Renee Smith no doubt would like to be crowned Mrs. America 2017. More importantly, however, the Warren County resident, currently Mrs. Northern New Jersey, wants to use her time during the competition process to help raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder and how it affects not just those individuals with it, but also their families.
“I ultimately decided to enter this pageant to raise autism awareness,” said Smith. “The Autism Society reports more than 3.5 million Americans were identified as living with autism spectrum disorder in 2014 and further states autism is the fastest growing developmental disability.”
Smith, vying for a spot in the pageant’s final showdown August 19-26, 2017 in Las Vegas, has been actively involved in various non-profit autism support organizations for several years, including Warren County based Branching-Out Foundation and Greenwich Autism Alliance Foundation, and Autism New Jersey. For Smith, the cause is very personal. Her 7-year old son has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Ironically, Smith had been a Teacher of the Handicapped (and possesses an MA in Educational Leadership degree with Principal Licensure CE) for many years prior to the birth of her son. So she sees the challenges in multiple facets.
“It does hit home, that’s for sure,” said the 48-year old Smith. “Even though I was a special education teacher for over 10 years, this did not prepare me to become the PARENT of a special needs child. So, I know first-hand how autism affects children and their families.”
Smith noted that her son was born healthy and beautiful, which is a common occurrence in many cases prior to an unexpected diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. But at age 3 he was diagnosed with autism. “Your lifestyle changes quickly,” she said. Smith added that often times families isolate themselves as they may feel the need to protect their child as they come to terms with the diagnosis.
“People commonly say they have met or know someone with autism. Although it seems like an over-generalization, in its truest form, that statement is accurate because each autism case is unique to that one individual.”
Her Mrs. NNJ “platform” is thusly called, “Autism Awareness, Acceptance and Advocacy.”
She is hoping that by making appearances and speaking publicly in her role as a beauty contestant she can help make more people aware of these challenges. Throughout the next couple of months, Smith has scheduled numerous appearances.
Renee Smith is currently designated “Mrs. New Jersey America 2017 1st Runner Up”. She now has one more chance to compete at the Mrs. America Pageant. Her photo will be posted on the Mrs. America website, family, friends and others are invited to vote for her. The winner of the 1st Runner Up Contest, will receive an all-expense paid trip to the upcoming Mrs. America Pageant to compete for the title of Mrs. America 2017.
“I was the 1st Runner-Up as my high school homecoming queen in 1987, so it would be really amazing if 30 years later I receive the most votes to compete to be No. 1 in the Mrs. America national competition!” she said with a big smile.
While that may be true, Smith is passionate about autism and she is determined to help make a positive difference in how people view it. “I believe that this pageant will allow me to reach a large segment of the population. My goal is to help people understand what autism spectrum disorder is and that it is okay to ask questions. I want individuals to know that it is okay to feel overwhelmed when you have a loved one who receives an autism diagnosis. I want individuals diagnosed with autism to know that it is okay to feel alone; But in reality you are not alone. I want to help people learn how to not only interact with a person living with autism, but to embrace and admire that individual.”
To show your support for Renee Smith, visit www.mrsamerica.com, click on First Runner Up, scroll to find Renée Smith’s photo, and VOTE! Renee Smith (ReneeSmithUSA) is also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, http://facebook.com/ReneeSmithUSA.