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Miss City of Maricopa

Jiselle Diaz, 17, has been singing for public events since age 9 and will represent the city of Maricopa in the Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen pageant. Photo by Kyle Norby

By Fran Lyons

Jiselle Diaz is her name.

She is 17 years old and has already made herself known locally through her musical talent, community service and vision for the world to become a kinder place to live. She has her sights set on making this vision a reality.

It all began in Maricopa, said Diaz, a Rancho El Dorado resident.

“I have to credit my hometown; it’s where my music career began,” she said. “The many community performances I have done in my town have shaped me and given me the experience I have today.”

Her first performance, at age 9, was singing the National Anthem for a Veterans Day event at Legacy School. Since then, Jiselle has captured audiences with her voice at many local and regional events.

As a naturally gifted singer and musician, her performances are filled with energy and love for her music. Her affinity for Selena is palpable, but she’s just as comfortable singing American standards. Family folklore has it that Linda Ronstadt is a distant cousin. Jiselle attributes her musical success to her supportive coaches and family.

“We just knew there was something about Jiselle,” Jeff Diaz said about his daughter. “She was a star from the day she was born. When she was 4 years old she started singing, and we recognized she really had some pipes.”

Jiselle Diaz performing at Maricopa’s Great American 4th.

In 2016, she won her first pageant at the age of 14. She was crowned Miss Pinal County Outstanding Teen. In 2018, she won her second pageant, Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen. This June, she will compete at the Miss Arizona event and, if she wins, represent Arizona in the Miss America Outstanding Teen scholarship program.

“Being in pageants has taught me how to be well-rounded, perseverant and determined,” she said. “I learned how to work hard and be resilient. I have grown and continue to grow immensely, motivated by passion, drive and a strong work ethic.”

Behind the scenes, however, there is much more than pageant life for this multi-faceted young woman. While beauty, talent, poise and intelligence shine through her personality and spirit, she is preparing to do the work she feels called to do. That is the work of service.

Jiselle Diaz in full Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen regalia. Photo by Kyle Norby

Establishing a career in music, Diaz aspires to become a recording artist in the Christian, country or Spanish genres. In tandem, she is also developing her platform evolving from “Be the Lighthouse.” It is called “The Three Pillars – Leadership, Service, Kindness.”

“I also love applying the idea of ‘act locally, think globally,’” she said.

Her platform through high school has been mentoring other teens to feel empowered when dealing with peer pressure. She has worked with Girl Scouts and Be Awesome Youth Coalition.

“Our home is filled with love and acceptance for each other and creativity. We, as parents, aim to instill the core values of commitment and integrity in our children,” mom Alexandra Diaz said. “We have poured our love and dedication into Jiselle and her brother, Jacob.”

Family life and faith are foundational elements for Jiselle and anchor her positive attitude and empowered action in the community.

“Obviously, my parents are my primary role models,” Diaz said, “and Maricopa will always be my hometown.”

She plans to compete in the Be Awesome Talent Show scheduled for June 1. She is also planning a video about Maricopa’s history and how the community is growing by leaps and bounds.

After graduation Jiselle plans to attend Grand Canyon University majoring in Worship Arts. She wants to become a worship leader at her church. Of course, her music will accompany her faithfully wherever she goes.

This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Kyle Norby

Mackenzie Ford is bringing her family's mission to her platform as the new Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen. Photo by Mason Callejas

Star athlete turned beauty queen, Mackenzie Ford would rather have her face covered in mud than makeup.

Captain of her varsity high school volleyball team, Mackenzie, 16, spent hours every day in the gym this summer training for the upcoming season.

“This was her outlet: working out and sweating,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Jennifer Ford. “She talks about dirt on her face; it’s not a joke. She’s always running full force.”

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mackenzie decided to ditch the dirt – temporarily – and audition for a local pageant. The announcement of her plans shocked her parents, who are used to a rough-and-tumble teen, but they came to understand her intentions once Mackenzie revealed her inspiration.

