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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Spokane and Miss Spokane’s Teen prepare for state competition after creating podcast, advocating for their own special initiatives

Julia Zimney, left, and Samantha Kissee after receiving their Miss Spokane and Miss Spokane’s Teen titles, respectively, at the Miss Spokane competition in March.  (Courtesy of Julia Zimney)
By Alexandria Osborne The Spokesman-Review

The Miss Washington and Miss Washington’s Teen competitions are rapidly approaching, and Julia Zimney, who was crowned Miss Spokane, and Samantha Kissee, who was crowned Miss Spokane’s Teen, are excitedly preparing to take the state stage.

Zimney, a Gonzaga University alumna, started competing in pageants when she was 17 years old. She held the title of Miss West Sound for two years during the pandemic.

“I’m 27 now, so I’m on year 10 being involved in the Miss America Organization, but it’s so worth it for me, because I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills,” Zimney said. “It’s provided me a lot of scholarship opportunities, and now I get to represent my community both as Miss Spokane and as a licensed attorney.”

Zimney attended Gonzaga for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She studied creative writing during her undergraduate years, but during her final year, she did a work study at a suicide mental health hotline in Spokane.

Her experience with the work study opened up an opportunity in the Seattle area for university policy management, she said. While she held that role, she volunteered with the Seattle Police Department responding to crimes involving domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

“I was the advocate that would sit with the alleged victim and talk with them through potential resources. One day, I just woke up and I was like ‘I feel like I could do more,’ ” Zimney said. “I felt like there was more skills that I could utilize, so I took the next step and I decided to go to law school.”

Zimney said she has received upward of $10,000 in scholarships through competing and wants to use it to attend conferences.

“It’s different on the national level; it has to go towards tuition,” she said. “If I made it to the national level or if I was Miss Washington, I would definitely engage in some sort of teaching certificate program so that I could potentially become a professor.”

Zimney said competing has helped in her professional career, because there are a lot of speaking opportunities as a title holder, and even as a contestant speaking in front of people.

“You have all of that stress weighing on you when you’re on stage and when you’re in front of people,” she said. “When I go into a courtroom, it’s a very similar feeling, but now I know how to poise myself and position myself to adequately convey what I’m trying to say, and I have the Miss America opportunity to thank for that.”

Kissee, a high school senior at Northwest Christian, competed with the Miss America Organization for the first time when she was 13 years old, when a contestant for the Miss competition encouraged her to compete; the Miss Spokane competition was her fifth pageant.

She hopes to attend Grand Canyon University in Arizona and plans to use competition scholarships for tuition.

Kissee is the varsity cheer captain at her school. She said competing in pageants helped her step into her role on the team.

“I was very shy and in my own little box before I competed, and I think that gave me my voice that I could then take with me to other areas of life like being able to cheer in front of my entire school and lead the squad,” she said.

Shortly after Zimney and Kissee received their titles, they sat down with the organization director to go through contracts and what to expect for the next year. Zimney said the director wanted to start a podcast and had already reached out to Brennon Poynor, the owner of Spokast!, to inquire about being on his podcast.

Poynor brought up the idea for a Miss Spokane-sponsored podcast every month.

“This was super convenient, because this is what our goal was,” Zimney said. “He was so down for it and so willing to take the time and energy to be able to sit down with us once a month and create it for us as well.”

The monthly podcast named “Sisters of the Sash, a Miss Spokane Scholarship Organization Podcast” involves Spokane-related topics both in and outside of the pageant world, Kissee said.

The two recently recorded an episode, which has not been released yet, where they both brought in a guest speaker. Kissee said her guest was a former Miss Washington and Miss Spokane Teen. Zimney said she interviewed Dr. Amy Doneen, who has a practice for heart and brain health in Spokane.

This year, the Miss America Opportunity has a new partnership with the American Heart Association called Go Red for Women. Zimney said title holders are required to raise a minimum of $300.

“That’s why I really wanted to have (Doneen) come on, so she could share her input and advice as to how to stay healthy and how big the risk actually is for young women and for those who may potentially be at risk for heart and brain disease,” Zimney said.

Part of the titleholder’s role includes a yearlong dedication to a community service initiative. Kissee said she is using her year to encourage teens to volunteer in the community.

Kissee grew up volunteering with her mom.

“That’s something I’ve seen a lack of in this generation, and I really want to build that back up,” she said.

Zimney said her community service initiative is called the Red Lips Project, which is an acronym, or a backronym, that stands for Redefining Love and Partnerships.

She has worked toward this mission through her work as a practicing attorney as well as in her free time and has been able to make connections with national and international organizations that fight against human sex trafficking.

“It’s all geared toward any sort of relational abuse, whether it be child abuse, sexual assault on college campuses or sex trafficking, that’s where I gear and focus my advocacy,” she said.

Zimney said while pursuing her bachelor’s degree, she met a lot of women who experienced sexual assault, so following her experience at Gonzaga, she wanted to end that.

She took a gap year, which was when she worked in emergency management in Seattle and did work with Title XI investigations.

“I also became a certified self-defense instructor there, as well, so that’s what kickstarted my entire initiative,” Zimney said.

The Miss Washington’s Teen preliminary night is Friday, June 28, and the crowning takes place Saturday, June 29. The Miss Washington preliminary night is July 5, and the crowning will take place July 6.

Zimney will be in Olympia the entire week before to watch the crowning for the teen competition and participate in events.

Kissee said having experience with pageants helps prepare for the state competition.

Zimney said while past experience helps, having a good teen alongside her is a good experience, as well. Kissee said she never had an older sister, and Zimney never had a younger sister, so they have held those roles for each other.

Going into the state competition, Kissee is looking forward to the talent portion of the pageant. Kissee will play alto saxophone. She started playing the instrument on accident when she was placed in band instead of orchestra and could not be switched out of the class because of scheduling issues. She eventually fell in love with it.

Zimney will play the piano for the talent portion of the competition. She got involved with the instrument when she was 12 after her grandmother passed away from cancer. She started playing to help cope with her loss and eventually found some patterns on it.

“I taught myself how to play and I most of the time just play by ear,” she said. “The songs that I play are my own creations.”

Tickets for the Miss Washington and Miss Washington’s Teen competitions can be found on the Miss Washington website.