The Miss Missouri pageant is in full swing this week.

The next several days will feature different facets of the competition including on-stage portions (such as talent and opening/closing ceremony performances) and interview rounds. Ultimately, contestants are competing for a chance to represent Missouri in the Miss America competition this September.

Before they ever make it to the glamorous Miss America stage, however, contestants must first compete in local pageants. One of the criteria for participation in these pageants is the selection of a platform. According to the Miss Missouri website, the national platform of the Miss America Organization is Children’s Miracle Network (CMN). Therefore, each contestant is required to raise at least $100 for CMN for each local pageant they enter (up to $400), according to the website. On an individual level, each contestant is required to have a platform -- either CMN or a different cause that the contestants choose to champion.

Miss Missouri’s Outstanding Teen contestant Taylor Blackwell’s platform is called “Readers are Leaders.” She first got involved with the organization at the age of 13 and has worked to expand it over the past four years.

“A friend told me to have a platform that ‘set my soul on fire,’” Blackwell said, “because if you want a platform that you will work with, promote and expand, you need a platform that you feel so strongly of that you wouldn't be afraid to go out into the community and advocate for it.

Blackwell said she chose her platform because she used reading as a coping mechanism at a time when her parents were going through a divorce. She said her parents are now back together and reading has remained an integral part of her life.

During the first two years that Blackwell competed in pageants, she read to kids weekly at an after-school YMCA program and did a 26-day book haul. She eventually partnered with Ready Readers, a non-profit organization based in St. Louis that visits low-income elementary schools across the east/northeast part of the state to not only read to students and provide them with educational reading materials that they can take home. Blackwell reached out to the group immediately.

“Since that phone call two years ago, I have raised over $2,300 for Ready Readers through concerts and raffles as well as raising around 800 gently-used books for them,” she said. “I have become a known advocate for reading proficiency for children.”

Blackwell is the organization’s 2018 Outstanding Community Partner. She also plans to advocate for reading in her role as president of Bowling Green High School’s Student Council.

“Whether it is raising money for Ready Readers or having high school students going over into our elementary school to mentor kids, I want to lead a school wide reading awareness campaign during my work as president this upcoming year,” she said.

Mexico resident Sarah Kasubke is also competing for the title of Miss Missouri’s Outstanding Teen. She has been involved with Special Olympics for four years and is competing with the platform, “Changing Society by Changing Mindsets: Special Olympics.”

“Every time I work with a buddy, my life has been enriched and I would encourage everyone to volunteer to make a difference in the life of a Special Olympic athlete!”

Special Olympics is a global organization that enables athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete in 35 differents sports. The organization promotes the power of athletics to boost confidence and encourage athletes -- and observers -- to see the participants for their talents and abilities rather than for the obstacles they face.

Kasubke decided to get involved with Special Olympics because of a friend who had special needs. The two friends have participated in track and field days and attended the organization’s Jellybean Festival together.

“I am passionate about this organization because no matter a person’s disability or differences, we’re all the same on the inside,” she said. “I have had the privilege to work with many amazing athletes who persevere to achieve their dreams.”

She plans to remain involved with the organization and continue to grow the relationship with her “buddy.”

Miss Missouri 2017 Jennifer Davis competed with the platform, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Diversity Matters.” She has even published a children’s book 2016 , titled “Diversity Matters.” According to the Miss America website,

Davis “promotes her platform throughout the state of Missouri speaking to students of all ages about the importance of embracing diversity.” She also volunteers with a variety of organizations including Adopt a Grandparent and Call to Action Catholic Social Justice Network.

Mexico will see an abundance of glitz and glam this week as talented young women show off elegant gowns and execute carefully choreographed routines. At the root of it all, though, the pageants will be just as much about service as they are about style.

ssabatke@mexicoledger.com