By jordan houston
GSN Staff Writer

Amber Abeita of Gilbert and Caitlin Martin of Chandler both have one thing in common — the goal of spreading anti-bullying awareness through the Miss America platform.

Amber, wearing the title of Miss Queen Creek’s Outstanding Teen, will compete in the Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen competition June 19-22 at the Mesa Arts Center. Caitlin, who officially holds the title of “Miss Gilbert,” will take a shot at Miss Arizona.

Both will be showcasing their anti-bullying platforms.

Coming from a wrestling background, Amber said she didn’t always have ambitions to be a pageant girl.

“I grew up wrestling and I was super passionate about it,” she said. “I didn’t have that poise, polish or articulation — going into pageants was so intimidating. It was a lot of work and a lot tears were shed.”

“But I got into this because I saw a lot of the incredible opportunities it provided for girls in the organization,” she continued.

The 16-year-old said she realized that the pageant title could help her non-profit organization, LiveLikeLexi, expand its reach.

LiveLikeLexi honors the late Alexis Schultz, one of Amber’s closest friends, who passed away unexpectedly in November 2015.

It was co-founded by Alexis’ mother and Amber, and seeks to fight bullying in schools by offering anti-bullying curriculum.

The non-profit will also offer scholarships to students from the class of 2020 that embody the organization’s core values.

“Lexi was a huge anti-bullying advocate growing up — she was extremely passionate about it,” said Abeita. “Following her passing, myself, her mom and a few other girls thought about how we can honor her and carry on her legacy.”

This is Amber’s second year competing for the Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen title.

The teen said she hopes her platform will shine through at this year’s competition.

“I truly understand that the opportunity to hold this title is such a huge honor,” she said. “It could take my platform to not only a bigger level statewide, but also the national level. It would give it more credibility.”

To prep for the big day, Amber has been practicing her singing and piano skills.

She has even prepared her own sheet music, she explained.

“I feel a lot more confident this year, I got my gown from Colorado and I’m really excited to show off the work I’ve done and cheer on the other girls,” she said.

“Competition week is so much fun, I think a lot of people assume the claws are out,” she continued. “But everyone is kind of there to hang out and have a good time.”

Caitlin — who teaches kindergarten in Laveen — said she got into the pageant industry by chance.

The 22-year-old said she was recruited by her local director in 2018 for the Miss Gilbert competition.

“I got contacted by my local directors a month before the competition being like, ‘We got your name from your best friend and we think you’d be a great fit,” she said.

“Two weeks later they said they didn’t have enough girls to compete and I thought it’d be a great medium for me to share my platform. If not, I gave it my best shot and did something new.”

At the time, she had already co-founded the non-profit organization, The Emergent Collective.

The Collective’s mission, according to its website, is to offer holistic care and an “empowering environment” to women.

A co-op of wellness professionals — it offers care in the areas of nutrition, wellness coaching, life coaching and counseling.

Now, Caitlin is hoping to share her platform, The Wonder Woman Movement: Empowered Women Empower Women, at the statewide stage.

“It’s about teaching girls about anti-bullying techniques,” she said. “We as women work really competitively with each other when, in reality, we work so much better collaboratively.”

Adding:

“We work to help women of all different life paths and at different stages of their lives build their confidence through collaboration. We want to reach young girls when they’re still growing.”

She told the Gilbert Sun News that her platform comes from a place of personal experience.

Growing up in a small school, Martin said she had a hard time transitioning into a larger high school.

She found herself being bullied by other girls often.

“Even the girls doing the whispering…I heard whispers about them,” she said. “I wanted to be that person that showed girls that felt like they didn’t know where else to turn to — or who were hurting themselves — that there is a different path and you say it’s not okay to hurt other people’s feelings.”

Caitlin now travels to different schools to meet with classes and conduct assemblies that focus on girl-on-girl bullying.

“It’s an epidemic,” Caitlin said.

If she wins the Miss Arizona title, Caitlin hopes to use its visibility to continue spreading the message that women thrive when they all get along.

“It goes so much further for the people who I reach with my platform,” she said. “I want to continue spreading my platform and being the good light, going to events and raising money for awesome organizations in our community.”

So far, her biggest preparation efforts have included dancing and vocal lessons every day and practicing her interviewing skills.

According to the Miss Arizona website, the Miss Arizona winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship while the Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen will win $2,000.