Two years ago, Mackenzie’s older brother Nate was killed in an auto accident on State Route 347 at Farrell Road.

A student-athlete with a selfless heart, Nate’s untimely death sent the community into mourning.

“When my brother passed away, I was in a lot of need,” Mackenzie said. “The people who stepped up was Maricopa. They were the ones who wrapped their arms around me when I needed it the most, so I decided this pageant was the best way to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”

In September, MacKenzie used her other talent, motivational speaking, to eventually be crowned Miss City of Maricopa’s Outstanding Teen – a platform she will use to promote and encourage acts of kindness in the community. (Learn what other Maricopa residents were crowned at the October pageant.)

Mackenzie continues to wear the Everyday Hero T-shirts that started with her brother Nate. Photo by Mason Callejas

Her program “Everyday Heroes” is an offshoot of a similar effort by her mom called “Mothers of Everyday Heroes,” which operated in Maricopa for two years. Mackenzie’s version will function as a way for the teen to hone her public speaking skills and desire to spotlight good deeds through videos posted to social media.

“(My mom) made this organization to help those in need because my brother was a kid who always helped and always served,” Mackenzie said. “I want to keep it going to keep up his legacy and keep the little acts of service to help in this world that’s getting darker.”

Losing Nate, her big brother and best friend, wasn’t the first trying time in young Mackenzie’s life.

When she was 2 months old, doctors diagnosed a cancerous tumor in her spine. She wasn’t expected to live past 6 months. Parents Jennifer and Doug called the priesthood from their church to give the baby a blessing.

“The doctors made it very clear there wasn’t anything we could do for her,” Jennifer said.

After surgery, doctors were stunned.

“They went to get a piece of it and the tumor was gone,” Jennifer said. “They couldn’t explain it.”

The outlook for Mackenzie’s overall health was still bleak. Her parents put her in extensive physical therapy as an infant after doctors explained she would be prone to arthritis in her neck and spine and likely be physically disabled for the rest of her life.

“I think what we ended up doing was making the bionic woman instead of this being who couldn’t function. She’s always had a fire in her,” Jennifer Ford said.

That spark has led Mackenzie to beat the odds early in life and recently take up challenges that force her out of her comfort zone.

Mackenzie plans to take her platform statewide by trying out for Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen. After high school she hopes to study journalism by way of a full-ride volleyball scholarship to a Division 1 school. Ultimately, she wants to join the military and report from the battlefield.

For now, her new life in the pageant world has taught her grace and elegance, as well as a way for her to reconnect with Nate.

“I was one of those kids that numbed the pain — tried to get it out and get it away — but now I’m slowly trying to bring it back and use it for good. Not only has it helped me heal, but I feel like it’s bringing me closer to my brother.”

If you know an “Everyday Hero” contact Mackenzie through Facebook or Instagram @MissCityofMaricopaOT.

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Lindsay Hubbard (left) is Miss Pinal County, enjoying time with Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen Mackenzie Ford. Photo by Jonathan Williams

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Maricopa High School senior Lindsay Hubbard won the title of Miss Pinal County at October’s scholarship pageant, which also crowned Miss City of Maricopa and Miss Pinal County and their respective Outstanding Teens. Hubbard plans to share her love for science and mathematics with as many as possible and use her platform to advocate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations.

A pageant novice, Hubbard, 18, decided “this is my year” and took a leap of faith into the pageantry world.

She described hearing her name announced as a titleholder as “incredibly surreal and kinda funny. My face hurt from smiling!”

Combining her interest in pageants with her passion for science, Hubbard established her platform, “Starting at the STEM,” to motivate young men and women alike to work toward STEM occupations with the intent of breaking STEM-related stereotypes and proving anyone can truly do anything.

Hubbard’s dream job is to be an aerospace engineer and work for NASA. While working toward that career goal, she plans to stay involved in pageantry.

Since the pageant, Hubbard has noticed a boost in confidence and additional motivation regarding her platform, “Starting at the STEM.”

“I really, really want children everywhere to know not to be afraid,” she said.



