Host families take edge off competition

'Distinguished' girls enjoy sharing experience

Tom and Sue Briesemeister, far left and right, hosted Distinguished Young Women competitors Sydney Kirkegaard of Franklin, second from left and Erin Canon of Wauwatosa.

Tom and Sue Briesemeister, far left and right, hosted Distinguished Young Women competitors Sydney Kirkegaard of Franklin, second from left and Erin Canon of Wauwatosa.

Oct. 2, 2012

Franklin - Pat Briesemeister believes in family, especially when it comes to supporting the Wisconsin Distinguished Young Woman Scholarship Program.

For the past 18 years, Sue and her husband, Tom, have hosted two contestants for a week each year. Franklin is the host city for the Wisconsin pageant, which culminates in a program in nearby South Milwaukee.

"The girls come from all over the state to compete, and as part of the rules they need to leave their homes and stay with a host family," Briesemeister said. "It's such a worthwhile program and not a lot of people know about it."

Distinguished Young Women of Wisconsin is a preliminary round of the organization's national scholarship program that promotes and rewards academic success, leadership and talent. In addition to earning college scholarships, the program is designed to develop friendships, self-confidence and other life skills for future success.

"The girls really are mostly involved in activities throughout the week," Briesemeister said. "They get picked up in the morning and then are gone until later in the evening when they come back for the night. We usually get to have one dinner meal with them."

Historical connection

Briesemeister said she became involved because when she worked for Sears in the 1970s, the company was a partial sponsor.

"Back then it was called Junior Miss," she said. "I worked in advertising, and we provided the workout routine outfits for the girls."

Briesemeister, who even served on the program's board of directors, said she got too busy and drifted from the annual event. Years later, her husband, Tom, saw an article asking for volunteer host families.

"He told me about it and thought it would be a great thing to do," she said. "We have had a lot of fun doing this."

She noted that they have kept in touch with some of the girls, staying close to one who got married and who sang at the couple's 25th anniversary celebration.

Family strong

The Briesemeister's have pleased Sue Herman, a Franklin resident who has directed the state program over the past 18 years.

"Oh, we definitely rely on our host families," Herman said. "It's unique to Wisconsin, but we feel the girls need a support group so they can share their experiences and they still feel like they are part of family.

"It's really nice that some of our host families stay in touch with the girls. I think that says a lot about their experience."

Local and appreciative

The girls like the one-week move, even if they already live in the area.

This year, Franklin High School senior Sydney Kirkegaard was one of two contestants staying with the Briesemeister's. She won the state program and will compete next year at nationals in Mobile, Ala.

"We have the most amazing volunteers, and that makes the experience so special," Kirkegaard said. "They make it so easy to be comfortable and happy. It's nice because there's another girl and a family to talk to at the end of the day. The host family is excited to hear about our day, and we can share our experiences."



CONTACT: Sue Herman can provide program and hosting details.

PHONE: (414) 525-9283



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