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Balancing passions

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Miss North Carolina combines artistic talent, chemical-abuse platform.

By Jennifer Whytock

CARY, N.C. — Kirstin Elrod’s opera talent helped her win the Miss North Carolina crown, but the issue she will promote statewide is counteracting chemical abuse.

Still, while she has committed her one-year reign to that cause, her heart belongs to the arts, which she says can serve as a powerful tool in fighting chemical abuse.

“The arts strengthen our community and help determine where our society is headed,” she says. “And children could get involved with arts and might avoid chemical abuse.”

Elrod, who grew up in Cary, recently graduated from the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem with a degree in music.

Her arts education was funded with grants from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the First Union Foundation, now the Wachovia Foundation, and with scholarships from the school’s chancellor and from the Miss America Organization.

Elrod became involved in pageants at age 19 to try to secure a college scholarship and get a chance to perform in front of an audience.

Kirstin Elrod

Position: Miss North Carolina

Born: Cary, N.C., 1981

Favorite opera: “Bluebeard’s Castle”, by Bartok

Favorite musical: “Wicked”

Favorite pieces of music: Rachmaninoff Art Songs, “Tell Me, Oh Blue, Blue Sky” by Giannini, and “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” by Tchaikovsky

Hobbies: Singing, knitting, reading, yoga and watching movies

Last June, in her fifth pageant, the 22-year-old won the state competition and will represent North Carolina in the Miss America pageant on September 18.

As part of her duties as Miss North Carolina, Elrod this year will take her self-designed message against abuse of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and over-the-counter drugs throughout the state, trying to educated children and parents and recruiting children to sign pledges against chemical abuse.

Parents often do not know how to talk with their children about chemical abuse, she says, and she plans to use existing research and studies to help teach parents which types of communication are effective.

She says the key to preventing chemical abuse is educating children at about age 4, by pointing out abusive chemical habits of individuals they see.

Elrod first became interested in the topic seven years ago, when her uncle died of emphysema from smoking, and in high school she was involved with Students Against Drunk Driving, DARE, and a Kick Butts anti-smoking program at an elementary school in Winston-Salem.

When her pageant life ends, Elrod plans to continue classical voice training and start a career in theater or musicals, both of which offer more opportunities than does opera, she says.

When her voice fully matures and develops more stamina and wider range, she says, she hopes to return to opera.

While in school, she performed in several operas produced by the school’s Fletcher Opera Institute, funded by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

Though performing in pageants helped her with school productions, and school productions helped her pageant performances, Elrod says, she cites one downside to her pageant life.

“When people know I am a ‘beauty queen’, it’s hard to get to know them,” she says. “I wish I could know people before they find out, because so many people have a preconceived notion.”

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