Finding a cure: A common thread among Miss Shelby County 2024 winners

Published 9:59 am Tuesday, July 18, 2023

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By SCOTT MIMS | Special to the Reporter

COLUMBIANA – The winners of Miss Shelby County 2024 share a common goal that they are passionate about—finding a cure for pediatric cancer.

Ella Kate Nichols, the new Miss Shelby County 2024, founded a nonprofit called Buckets of Smiles when she was 15. The organization delivers hospital-approved activity items to childhood cancer patients throughout Alabama, and through its ambassador program Buckets of Smiles has spread to 21 states and Washington, D.C.

Pediatric cancer is a subject that hits home for the Auburn University junior, who shared that 20 children from her home county of Covington County have been diagnosed in the past 20 years.

“It’s something that’s been close to my heart for a really long time,” said Nichols, who wants to become a child life specialist at a children’s hospital.

Similarly, Grier Feldman, the new Miss Shelby County Teen 2024, started a community service initiative called State of Love, an outreach program for pediatric cancer patients.

“Through social media I’ve been able to raise awareness about childhood cancer, and through my campaign last fall I was able to partner with several collegiate twirlers from UGA, Auburn, Alabama, Baylor, FSU, Memphis, Auburn cheerleaders and newly drafted UA players like Will Anderson and Henry To’oTo’o—reaching over 3.5 million people,” Feldman said. “As Miss Shelby County’s Teen I’m looking forward to continuing the work I’ve done and donate even more collegiate hats and coloring books until no child hears the words, ‘You have cancer.’”

Nichols and Feldman were announced as winners at the conclusion of the Miss Shelby County Pageant on July 8 at the Shelby County Arts Council.

Nichols also won the talent competition in her category, singing the Billy Joel favorite, “New York State of Mind.” She has been involved with the Miss America organization since joining the Rising Star program, which serves ages 7-11.

“I was just so excited and I couldn’t believe it,” Nichols said. “I’m not personally from the Shelby County area, but some of my favorite people that I’ve ever met are from this area. They are genuine, authentic and sweet people and I am excited to be able to represent them.”

As winner, Nichols received a $54,832 in-kind scholarship from the University of Montevallo, $13,776 in-kind scholarship from Jefferson State Community College, $2,500 in Miss Shelby County 2024 cash scholarships, $1,000 in gifts and services, a community service award of $500 and a talent award of $150.

Feldman is a majorette at OMHS and also won her talent competition, performing a dance twirl to “Man of La Mancha” from Don Quixote. She started competitively twirling at age 8, and will be headed to Liverpool, England on Aug. 2 as part of Team U.S.A., competing in 2-baton and team categories. She hopes to attend Ole Miss as a feature twirler and plans on majoring in business and elementary education.

“There were so many incredible young ladies on that stage with me, so I was very excited when they called my name,” Feldman said. “ It made it even better that my best friend (Belle Casey, the previous year’s teen winner) was coming over to crown me.”

Feldman is looking forward to serving alongside Nichols for the coming year, especially since they both have efforts that focus on helping childhood cancer patients.

As the Miss Shelby County Teen 2024 winner, Feldman receives a $500 cash scholarship provided by the University of Montevallo, as well as $500 in Miss Shelby County’s Teen 2024 gifts and services and the $50 talent competition award.

In all, there were 12 competitors in the Miss category and six in the Teen category.

“I think we have a couple of great winners, some very sweet, beautiful and talented young ladies,” said Pam Oliver, Miss Shelby County’s pageant director. “They are always dear to my heart. I don’t have any daughters, so they are my daughters. The Miss America, Miss Alabama, and the Miss Shelby County Pageant is a great way for young women to earn scholarships for school.”