TODAY

TODAY   |  August 27, 2013

Town’s new beauty pageant inspires girls

In Camden, N.J., one of the poorest, most violent cities in the country, one mom decided to bring hope and inspiration to women by founding the first teen beauty pageant there in four decades. NBC’sWillie Geist reports.

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>>> this morning with our series hope to it, we take a trip to camden , new jersey.

>> they're dealing with a high rate of crimes, drugs and poverty.

>> but one mother was determined to show off the community.

>> it's crunch time for miss teen camden pageant organizer.

>> it's been a journey. we're going to make the best of it today.

>> the mother of two was inspired to revive the pageant after starting a foundation to mentor girls in the community where she was born and raised.

>> i was talking to the girls and they're like if you're not pregnant by 15, you know, you're lucky. and i'm like, is that what we're thinking now? i have to be a hand at helping things for these girls.

>> she had a baby herself at age 16 and dropped out of high school . now, 18 years later and a college graduate , she has a special handle on the issues facing camden 's kids. the city has the highest crime rate in the country and nearly half the population lives in poverty. this summer camden 's struggling school system was taken over by the state of new jersey .

>> my heart is in the shape of camden .

>> who are we.

>> camden girls.

>> the pageant had a humble start and included classes to teach etiquette and to build confidence. despite limited resources she and a close team including her 12-year-old daughter continues to practice and plan. donations trickled in. hair and make up services were provided free of charge.

>> we made it. we did it.

>> five months ago these young ladies barely knew one another. now, before they compete against each other, a moment to reflect on just how far they have come.

>> i just want all of us to still be together as friends.

>> i didn't think i was going to meet nobody out here but now that i'm in the pageant and i really got to know people like y'all.

>> i'm glad we didn't get our make up tun first.

>> it's finally show time . they show off their talent. show case their evening gowns. and then each contestant sounds off on an issue she is passionate about.

>> my is child abuse .

>> dropout prevention.

>> drug abuse is the main reason why our city is messed up.

>> it's finally time to crown the pageant princess and queen.

>> one queen but many winners in the city of camden .

>> what a great story. what a great job. she pulled this together by herself. i grew up in new jersey and camden new jersey has had a rough go of it for decades now. that's always welcome.

>> this is the third year or fourth year she is continuing. it's a beautiful way to empower the girls and it's a three month process. so it's not just a one time deal. it's instilling a confidence and comra comra comradery.

>> if you change them you change the community.

>> good job out there.