integrate the disabled into our beach environment through swing sets that you can strap a wheelchair into, stations where you can make sandcastles at eye level, and much more.

Q: Which charities are near and dear to you and why?
A: Goodness, there are so many that I love! However, the first that comes to mind is Children’s Miracle Network. I have been able to help with so many of their events and visit the children in children’s hospitals. I have seen firsthand the deep impact that the organization has on these families. They are such a blessing to so many people and I absolutely love lending a hand.

Q: When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back on and feel has made the largest impact on those whom you have set out to help?
A: By showing that people care! When I share the story of what we went through with my grandmother’s illness, I think it helps me connect with them and what they are going through. It gives them hope that there are people who notice their needs and will do anything they can to meet them.

Leah Sykes, MAOT 2014, singing and playing guitar at the Wednesday preliminary of Miss America (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Leah Sykes, MAOT 2014, singing and playing guitar at the Wednesday preliminary of Miss America (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Q: What is the most creative fundraising idea you’ve come across?
A: The MS Mud Run! The money raised benefits MS research and they have created a fun way of getting people involved. They have a 6-mile long Army-style run. The entire course is mud and there are different obstacles along the way that will have you doing anything from jumping and crawling to swinging and sliding!

Q: What are some must-attend charity events for you?
A: The ones that allow you to meet the people you are serving. It means so much to me to be able to meet the family of a child going through an illness and know that I am helping to make a difference for them. It’s such a blessing to be both the server and the one being served.

Q: What brands do you wear most often?
A: Probably Yours Truly! They make the cutest game-day clothes but with their variety of colors, I can wear them any day of the week.

Q: What is your favorite beauty product?
A: I use a variety of skincare products, but when it comes to makeup, I only use YBF (Your Best Friend). It is so easy to use and you look incredible, but it doesn’t feel like you are wearing any makeup!

Q: Do you have any tips for parents?
A: Definitely to stand behind your child. My parents have encouraged me in everything I do; whether I want to do a pageant or run a marathon, they always support me 100%!

Q: Favorite TV show:
A: “Monk.” He’s so silly.

Leah Sykes, MAOT 2014, finishing a marathon in Jacksonville, Florida (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Leah Sykes, MAOT 2014, finishing a marathon in Jacksonville, Florida (Photo Credit: MAOT)

Q: Favorite movie:
A: Miss Congeniality (I promise it was my favorite movie before I was involved in pageants!)

Q: Favorite song:
A: “All I Need” by Arbor Park.

Q: Favorite book:
A: All the Harry Potter books.

Q: Favorite apps:
A: The running app. It is so helpful!

Q: iPhone or Android:
A: iPhone all the way.

Q: Favorite workout:
A: Running over the bridges in my hometown! (My record is 16 bridges in just 21 miles)

 

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