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Sunday, July 21, 2024

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‘I Want to Be a Positive Role Model’

Elizabeth Mendel, of Court House, recently won the Miss New Jersey 2024 competition. Celebrating with her were her mother, Jacqueline, twin sister, Emily, and father, Stephen.

By Karen Knight

The new Miss New Jersey, from Cape May, is set for a whirlwind year

Twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Mendel, of Court House, has become the third young woman from Cape May County to be crowned Miss New Jersey.

Mendel will take the year to advocate for eating disorder awareness through her service initiative, “Image Is Everywhere,” setting metrics and developing partnerships that aim to show positive results at the end of her year.

In addition, she will represent the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation and the state in appearances throughout the Garden State. She also will prepare for the Miss America 2025 competition.

In 2021, Alyssa Sullivan won the title, and in 2022, Augostina Mallous won. Both were from Court House.

“I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to represent my home state throughout this next year and give my heart to the people of the Garden State,” Mendel said. “My passion, drive, commitment and dedication throughout my time as a local titleholder have given me the tools to become the young woman I am today and now your state representative.”

Elizabeth Mendel was feted with a community parade after winning the Miss New Jersey 2024 title.

Mendel became active in the Miss New Jersey teen program when she was 16, having been encouraged by one of her best friends, who eventually won the Miss New Jersey title as well.

“I was skeptical at first,” she said, “but I tried it and caught the pageant bug. I had never been with a group of like-minded young women, my age, who had the same passion and drive I did to help make our communities a better place.”

Since her freshman year in high school, however, she had been hiding, and suffering from, bulimia, an eating disorder in which a large quantity of food is consumed in a short period of time, often followed by feelings of guilt or shame, self-induced vomiting or purging. Upon becoming part of the pageant world, Mendel saw how younger girls looked up to the older young women as role models.

“People would ask me if I was OK, and I would tell them that I was fine, fine,” she recalled. “One day, I happened to overhear a 10-year-old girl talking about herself in such a negative way. I realized that was how I spoke about myself, and I saw how these younger girls looked up to us older ones. I realized it was not OK, and it was a turning point for me.

“It was hard to admit to my parents that I needed help, and it was hard for my parents to hear it, because the disease had taken over my life. I was sick and tired all the time. We had to figure out as a family what to do and adjust, but I had such a great support system to help me with this struggle.

“Now, I look at who I am, and I am healthy. I want to be a positive role model. Last year, I returned to the pageant and was third runner-up.”

“It’s all about the back of the dress,” said Elizabeth Mendel, who won the evening gown preliminary award in the first night of the Miss New Jersey competition. Photo Credit: Miss New Jersey Facebook page

During her 10-minute private interview before the competition began, she was asked if the Miss New Jersey role could trigger her eating disorder. “The pageant actually helps me hold it together and be accountable,” she said. “It makes me want to stay healthy.”

Mendel, who graduated from Middle Township High School in 2020, also has a strong Roman Catholic faith. She carries a rosary with her everywhere, saying her world “does revolve around God. I know that what God has planned for me will happen when it’s time. When I was third runner-up last year, I was not upset. I was very comfortable and at peace because it wasn’t my time.”

As part of the Miss New Jersey competition, Mendel, who was Miss South Jersey, was one of 22 contestants who had a 10-minute private interview, and she competed in the fitness, talent, evening gown and onstage question categories. She won the evening gown preliminary award on the first night of competition.

“It’s all about the back of the dress,” she said, as she displayed a stunning, backless purple gown. The gown actually belongs to her coach, who wore the dress in the same competition 20 years ago.

“When I tried it on, I asked my Dad what he thought, because his opinion is so very important to me,” she said. “He said I looked like Miss America in the dress. I knew then that I stood a little taller and smiled a little brighter when I wore it. It’s a one-of-a-kind gown, and you wouldn’t think it was 20 years old.”

On the crowning night, June 8, Mendel said the contestants did an opening number followed by the announcement of the Top 10. A number was attached to their seats, which was connected to a “hot topic,” a word the contestants had to describe in 20 seconds. Hers was “terrorism.”

“Terrorism, such a scary word,” she said in her response, “and something we thought not to be in our own country. However, it’s right here. But I can say I am really grateful to be an American citizen, to live in the country we live in, because I have faith in our homeland security, our military. We live in the land of the free, but only because of the brave. I am so grateful to be here.”

Then the Top 5 were announced. “They announced the fourth runner-up, then the third and then the second,” she recalled. “The fifth young woman and I were bear-hugging each other for support. They announced the first runner-up, and then I think I went into shock and blacked out. I don’t really remember anything other than grabbing and hugging Amanda (Peacock), the first runner-up. I had so many emotions going on, I was crying.”

Elizabeth Mendel won more than $20,000 in scholarships and multiple sponsorships as Miss New Jersey 2024. Photo Credit: Miss New Jersey Facebook page

As a Miss New Jersey winner, she received more than $20,000 in scholarships and multiple sponsorships, along with the opportunity to network with people she will meet during the year. “I think everything is being taken care of for me this year,” she said, explaining that she has sponsors for everything, including her hair, clothes, makeup and nails.

She attends Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, studying business marketing and sales, and works in her family’s business, Sand Jamm 5Mile, North Wildwood. “My father started the business 33 years ago,” she said, “and my sister and I are preparing to take it over so it can stay in our family.”

Along the way, she will prepare for Miss America 2025. “I was told that you are more likely to have a son in the Super Bowl than a daughter in the Miss America pageant,” she said. “I’m looking forward to this year, advocating for my platform and speaking to young people. The education foundation is the largest women’s scholarship program in the country. I’m pretty excited.”

Contact the reporter, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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