A passion for volunteeringMar 27, 2018 05:00PM ● By Steven Hoffman
By John Chambless
Helping others has been a guiding principle for Brynn Close since she was a child. Now, as Miss Delaware Teen USA, she is working to spread the message of volunteerism as far as she can.
Close, 18, won the title last November on her third attempt. The Middletown teen is a senior at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, and she spoke recently after school about her path to the title, her background, and her plan to share the spirit of giving.
When she was born three months premature, Close spent critical weeks at Christiana Hospital NICU. She has no lasting health effects, and would like to work with the March of Dimes during her reign as Miss Delaware Teen USA.
“I'd like to promote awareness of premature births and birth defects,” she said. “March of Dimes is working to improve the health of mothers and babies through research, education and community programs. It hits close to home for my family. We recently found out there is an annual reunion to celebrate the health of babies who relied on the NICU after birth. It's an opportunity to go back and reconnect with the doctors and nurses who cared for you during the early weeks or months of your life. We didn't hear about it until this year, so it's been 18 years overdue. We're going this year.”
As a child, Close and her family volunteered with Meals on Wheels for the holidays, and “it was always super special for us,” she said. “Seeing a smile on people's faces, just having a warm meal, and having somebody be with them on the holiday.”
Close's older sister and her cousin were regular competitors in pageants, so Brynn saw plenty of competitions beginning when she was about 10 years old. She was fascinated by the glamor of the events, and set her sights on competing herself. “My cousin was actually Miss Delaware Teen USA 2009, and then Miss Delaware USA 2014. It kind of runs in the family,” Close said. “My cousin, particularly, gave me lots of tips about what to expect and how to carry myself. I started watching pageants when I was about 10, and I couldn't wait to step on stage myself,” she added, laughing. “I've been to lots of pageants.”
Close's parents have both supported her goals, and her mother has become “My momager,” Close said, laughing. “She's been by my side for the last three years, learning along with me.”
Close began competing at 16 in the Miss Delaware Teen USA pageant. “It was so intimidating and I didn't know what to expect the first year,” she said. “I went into it with an open mind and just hoped to make friends, which I did. My second year, I finished as first runner-up. That was a huge accomplishment, being so close, but it was also kind of devastating. So close, yet so far. And yes, there were tears,” she admitted, laughing. “I was so proud for getting so close, but still upset. I knew immediately that I wanted to compete again.”
The third time was a charm, and Close walked away with the crown. She doesn't know exactly what it was that put her over the top. “I think I just stayed true to myself,” she said of her win. “I didn't let anybody's opinions affect me.”
In the competition, she said, “there's a three-minute interview, and you get asked questions about your personal life. Then you compete on stage in a gown and active wear. Then, if you make the top five, they will ask you two questions. They ask a current event question and another personal question.”
The night she won, Close said, “I kept thinking I was in a dream. I would wake up in bed, and my crown and sash were next to me. I was thinking, 'This can't be real.' I didn't come to school the next day, but when I did come back, all of my friends went crazy with balloons and hugs. Everybody in the hallway – the new freshmen that I didn't even know were saying congratulations. I'm so thankful for people who are supporting me. The school even hung a banner out front with my name on it.”
This year has already been busy for Close, who said she has appearances almost every weekend. “I go to different schools, churches, other organizations. I was at the Girl Scouts World Thinking Day,” she said. “Each girl learned about a different country and visitors would walk around and learn about each one. I was just there to learn and interact with the girls. Both Girl Scouts and title holders have a responsibility to serve their communities, so it was great to be there and hear what they do. It's nice to see kids at their young age, out in their community and making a difference.
“My platform is volunteering. It's always been something that touched my heart,” Close said. “After you volunteer, you realize that simple tasks can go such a long way. I volunteer every Tuesday at the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington, just simply serving dinner to women and their children. That's been very inspiring. The women and children are so thankful to have you there, serving them. When I volunteer, they are able to sit down and have dinner with their children, instead of serving the dinner themselves. They tell me their stories sometimes, and it makes me so happy that I've affected their life in a small way.”
Close works at Nutrition House in Middletown, making protein shakes and regularly meeting area residents. “I love working there. My two bosses came to my pageant and cheered me on,” she said. “Middletown is so small that I see lots of familiar faces – my friends, my parents' friends, my grandparents. It's a lot of fun working there.”
Close realizes that competing in pageants is not for everyone, and said there's a stereotype about the purpose of the events.
“When you tell people you're competing in a pageant, people think it's just a beauty contest,” she said. “There's so much more to it than beauty. What matters is who you are on the inside. And it's about what you do. As a title holder, you're out in your community constantly, making a difference and volunteering and giving back to others.
“The best volunteer experience was at the Tim Tebow 'Night to Shine Prom' at Reach Church in Bear,” she said. “That was such an amazing experience. I got paired up with a buddy, Kristen, who was about 25. There was a makeup station for the girls, a shoe-shining station for the men, there's lots of games. I was there with Kristen, dancing with her throughout the night, laughing and making memories, even though she had just met me an hour before. It was amazing. She still texts me all the time and sends me pictures, and I always comment on her pictures. It's truly a night when people who have never been to a prom before get to feel special.”
At Ursuline, Close said 80 hours of volunteering is required before a student's sophomore year, but that she and many of her classmates go well beyond that. “We still volunteer, and it becomes like a lifestyle,” she said. “Once we gain those 80 hours, we get a sense of the benefits of volunteering. It becomes part of us. It's a purpose in our lives.”
As one of her appearances, Close went back to her school, MOT Charter in Middletown, to talk about her pageant victory and the importance of volunteering, and all the students wanted to wear her crown, she said, laughing. “They were just staring at my crown, and one little girl said, 'Can I be the first one to put that on?' Even the boys wanted to put it on. It was sweet.”
Close is sharing her duties with Sierra Wright, Miss Delaware USA 2018, and the two share a schedule of appearances. “She was the 2016 Miss Delaware Teen USA, and we're like sisters. We get along so well,” Close said. “We'll show up to appearances in the same outfit without planning it. She is basically the 20-year-old version of me.”
Close will attend the University of Tennessee in the fall to study broadcast journalism. “I've always enjoyed writing, and there's so much behind broadcast journalism because someone has to write the stories. It's not just the person on camera,” she said. “I visited Jim Donovan at CBS in Philadelphia, and he showed me around the studio. It was so eye-opening. There are lots of people behind the scenes. So, after shadowing him, I knew I wanted to be a news anchor.”
With school taking precendence in her schedule, Close will scale back her apperances, but hopes to make a big impact until college takes over. She will be competing at the Miss Teen USA pageant this summer as the Delaware representative, but “I'll go college in August, and then give up my title in November. I'll only have a few months at college with the title. I think it will slow down at that point,” she said. The next step up the pageant ladder would be the Miss USA pageant, whose contestants range from 19 to 26. She hasn't decided whether to continue to that point.
Being a contestant has given Close a professional poise that's well beyond her years, and her message of empowerment is something she hopes to share as much as possible.
“One of the greatest pieces of advice I can give is that no one is you, and that is your power,” she said. “That's what I keep in my head. You are uniquely you. Don't try to be anybody else. The best version of you, is you.”
Follow Brynn Close's year on Instagram at missteenusa, and on Facebook at Miss Delaware Teen USA.