Hagerstown teen reaches out to foster children

November 30, 1999|By ERIN JULIUS

One local beauty queen takes the platform portion of pageants seriously.

Reigning Miss Teen Washington County Danielle Paul made reaching out to foster children her mission this year.

Danielle, 16, is working with the Department of Social Services in sponsoring a "bag drive" to benefit local children in the foster care system. Her pageant platform is combating child abuse and neglect.

Foster children often tow around all of their belongings in trash bags because they have nothing else, she said.

"I wanted to give them something they could call their own," Danielle said.

Now about three weeks into the drive, the family's front room is stuffed with suitcases of all kinds. At last count, they had 20 suitcases and several book bags, said Melody Paul, Danielle's mother.

Danielle has seen firsthand what abuse and neglect do to children, she said.

"I know it's a sad topic, but if I see something, I can't keep my mouth closed about it," she said.


Her parents, Melody and Nathan Paul, have hosted three foster children for two years. Danielle shares her room with one of the children, Lorraine, 5.

When their foster children arrived in the Paul home, Destin, now 4, cried all the time. Lorraine, the oldest, thought she had to be the mom, Danielle said. She would fix her little brother's cereal and refuse to eat until he did, Melody Paul said.

"I want to tell kids they're not alone, and it's not their fault," Danielle said.

Danielle decided to enter the Miss Teen competition in September because "it wasn't about talent, it was about helping the community," she said. Her title has given Danielle a way of "getting my hands into the community to help," she said.

Danielle has made the usual pageant queen appearances in local parades and community events. She also attended a recent domestic violence vigil held by Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) and the Washington County Family Violence Council.

For her work, Danielle received a letter of recognition from Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Melody Paul said.

Danielle, in the 11th grade at South Hagerstown High School, plans on attending college and studying to be a social studies teacher because "it's kind of cool to look back," she said. Danielle also serves as junior class secretary, cheers for the varsity cheerleading squad, plays softball, works on the school's yearbook and holds down a job at Burger King.

Danielle will travel to Kent Island High School in Stevensville, Md., in March to compete for the title of Miss Teen Maryland International.

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