Meet the Portland-area candidates for Miss Oregon

Mogu Ja To Sama

In summer in Seaside, there are three things you can count on: sun, the beach and the Miss Oregon contest.

This year’s event takes place July 17-22, and 20 young women from around the state will compete in evening gown, talent and interview with hopes of becoming the next titleholder.

In addition to the competition categories, each contestant chooses a platform consisting of a social issue that she feels strongly about.

Above all, the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program is more than just a crown and title, as it award thousands of educational scholarships to participants every year.

Sophia Takla of Portland is the reigning Miss Oregon.

Six of this year’s contestants have ties to the Portland metro area. They are: Allison Burke, Miss Central Valley; Karson Fair, Miss Tri-Valley; Hannah Garhofer, Miss Portland Metro; Lilly Mecham, Miss Northwestern; Karol Wai, Miss City of Bridges; and Sarah White, Miss City of Roses.

Here’s a little about them:

Allison Burke, Miss Central Valley

Burke said what she is most looking forward to at the pageant is performing her talent piece “The Storm” on the violin, as it allows her to show her passion for the instrument and helps her connect with the audience on an emotional level.

As for her platform, Burke said that in 2011, as president of the Tigard Youth Advisory Council, she “witnessed a lack of resources for children in food insecure households to have nutritious meals over their weekends and holiday breaks.”

This led her to start a food-assistance program at Durham Elementary School.

Her mission of working for a Hunger-Free Oregon then became a natural fit for her platform, Burke said. 

If she is chosen as Miss Oregon, her goals would include growing the scholarship program, helping recruit young women to the program and spreading her mission of a Hunger-Free Oregon.

Karson Fair, Miss Tri-Valley 2023

“I’m eagerly anticipating the competition and showcasing my hard work, but what excites me the most is returning to Seaside and spending time with my fellow Miss Oregon contestants,” said Fair, of Portland.

“The overwhelming support our program receives from the Seaside community is truly incredible,” she added.

Her platform, Know Your Worth, aims to “strengthen personal empowerment, reduce the stigma of mental health and foster overall health in our communities,” Fair said.

She added that due to the pressure to be perfect and successful in today’s world, it is crucial to remind others of their value and worth.

If she becomes the titleholder her overall goal would be to “create a lasting legacy of growth for the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program” by forming partnerships with Oregon-based businesses to increase scholarship funds.

“Additionally, I plan to utilize the platform of Miss Oregon to spread the message of Know Your Worth through a statewide school tour,” Fair said.

Hannah Garhofer, Miss Portland Metro

Although Garhofer represents Portland in the competition, her heart is in her hometown of Seaside.

“From the parade, to tap dancing on the stage I grew up on, I am most eager to cherish and soak up every moment of this experience,” she said.

Garhofer said she chose her platform Mentorship: Developing Leaders and Connecting Communities because she believes if you give children confidence, and help them develop both professional and personal life skills, they can accomplish anything.

“I feel fortunate to have incredible mentors who have invested and encouraged me in my dreams, and I hope I can make an impact like that on youth’s lives across Oregon,” she said.

If she is selected as Miss Oregon, Garhofer said her goal would be to continue advocating for children across the state, focusing on mentorship.

She added, “Recruitment of contestants across the state of Oregon, paired with educational institution and vocational school partnerships are at the forefront of my mission.”

Lilly Mecham, Miss Northwestern

Mecham said she is most looking forward to performing her musical theater talent on the Seaside Convention Center stage, as well as meeting and spending time with all the other contestants.

“It is really such an empowering environment,” she added.

Her platform Bloom: Healing Trauma is important to her, as she is a trauma survivor and was diagnosed with complex PTSD about a year ago.

“My healing journey has been full of ups and downs but two things have been clear: I am not alone and I am not broken. That is the message I want to spread through my platform,” Mecham said.

As Miss Oregon, Mecham, of Portland, said she would continue to foster a space where both individual and community healing can happen.

Starting in September, she will lead a support group for grieving children, and is working on a children’s book about consent.

“With or without the crown I have some big plans for next year,” she added.

Karol Wai, Miss City of Bridges

Growing up as a young Burmese-Korean girl from a community of Myanmar immigrants and refugees, Wai said she is proud and humbled to dedicate her year as Miss City of Bridges to building bridges in the community.

“Earning the opportunity to even participate in the Miss Oregon Scholarship competition is what I am most looking forward to,” said Wai, of Clackamas.

“My life experiences instilled a sense of gratitude within me for having the privilege of living in the United States of America,” she said.

This led her to her platform Youth Voice Youth Vote, Oregon’s first participatory budgeting process, which taps into the lived experiences and collective intelligence of youth ages 13-25 who live in Senate Districts 24 and 25.

She added that if she were to win Miss Oregon, it would show others that if you can dream it, you can do it, no matter where you come from.

Sarah White, Miss City of Roses

White said she is looking forward to bonding with her fellow contestants who are all ambitious, service-oriented women.

For her platform, she chose Further with Finance, because she believes that “financial literacy is the key to a more equitable society that is often ignored.”

White pointed out that Oregon does not have a required curriculum related to personal finance and she is making it her mission to change that for the next generation.

“Through hosting workshops in schools, supporting existing educational programs and advocating for legislation, I’m making sure every Oregon student can confidently manage their money,” she added.

If she is selected as Miss Oregon, White, of Portland said her two most overarching goals would be to “build positive brand awareness for the organization and increase youth access to financial education.”’

For more information about the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program, visit missoregon.org.

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