Camille Neuder grew up hearing stories of her mother’s experience with the Junior Miss program. She watched her older sister participate, which had an immediate impact. “Watching her performance, her practice, her smile, it was eye-opening for me and got me excited to join,” she said.
Now known as Distinguished Young Women (DYW), the nationwide program invites girls in their junior or senior year of high school to participate in a program that includes five criteria: Scholastics, Interview, Talent, Fitness and Self- Expression. Throughout the year, the young women work on each category, culminating in a competition which includes thousands of dollars in scholarship money. That competition was held this past March, in which Camille took home top honors in several categories. “Fortunately we were still able to hold it in-person with family members in attendance. All the girls were feeling excitement and nerves, but it is such a great group of girls, and we were all there to support each other,” recalled Camille.
The experience helped her focus even more to prepare for the upcoming statewide competition. Camille was joined by 35 other young women throughout the state, this time in a virtual setting. At the end of the competition she was named Distinguished Young Woman of Idaho and is the first Sandpoint resident to be given the title. “It was a total shock. I went into the competition just wanting to represent Sandpoint as best I could,” she said.
Camille took home nearly $6,000 in scholarship money for her achievements thus far. Her new title will take her to appearances and events throughout the state while she now prepares for the national event, which is scheduled to take place in June of 2021.
While the scholarship money and accolades are the culmination of the program, lessons learned from participation are the primary goal of DYW. The message the organization looks to instill in young women is one of building confidence, self-esteem and leadership qualities. The message of “Be Your Best Self ” is set through five principles: Be Healthy, Be Involved, Be Studious, Be Ambitious and Be Responsible. Girls in the program practice twice weekly working on each of the five categories. Scoring for each category is broken down by percentage points: Scholastics (25 percent), Interview (25 percent), Talent (20 percent), Fitness (15 percent) and Expression (15 percent).
While scholastics are primarily done in the classroom, each of the other categories is practiced with help from a local committee. These include mentors, volunteers, and previous program participants and winners. At practices, the girls work on mastering the fitness routine and build public speaking confidence by doing live interviews. While the additional practices add up in an already busy teenage life, it is something Camille always looks forward to. “I juggle a lot, but I love everything that I do. It’s great to get to be a part of it and hang out with so many wonderful people,” she said.
Though seven months away, Camille is hard at work preparing for the national competition, which is scheduled to be held in Mobile, Alabama, June 24 through 26. She is putting extra focus on sharpening her talent and interview portions of the event. While a competition, Camille says girls are extremely supportive of each other at each level. She’s already reached out to other state winners through Instagram to introduce herself and get to know them.
Camille is also dedicating herself to service both in her own community and abroad. She is working with Days For Girls, an organization that helps empower young women in developing countries. She’s also helped lead a group of young girls to create dog toys that they then distributed to the local animal shelter. Through all of it, Camille wants young girls to see that they can indeed be their best self.
“I want to encourage others to use their voice and let them know that they are capable and strong enough to do so.”
Camille plans on utilizing the scholarship money to pursue her interests in STEM, specifically engineering. “I want to study and work on renewable energy and help make it more accessible, affordable and more efficient,” she said. Her top school currently is the Colorado School of Mines, but she is also awaiting a response from her application to MIT.
The Distinguished Young Women program has opened many doors and opportunities for Camille, and she wasn’t the only person to walk away with scholarship money. In fact, just at the local level the eight 2020 Sandpoint participants were awarded more than $9,000 in scholarships. At the national level more than $1 billion is made available for scholarships, and there is no cost for any young woman to participate in the program. “If I didn’t win a thing, I would still participate. Everyone is so kind and inspirational, and the life lessons I’ve learned have changed who I am. I highly encourage any young woman to take this opportunity to become their best self,” said Camille.
Signups are currently open through December 31. You can also visit DistinguishedYW.org for additional information.