Henderson wins award at Distinguished Young Women of Alabama event.

The 2023 Distinguished Young Women of Alabama program was held in Montgomery last week. (Felicia Carden)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Distinguished Young Women (DYW), formerly known as America’s Junior Miss, is a national non-profit organization that offers scholarships to high school students. The 2023 DYW of Alabama program was held in Montgomery last week where Ashton Henderson, 2023 Distinguished Young Woman of Cullman County, placed in the top five in the fitness category.

According to DYW of Cullman County Chairperson Felicia Carden, the program is designed to provide young women with the opportunity and support they need to succeed before, during and after college.

“Participants can learn skills like interviewing, public speaking, building confidence and more,” Carden said. “Since its inception in 1958, over 700,000 young women have competed in competitions across the United States.”

She said contestants compete in Interview (25%), Scholastics (25%), Talent (20%), Fitness (15%) and Self-Expression (15%) categories.

“Each state hosts a state program where the elected representative advances to the national program, which is held at the program’s birthplace in Mobile, Alabama,” Carden said. “Each year, the Distinguished Young Women program awards over $1 billion in scholarships.”

According to Carden, participation in the DYW program is free.

“We encourage participants to embody the ‘Be Your Best Self’ program,” said Carden. “Be healthy (take care of your physical and mental health), be committed (serve your community), be ambitious (set goals and achieve them), be responsible (live by moral and ethical standards), be diligent (stay in school and be a lifelong learner). This provides participants with an opportunity to positively impact the lives of children in their communities.”

Carden said Cullman County’s DYW is fortunate to have so many community sponsors.

“Last year we were able to award $7,600 in cash scholarships to our participants,” she said. “Our Distinguished Young Woman 2023, Miss Ashton Henderson, received an additional preliminary award of $500 for being one of the top five finalists in the fitness category.”

Henderson spent several days in Montgomery for this year’s state program.

“This program has been the greatest experience for me,” said Henderson. “Every girl going into senior year has to attend! Not only has it given me the confidence I need for the real world, but it has also allowed me to form lifelong relationships. The reach of this program is like no other. It really empowered me to be my best self.”

Henderson said the program offers many opportunities. She said she attended Gov. Kay Ivey’s inauguration parade, dined with the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and met Senator Katie Britt of R-Alabama.

“In the short week that I was there, I created memories that would stay with me for a lifetime,” Henderson said. “Without the best support system and a county that encourages young women like me to be successful, I couldn’t do it. In the Distinguished Young Women Program, each participant competes in five categories. I was blessed to win the fitness category. It involves a three-minute routine of different exercises and constant movement. The judges look for flexibility, execution, endurance, coordination and posture. In 2020, I had the privilege of being Kate Davis Heatherly’s “little sister.” The little sister program of the DYW enabled me to get an insight into the program and to wish for time. I’ve been addicted ever since.”

Carden said Cullman County’s DWY is in the planning stages of its 2024 program, which will be held at Wallace State Community College this summer.

“We will hold an orientation meeting in March for those who wish to attend,” she said. “Anyone interested can apply at Cullman.al.distinguishedyw.org and click Apply Now.”

The meeting will take place on March 18 at 11 am at First Baptist Church in Cullman.