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By ANNETTE HARVISON
Greene County was definitely in the spotlight in Hattiesburg this past week during the annual Mississippi Miss Hospitality Program.
Greene County’s Miss Hospitality Charlsie Hicks and Leakesville Miss Hospitality Dariyel Johnson each took home awards from the event and their mentor, Jennifer McNeal, took home an award for her part in the program as well.
This year marked the 70th anniversary for the Mississippi Miss Hospitality Program, and Greene County and Leakesville’s 15th year to participate in the program. Brittany Horne Burch was the first young lady from Greene County to enter the program, and she earned herself the Spirit of Hospitality Award that year.
Hicks is a 2017 GCHS graduate and a current MSU student seeking a degree in biological sciences and a career in veterinary medicine. She enjoyed her time in Hattiesburg for Hospitality week, which was filled with exciting adventures throughout the Hub City and a week of getting to know her fellow contestants.
“The Miss Hospitality program has truly been life-changing for me,” Hicks said. “I was able to share my love for Greene County and Mississippi. I gained communication skills, confidence in myself and 42 lifelong friendships.”
Hicks won the Spirit of Hospitality award during the program. The contestants of the program vote for the winner of this award, and Hicks earned this honor through her kindness to all those she encountered during the program. This award has been renamed the Lake Little Spirit of Hospitality award to honor the memory of Lake Little, Oktibbeha County’s Miss Hospitality who recently passed away.
“It was truly an honor to be chosen for the Spirit of Hospitality Award, which was named in memory and honor of our late sister, Lake Little,” Hicks said. “Lake was a beautiful soul, and I will do my very best to represent her and honor her well.”
“Thank you to all of my family, friends and sponsors who supported me through this journey,” Hicks added. “And a special thank you to Mrs. Jennifer McNeal, who believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Johnson is the reigning Leakesville Miss Hospitality and she has been proud to represent her hometown.
A 2018 GCHS graduate, Johnson plans to attend Jones College beginning this fall. She had a great time making new friends and enjoying all the experiences of Hospitality week. The contestants spent the week learning the history of their state, making friends in the tourism industry and thinking of ways they can make changes in economic development. Johnson earned a spot in the Top 10 during the final night of the program, and she also won Most Photogenic.
Johnson said the staff for the program was amazing, and all the contestants were treated like princesses. She said she enjoyed seeing a more personal side of Hattiesburg and giving back to the state through service. She said though it was lots of hard work and early mornings, but the experience was greatly fulfilling and fun. Johnson said she will take everything that she has learned and use it for growth for all other opportunities that come her way.
“My week at Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality was definitely one to remember,” Johnson said. “After all that hard work, being chosen for Top 10 on the second night of competition felt like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.”
“My goal that week was to leave my mark on that stage and represent my town in the best way possible,” Johnson added. “I couldn’t be more excited to continue my job of being Leakesville’s official Goodwill Ambassador.”
Hicks and Johnson are both thankful and grateful for all the support from family, friends and all those that helped make this experience possible. These young ladies represented themselves and our communities well. None of this would have been possible, they said, without the help and support of their Miss Hospitality sponsor.
Both of these young ladies have had the help of a very talented sponsor and friend, Jennifer McNeal. McNeal has been working with the Miss Hospitality program for many years. She helped both Hicks and Johnson from the beginning all the way through the program. She said both young ladies have represented Greene County and Leakesville well, and she is proud of the hard work and dedication they have given.
“I was so proud of them,” McNeal said. “They both did an outstanding job.”
McNeal said participants in the program learn about their stateand serve as good will ambassadors for the year of their reign. The young lady crowned Miss Hospitality will serve an internship in tourism and development for the next year.
“It’s not a pageant,” McNeal said. “It’s a program working to build leaders of young women in Mississippi. When they are in the program, they know about their state, economics, tourism and development.”
McNeal got a surprise herself at this year’s program when she was named Volunteer of the Year. She has put countless hours helping young ladies prepare for interviews, support their town and county and learn the history of their hometown and state.
“I was so honored,” McNeal said. “I did not know about it. It’s like being a cheerleader for the organization.”