This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Aundria Littlejohn was named Miss City of Maricopa 2016 on Saturday night. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa’s Aundria Littlejohn had a good day Saturday.

First the Arizona State University student saw her Sun Devils defeat the University of Arizona. Then she won the title of Miss City of Maricopa.

She is no novice to the pageant world.

“I did the Miss New Mexico Teen Pageant in 2014 and I won that, so that was a fun year of service,” Littlejohn said. “After realizing I could inspire a community while being pretty at the same time, I couldn’t find another way to do that than this pageant.”

She first lived in Maricopa in 2006. She graduated from Las Cruces High School in 2014 and moved back to Maricopa to attend ASU. Littlejohn is a political science major minoring in communications. She plans to use the $300 scholarship toward law school.

She gave a memorable spoken word performance for her talent.

The Miss City of Maricopa Scholarship Pageant awarded five crowns Saturday at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center.

Payton Patane was named Miss Pinal County, and Courtney Ortega became the first-ever Miss Estrella Mountains.

Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen Dimon Sanders, Miss City of Maricopa Aundria Littlejohn, Miss Estrella Mountains Courtney Ortega, Miss Pinal County Payton Patane and Miss Pinal County Outstanding Teen Theodora Baker. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen Dimon Sanders, Miss City of Maricopa Aundria Littlejohn, Miss Estrella Mountains Courtney Ortega, Miss Pinal County Payton Patane and Miss Pinal County Outstanding Teen Theodora Baker. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Patane, from Yuma, said her father told her before she left for Maricopa, “You better win.” She ran on the platform Dance for a Cause. Dance was also her talent.

“I feel anxious and I can’t wait to get to use my platform with it,” said Ortega, a Chandler resident. That platform is Support Groups for Cancer. Her grandmother died of cancer last year and step-father has experienced a return of bladder cancer.

Ortega is attending Carrington College in Phoenix to become a medical assistant and achieve her goal of being a surgical technician. She performed a Tahitian dance for her talent.

In the teen category, Theodora Baker was named Miss Pinal County Outstanding Teen, and Dimon Sanders was named Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen.

“I’m so happy all my hard work paid off,” said Baker, a 13 year old from Yuma. She ran on the platform Water for Life, which she founded to encourage funding for clean water around the world.

Sanders, a 15-year-old sophomore from Marana, was a foster child who was eventually adopted. She is using her experience as a victim of abuse and neglect to support Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children.

In the teen competition, Sander also received the Quality of Life award. Hayley Mase and Alyssa Maldonado received the Spirit Award and Shaela Norris received the People’s Choice award. Norris was second runner-up, and Maldonado was first runner-up.

In the “miss” category, Charis Royal received the Qualify of Life award. Ri’Kayla Thompson was the people’s choice. Kyra Hobaica was second runner-up, and Aimee Parker was first runner-up.

Six girls competed for the Outstanding Teen crowns. The older category had 12 competitors.

Littlejohn is now expected to represent the organization at various Maricopa functions throughout 2016 and compete in the Miss Arizona pageant in the spring.

Miss City of Maricopa Jaime Buchholz and Miss Pinal County Outstanding Teen Shyann Dugan were frequently seen at Maricopa events throughout the year. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Buchholz addressed the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce about changes to the program.

Miss City of Maricopa Jaime Buchholz was only eligible to compete for one year, but that didn’t stop her from making her dreams come true during her reign.

Buchholz, who entered the Miss City of Maricopa competition at 24, will “age out” and be ineligible to compete in future Miss Arizona events. Despite the brief tenure, Buchholz seized the opportunity to make a childhood dream come true.

“I got involved because my friend Christina (Tetreault) won Miss Maricopa County, and I thought, ‘I could do that,’” Buchholz said. “She inspired me to get involved, and since I wanted to be a princess since I was little, I figured I would go for it. The worst case scenario was I lost.”

