Thursday, February 27, 2014

My farewell speech

Being crowned Miss California International and having the opportunity to represent my state and platform has brought clarity and direction to my life and has helped me discover and create the person that I know I was destined to be. The person I am today is much more confident, a better public speaker, and one with a stronger desire to serve others. Striving to match children facing adversity with a mentor is what I will do for the rest of my life. Pageantry has proven to me that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.


This year has been a gift from God and nothing short of amazing. I owe my success this year to the family, friends, and directors that rallied to support me before and during my reign. To the Gushwa family, you saw and nurtured something in me that I didn't realize I had: potential. It's because of you that I stand here with this crown and sash at all. Mom and Dad, the positive changes that you have made in your lives have and will continue to be my inspiration. Thank you for letting me share your story of survival with people across California. Jayne, I am so proud of you and all of your accomplishments, you truly have made California proud! Shana, sisters by chance friends by choice. Thank you so much for your consistent encouragement and motivation throughout our journey! Nicole and Tylie, I am absolutely certain that you two are the best fans a girl could ever wish for! Thank you for your unwavering support; you gals were my rock this year! Finally, I want to thank the people and businesses that made it possible for me to compete in the Miss International Pageant, my sponsors. I literally couldn’t have done it without you; I will be forever grateful for your generosity and belief in my ability.


Being crowned Miss California International 2013 did not happen by accident; my journey through pageantry represents healing from a trauma that I experienced. Looking back, I truly believe that pageantry was placed in my life for a much greater reason than I initially understood. Pageantry has become an incredible source of healing for me and has allowed me to step outside of the limiting insecurities that my adverse childhood created. I stand here today proof that with a dream, passion, faith, and perseverance, the sky is the limit. In life the odds were definitely stacked against me but with the encouragement and support of my mentor I was able to beat them and for the rest of my life I will work to repay this tremendous gift one child at a time by recruiting the mentors that they urgently need and deserve; my greatest legacy will be marked in those children.


I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that I had to serve our beautiful state. This will be an experience that I treasure for the rest of my life.

In my heart I will always be Tiffany Allen, Miss California International 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Junior League of Santa Barbara

So the pageant is over, but my passion for shortening the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) waitlist (which is currently over 100,000 children long!) is not. With pageant prep no longer consuming my every thought, I had a lot more free time to focus on other priorities; BBBS was at the top of my list. A few months prior the pageant I met a lovely lady who was involved in the Junior League (JL) who shared with me the wonderful things that the JL does for our community. I learned that each year their new member class, which I eventually became a member of, took on a year-long project that benefited the community; I crossed my fingers (and toes!) and hoped that the new member class would choose BBBS for our new member project. I am proud to report that we did in fact select Big Brothers Big Sisters (ran by Family Service Agency in Santa Barbara) and will spend the next year revitalizing part of their office and spreading awareness for the need for mentors in our county. The Santa Barbara county waitlist is 100 children long; That’s 100 children, 70 which are boys, who are not getting the positive adult influence that they desperately need and deserve!

I was honed to be selected as co-chair for the project and proud to be among this year’s 77 new Junior League of Santa Barbara members!

Below is an article about our project:

The Junior League of Santa Barbara’s 2013-14 New Member Class. (Junior League of Santa Barbara photo)

The Junior League of Santa Barbara is pleased to welcome 77 women into its 2013-14 New Member Class, the largest incoming class since its inception in 1924.

"We're thrilled to welcome an amazing group of women to the league this year," JLSB President Angela Bolea said. "These women come from varied backgrounds but are all committed to improving the Santa Barbara community. We're looking forward to a great year.”

Throughout the next several months, this group of new members will participate in leadership trainings to introduce them to the mission, projects and services JLSB provides to the community. They will also be working on their New Member Project, a project selected by the New Member Class that will give the most benefit to an organization in Santa Barbara that shares JLSB’s vision of improving the lives of youth and their families. This year, the new members voted to assist the Family Service Agency/Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Barbara.

