“I am pretty sheltered,” said Hallam, who was selected as one of the seven Lilac City royalties.
As an ambassador of Spokane, “I imagined going to parades and nursing homes,” Hallam said.
Instead, the Rogers High School graduate boarded a plane Monday morning bound for China as part of a team – including the entire Lilac Festival Royal Court – for a service mission that will include a stop in one of Spokane’s sister cities.
“Nothing like this has ever been done before,” said Hal Patton, Lilac Festival Association president. “The mission of the festival is honoring our military, and also recognizing our youth and showcasing our region; this trip does the last two.”
The 12-day trip, funded mostly by private donations connected to a Liberty Lake church, will include service projects at four orphanages for special-needs children, and at hospitals in the greater Beijing area. The trip culminates in Jilin, one of Spokane’s four sister cities, organizers said.
The team consists of 22 people, including members of the Lilac festival and royal court, community leaders, two members of the sister cities board and chaperones.
“This is a chance for us to showcase something really amazing,” said Lilac Queen Sydnee Scofield, a graduate of Central Valley High School.
With a $22,500 price tag for the royal court alone, the Lilac Festival Association said it could not have funded the “Building Bridges” trip, a partnership between the festival and the Sister Cities Association of Spokane, a nonprofit organization supported by the city of Spokane.
No city or Lilac Festival funds were provided for the trip, which was paid for through the “generous donations of many individuals and businesses who want to invest in our next female leaders,” Patton said.
Plans for the trip began as a conversation between festival organizers and Steve Allen, the father of Princess Hannah Allen, a graduate of University High School. Steve Allen and his family have three adopted children from China. He is also the assistant pastor at Liberty Lake Community Church, which has been involved with the orphanages in China, including those the Lilac royalty will visit.
“I’ve taken some teams to do some service work, and they are always very welcoming about having foreigners come in and work with them,” Allen said. Most serve special-needs orphans.
Allen said he was able to get sponsorship for all seven princesses, plus two adult chaperones. The rest of the adults, including Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson and six members of his church, paid their own way, he said.
“We saw a need, and this was a way to fill it,” Allen said.
Organizers with the festival association said the trip celebrates the 25th anniversary of a relationship between Spokane and Jilin.
“We wanted to have some representation from Spokane in Jilin City for the 25th anniversary,” said Margo Buckles, the president of the Sister Cities Association. Buckles, who will join the princesses in China for the last half of the trip, will be joined by another sister cities board member, who is from Jilin, she said.
“We’ll be staying with her mother while we are there,” Buckles said.
While sister cities board members have visited sister cities overseas before, the Lilac Court has never been overseas.
The festival is a nonprofit organization that each year selects high-school girls to represent the city at various state fairs and parades, including the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade held each May.
Hannah Allen said she had no idea what her father was planning until the day in March when the rest of the Lilac court found out. Steve Allen hid a secret message for each girl inside a fortune cookie that read, “Ni hao (or hello), we will be seeing you in China July 16!” This is Hannah Allen’s fifth trip to China – two with her family for adoptions, and two for mission-related work.
“China has always been a big part of my life,” said Hannah, who joined the China-bound team Monday morning at Spokane International Airport.
The airport security area was a flurry of sparkly purple shoes and shirts as the group converged toward Concourse C for a big send-off, drawing stares from departing passengers. Airport officials allowed family members to bypass security and join the girls for a big goodbye at the gate, which included a catered breakfast paid for by the airport.
“These girls go through a lot to represent Spokane; we want them to know we appreciate it,” said Todd Woodard, airport spokesman. “And we will be here with a big welcome when they come back.”