The Pastor at Erie’s United Methodist Church is a very passionate person. She leads by example going “all in” as she says on any project she becomes involved in. Since becoming the Pastor at the Erie Church Tiffany Garcea has held numerous public events to benefit and inspire her community. Recently she took that commitment to another level in a somewhat unconventional manner; entering a beauty pageant.
The mother of six and foster parent along with her husband Pastor Joey Garcea, who ministers at Prophetstown’s United Methodist Church, took part in the American Elegance Pageant. The event was held November 3-6 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and involved contestants from across the United States.
The American Elegance Pageant began in St. louis in 1999 offering an alternative to typical beauty pageants. The pageant’s website describes its events saying, “Every woman is elegant and beautiful, no matter what size, height, age or nationality. We are all unique individuals and there is only one you and that in itself makes you the symbol of elegance and true beauty.”
One of Garcea’s passion is her recently founded charity, Raising Hope. Having been a foster parent for some time she understands the unique needs of both children in the foster system and the families that care for them. Raising Hope provides assistance to both the family and the kids by supplying many essentials free of charge including: first overnight bags toiletries, clothing, diapering essentials, comfort items, and age appropriate toys.
In an effort to spread awareness of the charity she was researching ways to do so when the search took an unexpected turn. “While searching I came across the word “platform”, which led me to the word “pageant”, and I came across the American Elegance Pageant.” While she had never considered entering a pageant before she shared the idea with her family, and found them to be very encouraging.
One element of the contest that drew her attention was a charity, “Fostering Dignity”, which provides backpack to agencies that remove children from unsafe home situations for the children to put clothing and personal items in. Often children use trash bags for the purpose as it the only choice available.
Feeling as if the pageant was a kindred spirit Garcea set out to prepare for the contest. One element of the competition was to raise funds for the pageant’s charity. Among her many roles in life Garcea is an assistant coach for the EP Panther middle school cross country team. That led her and the team to host a 5K race to raise funds for the charity, which totaled over $1,500.
Arriving for the pageant the pastor quickly realized it was not at all what she expected. “The overall atmosphere was really welcoming and encouraging. It was my first time so I really had no idea what I was doing. Even though there was competition we didn’t treat each other like competitors, it felt more like family from the get-go.”
She was sponsored by SB Floral & Corner Café in Erie and by friends and family.
Competitors could take part in one of five divisions based on age, marital status, and size. Garcia chose the Mrs. Division for married women 25 and older. In each division there were five categories of competition with each category weighted by percentage and then combined to determine the contestant’s final score.
“It was a lot of fun and pushed me out of my personal comfort zone because I’m very introverted by nature,” said Garcea. “I had hoped and expected to share about my charity “Raising Hope” but the friendships I developed and the sense of collaboration and higher self worth were things I wasn’t expecting.” She added that some competitors have amazing stories to share and all have a deep passion for making a difference in their communities.
When the scores were tallied Garcia won first runner-up in her division and also walked away with several other honors from optional categories.
- American Elegance Humanitarian Queen – Raising the most money for the Pageant charity, Fostering Dignity- $2,070.
- 1st Runner Up Cover Model – Photos sent in prior to the competition for a chance to be featured on cover of the event’s program.
- The Radiah Hyatte Woman of Excellence Award – Based on an essay submitted prior to the contest.
- Legacy Award – Based on an essay with the topic, “What legacy do you want to leave?”
- Most Unique Fundraiser – 5K race.
- Certificate of Participation in raising funds for Fostering Dignity.
Her husband Joey and their children were able to watch the pageant via live stream.
As for her initial motivation for entering the contest, sharing the mission of her charity, she succeeded. “The founder of Fostering Dignity sent a donation to Raising Hope to support what we are doing and several of the former queens and participants said they would be coming to Erie to get tags off of our Angel Tree (the charities current fundraiser) to buy gifts for area foster children.”
Her role as a minister also came into play at the pageant as she was able pray with several participants. “There were several times I got to pray with some people when they were nervous and it was neat to have some ministry going on.”
After the experience the pastor has already decided she is going back next year to participate again as the pageant celebrates its 25th anniversary with the event being held in East Peoria. She has also decided on her platform, “Keep Wildlife Wild”, promoting conservation of our area wildlife and habitats.
Photos from the Pageant