Dawnel DeRubeis was a 14-year-old high school freshman when she first stepped on the pageant stage as a way to meet people in her new Santa Clarita hometown.
But what started out as a way to make new friends, turned into a life passion and enthusiasm for competing and volunteering.
DeRubeis ended up taking home the first-ever Miss Teen SCV title that day in 1994 and hasn’t lost her fire for pageants since.
“Pageants are absolutely part of my life,” DeRubeis said. “I’m not sure if and when I will ever stop.”
Throughout the years, DeRubeis has held of the titles of Miss Teen SCV, Miss Teen Frontier Bell, Miss North Los Angeles County Teen USA, Miss SCV, Mrs. SCV, Mrs. Hollywood USA and now, Mrs. California USA Universal for 2017.
Despite the on-stage adrenaline rush, DeRubeis’ favorite part about pageants is her ability to get involved in organizations that make a positive impact in the community.
“I always try to align myself with an organization that is really strong and focused,” she said. “It becomes a part of who I am. It’s a part of my life and a part of what makes me whole.”
And this year is no different, with her Mrs. California USA Universal platform focused on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“This is my passion and my heart,” DeRubeis said. “I sit on the education board for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention… and it is the largest nonprofit that supports education and advocacy for suicide prevention.”
The foundation’s goal is to reduce the suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025 through programs and education.
With her position on the education board, DeRubeis is able to travel throughout the state to focus on teen depression and suicide warning signs, a topic that is personal to DeRubeis.
“I lost a family member to suicide and I have struggled myself for many years with depression,” she said. “It took educating myself to understand what depression is and what effects it has and how it’s caused.”
This is why the education piece is important to DeRubeis: so teens and adults can figure out those “triggers” in their lives in order to avoid them and make changes.
“I want people to understand it’s so normal,” she said. “Mental illness affects one in five people and we need to break down the stigma surrounding it.”
Since the start of the schoolyear, DeRubeis has shared her story and AFSP education tools at schools throughout Southern California, with more scheduled for the rest of the year.
“It’s really powerful and such an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I am strong and on the other side of it (depression) and want to share that with others that there’s hope and healing.”
Her involvement with the organization made an impact in her pageant life as well. At the Mrs. California USA Universal pageant, DeRubeis won an award for completing the most community hours.
“To get that recognition not only for myself, but also for the organization was wonderful,” she said.
Mrs. USA Universal
In June 2017, DeRubeis will compete on the national level for the title of Mrs. USA Universal.
To prepare for the pageant, she is working with a personal trainer at Mind, Body and Soul Fitness, watching what she eats and doing mental preparations.
“I do a lot of mental preparation to stay up to speed on everything going on in the nation,” she said. “The idea is to have an opinion or thought about everything going on, which, as an adult woman, I should and do anyway.”
DeRubeis also mentally prepares to stay focused on the end goal at all times. She said the pre-competition nerves never go away, but that the butterflies are her version of an adrenaline rush.
“Some people jump out of airplanes and I compete in pageants,” she said.
Overall, DeRubeis’ hope is to convey to the audience and the judges how important community service is to her.
“I’ve learned over the years that this is such a great opportunity to make the crown and sash work for what I’m passionate about,” she said. “It opens a lot of doors… it’s an opportunity and gets you exposure that you might not otherwise had.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_