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American Originals MADE IN AMERICA: The Queens crowned for 2012 were (L-R) Mrs. American Spirit Shawna Taylor, Ms. American Spirit Monique Jones, Miss American Spirit Jisel Parra, and Miss Teen American Spirit Rachel Barcellona. Inspired by a tragedy, the American Spirit Pageant combines the traditional aspects of competition with a unique fundraising experience he energy was palpable as the audience anxiously await- ed the opening production of the American Spirit Pag- eant at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida. From the beginning it was obvious to all who witnessed live in the Convention Center’s audience, or for the thousands watching live on the internet simulcast at, this electrifying event would be worthy of any Walt Disney World production. The pageant attracted an array of impressive contestants from all over the country for four sepa- rate division titles—Miss Teen, Miss, Ms., and Mrs. Though the pageant system is only in its second year, you wouldn’t know it judging by the professionalism of the American Spirit staff and polished presentation of the opening number by the contestants. Following the opening number, American Spirit founder and National Director Dennis VanDerGinst, addressed the audience and highlighted the unique attributes that set this competition apart from other pageant systems. In addition to the celebrity participation in judging, as well as in the entertainment production of the show, the American Spirit Pageant is the only national pageant that includes fundraising as a scored portion of the competition. You read that correctly—in- cluded in the traditional competition categories of interview, swimsuit and fitness wear, and evening gown, a total of 10 percent of the American Spirit contestants’ score is based on their ability to raise money for a wonderful charity, the HAVlife Foundation. The HAVlife Foundation was created in memory of Hunter A. T 58 PAGEANTRY Vondran, a 13-year-old boy who died in a tragic accident at a water park. Hunter’s father and HAVlife founder, Mike Vondran, deliv- ered a heartfelt, taped presentation to the American Spirit Pag- eants audience following Dennis VanDerGinst’s opening address, in which he expressed his hope the charity could help eliminate much of the “lost potential” in today’s youth. The organization’s mission is to fund opportunities for “at risk” children to participate in arts and athletic programs of which they would otherwise be unable to participate. Dennis VanDerGinst is an attorney and entrepreneur, and had represented the Vondran es- tate and became friends with the family. In the years following, his law firm, VanDerGinst Law, held benefit galas to raise money for the charity. After doing some quick research and enlisting the serv- ices of experienced pageant producers, Dennis created American Spirit Pageants to further aid his fundraising endeavors for Amer- ican Spirit Charities and the HAVlife Foundation. It was important for American Spirit Pageants to establish fair- ness in the fundraising portion of the competition so that contest- ants were not judged on their economic “connections” or their own position of affluence. In order to fairly score their ability to actual- ly immerse themselves into active fundraising efforts, VanDer- Ginst set a minimum point total scored once a contestant raised $250, and a maximum point total was given for raising $5,000. The cap on maximum donations would also preserve a leveled playing field. Moreover, only $1,000 could be donated by the contestant and/or her family and they had to raise money from at least five