“On behalf of the Family Service Agency, I would like to thank the Junior League of Santa Barbara's New Member Class of 2013 for choosing FSA as their youth literacy project,” said Christina Pizarro, FSA board member. “Revitalizing FSA's reception area and family therapy room will not only improve the aesthetics of the room but will help create a nurturing and child friendly environment that will brighten and enlighten the lives of so many local children we serve.”

FSA promotes literacy by providing at-risk children with early intervention strategies designed to maximize impact at their earliest stage of development. Research has shown that children who are nurtured and supported in their first years are more likely to thrive at school and succeed in the workplace.

The Junior League of Santa Barbara is thrilled to welcome this accomplished, dynamic and diverse group of new members to its organization, and we are excited to see what they will bring to the community this year.

For more information, call 805.963.2704, click here or follow the league on Facebook and Twitter @JuniorLeague_SB.

— Leslie Gallant represents the Communications Committee for the Junior League of Santa Barbara.

Miss International Final Competition

Dialogue with myself the morning of the Miss International Final Competition:

And here we are.
Tonight one girl’s life will change forever.
Could it possibly be me?
Did I stand out enough last night to make the ‘top 10’?
Holy cow…. I’m actually here!

The music starts, we line up in our bubblegum pink Sherri Hill rompers, we hear the cue and take the stage for the final night of competition… the night that Miss International 2013 would be crowned! As the song winds down we take our final pose and then the MC begins calling out the coveted top 10 contestants for both Teen and Miss International. After a couple other contestants are named I FINALLY hear it, “Miss California, Tiffany Allen!” The best part? As I walked to the front of the stage to thank the judges and pose for a picture I look down at the very front row, smack in the center, and see my beautiful family holding up bright pink sparkly letters that spell out “Miss CA” and sporting shirts with my picture that say “Miss California’s Biggest Fan”. My niece is smiling ear-to-ear and is holding up the universal sign language sign for “I love you”. I am the luckiest girl alive. After the remaining finalists are called we exited the stage and RAN (more like sprinted!) to the dressing rooms to prepare for the on-stage interview portion of the competition. I had emotions whirling as I stood in the dressing room in my interview suit, minus some of my new friends. I was overjoyed that I was a finalist, but my heart broke for my new friends and fellow contestants who were now sitting in the audience and were not back stage with me…. where they belonged! The greatest thing happened shortly after though, I started receiving text after text filled with well-wishes from them. They are the definition of class and true friends. I’ve won, with or without that crown.

I took the stage and shared a part of my past with the audience that use to cause me so much shame. I smiled as I walked off stage because I realized at that moment just how far I’ve come; a majority of my growth I owe to pageantry. I’ve won, with or without that crown.

After intermission was over the other contestants were finally able to join us back in the dressing room. I was overcome with gratitude when so many of them surrounded me, rooted for me, wished me well, helped me climb into and zip the dress for my next area of competition, and then helped fluff my hair, put my earrings in, and checked my makeup! Did I mention how wonderful the 2013 Miss International class is?! As I walked away from the dressing room to take the stage again in another area of competition without them, I fought back tears; I was in awe of their grace. Class acts for sure! I’ve won, with or without that crown.

All areas of competition were over and all of us took the stage for the very last time. Luckily my position on stage was directly in front of my family who were sitting in the front row, literally three feet from me. I hardly heard a word that the MCs were saying because I couldn’t keep my eyes off of my amazing family who told me again and again how proud they were, and my 5 year old niece who was still displaying her “I love you” sign. They began calling the runners up and my name was absent from the list. Miss Teen International was called and that left one last name to be said, that which I prayed would be mine for the entire last year. There was a long pause where the new Miss Teen International was crowned and sashed and I took that time to look down at my family one last time. There were six of us still holding our breath, praying that our name would be the next words out of the MC’s mouth. I looked at my older sister who stretched her arms out from side-to-side and mouthed “by a mile!” with a huge, very proud grin on her face. (Have I mentioned that I’ve won, with or without that crown??) And then the moment was here, the name was called, and that name unfortunately wasn’t mine. When I think of that moment I don’t do so with disappointment or sadness; I instead remember the look on my sister’s face with her outstretched arms and am overjoyed by how much she believed in me and my potential. So no, I didn’t win a crown, but I did come from the experience stronger, wiser, healthier, with amazing friends, awesome memories, and a reinforced belief that I have the greatest family in the world.

