By Chelsea Miller
Three local women are giving the area something to applaud.
Stephanie Yasechko, Alana Lesnansky and Caroline Bennett were among the top five finalists in Ohio’s Distinguished Young Women’s competition in Mount Vernon.
Yasechko, a senior at Niles McKinley High School, placed first and will travel to Mobile, Ala., for the national finals at the end of June.
The three women competed with 25 high school seniors from across the state Feb. 24-25. They were the only competitors from Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
“It just proves that we come from a really wonderful community and background that helps us to ... be our best self,” said Bennett, a top-five finalist from Canfield High School.
Founded in 1958 in Mobile, Ala., Distinguished Young Women is an annual national scholarship program for young women who are seniors in high school and demonstrate strong scholastics and involvement in the community.
Previously known as America’s Junior Miss, the program has provided more than $93 million in cash scholarships at the local, state and national levels.
Bennett received an $800 cash scholarship for placing in the top five, and Les-nansky, a second runner-up, received $1,250. Yasechko won $5,900 in cash scholarships and will have a chance to compete for a share of $130,000 in prizes at the national competition.
Last year, the overall winner received a $40,000 cash scholarship to the university of her choice.
The girls were rated in five areas — academics, talent, interview, physical fitness and self-expression.
Yasechko performed a baton routine at Ohio’s competition and won preliminaries in the interview and self-expression portions.
She said winning the state competition was her biggest accomplishment.
“It’s something that was very special,” she said. “It’s probably the proudest moment of my life, not only because I won but because everyone was there supporting me.”
Cheri Butcher, state chairwoman of the Ohio Distinguished Young Women, said the program looks for “a well-rounded person,” which Yasechko embodied.
Yasechko is the daughter of Kim Bagnoli and Ronald Yasechko. Her achievements include student council; Mahoning Valley Youth Leadership; honorable mention in journalism at Youngstown State University’s English Festival; second place Renga Riot YSU English Festival; Summer Honors Institute at Ohio Northern University; Summer Honors Institute at YSU; Pathways to Pharmacy participant at NEOUCOM in Rootstown; and Young Women with Bright Futures Award Recipient.
In addition, her activities include National Honor Society, Key Club, French Club, Prep Bowl/Academic Challenge, Students for the Environment, band, English Festival, majorette, cheerleading and track.
Yasechko said she hopes her school and community involvement will help her in college. She’s already received offers for full-ride scholarships and plans on majoring in biochemistry and later going to medical school for pharmacy.
As part of Ohio Distinguished Young Women’s program, the three women lived with host families in Mount Vernon.
Lesnansky, who plans on majoring in biology and dance at either Youngstown State University or Case Western Reserve University, said the experience prepared her for college.
“I learned how to live on my own and be able to take care of myself,” she said.
Lesnansky said volunteering is important because, as a Distinguished Young Woman, it’s important to, “try your best to achieve your goals and give back to the community.”
Throughout the next year, Yasechko will represent Ohio at various public events promoting the program’s national outreach message of, “Be Your Best Self,” promoting self-esteem and excellence through being healthy, involved, studious, ambitious and responsible.
The 55th national finals will be June 28-30 at the Mobile Civic Center Theater.