Believe it or not, Rachel Offenburg considered herself shy until her sophomore year of high school, a fact that would most likely come as a surprise to those who know the current Miss Upstate New York Teen-ager.
During her sophomore year, Rachel took part in Leadership Cayuga, a six-month leadership-development course made available to adults and high-school students through the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce. The program’s goal is to stimulate public-minded thought and energize its participants, giving them the skills necessary to accept leadership roles and volunteer in the community, according to the chamber’s Web site.
This experience pushed her out of her shell, she said. Once she got a taste of community service and involvement, Rachel found she was hooked.
“It was just something that I wanted to do,” said Rachel, 18. “I really enjoyed the feeling that I got helping other people, and it was kind of addicting.”
In the two years since she participated in Leadership Cayuga, Rachel — who’s now a senior at Auburn High School — has added a number of volunteer and community activities to her already full schedule. Most of her volunteer hours are spent at Auburn’s Salvation Army soup kitchen, where she usually works for three hours each Sunday. She also volunteers at local hospitals and nursing homes and has participated in several benefit walks, including the Crop Walk.
A member of Sacred Heart Parish, Rachel has served there as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion for the past three years. She likes doing this because it makes her feel involved in the Mass and keeps it interesting, she said.
“It just seemed like a good way to become a part of the church. I enjoy being around the church community; it’s so positive,” Rachel said.
Rachel has also belonged to the parish’s youth group for the past three years. Along with the rest of the youth group, Rachel has helped bake cookies and assemble Thanksgiving baskets for the needy in the community.
She also has been an active participant during youth gatherings and service projects, and was honored with the diocesan Hands of Christ recognition last fall, said Anna Comitz, youth minister for Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s Parish in Owasco.
Rachel has also played on her school’s varsity soccer team and keeps score for the school’s lacrosse games. A member of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, Rachel is also in the BOCES New Visions program, which is for high-school students pursuing medical careers.
“I try to get out there as much as I can and experience as much as possible,” she explained.
Rachel gained yet another new experience March 5-6 when she competed in her first pageant. Rachel has modeled on runways and for print and television advertisements since she was 3 years old, and last September she modeled at the Miss America pageant.
“It’s every little girl’s dream to be Miss America,” Rachel said. “I never really had the drive to do it until I saw the event.”
Once she’d seen the current Miss America crowned, Rachel knew she wanted to compete in pageants. During the 2005 Les Belles’ Pageant in March, Rachel completed three-minute interviews with three different judges, gave a speech and took part in swimsuit and evening-gown competitions. During the interviews, Rachel was asked about all the school, church and community activities she participates in and how she first got involved in volunteer work.
Although it was her first pageant, Rachel said she wasn’t nervous during any of the competitions.
“It was really exciting. I love talking in front of people,” Rachel said. “I just love being up on stage in front of people. It’s such a rush. (The competition) was very close; very competitive.”
Rachel performed well in each of the four categories, and at the end of the pageant she was crowned Miss Upstate New York Teen-ager. She will travel to Norwich, N.Y., Aug. 18 to compete against 49 other girls for the title of Miss Teen-ager of New York.
“It’s going to be a pretty heated event,” Rachel said of the upcoming competition.
In the meantime, she will be busy promoting her title, which entails making even more visits to hospitals, nursing homes and community organizations. She participated in the Lilac Festival parade in Rochester and plans to take part in Auburn’s Memorial Day parade. As Miss Upstate New York Teen-ager, Rachel also has to be available to speak at awards ceremonies, graduations and meetings throughout the region.
Rachel said it’s important to do these things “to let the community know I’m out there doing things and not just sitting at home with a crown on my head.”