Beauty queens band together to help Relay for Life

LAWRENCEVILLE - Beauty pageants complete with bright lights, elegant gowns and judges observing girls sashay on stage isn't the typical cancer fundraising event, but Queens for a Cure creator, Lacie Smith, is anything but typical.

The 20-year-old Georgia College and State University student already has raised $11,000 for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life event, scheduled for May 12 and 13.

Gwinnett County's Relay for Life is legendary. The county holds the No. 1 position in the world both in attendees and money raised. Last year's total hit $2.2 million but this year the teams are shooting for $2.5 million.

Lacie Smith's "Queens for a Cure" organization will surely help Gwinnett reach that goal. Smith has been raising money for the past three years to find a cure for cancer through hosting benefit beauty pageants.

A beauty queen herself, the premise for her team, beauty queens for a cure, was a natural one. Smith has competed in and won a variety of regional beauty pageants, such as the Brookwood High School Pageant and the Miss Atlanta Christian Pageant.

"I was proud of winning but I kept thinking I have this crown and I get to wear it in a parade but what does it mean?" she said.

Smith found the answer in 2003 when both her grandfathers died of cancer. As a child, Smith remembers walking laps with her grandfather, Arby Hull, at Relay for Life. After he died of prostate cancer she decided to start her own Relay for Life fundraising team in his honor.

"It came to me all of a sudden and I woke up one day and I thought I needed to have a Relay for Life team," Smith said. "I decided to call it 'Queens for a Cure.'"

Using her pageant contacts, she organized the first Queens for a Cure benefit pageant last year and raised $7,000. This year the event was much bigger and brought in almost twice the amount.

Each pageant contestant paid a $60 entrance fee and were encouraged to raise at least $150 each. The event, held at Providence Christian Academy, featured 41 contestants with ages ranging from 5 to 77.

"My father died of cancer one month ago," said Lawrenceville resident, Stacey Stone of why she was competing. "I thought what better way is there than to honor him this way," Stone raised $1,150 and had her children, Faye and Grace, raise money and compete as well.

Between classes, work with her college sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha and quality time with her family and boyfriend, Smith organized the three-hour long pageant.

The pageant was presented the same way a classical pageant would be. There were sports wear and ball gown competitions and even official ranking judges who sit for other pageants, such as the Co-Ed Georgia Pageant, present.

"I don't think twice about doing all the work I'm doing because I think of my grandpa," Smith said. "It's such a way for me to deal with all the grief and a way to get through it. It was a hard time for my family and Relay for Life has been a huge family project."

This year's Relay for Life will be May 12-13 at Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. So far Relay for Life Gwinnett has registered 278 teams and raised $350,000 in pledges. According to Relay for Life spokeswoman, Cynthie Annie, those numbers are slightly ahead of where Relay was at this time last year but more donations and teams are needed. To get involved, contact Cynthie Annie at writewithjoy@netzero.net.

The Winners

Miss Gwinnett County Relay For Life 2006 Winners:

•Courtney Barber (Tiny Miss)

•Katherine Reid (Young Miss)

•Mackensie Eckenfels (Little Miss)

•Stacey Stone (Mrs.)

•Kahryn Thompson-Gayle (Miss)

•Hollis Hart (Junior Miss)

•Shelby Mason (Pre-Teen Miss)

•Chelsea Nelson (Jr. Teen Miss)

•Nicole Barber (Supreme Miss)

•Bryanna Barber, Carter Coyle (Teen Miss)

•Camie Hull (Senior Ms.)