Laura Kaeppeler has a fantasy gig: traveling nonstop, wearing stylish new outfits each day and attracting TV crews in every city she visits as Miss America 2012.
But the glamorous appearances go for a most unglamorous cause. As someone who saw her father hauled off to prison for a white collar crime, Kaeppeler uses her high-profile platform to shine a spotlight on the 2.7 million, largely unseen kids who have an incarcerated parent.
"I feel like I've been called to do this," said Kaeppeler, a 24-year-old from Kenosha, Wis. "I believe my life was pre-written and predestined by a higher power before I was born. … What happened in my past is part of that, and (being) Miss America is part of that."
Kaeppeler's advocacy for these kids comes at a critical juncture. The eight-year, $49 million Mentoring Children of Prisoners program that began under the Bush-era faith-based initiative ended last September when Congress cut the funding. Churches and nonprofit groups still vie to sustain the work, but they're hard-pressed without public funds to recruit, train and support mentors.
Kaeppeler has used her crown to lobby for restored mentoring funding at the White House's Domestic Policy Council. She's also speaking about mentoring and incarceration at some 20 events this year in states from California to Pennsylvania. Attractive and articulate, she always makes the local news, as does her cause.
The platform breaks new ground for the 91-year-old Miss America pageant. These anointed beauty queens have long championed issues from ending homelessness and diabetes awareness, but Kaeppeler is the first to embrace anything related to prisoners.
Kaeppeler's campaign dovetails with efforts to freshen up the Miss America brand beyond a parade ...1
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