Over the past five months, 10 Philomath High School seniors have been working toward the goal of raising at least $12,000 to benefit three organizations that rely heavily on donations to provide services in the areas of children's health, rape and domestic violence, and at-risk youth.

With around two weeks remaining before Saturday night's pageant, Associated Student Body adviser David Dunham reported that the Mr. and Miss PHS contestants were more than halfway to their fundraising goal.

Well, it appears the students had an aggressive final push. The total amount raised came in at $12,879.

Joey Howell and Meghan Erickson earned the Mr. and Miss PHS crown as the top fundraising couple, bringing in $4,953.

"I didn't even know ... I thought we were at about $3,500 in and I think it was $4,500 at the end," Howell said, an estimate that was still nearly $500 less than their final total. "There was a thousand bucks I didn't even know was in there."

Participants have been fundraising since December. Howell and Erickson raised money through several methods but mostly through the selling of donated items (the Golston family stepped up big, the couple pointed out).

"It means a lot of our hard work paid off," Erickson said in response to winning the crown. "It felt good to see them get those checks."

Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence executive director Letetia Wilson and Jackson Street Youth Services program director Kendrasue Phillips-Neal each accepted $5,500 checks at the end of the program. The rest of the money will go to Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

"Mr. Dunham said at the beginning that we could expect to spend about five hours a week and there were some weeks where it was that and some weeks when it was less," Howell said. "But in the last month to month and a half, it's been closer to 10. We were just grinding it out and trying to get as much (money in donations) as we could."

It was the 20th Mr. and Miss PHS Pageant and Sarah Buddingh, ASB president and pageant coordinator, said the event was really important to her.

"It's a lot of work but to me it's completely worth it because it's a way for ASB to do more than just your typical stuff within the school and we get to help out a lot of really cool foundations," Buddingh said. "It was just awesome to see the contestants work really hard and put on these fundraisers. Everybody in ASB was involved in putting it on and I just really enjoyed it."

The Mr. and Miss PHS Pageant returned to the high school after going on hiatus last year.

"That was very disappointing," Buddingh said. "I tried to run it last year but there wasn't backing from any of the seniors and they all dropped out, so I made sure this year to write a no-bailout clause first of all, and then we had a lot more willing contestants who were excited to do it."

Buddingh was glad to see the contest return to campus.

"I think it was really important for the community to put it on again and I think it was important for the school to put it on," she said.

Kenan Conner and Anna Leonard impressed judges during the talent portion of the pageant with a dance routine based on the 1980s film, "Dirty Dancing." As such, they were crowned Mr. and Miss Entertainer.

Leonard said she and Conner worked on the routine for just two weeks, but had some help from a classmate.

"Anita Acevedo's the best choreographer and she takes the cake," she said.

Added Conner, "We really came up with the idea by ourselves and her mom (Amy Leonard) really wanted us to do it. We were trying to do it by ourselves but then Anita was helping us and she really put all of the choreography together."

Other couples participating were Jensen Davis and Mackenzie McHuron-Guss, Evie Blythe and Dorian Gagnon, and Jared Minter and Hailey Davis.

Leonard called Mr. and Miss PHS a big commitment, but that it was worth it.

"It's really about all these awesome organizations that these funds are going to and they're so, so deserving," she said. "We're just really happy to take part in that."

Conner said the process was a challenge in certain ways but doling out funds to worthy causes was a big motivator.

"Sometimes it was hard to not be competitive about it and to really keep our minds on the cause and the bigger picture but towards the end, it really started to show and we could tell we were raising more money for these organizations," Conner said. "So it was all for a really good cause and made us want to do it."

Wilson, Phillips-Neal, Elsa Nunez and Matt Lehman served as judges for the pageant. Buddingh and Acevedo shared master of ceremonies duties.

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