The words “beauty pageant” typically stir up images of young, beautiful women in gorgeous evening gowns and sparkling jewelry strutting on a stage, tap dancing or playing a piano concerto, and answering questions about how to achieve world peace.
If you attend the Georgia Health Care Association’s annual Ms. Georgia Health Care Association (GHCA) Pageant, you’ll find many of these beauty pageant hallmarks – but the participants will be mostly sexagenarians or older!
What led GHCA to put on such a traditional event with such a non-traditional pool of participants?
In late 1974, during a pageant held for the residents of the Georgia Care Nursing Home in Tifton, Mrs. Sally Copeland was named Mrs. Goober by the Georgia Peanut Commission. Because of the highly favorable media attention this pageant received, GHCA and the Peachtree Atlanta Kiwanis Club sponsored the first Ms. Georgia Nursing Home Pageant in May 1976. The reigning Miss Atlanta crowned Mrs. Sophie Weiss of The William Breman Jewish Home as the first Mrs. Nursing Home. GHCA later expanded the pageant statewide, and it has remained an annual association event.
The Georgia Health Care Association is a non-profit association of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers, and home- and community-based case managers called SOURCE. The association’s membership includes 95 percent of skilled nursing care facilities in Georgia. It represents the best interests of patients, residents and consumers, as well as owners, administrators and other personnel. GHCA strives to enhance the ability of member facilities to provide competent and compassionate care to meet the ever-changing health care needs of Georgia’s infirm, elderly and disabled citizens.
The Ms. GHCA Pageant is a lighthearted and genuine way GHCA shows its commitment to improving elderly and disabled care.
“Each year, the pageant gives Georgia’s skilled nursing center residents an exciting event to look forward to participating in,” said Sylvia Barnes, GHCA director of assisted living and affiliates. “It also provides an opportunity for GHCA, nursing home employees, and the friends and family of pageant participants to recognize the lifelong contributions these women have made to their families and communities,” she continued.
Each year, between 25 and 35 nursing homes across Georgia elect to participate in the MS. GHCA Pageant. Each facility holds an in-house pageant to determine who will advance to the state-level event. These local pageants involve interested participants dressing in long, formal gowns, sharing their personal history of community service, career accomplishments and family achievements, and sharing or showing off their favorite hobbies. A panel of judges made of local community leaders pose questions such as what they like most about their skilled nursing facility and how they continue to help others in need. Family and friends are invited to the pageant, and the winner is presented with a crown, sash and flowers.
“The contestants of the Miss GHCA pageant are representative of the many residents in long-term care facilities across the state,” said GHCA/Georgia Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Tony Marshall. “It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate elderly Georgians who are active, vibrant members of their communities.”
Once a local winner is selected, the nursing center submits a nomination form and/or scrapbook about its queen to GHCA, who then chooses 21 contestants to participate in the statewide pageant. An honorary court made up of any nominee not chosen to be in the pageant is presented in addition to the slate of 21 contestants because GHCA feels it’s important to honor all participants who had the courage to enter their local pageant, Barnes explained.
“We still want them to come out and enjoy the event with their families,” she said.
About 100 to 125 people attend the statewide pageant each year – mostly family and friends of contestants but also facility employees supporting their residents. This year’s pageant will be held at Stone Mountain’s Evergreen Resort on April 1.
“It’s a unique event that gets the residents dolled up and gives them a moment to shine,” Barnes explained. It’s also a grand way to honor their contributions to family, church, industry, schools and community in front of the people that care about them the most.”
“Families and friends love this event and the contestants enjoy the much-deserved spotlight,” she continued. “The contestants are treated like royalty for the day. The morning of the pageant, they receive a certificate of participation and goodie bag, and they are treated to a nice breakfast. Following their meal, we have a volunteer from Mary Kay who helps the contestants with their makeup, as well as a photographer who helps capture their beauty during the event. They are judged prior to the actual pageant by a panel of judges who are involved in long-term care. Paul Ossmann, weekend meteorologist for CBS 46 (the Atlanta CBS affiliate) emcees the event each year. The current Miss Georgia joins us as well to crown our queen.”
Clearly, royalty knows no age or rank when it comes to the Ms. GHCA Pageant.
The pageant doesn’t only benefit its grand contestants however. The Ms. GHCA pageant gives the Georgia Health Care Association a positive way to highlight the important work nursing homes across the state conduct on a daily basis. The association reaches out to local and statewide media to promote the event and participants. The crowned Ms. GHCA is asked to attend and speak at GHCA-sponsored events during the ensuing year, including the Georgia Society of Nursing Home Activity Directors Annual Meeting, the Georgia Golden Olympics, and the Stars of Long-Term Care event at GHCA’s annual winter convention. Sharing her story at these events helps industry professionals and others know the impact of quality nursing home care more intimately than any brochure, website or other communication piece could convey.
“Our association’s goal with the Ms. GHCA pageant is to host an exciting event that residents and their loved ones enjoy. Not only does the pageant provide a glimpse into the wonderful things happening in Georgia’s long-term care industry, but all involved have a wonderful time,” Barnes said. “GHCA is an association that advocates for Georgia’s elderly; hosting the pageant and honoring the residents is just one way we can show them and their families how much we care about their physical and emotional well-being, and display to the larger public why we do what we do.”
“From sharing laughs, to hearing residents’ passionate stories from their past, each contestant has a different way of making the annual pageant memorable to so many,” Barnes recalled.