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Albany native Reedi Hawkins competing in Miss Georgia

Albany native Reedi Hawkins, representing Miss Historic Southern Plains, will compete in the Miss Georgia pageant on June 21. (Special photo)

Albany native Reedi Hawkins, representing Miss Historic Southern Plains, will compete in the Miss Georgia pageant on June 21. (Special photo)

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Albany resident Malone Powell, left, with Hawkins, will compete for the title of Miss Georgia Outstanding Teen. (Special photo)

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Reedi Hawkins (Special photo)

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Reedi Hawkins spends time visiting hospitals and schools, speaking on her platform of using common sense when navigating social media. (Special photo)

Since she was 4 years old, Reedi Hawkins has known what she wanted to do.

“That was the first time I saw the Miss Georgia pageant,” Hawkins recalled. “Since then, I’ve always known that I wanted to be a part of the Miss America Organization — not just pageants, but MAO.”

Hawkins, 22, is now living out that dream.

The Albany native currently holds the title of Miss Historic Southern Plains, and will compete for the crown of Miss Georgia on June 21 in Columbus.

“I love being able to represent this area as Miss Historic Southern Plains,” Hawkins said. “Since we no longer have a Miss Albany pageant, this is the closest I can get to representing my hometown, and it covers the Southwest Georgia region.”

This will be Hawkins’ third time competing in Miss Georgia. In 2012, she was awarded both the preliminary and non-finalist talent awards, and was a Top 10 semi-finalist in 2013.

“You learn so much with each experience,” Hawkins said. “Yes, my ultimate goal is to win, but I really just want to keep improving personally as well. My goal is to be a better Reedi than the Reedi of 2013 — you just keep using your experiences and building on them.

“And really, a little experience is what you need for something like this,” Hawkins noted with a chuckle. “There’s nothing quite like the Miss Georgia pageant. You get thrown into the deep end, and you better know how to swim!”

When Hawkins reports for rehearsal and pageant preliminaries next week, she will need to be prepared for several days of intense training that provide all the contestants much practice with multitasking, time management, and keeping a cool head in the midst of all the craziness.

“They really run you hard, and you’ve got to know yourself in order to keep your peace of mind,” Hawkins said. “It’s a great experience, but also a complete upheaval from normal routine.

“It’s a lot of fun, though,” she concedes. “We call it ‘summer camp for girls.’ We do everything together that week.”

Hawkins’ days in Columbus will begin in the early morning when everyone must report for duty, carrying everything they may possibly need for the entire day — including all pageant gear for preliminary competitions — because they will not be allowed back into their rooms again until nightfall. The contestants then spend the day practicing and rehearsing pageant numbers, routines, and procedures before competing in preliminary competitions during the evening. Oh, and they may be allowed to speak with family members for 15 minutes at the end of the day.

“Sometimes we only have 20 minutes to get ready for a competition, from start to finish,” said Hawkins. “You have to know how to get things done quickly, and you just hope that the judges aren’t basing their scores on whether or not your hair looks perfect that night!

“It can be stressful sometimes, but you really learn how to be professional and conducive to any situation, and roll with the punches — that’s good for anyone to know.”

And Hawkins will be sure to get plenty of experience with that during the pageant.

“I can’t really describe the feeling you get before the curtain goes up,” said Hawkins. “It becomes a moment of celebration, because you’re finally in the moment that you have been working so long and so hard for. And then it’s over so fast — after everything you’ve done, you really only get a couple of minutes on stage to be able to sell yourself and show your personality. You have to be on your game.”

Hawkins’ platform is “Cybersense: Social Media the Smart Way,” which is a cause she became passionate about after a close friend’s identity was stolen online and falsely used.

“I started looking for more information about this issue, and found that there really was not a lot to be found. And it’s incredibly important right now — everyone, but especially the younger generation, needs to know how to protect themselves.

“This is one area that younger kids are going to be exposed to and learning more about than adults,” she said. “And they need to know how to conduct themselves properly. Elementary students I speak to are all knowledgeable about online networking, but they don’t yet understand how to do it safely. This needs to change.

“A lot of income from social media is based on advertisers who are looking for your personal information in order to play to your interests,” Hawkins noted. “It takes a conscious effort to protect yourself, because social media is constantly evolving and changing, and so are their privacy settings. This is something that is not going to go away.”

Along with promoting her platform and educating young students, Hawkins also donates time to the national platform of the Miss America Organization — the Children’s Miracle Network.

All contestants in the Miss America Organization on local, state and national levels are required to volunteer for the Children’s Miracle Network, visiting hospitals and hosting special events for patients such as “reverse trick-or-treating,” in which the pageant queens deliver candy to children who are unable to leave the hospital.

“It’s such a rewarding experience — it always amazes me how the kids get so excited to see us,” Hawkins said. “I mean, I know that I’m nothing special, but they are always just so happy that you came to see them. It’s impossible not to get caught up in their smiles and charming personalities.

“Another thing I really appreicate about CMN is that any donations raised here stay in the local area. Instead of going to corporate and being distributed anywhere, the funds will be used right here in the local community.

Hawkins is careful not to take any of her experiences for granted.

“I know that I’m really blessed to be able to do what I do,” she said. “No matter what happens at Miss Georgia next week, I still have this incredible opportunity to encourage others the way that I have been encouraged.

“Of course I would love to win the crown. But for me, it’s more about the quality of the person. I want to represent myself and my area in the best way I can, and be a person like the contestants I looked up to as a little girl. When I saw them, I didn’t notice their sparkly dresses or pretty smiles — I saw their integrity, the way they conducted themselves, and how they inspired other people around them.

“Since I was 4 years old, that is who I have aspired to be as well. Literally, I’ve grown up with it, and I have been working toward this time for my whole life, striving to constantly become the best person I can be.”

Hawkins admitted that it can be frustrating that a lot of perception about pageants nowadays seems to be based on what viewers see on reality shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras.”

“The Miss America Organization is not like that at all,” Hawkins said. “It really takes a lot of hard work and persistence, but it’s so rewarding when you realize that you can make a difference in another’s life — that’s what it’s all about.

“You can never link success to a crown — at the end of the night, it’s all about the person you have become, and whether or not you’ve been able to use your gifts, talents and opportunities to help someone else.

“I feel like I’ve literally been living out one of my dreams, and that’s amazing,” Hawkins said. “You just can’t go into an experience like this and not be changed — and become a better person than you were when you started.”