LUMBERTON —This year’s Most Beautiful Baby contest was more important than ever for the Robeson County Partnership for Children, which is facing a possible 20 percent reduction in state funding.
“This fiscal year has certainly proven to have its challenges,” said Amy Cox, the program director of the Robeson County Partnership for Children, which oversees state Smart Start programs. “Even now, the future of early childhood and Smart Start in Robeson County remains uncertain. However, our community has demonstrated its commitment once again. The overwhelming support continues to humble us.”
The fourth annual contest raised $14,888 through entry fees and a $1 charge per vote, the most ever. The money will help fund 18 activities that Smart Start oversees. Its programs benefit children 5 and under with education, as well as health screenings, parental training and child care. About 11,000 children are reached by Smart Start activities in Robeson County each year.
The top two winners, a prince and a princess, were Kaydon N. Locklear and Roddy Jenkins. Each receives $100, and a parade magnet for vehicles acknowledging the title, Kaydon receives a tiara, and Roddy a crown.
Kaydon, whose photo featured her wearing a pink and green flower dress with a bow in her hair, won the inaugural Beautiful Baby contest, and has now placed in all four. This was Roddy’s first time entered in the contest. His photo depicted him styling in a denim jacket and jeans.
Second through sixth place went to Triston Williams, Mason Storm Locklear, Lee B. Jernigan, Kiera Oxendine and Chase Phillips. Runners-up each receive $75 and a trophy for second place, $50 and a trophy for third place, and $25 and a trophy for fourth through sixth place.
More than 70 percent of the votes were cast on Monday, the last day of the contest, and voters used strategies like distributing full-color photos and posting fliers at work and church.
“I am awestruck with the overwhelming response to this year’s contest,” said Tanya Underwood, the program specialist for the partnership. “I have enjoyed every minute of talking to people about their baby. It is evident by these stories that all babies are indeed beautiful and I am proud to work with their families and this community for their future.”
The winning babies will be featured in a calendar, along with Cristyn Oxendine, Jahari Roberson, Devin Brayboy, Chayton Locklear and Jackson Shooter. All 42 contestants will be included in the calender.
“This year’s contest raised more funds than any other year, with fewer contestants,” Cox said. “It is certainly a testament to the value that our community places on early childhood programs and Smart Start in Robeson County. We are hopeful that these funds, combined with future fund-raising efforts, will sustain Smart Start of Robeson County and ensure early childhood programs are available for all children birth to five years of age.”