Henderson wins award at Distinguished Young Women of Alabama event

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

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

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

“Participants can learn skills like interviewing, public speaking, self-confidence building and much more,” Carden said. “Since its creation in 1958, over 700,000 young ladies have participated in competitions spanning the United States.”  

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

“Each state hosts a state program in which the chosen representative advances to the national program, held in the program’s birthplace of Mobile, Alabama,” Carden shared.  “Each year the Distinguished Young Women program gives out over $1 billion in scholarships.” 

The DYW program is free to enter, according to Carden.  

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

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

“Last year we were able to award $7,600 in cash tuition scholarships to our participants,” she said. “Our 2023 Distinguished Young Woman, Miss Ashton Henderson, received an additional $500 preliminary award 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,” Henderson said. “Any girl going into her senior year needs to participate! It has not only given me the confidence I need for the real world, but allowed me to create lifelong relationships. The outreach of this program is like no other. It truly empowered me to be my best self.”  

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

“In the short week I was there, I made memories that would last me a lifetime,” Henderson said. “I couldn’t do it without the greatest support system and a county that encourages young women like me to flourish. In the Distinguished Young Women Program, each participant competes in five categories. I was blessed to win the fitness category. It includes a three-minute routine of various exercises and being constantly in motion. The judges look for agility, execution, stamina, coordination and posture. In 2020, I had the privilege of being Kate Davis Heatherly’s ‘little sis.’  The little sister program of DYW allowed me to get a glimpse into the program and wish for my time. I have been hooked ever since.” 

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

“We will have an orientation meeting in March for those that want to participate,” she said.  “Anyone interested can go ahead and apply at Cullman.al.distinguishedyw.org and click ‘apply now.’” 

The meeting will be March 18 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Cullman.