PORT ORCHARD — Getting center stage as a member of the Fathoms O’ Fun Royalty Court takes plenty of dedication, hard work and a willingness to learn.
Just ask Helene Jensen, who should know. As the longtime director of the Fathoms O’ Fun scholarship program, she helps shape, tutor and counsel young women in the fine art of serving as princesses and queen for the Port Orchard festival program.
When most Port Orchard residents think of the Royalty Court, it’s of them perched on top of the Fathoms’ parade float during the festival’s Grand Parade down Bay Street. But Jensen said it’s just as likely they’ll find the queen, duchess and senior and junior princesses around town at community events, speaking at service clubs and volunteering in just about every South Kitsap fundraising activity.
The royalty court members, in fact, volunteer at least 2,000 combined hours over a season, she said. Each royalty court member will put in an average of 200-300 hours individually.
Community service is just the point, Jensen said. The royalty are ambassadors for Port Orchard as they participate in regional festival parades and events in addition to their hometown parade.
Being a queen or princess entails more than just fitting into a pageant gown, standing on a float and walking down a runway. It first requires court members to get recommendations from two teachers, completing a 500-word essay and committing to a heavy schedule of appearances through most of the year.
Jensen said that is just the beginning of their Royalty Court journey. On Friday, Nov. 3 at Christian Life Center in Port Orchard, girls and boys — yes, boys can apply to become part of the “royals” — will gather with their parents and take part in an orientation session for prospective candidates.
The program’s director said she expects to welcome at least six juniors and seniors to the orientation.
“That’s the minimum I usually get,” Jensen said. “But if someone is interested, I don’t want them to wait until the orientation to let me know.”
She asks that those wanting to take part in the orientation to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with their telephone number.
“Then I’ll call them, talk a little bit about it and know for certain they’re going to go ahead and do that.”
For Jensen, the most revealing predictor in whether a candidate will be successful as a royal member is if she or he is community oriented — and someone “who doesn’t just want to get a crown on their head, but somebody who truly wants to see self-improvement in themselves.”
The program is all about stepping outside one’s comfort zone and striving to gain new skills.
Between orientation and the application deadline of Dec. 31, Jensen said candidates will be in learning mode. She said they will meet on Mondays and learn how to talk, walk, shake hands and learn to be confident enough to talk with people from every walk of life.
“We’ll introduce them to coaches who will help them improve their talents, give guidance and provide them an outfit they’ll wear to go out and collect sponsorships,” Jensen said.
Area businesses, she said, understand and appreciate the work candidates put into their volunteer work. Their sponsorships, which start at $25 and range up to $3,000, are the program’s lifeblood.
“The businesses recognize that. Those that have money to contribute don’t hesitate. They want to help the group because they’re out there working hard. They want to contribute the best way they can,” she said.
Still, even equipped with their newly acquired social skills, it’s hard work for the candidates to get sufficient sponsorships.
“We are in dire need of sponsorships,” Jensen said. “If we want this program to continue, it’s important that we as a community come together and help programs like this to stay alive. Without those supporting dollars, it’s really hard for us to continue helping our youth reach their college dreams.”
She said the more sponsorship money that’s raised by the candidates, the more scholarship money that can be awarded the title winners.
Great ‘return on investment’
As much as the royalty court members contribute to the community during their reign, Jensen said they personally gain much more in return.
“I want them to learn to speak in public and not be afraid,” she said.
“I want them to be able to talk to adults confidently and learn how to do a handshake so that their first impression is a good one. So, this is as much about personal growth as anything.”
Candidate evaluations begin in February with essay judging, participation in the royalty’s tea at Harper Church on Jan. 28, and speaking engagements at local service organizations, such as the Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis and other groups.
Their Eliza Doolittle-Henry Higgins’ “My Fair Lady” experience culminates with the program’s pageant, in which selectees will be announced after answering an impromptu question, walking in their formal wear and taking part in the talent segment of the show. Candidates will have taken part in a private interview with judges prior to the pageant, Jensen said.
Young women and men in grades 6 through 20 years of age, who reside in South Kitsap and the Gig Harbor area, are eligible to participate in the scholarship program.
More than $6,000 in scholarships are awarded each year, Jensen said. Six winners will be selected for scholarships awarded in varied monetary amounts to three junior princesses, two senior princesses and one queen.