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The City Journals

One week can spark change in students for life, Miss Utah tells Ridgecrest students

Oct 24, 2019 12:53PM ● By Julie Slama

Miss Utah Dexonna Talbot challenged Ridgecrest Elementary students to serve others every day for a week to spread kindness and build self-esteem. (Photo courtesy of Whitney Thomas/Miss Utah Scholarship Organization)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“Since she could walk, she served her uncle who had special needs,” said Ridgecrest fifth-grade student Lily Hoescherl. “She realized how by brightening up his life, she was helping herself at the same time. Her dad would tell her to do something good for someone and that’s what she’s doing every day. It’s what she challenged us to do.”

Lily and her Ridgecrest classmates listened to Miss Utah Dexonna Talbot tell her story about how she developed the term “servesteem,” which became her pageant platform and message she’s carrying out to students.

Dog-sitting for neighbors, showing visitors around the school, smiling to people, serving on safety patrol, mowing the yard, and helping a sister with reading are some of the ways Lily and fifth-grade classmates Jack Atencio and Mikelle Walker are meeting the week-long challenge Talbot set.

“By helping someone else, it makes me feel good, too,” Jack said.

That is what Talbot hopes will happen with each student who accepted her challenge.

“If they can show kindness, serve others, then they can feel the best about themselves and love others,” she said. “If we’re constantly serving in small acts, holding the door open, smiling, then it can create a chain reaction. If these students perform about 1,000 acts of kindness in this one week, it could spark change for them for the rest of their lives.”

Talbot hopes her words will help students to combat bullying and build self-esteem.

“When they imprint their actions with kindness, they are giving of themselves and are finding their true selves,” she said.

Miss Utah says that much of this action comes from the legacy of her uncle, who she helped tie his shoes, as well as feed and read to him.

“I had a really special connection with him. I knew he understood me,” Talbot said, even though her uncle was non-verbal.

Her time with him prompted her to be a peer tutor in secondary school, and when she learned of another student who has autism being invited to high school homecoming as a hoax, she stepped in and invited him to be her date. Now, Talbot is working toward getting her master’s degree in special education at the University of Utah. Even though her uncle is no longer living, she still continues to visit others where he lived.

“My dad would tell me before I left for school every day, and in college before I went to class, to ‘do something good for someone today.’ Then at the dinner table, we’d share what we did. I used to think of the biggest thing so mine would be better than my little sister’s, but I learned how big or grand it is isn’t what is important. Just by doing something small is every bit as impactful. I carry on that message of kindness,” Talbot said.

Since then, she’s written a children’s book with that message and has started a dance program, Dexonna’s Dynamite Dancers, for those with special needs to learn numerous styles of dance, which ties into her college major of ballet and her goal to be a professional ballerina. Eventually, Talbot would like to open an arts academy for students with special needs.

Her family also has served two humanitarian trips to Vietnam and one to Mexico and she plans to give service in Kenya before competing for the Miss America title in December.

Talbot has been around the Miss America pageant since she was a child, when her mom served as the Miss Spanish Fork pageant director. 

“I was surrounded by these incredible, exceptional women who are smart, kind, caring and are passionate about issues. They always got down and looked at me in the eye and made me feel special. I knew I wanted to get on the level of kids, tell them why it’s important to serve and make them feel special,” she said.

At Ridgecrest, Talbot did just that when she learned one girl was celebrating her birthday.

“I stopped right there and we all sang happy birthday to her. She turned bright red, but afterward gave me a big hug. What’s more fun than having everyone sing happy birthday to you? It’s something that helped her to feel her best; it was special and important,” she said. “That minute of kindness by everyone is something she will always remember.”