I won even though I didn’t walk away with the crown.


All of my hard work, sweat (lots and lots of sweat!), prayers, preparation, and anticipation for the whole last year of my life led to this day. I had dreams, and nightmares alike, frequently about this very day and what it would feel like to stand on the Miss International stage on the first day of competition. There were some things that I expected, such as the fact that I would be standing among some of the most accomplished and beautiful women in the world on that stage, but other things were completely unexpected. I didn’t expect to have only been able to sleep 2-3 hours a night for the entire week. I didn’t expect to become so close to some of the girls I was competing with in such a small amount of time, some I know will be lifelong friends! I didn’t expect to walk off the stage that first night feeling like a million bucks, smiling as I drifted off for my three hours of sleep before I had to wake up to rehearse all day again and then (hopefully) take the stage a second time for the final competition.

Prior to taking the stage for the preliminary competition I arrived in the dressing rooms a tad before everyone else and then shortly after one other contestant arrived. Since it was just the two of us in the dressing room we got to chatting and she mentioned that she was only competing for fun and as a way to step outside of her comfort zone, and that she hoped that I would win. The first time I heard a fellow contestant make this very comment to me I was baffled, but shortly after I learned that there were numerous girls that I would share the stage with this weekend that didn’t believe that they were worthy or capable of winning. I was honored that she wanted me to win, but it hurt my heart so much to hear those words because I personally know what it feels like to be blessed to be given a title but feel like an imposter representing it. My first title was Miss Bakersfield 2007, and while I did work VERY hard to obtain the title I never truly felt worthy of it. I convinced myself that I just got ‘lucky’ and told myself that after I passed on the title I would put pageantry to rest. Who would have thought that 6 years later I would be holding a state title and then would make the ‘top 10’ at an international pageant?! Why I came back you ask? Well, pageantry has become an incredible source of healing for me. Every single time I step outside of my comfort zone and do something that frightens me (because of insecurities or fear of failure) I realized that I grow slightly more confident and comfortable in my skin. Because of the many speaking engagements, appearances, and events that I’ve taken part in over these last two and a half years as Miss Ventura County International and now as Miss California International, I am a stronger person and I’ve never (ever!) felt more sure of myself! Sure, the insecurities of my past peek out from time to time, but I can assure you that never do I turn down an opportunity to represent my title and platform because of it; I embrace the opportunities and never feel less than thrilled to face them head on.

I shared with my fellow competitor in the dressing room that day that I too didn’t always feel this confident and comfortable in my skin and urged her to at least play with the idea of feeling worthy of winning. I hope that pageantry eventually becomes as life changing for her as it has been for me. I can’t even fathom the thought of who, or where I’d be today had I not made the brave decision to give pageantry another try. My interview skills have significantly improved, I’ve made friends that feel more like sisters, public speaking has (almost!) become enjoyable, and most importantly pageantry has helped me to believe in myself; it truly has been life altering!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

American Graduate Day in NYC!

Although the Miss International title wasn’t part of my story, a title equally as significant was; I am elated to have been asked to become a Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) celebrity ambassador. I was thrilled when the Director of Media Relations and Community Engagement for BBBSA asked me to represent the program in a national public media initiative titled American Graduate put on by WNET/PBS in New York City (for more info on American Graduate visit: The telecast leverages the power and reach of public television to help communities across America address the high school dropout crisis by preparing students for success, beginning with a high school diploma. Big Brothers Big Sisters was one of approximately 20 community action programs featured in the program and I had the honor of representing the BBBSA segment along with NFL writer Anwar Richardson. 