Buchholz attributes her desire to compete in the city of Maricopa to her upbringing in Gilbert. When she was young, Gilbert was largely a farming community outside of the city. As the Phoenix grew, so did Gilbert. Coming to Maricopa made her feel at home, and the people of the city welcomed her.

“I couldn’t ask for a better city to represent than Maricopa,” Buchholz said. “The community embraced me right away. Even though I wasn’t from here, they have been so accepting and welcoming to me.”

Over the last year, Buchholz has been able to use her job as a nurse to expand her initiative to help veterans. Her dedication to her work and community has been tremendous, but it has also been difficult at times. During her training for Miss Arizona, Buchholz had to start eating healthy and begin a workout routine.

The Miss City of Maricopa program needs scholarship funds. See GoFundMe.com

This all resulted in her losing 35 pounds and developing healthy habits, but the stress of work added an obstacle most contestants did not have to deal with. Despite not winning the Miss Arizona crown in the only opportunity she will have, Buchholz has loved being part of the program.

“The best part about being Miss City of Maricopa was working with all of the kids,” Buchholz said. “They saw me as a real princess, so I was able to make their dream of meeting a princess come true. I always wanted to be a Disney princess, and the kids made me feel like one every time I saw them.”

As she moves forward, Buchholz will stay involved in with the Miss City of Maricopa program and mentor her successors.

The pageant’s new executive director, Carrie Vargas, has added a third crown, so Buchholz will mentor Miss City of Maricopa, Miss Pinal County and the newly developed Miss Estrella Mountain after her reign ends.

“I think it’s great they added another crown,” Buchholz said. “It gives another girl an opportunity to earn a scholarship and be part of the program.”

The Miss Estrella Mountain crown will add to the pageant’s reach for contestants, but finding enough girls could still be a problem for the Miss City of Maricopa Scholarship Organization. The group wasn’t able to get enough contestants to fulfill Miss Pinal County requirements last year.

Adding a third crown will increase the number of contestants needed to fill the “Miss” categories from eight to 12, and the number needed to fill the “Outstanding Teen” category from six to nine. If the board is unable to get enough girls to compete, the crowns will share the same fate as this year’s Miss Pinal County crown and remain vacant.

Another challenge facing the organization is a new regime of board members. The new board was brought on after the previous pageant directors were promoted. Vargas stepped into the role of director and hopes to have the same level of success as her predecessors.

“The two ladies who have run the program were called up to the state level, and I was asked to fill their position,” Vargas said. “I have served as the pageant’s production manager over the last two years, so I was excited to accept the position. It all came together quickly, and I was able to quickly assemble a team with valuable experience.”

The new pageant board includes Cheryl Ortiz as the pageant’s co-director, Colleen Corliss as the pageant’s production manager and board member, Lisa Sorenson as the pageant’s judges chair and board member, and Marisa McDonald as the Princess Program director and board member.

Vargas believes the new pageant board will be able to move the program forward and find more contestants.

In order to avoid having vacant crowns, Vargas has added more meet-and-greets around the region to increase their recruiting efforts as well. She hopes to build the organization’s brand and value with a new generation of contestants.

“It’s a good experience for the girls,” Vargas said. “They learn and gain so much from being a part of it.”

The board hopes to get more girls involved by showing that being part of the Miss City of Maricopa Scholarship program is more than just competing in a pageant or earning a scholarship. As Buchholz embodies, it can mean as much as making a dream come true.

“I can’t describe how much fun I’ve had,” Buchholz said. “I’ve always joked if I couldn’t be a nurse I would go to Disneyland and be a princess. Now I’ve been able to be both. It’s been a truly great experience.”

As part of her reign as Miss City of Maricopa, Buchholz rallied the crowd at the Lifehouse’s Battle of the Burbs concert at Copper Sky. Photo by Adam Wolfe
As part of her reign as Miss City of Maricopa, Buchholz rallied the crowd at the Lifehouse’s Battle of the Burbs concert at Copper Sky. Photo by Adam Wolfe


This story previously appeared in the Fall Edition of InMaricopa the Magazine.