Shelby Ringdahl has had a passion to help youth for years. She also has a special place in her heart for an organization that makes assisting children its business.
And because this 21-year-old woman happens to be the reigning Miss Missouri, she is using her “celebrity status” to help spread the word about CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates.
“I grew up blessed in a loving household,” said Ringdahl, who was Franklin County CASA’s special guest during its annual fund-raising gala last Saturday at the Washington Knights of Columbus hall. “It just makes me sick that there are so many kids who are not as fortunate. ... It’s difficult to imagine that so many kids are removed from their families and placed in a home where they don’t know anyone. To have a CASA volunteer who advocates for their best interest, provides consistency and acts as a friend and mentor is vital for these children.
“I want to do all I can to help.”
Ringdahl shares in CASA’s mission so much that she made the not-for-profit organization and its cause her platform for both the 2013 Miss Missouri and 2014 Miss America pageants. The Columbia resident won the state title in June. She finished in the top 12 in the Miss America competition in September in Atlantic City.
Officially, her platform is, “Finding safety: Helping abused children discover love through CASA.”
Before the gala got under way on Saturday, Ringdahl visited with The Missourian about her specific passion for CASA as well as about her pageant experiences and life in general. During the gala, she spoke about her ties to CASA; sang a song with Sh-Boom, the band that performed on Saturday; and posed with many gala guests for pictures.
“I want to spread awareness and try to help recruit volunteers and raise donations for CASA,” Ringdahl told The Missourian. “I want to be involved with youth. I want to help kids. And I want to be a positive role model for them.”
The 5-foot-10 brunette is a Christian and said her “life verse” from the Bible is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“God is using me and this title (Miss Missouri) for good things,” Ringdahl said. “I know it’s totally in His plan for me to do this and to help kids and CASA how ever I can.”
“My faith has actually strengthened more than I ever thought it could in becoming Miss Missouri. You wouldn’t think that winning a beauty pageant could affect your relationship with the Lord, but it has for me.
“I see so many impoverished, ill and unmotivated children, and it has never been more clear to me that I am with them for a reason. They need a light in their life, a light in this dark world they are in, and that is why I am here. ...
“I have never been more assured that God has a plan for all of us, and sometimes it takes crazy things, like becoming Miss Missouri, for us to see that.”
And, Ringdahl is taking that plan to heart.
“It’s such an honor to have children, especially younger girls, look up to you,” she said. “I want to make an impact through being a positive role model.”
She also wants to use her celebrity status to help CASA.
“CASA has tapped into my heart so much,” she said. “I really want to be involved with this awesome organization and bring awareness to what it does. I want to spread the word wherever I go.”
And “go” Ringdahl has.
Since June, when she earned the state title, she has criss-crossed across Missouri and beyond and has put more than 11,000 miles on her vehicle doing it.
“This really is a job,” Ringdahl said. “Yes, it’s a title, a sash and a crown, but it’s so much more than that. I have the chance to make a difference, and I’m working hard to do that. I want children from good families to appreciate what they have, and I want to help children who may not be as fortunate.
“If I can do this by being Miss Missouri and with CASA as my platform, then I’m going to do it.”
Ringdahl hasn’t always had her CASA passion, however. In fact, she learned about it and decided to become involved after she graduated from high school and attended Texas Christian University.
When she decided to attend TCU and major in musical theater, she got involved with the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Its national service philanthropy is CASA.
“The more I learned about it, the more I fell in love with Theta and CASA,” Ringdahl said, adding that TCU’s Theta chapter conducts a 5-kilometer run every year to benefit CASA.
During the summer, Ringdahl was one of the 35 faces of CASA as it celebrated 35 years of being advocates for children.
After Ringdahl graduates from TCU — she is a senior but had to take a year off because of her Miss Missouri responsibilities — she hopes to become a CASA volunteer herself.
“It’s at the top of my bucket list,” she said, adding that also near the top of that list is performing on Broadway.
Ringdahl said she does not have a long history of pageant involvement. In fact, she only has appeared in five during her lifetime.
She said her first-year voice teacher at TCU was the first to seriously mention pageants to her, even though she grew up with a nanny who had competed in the Miss Missouri pageant.
“She taught me about all the makeup kind of things to do,” Ringdahl said about her nanny, “but when my voice teacher mentioned pageants, I brushed it off because I didn’t think it was for me.”
However, after thinking about it over a period of time, she changed her mind.
In order to qualify for the state pageant, a contestant first must win a preliminary event.
“I entered the Texas County pageant in Houston, Missouri,” Ringdahl said. “And I won.”
In June 2012, she ended up being the second runner-up in her first try at Miss Missouri.
“I decided I wanted to try again,” she said. “I fell in love with what the Miss Missouri and Miss America organizations stand for and knew I could be a positive role model and advocate with CASA as my platform.”
So, last fall she entered the Miss Springfield pageant.
“And I won again,” she said. “And then I won Miss Missouri.”
And then came the Miss America pageant.
“It was surreal,” she said. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Ringdahl survived the initial cut to become the first Miss Missouri to make the top 15 in 12 years. She then advanced to the next round of the top 12 before being eliminated.
That meant she did not get to sing live on national television to showcase her musical talent.
But the most stressful part of the competition?
“Wearing the swimsuit in front of that large crowd and live on national TV,” she said. “I’m a conservative woman as it is, and after the Miss Missouri pageant, I didn’t feel I was in ‘Miss America’ shape. I had to work so hard at that, and I still didn’t know if I was ready.”
But, would she trade the experience for something else?
“No way,” Ringdahl said. “I’m thrilled to be doing what I’m doing. I’m grateful for what I get to do. I want to make a difference, and this is one way I can do that.
“And I’m thrilled I get to come to places like Franklin County and help get the word out about CASA.”