To view the Big Brothers Big Sisters segment of the telecast please visit:

To view the full 7 hour telecast visit:

Big Brothers Big Sister’s write up on me prior to American Graduate Day:

This was by far the greatest and most profound appearance that I’ve made yet as Miss California International. I am so incredibly grateful to American Graduate for giving me the opportunity to share with America the challenging parts of my past and how those events coupled with my fifth grade teacher, my first and most significant mentor, changed my life and set me on a path to success. Statistics prove that youth facing adversity are likely to continue in the vicious cycle if intervention is not given; BBBSA provides children with hope and most importantly the life-altering positive influence that they urgently need. If you are interested in making a significant impact in a child’s life please visit to find a Big Brothers Big Sisters office near you.

Since this was my first trip ever to New York City I decided to take advantage of the trip by extending it for two extra days and explored the city! I took the redeye over on Thursday night and arrived at 8:00 AM on Friday morning. Upon exiting the plane my driver was waiting with a sign that displayed my name (I’m such a nerd, I found this detail to be very exciting! Haha!) I checked into my room and then immediately headed out to track down a NYC slice of pizza (yes, it was only 9:00AM) and then after I skipped on down to Central Park; I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in my life, but never have I experienced a place so dreamlike. I found a grassy area in the sun near a small bridge and took a seat. It’s rather astonishing that you can hear the birds chirp and leaves rustle in the center of the park; It was the only place that I found in NYC where I could escape the yellow taxi non-stop honking! Under the bridge by which I made my temporary escape from the noisy city was an elderly man who had the most beautiful acapella singing voice I’ve ever heard! Mixed with the acoustics of being under a bridge he sounded magical! I sat in that same sunny, heavenly place for over an hour listening to him sing! After a small nap in my hotel I researched restaurants nearby and enjoyed the evening at a little Irish pub. I met a couple girls who were seated next to me and we spent the evening swapping stories and enjoying the Irish accents of the wait staff that I suspect were fake. What a wonderful first day in NYC!

Saturday was the big event and then after I joined Deanna, Director of Media Relations and Community Engagement for BBBSA, Anwar, and HIS Big Brother Derek and family for a dinner at a fabulous restaurant (Derek and Anwar have been matched for 30 years through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program!)

Sunday was tremendous! I kicked it off with a meal at Ellen’s Stardust Diner where there were back-to-back live performances by the wait staff; they were amazing! If I didn’t have plans for the afternoon I could have spent hours listening to them sing. After brunch I was off to see my first ever Broadway show, Once. After all of the wonderful reviews that I read I had very high hopes, and let me tell you…the show exceeded them BY FAR! I was truly blown away by the performance and fell in love with the lovely cast! I wouldn’t mind seeing Once, more than once!! After the show I wandered around Times Square for a bit and was swept away by a cowboy, literally! (Pictures to follow) After a football game and dinner at a local pub I rushed off to see my second Broadway show, Mamma Mia! The show was lots of fun and was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday I woke up bright and early and found myself standing in the standby line at the Live! with Kelly and Michael show with hopes of making into the studio audience to watch them film the live show. I met a wonderful mother/daughter in line who adopted me as their own for the morning and we anxiously waited across the way at Starbucks swapping stories until 8:45AM when we were finally given the good news that we made the cut….woo hoo!! Kelly and Michael were such a hoot and it was so neat getting to see Daniel Radcliff, Julianne Hough, and Jerry O’Connell!

After the show I jumped into a taxi and was off to the location where the twin towers once stood. When the taxi pulled up to an area that appeared to be a construction site with a winding line of at least 200 people to get inside I asked the driver if he knew what the people in that long line were waiting to see and his reply brought a tear to my eye. He said, “Miss, that is the line to get into the 9-11 memorial and it’s the longest I’ve ever seen it!” I’ve never been more proud to be an American. The fact that the terrorist attack took place 12 years ago, and the memorial has now been open for a full two years and people are still standing in lines among hundreds to get inside, was so heartwarming. We truly do live in the greatest county in the world! When I finally made it inside the walls of the memorial I was speechless; not only were there hundreds of people waiting outside to get in, there were also hundreds of people wandering within the memorial. I spent hours walking around the twin reflecting pools, each nearly an acre in size that now sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood.  The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools, a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history. I was grateful to get the opportunity to listen to several people within the memorial share the stories of how their lives were impacted by the attack and what the memorial now means to them.

