FC’s DYW competes at state

Russellville High School senior Madeline Cooper, Franklin County’s 2022 Distinguished Young Woman, took part in the state DYW competition in Montgomery Jan. 16-22, staying with a host family while practicing, competing and taking part in the other experiences of the week.

Although she didn’t “win,” Cooper said she considers it a win just to have been able to go and be a part of it all, noting she made a lot of friendships, became more confident and got a lot of inspiration along the way.

Distinguished Young Women is an annual event that’s part of a national scholarship program, open to high school juniors, to promote and reward scholarship, leadership and talent.

Cooper earned her designation as Franklin County’s Distinguished Young Woman for 2022 at the Aug. 7 competition at Norton Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Alabama. Scoring is based on scholastics, interview, talent, fitness and self-expression.

In addition to being named Franklin County’s 2022 Distinguished Young Woman at the local event, Cooper also won the Spirit of Distinguished Young Women award, a distinction voted on by the other program participants to recognize the young woman they feel best represents the spirit of the DYW program.

The state competition is similar, Cooper said, but more difficult and longer lasting, requiring a much bigger commitment, more work and more dedication.

“It was one of the best and most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had,” Cooper said. “It’s such a confidence-builder, preparing and participating in really challenging categories, including an incredibly difficult fitness routine and an intense 10-minute interview.”

For her talent, Cooper performed a musical theatre rendition of “Don’t Rain on my Parade.”

For Cooper, it wasn’t just about the competition but also about the friendships she made along the way. “Even though everything was really challenging, they made it fun, and getting to be friends with the other girls was very rewarding,” she said. “We encouraged and inspired each other and had a lot of fun along the way. Now, I have 45 friends from all over the state, representing 44 of the 67 counties.”

Although it was difficult having her gone for so long without direct contact, her family said they know it was the right thing, for her to go. “I’m incredibly proud of Madeline,” said her mother, Greta Cooper. “It’s a pretty rigorous routine, all the preparing and practicing and the competition itself. We’re very blessed she ended up with such a wonderful host family, and I got updates about her from them a couple times a day.”

She said she knows Madeline had a wonderful time and represented her county well.

“We had lots of comments from people telling us what a joy she was and how kind and funny she had been. Madeline definitely made her mark and made a lot of connections and friendships that she’ll have for the rest of her life.”

Greta Cooper added it was good for her daughter to broaden her horizons with new experiences. “Participating in a program like this – it helps you see just how big the world really is. Madeline has a big personality, and she loves trying new things and meeting people. I knew she would be just fine.”

Madeline’s father, Matt Cooper, said the family is honored she was given this opportunity. “She made a lot of wonderful friends and is very blessed to have been able to participate in such a terrific program,” he said. “I know she will go far in life, and I’m happy she got to participate in such an uplifting and encouraging program.”

Although Madeline Cooper said she thought it would be difficult being away from her parents and other family and friends for so long, the experience staying with her host family was wonderful. “They were so precious. They took care of me all week and made me feel at home and part of the family. I’m so glad and incredibly grateful I was able to experience that.”

The Boyds – Brooks, Lindsey, Chandler, Cooper and Kate Chapman – who Cooper stayed with, said they loved having Cooper in their home.

Despite not having her phone for the week – a requirement for the competitors – Cooper had a different way she felt the support, love and encouragement of family, friends, church members and others from Franklin County: through cards, letters and gifts, either sent by mail or given directly to her to be opened during her stay.

It’s a touch that made a huge difference. “You feel so loved, coming in after a hard day of practicing and seeing a bunch of gifts and cards all over your bed,” she said. “It feels like you’re at home for that little bit. I got verse after verse of encouragement, and I looked up all of them and read them. They were telling me to be strong, be faithful and know that God is in control. It was incredibly comforting all week long.”

Among the many experiences Cooper said stand out for her, one was meeting Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. Ivy recited a poem, “I’d rather be a ‘could-be’ if I cannot be an ‘are,’” by Milton Berle, a poem that really resonated with Cooper, prompting her to look it up when she got home.

“I really enjoyed meeting the governor,” explained Cooper. “She was very encouraging, and she competed in Alabama’s Junior Miss competition (the program DYW originated as) in the ’60s, so she was able to relate to us in what we were doing.”

“We’re very proud of Madeline, and she has a bright future ahead of her,” said local DYW program co-chair, Katernia Cole Coffey. “Getting to participate in the Distinguished Young Women program at the state level let her showcase her accomplishments, talent, knowledge, abilities and skills, in addition to providing her the opportunity to network with other young women and make friendships that will last a lifetime.

“This experience will help Madeline further her education and prepare her for a successful future. The best is yet to come.”

Cooper said the week-long competition made her dreams feel more attainable. “The entire program experience, both at the local and state levels, has made me feel so empowered,” said Cooper, “and even more so with seeing strong women leaders being successful, not to mention all the wonderful young women my age I got to meet, spend time with, and become friends with.”

For Cooper, new-found confidence has inspired her to continue dreaming big for the future. “Seeing all the wonderful leaders the program has produced makes you feel like you can do anything,” she said. “The governor told us the sky’s the limit, and it means a lot to hear that from her.”

Among her ambitions for the future are the desire to be a political campaign manager. Toward that end, Cooper said she is excited to be going back to Montgomery this week for a jobshadowing experience with Rep. Jamie Kiel.