WINDSOR – Flashing a smile as wide as the Chowan River and a heart as warm as a summer night, Victoria Huggins made the first-ever visit to Bertie County by a reigning Miss North Carolina a memorable one here Tuesday.
Huggins, who was crowned as the 80th Miss North Carolina in June of last year, paid a visit to Windsor Elementary School as a kick-off to National Reading Month in March. The event was sponsored by the CITGO Petroleum Corporation as part of its second annual literacy campaign to spread the joy of reading to thousands of children in schools, community centers and hospitals across 19 states.
Huggins was chosen by CITGO as one of its 12 ambassadors to promote literacy through reading.
“Literacy is a program that really piqued my interest and I’ve been able to develop a special partnership with CITGO and their Read Across America program,” said Huggins just prior to reading a book to kindergarten, first and second grade students in the media center of Windsor Elementary.
With CITGO providing the fuel, Huggins is traveling this week to 16 schools and two public libraries in nine northeastern North Carolina counties. All of the schools are Title One educational facilities, meaning they are located in areas where there are high numbers of children from low-income families.
“What’s so cool about visiting these particular counties here in this part of the state is the fact that the majority of them have never had a reigning Miss North Carolina to visit them before,” Huggins noted. “To see their eyes light up and to see their smiles makes it very special. And then to see how they react when I tell them they will all receive a new book to take home….that look is priceless.
Part of CITGO’s program is to have Huggins pass out free books to each and every child for them to take home and read.
“I really love that. And to be chosen by CITGO as one of their 12 national ambassadors is a pretty big deal as well. My selection is a first by CITGO for someone in North Carolina,” she smiled.
With the students sitting silently and hanging on her every word, Huggins read “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss.
Before opening the book, Huggins asked the students why they felt reading was so important. The answers were various….to include having a chance to learn about new people and places.
“You’re right,” Huggins told her young audience, “reading takes you to places in your mind where you’ve never been; reading opens up your imagination. And what’s so great about that is one person will imagine something they read completely different from another person’s imagination. Being different, having a different thought is okay. Different people do amazing things because they’re not afraid to stand out.”
After sharing the words of the book, Huggins reminded the students of their meaning.
“In your lives you will go a lot of places; the world is at your fingertips,” she said. “You’ll get to experience new things. Dr. Seuss is telling you about these places and how to make the right decisions in choosing our journey in life.
“We all have dreams, but realize that we all have to work very, very hard to make those dreams come true,” Huggins stressed. “Dr. Seuss is telling us that when things don’t go our way, we never stop dreaming; we never give up.”
Huggins shared a story of how she persevered in the face of rejection.
“I didn’t win the title of Miss North Carolina on my first try; or my second try; nor my third attempt, or my fourth….I tried five times to earn this crown,” she said. “And every time I tried and didn’t succeed, I learned something from that experience that eventually helped me win it last year. It made me a stronger and better person. It made me have the heart of a servant, that’s what being Miss North Carolina is all about.”
She stressed to her young audience about the importance of giving to others.
“This crown and this (Miss North Carolina) sash isn’t about me, it’s about the gifts and the talents I have to serve the State of North Carolina to the best of my ability,” Huggins remarked. “It allows me to share with others how great our state really is.”
After she shared the news to the students about the fact they each would receive a new book – which was received by a roar of approval – Huggins closed her 45-minute program by leading the youngsters in “Let It Go” – a song from the popular Disney movie, “Frozen.”
Tuesday’s visit to Windsor Elementary was significant for Huggins, a native of St. Pauls in Robeson County, in another way as it marked 200th appearance at an event in the state over the past eight months.
“It is so wonderful that a person of her caliber comes here and reads to our students,” said Tracy Gregory, Principal of Windsor Elementary School, after Huggins completed her program. “It’s a first for us, having a Miss North Carolina in our school, and a first for her, coming to Bertie County. We really enjoyed having her here.”
Gregory noted having a celebrity to visit the school and push literacy at the same time was a win-win for all involved.
“Having her to announce the distribution of the free books, I hope that will ignite a spark within our students to improve their reading skills because they know those books came from her,” Gregory stated. “We’re always looking for unique ways to encourage our children to read and today’s program will help us achieve that.”
It appears that Windsor Elementary is making huge strides in improving its literacy standards while also making a social statement. Gregory said each student recently received a copy of the book – “Wonder” – which carries an anti-bullying message.
“All of our schools here in the county are vastly improving their performance status (by state standards). We’re moving in the right direction and thanks to Victoria’s visit here today and the message she instilled in our students, things of that nature will help us to reach our academic goals,” Gregory concluded.
Huggins began her promotional literacy tour on Monday of this week with stops at schools in Martin and Washington counties. In addition to Windsor Elementary, she also visited a Perquimans County school on Tuesday.
She wrapped up her northeastern North Carolina tour on Wednesday with two stops in Gates County and one in Chowan County; followed on Thursday and Friday with visits to schools in Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck counties.
In addition to CITGO, the tour was sponsored by the Bess the Book Bus Fuel a Love of Reading Campaign.