By Srianthi Perera

At just 9 years old, Alena Mascarenas has a vision board filled with plans for the future.

This year, however, the Gilbert girl’s schedule has been decided for her. In November, following a glittering spectacle in Anaheim, California, Alena was crowned National All-American Miss Jr. Pre-Teen 2016-2017.

The girl is taking things in stride.

“It was so exciting,” she said of the evening when she became queen.

Alena later on confessed that she was feeling nervous, but she addressed an audience of about 400 people dressed in a long, fuchsia pink gown with a dainty floral bodice and said “I want to be a marine biologist.”

She’s a student at Eduprize in Gilbert who beat hundreds of candidates from across the United States to earn the title for her age division in the National American Miss Pageant Program. Pageants are held for girls ages 4 to 20 in six age divisions, and according to its literature, the program searches for “Today’s Girl” and “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Judges look at academic status, poise and personality on stage and during an interview, as well as communication skills and community service.

Now, Alena, the daughter of Gilbert’s own Tres and Gina Mascarenas—he’s in the U.S. Army and stationed in Louisiana and she’s a real estate agent—will spend the year traveling the country hoping to inspire other young girls to become leaders in their community. Trips have already been planned to Washington D.C, New York, Georgia, Washington and California.

Now, commercial advertising agencies have caught wind of her good looks and charm.

Alena was featured in an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed commercial for Fulton Homes that aired during the recent Super Bowl. She also participated in a television pilot based on history, which is scheduled to air on local networks in March.

Being in the limelight is “cool,” she said, but Alena also loves spending time with animals. A highlight of her life was swimming with dolphins in California during a family vacation. She adores the two dogs at home, Dolce, the Yorkshire Terrier, and Sasha, the Australian cattle dog.

Alena volunteers at the Tempe-based animal shelter, Lost Our Homes, where she has made 17 blankets for the rescued canines.

“I get to walk the dogs. I get to read books to them. I’ve really been saving up my money to adopt a dog, but we have to wait because I already have two dogs,” she said.

Alena has also helped train service dogs for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, fundraised for a veterans’ homeless shelter in Phoenix and donated her Halloween candy to veterans (some candy brands that she likes and some that she doesn’t).

Gina Mascarenas is happy with her daughter’s increased sense of responsibility.

“She was always spunky and outgoing and she always loved people. Since being part of National American Miss, I think it’s made her a lot more confident,” she said. “It definitely brings a different aspect into the kid’s life. She volunteers a lot more. She’s a lot more aware of people in need, animals in need, and is really setting goals for herself.”

While Mascarenas is mindful that some of Alena’s auditions and the trips will eat into her school schedule, Alena shrugs it off. “I catch up easily and I always get my homework done, like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. “I used to be super afraid of math because it used to be super hard for me. But now, I’m getting it.”

Alena, in addition to all of her other activities, still finds the time to play softball and participate in gymnastics and community theater.

“She stays busy,” Mascarenas said. “She’s such a good little leader when she gets with the girls; it’s so fun to watch.”

During Thanksgiving week, Alena will take an all-expenses paid trip to the national pageant to crown her successor. While there, she will spend a special day in Disneyland and attend a tour of famous places in Hollywood.

While Alena looks forward to her year of queening, she has also perfected a vision that doesn’t require a glittery gown.

“My big plan is to become a marine biologist, take my mom to college and then I move to California,” she said. “I’m going to build a two-story Beanie Boo store by the ocean.

“I’ll have a bell. If people ring it four times, that means animals are in danger. If it rings twice, it’s a customer for Beanie Boos.”