ALBANY — Organizers of an upcoming scholarship pageant, after seeing other pageants canceled this year, decided the virtual show must go on and will present the event online after two months of workshops and competition.

The “Miss Deborah Women’s Scholarship Pageant” will air on Oct. 7 on the Zoom format. It will include a video presentation of the 14 participants, ages 1 through 25. The miss contestants, ages 17 through 25, competed in talent, evening and formal wear categories.

As has been the case the previous four years, the fifth annual pageant will award scholarships, but the experience goes beyond that, said pageant director Ava O’Neal.

Over the two months of the competition, the participants took part in coaching sessions that, as has been the case in previous years, focus on mental and physical well-being. Due to many area students being in a virtual classroom settings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a session was added this year on strategies for being successful while getting an education at home.

“The first was navigating through virtual school,” O’Neal said. “Educators who provide online courses provided them with tools to better prepare them. The second session was with a licensed therapist about the importance of mental health and maintaining their mental health through the pandemic.”

A certified trainer provided online instruction on physical health.

A fourth session, taught by an Albany Police Department officer, dealt with how to interact with police.

While Albany has so far avoided incidents that have rocked much of the country, like deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in high-profile incidents involving police, it is important for young people to know how to react when interacting with officers, O’Neal said.

“We think it was important they know their rights and how to respond in a situation,” she said.

O’Neal, an Albany accountant, taught the final session on business and personal finance.

When it looked as if the pageant would be canceled this year, O’Neal said she was struck by an idea while musing in her home.

“I prayed to God,” she said. “I was in my kitchen, and he gave me a vision of recording and having the young ladies wearing masks.

“This has been a tough year for all of us, but it has been especially hard for our young people. We have all greatly altered our day-to-day lives, sheltering in place, social distancing, masking up and living life virtually. That’s when it came to me: We can still do this Miss Deborah Women’s Scholarship Pageant — virtually.”

O’Neal partnered with Kid Did Productions, and the recording took place at the Center of Refuge Church, where she attends services. Previous pageants have been held at a Dougherty County school campus.

“When I prayed, I said we can do this via Zoom, and we can do this via video,” she said. “We had so many people who didn’t stop their support.”

College scholarships are awarded to winners in the miss category. The scholarships are $500 for first place, $350 for first runner-up and $275 for second runner-up, O’Neal said.

There also are awards for winners and runners-up in each category, including community service and leadership awards, academic awards, talent awards and others. Tiaras, trophies and plaques also are awarded.

“To date, we have given over $9,000 in scholarships and cash awards,” she said of the pageant, which is named after Deborah, a judge in a biblical story.

Tickets for the virtual pageant are available for $7 each at The video will air at 6 p.m. Nov. 7.

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