After visiting the memorial I walked across the street to a restaurant and made friends with a nearby customer. After chatting for a bit he learned that I had never taken a subway and insisted that I try it out before I leave NYC and offered to show me the ropes. What a thrill! I had such a great time on the subway that I almost wanted to go back and try it again!

Huge thank you to PBS, American Graduate, and Big Brothers Big Sisters for this remarkable experience!

I’m pretty certain that I am the luckiest girl alive!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Miss International, Day #4/ Interviews and Teen Prelims

This was by far one of the most nerve-racking days yet. The pageant interview tends to be equally as terrifying as it is exhilarating for me. I love being able to share the ‘real me’ in a face-to-face conversation with the five people who hold a portion of my destiny in their hands, but with that being said no matter how much you prepare there is always a smidge of unknown and the reality that you just might not be the person that they are looking for this year. All you can do is prepare to be the best possible version of yourself and hope that the title is part of God’s plan for your life.
I felt as ready as I possibly could have been walking into those interviews (well aside from the hair crisis that I found myself in that morning!) and was thrilled with the way that the interviews unfolded. Looking back on the experience I am confident that the job of Miss International just wasn’t supposed to be part of my story; I couldn’t have been more prepared. The truth is that all of us were there that weekend following the same dream of becoming Miss International 2013; obviously only one of would walk away from the experience with the large, oversize crown though. What I found to be most important thing that I took away from this experience was the knowledge that dreams change lives. The world is a much more beautiful place when you are motivated and striving to better yourself. I literally woke each morning, and went to sleep each night of the months leading up to the pageant with a smile plastered on my face! How lucky was I to get the opportunity to represent the beautiful state of California for an international title? I walked in believing that I was a winner, and today the same belief holds true; I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, a wise person of my past stressed to me that a crown and sash doesn’t bring worth to a person, it’s the person who wears them that bring value to the title, not the other way around. We all hopefully walked away better people from this tremendous experience! 

After interviews we rehearsed the show again, and that evening us Miss contestants got the opportunity to sit in the audience and cheer on our teen-queens as the took the stage for their preliminary competition. I might be a little biased, but my teen-queen, Jayne Giest, rocked the stage! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Wednesday, Miss International Day #3 PRINCESS BALL!

We rehearsed all morning and afternoon of day #3, but that evening there would be no work, all play! We were invited to attend a very special princess ball at the Skokie Library! We each were assigned a little girl and through the process of completing very important tasks we would help them to become a princess. We decorated jewelry boxes with sparkling jewels, answered princess trivia, and went on a hunt to locate a pea; those who were able to locate a tiny pea in the big auditorium were SURELY a princess, as told in the fairytale “The Princess and the Pea”.

The story:
The story tells of a prince who wants to marry a princess but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. The prince finds that something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle, and she claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test their unexpected guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed; which she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices; only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding.

Why this is relevant? The story was told to all of the little girls in the room and then we were released to see if our partners were real-life princesses; surely if they were REAL princesses they too could locate a tiny pea in this large auditorium. As the host yelled, “ready, set, go find your peas, princesses!” my adorable partner who was 4 years old and was wearing a princess dress tugged on my arm with a very sad face and said, “Wait, I can’t do this…. I won’t be able to find the pea.” I told her, “Of course you can! What makes you think that you won’t be able to?” and she replied, “Because, I am not a princess.” My mind was set; I made it my mission to prove to this little beauty that she was in-fact a princess! I grabbed her hand and promised her that I would prove that she was a princess! Not only did we locate a pea, we were one of the VERY FIRST to locate one! The look on her face was priceless when I picked her up, swung her around, and cheerfully squealed, “I knew that you that you were a real life princess!” She spent the rest of the evening sashaying around as we completed the rest of our tasks and prior to leaving she hugged me and then thanked me for helping her to find her princess pea and said that before this day she had no idea that she was a real-life princess!

Sometimes it only takes ONE person believing in you to give you the confidence needed to believe in yourself. Mentors of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program provide children facing adversity with the boost that they need to believe in themselves….will you be that life-changing person for a child in your area? For more information please visit: