BETHLEHEM — Evelyn Rituno, a third-grader at Slingerlands Elementary School and the 2018 Mini Miss Spirit USA, has been using her success on the pageant circuit to benefit animals and local wildlife.
Rituno, who began entering pageants two years ago, has now been in 16 altogether. She has won 13 local pageants, placed second in two and won her national title last summer. She first became interested in 2015, when she was with her family at the Altamont Fair and saw the Miss Altamont Fair pageant. Her mother Ashleigh looked into it the following year and Evelyn entered. She placed second and said she had so much fun, she decided she wanted to do more.
According to Ashleigh Rituno, pageantry isn’t all just “glitz and glamour.” The contestants do a lot of volunteer charity work outside of the pageants themselves. Rituno has done fundraising, appeared at numerous events and even sang Christmas carols at a nursing home. She is currently working with a girl from another pageant circuit to make dinner for the Ronald McDonald House, where she recently walked in a fundraising pageant.
While her mother explained that at Rituno’s age, contestants aren’t typically required to have a platform issue, they have been talking about it and, last summer, they found it.
“Last summer, me and my mom were walking and we found a baby squirrel just lying in the road,” said Rituno. “So we wrapped it up in my mom’s sweatshirt and put it under the wagon seat and brought it home. And we called all these people until we found one that took injured wildlife and she took me through all the steps until she could pick up the squirrel. After that I decided that I wanted my platform to be based around animals. Not just the cute and snuggly animals like cats and dogs, but like deer, squirrels, rabbits and so my platform is ‘all animals need love.’”
This year, Rituno decided that she wanted to raise money for the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.So, she organized her own pageant at Sprinkles Spa in Clifton Park.
“She thought of the idea and did it completely herself,” said her mother. Rituno chose Sprinkles because she had had a birthday party there and liked the venue. “So I set up a meeting and she went there and pitched her idea all by herself.”
“And then just yesterday, we brought all this stuff to the humane society,” Evelyn Rituno piped in with a grin.
She chose the venue, planned the event, and chose the prizes and crowns and color of the sashes. Sixteen girls competed in three age groups and a winner and runner-up were chosen, but every girl received a crown. There was a Charity Queen award for the child that donated the most pet supplies as well as other optional awards.
Rituno ended up raising $548 and collecting more than 200 donations. And she doesn’t plan on stopping there.
This summer, she said she’s going to look into doing a dog-walking service to raise money for the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, but said she’s definitely also interested in directing more pageants, “because that was really fun!”
Rituno plans to continue entering pageants for the foreseeable future. While she will have to give up her national title this summer, she intends to run for the state title and return to the nationals next year. And, in between the national competitions, there are countless local and fair pageants she can enter.
“She does all natural pageants,” said Rituno’s mother. “She doesn’t do the fake spray tans or the fake teeth. It’s not Toddlers in Tiaras. It’s all based on poise and how you present yourself. The national one is based on volunteer work and stuff like that and what you do in your community.”
Rituno does have a lot of tiaras, though. “A lot,” she said. “I can’t even count. I have a lot of crowns and sashes.”
While Evelyn says her favorite part of it all is making friends, she also likes being on stage. Next year, she’s excited to begin acting classes.
“I think that’s what she’s really hoping to get out of pageants,” said her mother, explaining that it’s a good stepping stone to other performance-based careers.
“Because you have to talk a lot,” explained the eight-year-old.
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