Two dark-haired beauties spent the morning painting in the Child Life playroom at Children's Hospital Central California. Dressed in pink pajamas, 8-year-old Samantha came with her dad. She was one of the first young patients to visit the playroom that day, but she didn’t really come to paint. Samantha arrived soon after the doors opened because she knew Miss California would be there.
Arianna Afsar, crowned Miss California in June 2010, came to Fresno to perform at the Miss America organization’s 2011 Miss California pageant. She and several judges for the beauty contest made time in their busy schedules to visit the Hospital the day before the main event, when Afsar would crown a new winner.
Soon after Samantha arrived, a wide-eyed girl named Nataly appeared with her mother, and was completely surprised to find Miss California in the playroom. Another little girl popped in minutes later and nearly shouted with glee to see the beauty queen here at Children’s Hospital.
“It’s awesome to meet you,” said Afsar. “Are you going to paint with us today?” Soon the table was filled with happy little girls.
Katelyn Ashton, development coordinator for the Children's Hospital Central California Foundation, thanked Afsar for staying in the playroom with the children while she took the judges on a tour of the Hospital. “The kids are going to have so much fun,” said Ashton. “Thank you.”
“I’m having fun, too,” said Afsar, as she helped stamp an apple on a piece of poster paper belonging to a patient in colorful hairclips. “Where would you like to put this apple?” she asked the grinning girl.
Chelle Hyde, Miss California’s business and tour manager, explained that Children’s Miracle Network is the national platform of the Miss America organization. “All the contestants donate to Children’s Miracle Network in order to compete,” said Hyde. “A lot of people don’t realize that the Miss America organization supports it that way.” When asked how the tour of Children’s came about, Hyde replied, “Erin, our judges chair, set that up. She used to work here.”
Erin Salwasser served in the emergency department for five years as a health unit coordinator. She resigned her position two years ago after she and her husband adopted a baby. Salwasser has served as volunteer judges chair for the Miss California pageant ever since. She joined Ashton and the judges on a tour of the Hospital’s newly expanded emergency department, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with a few of her former associates.
Two of the judges on the tour were former beauty queens, Lee Meriwether, a former Miss California, who became Miss America in 1955, and Rita Ng, Miss California 2000 and second runner up for Miss America 2001. Midway through the tour Ng expressed her thoughts about Children's Hospital Central California to Salwasser. “I can totally see why you didn’t want to leave here,” she said of Salwasser’s resignation to be a stay-at-home mom.
Dr. Rita Ng recently completed her fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and now serves as a cardiologist at Kaiser East Bay. “I was a senior at Stanford when my sister and some friends entered me in the local contest,” she said. She had already been accepted to the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) for medical school. “I thought it was going to be a fun two weeks before starting medical school,” said Dr. Ng. “I ended up taking a year off before going to UCSF.”
Dr. Ng had no prior experience with beauty pageants. When asked if she mirrored Sandra Bullock’s character in Miss Congeniality, she laughed. “I was worse!” The cardiologist and former beauty queen deeply enjoyed her experiences with the Miss America organization. “It totally paid for medical school,” she said.
Dr. Ng, Meriwether, Salwasser and all the judges were impressed by the recently expanded emergency department at Children’s Hospital. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Ng. “I had no idea this was here. This Hospital is like Disneyland!” The tour group moved on to Craycroft Cancer Center, where they met a 2-year-old little girl who recently received a cancer diagnosis. The judges from the Miss America organization were encouraged as Ashton explained today’s high success rate with treating childhood cancer. From the dark-haired girl in pink pajamas to the toddler being treated for leukemia, the little girls greeted by former Miss California winners that day could dream their own beauty queen dreams because of the excellent care they’re receiving at Children’s.
Ashton concluded the tour in the rotunda, where the tour group rejoined Hyde and Miss California 2010. Before leaving Dr. Ng expressed her desire to help out the Hospital in any way. “If there’s anything you need, please let me know,” she said, pulling out a business card. “I’ll get my Miss California sisters together and we’ll be here. This place is amazing and we’d love to help in any way.”
The children at the Hospital’s main entrance were drawn to Miss California’s sparkling crown. Their smiles demonstrated to the entire Miss America entourage that the beauty queens had already helped the children simply by being there.