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Nine contestants vying to become Miss Kona Coffee


Stephens Media Hawaii

Nine hardworking contestants are dedicating time and talent as they vie to represent Kona’s specialty crop as Miss Kona Coffee.

“Coffee is more than an industry, it is a culture,” said Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant Executive Director Tracey Apoliona, who champions the product that will be promoted during a year of service by the one who wears the Miss Kona Coffee crown.

Apoliona has volunteered hundreds of hours to the pageant for the past 10 years because, as a parent, she wants to help young adults gain confidence, important life skills and education.

“It’s not a beauty pageant. It’s a scholarship program,” she said.

Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Aloha Hawaii will be crowned during the pageant at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay. Tickets are $30 and a Kona Coffee Cultural Festival button must be worn to gain entry. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Miss Kona Coffee and Miss Aloha Hawaii each receive a $1,500 scholarship to a school of their choice, as well as a $10,000 scholarship to Argosy University, which can be used at any of the school’s campuses or online. The first runner-up receives a $6,000 scholarship, the second runner-up gets $4,000, and all contestants earn a $2,000 scholarship.

The Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant is a qualifier for Miss Hawaii, who goes on to compete in Miss America. In the 43-year history of the Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant, Miss Kona Coffee has not won at the state level, but Apoliona encourages contestants to passionately seek this crown.

This year’s Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant contestants are: Mahina Bird, Mersadeez Brandt, Abigail Domen, Ariel Enriquez, Alyssa Ishihara, Jeanne Kapela, Tiffany Kutsunai, Trichelle Leslie and Mariah Milar.

Enriquez has ties to Kona coffee that date back to her great-grandparents who moved from Japan to grow the now world-famous beans. She was raised on Hawaii Island and Oahu, but with a father in the Navy, she moved often.

As one of only two Asian students at a school she attended in California, Enriquez was targeted because of her pidgin accent and rubber slippers. This experience helped her appreciate Hawaii’s multicultural environment. It also led her to become an advocate for the “I Choose to Embrace Aloha” anti-bullying campaign — a platform she has been able to promote through the pageant. She will showcase her talent in winter guard during the show. Enriquez threw flags and twirled sabers as part of the marching band to make friends at school.

Leslie and Brandt are also dedicated to their anti-bullying platforms.

Bird joined the pageant after having known three people who became victims of human trafficking.

“I want my voice to be heard for the silent victims of sex trafficking,” she said.

Kalepa spends at least 12 hours each week preparing for the pageant as she focuses on the four points of the crown: scholarship, service, success and style. Participants are graded in five categories: swimsuit, evening gown, talent, interview and on-stage questions. Contestants gathered Saturday at The Shops at Mauna Lani for mock interviews with a panel of business professionals.

Miss Kona Coffee will make about 70 appearances at special events throughout the year, in addition to volunteering and promoting her platform. She will also market Kona coffee at those events as well as during a 10-day trip to Japan sponsored by Ueshima Coffee Co. There, Miss Kona Coffee is met by crowds of thousands who want to see hula, learn about Kona coffee and be exposed to a little bit of Hawaii’s culture.

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