Crowning moment

Photo: Fred Lopez

Sisters make history as Miss Leesburg and Teen Miss Leesburg. 

Eva Henderson, 16, a junior at Leesburg High School, and her sister, Chloe, 14, a freshman, have been very close growing up, participating together in dance classes and cheerleading, and now they’re donning sparkling tiaras and representing the city of Leesburg at local events.

“Little kids run up, hug us, and say, ‘Oh, princesses!’ It’s fun to watch,” Eva says. “So, we take our crowns off and let them wear them.”

The daughters of William and Melonie Henderson achieved a milestone last September at the 31st annual Miss Leesburg Scholarship Program by becoming the first sisters in the pageant’s history to win their respective titles at the same time. Eva was crowned Miss Leesburg, and Chloe won Teen Miss Leesburg. Their pageant “sisters” are Alex DeLand as Junior Miss Leesburg, Reese Bryan as Little Miss Leesburg, and Whitany Parrett as Tiny Miss Leesburg.

“They strongly wanted to do this,” Melonie recalls of her daughters entering the pageant together. Even when Chloe was an infant and Eva was a toddler, they were inseparable.

“When their car seats were next to each other, Eva would always hold Chloe’s hand,” Melonie recalls.

The sisters practiced for the pageant by brushing up on possible civic events questions.

“Being in the pageant is all about confidence,” Eva says. “You have to ooze confidence. We helped each other with our walks, and I told Chloe more of what to do: sit up straight, smile, look at the judges, and we practiced by asking each other questions like we were being interviewed.”

“It helped me a lot,” Chloe says.

Eva recalls being inspired by the Miss Leesburg program in seventh grade when her friend, Ainsley Farfaglia, held the title of Junior Miss Leesburg.

“I remember when she won. I was like, ‘I want to do this!’ I wanted to go out, wear the crown, and do everything,” Eva says, impressed by the volunteer service projects the titleholders perform.

Among the Miss Leesburg activities: hosting a Diaper Drive for the Pregnancy Care Center and local day cares; collecting nonperishable foods for a Christmas food drive; gathering school supplies for needy children; collecting coats and jackets through the Miss Leesburg Jacket Drive; and participating in Head Start projects. They also take part in the Leesburg Christmas Stroll, Downtown Partnership Boo Bash, Leesburg Center for the Arts events, and Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society.

Chloe says her favorite activity so far has been joining her pageant sisters to volunteer at the Brookdale Leesburg assisted living facility, where the girls “adopt a grandparent” to visit monthly and during holidays and special occasions.

Melonie notices her daughters are more social as Miss Leesburg titleholders.

“It does a lot for both of them,” she says. “Already, I see such a difference in Chloe, just in confidence and the ability to be out there meeting new people in the community and doing different events that she may not normally get the opportunity to do. They’re helping others, and it’s a chance to get out there and see what our community is all about, and to be involved in different functions. It keeps them active.”

Linda Watts, director and founder of the Miss Leesburg Scholarship Program and Florida’s Hometown USA Program Inc., says the Henderson sisters are committed to their responsibilities.

“Chloe and Eva are excellent youth role models for the city of Leesburg,” Linda says. “They are doing a great job and we are very proud of them. It is special to have sisters together the same year and to see them working as a team.”

The sisters believe their Miss Leesburg duties have strengthened their close bond.

“What I admire about Chloe is she’s very strong-willed and very, very kind. She will put everyone before herself; she has the biggest heart of anyone I know,” Eva says.

“Eva is beautiful, nice, and funny,” Chloe says of what she adores about her oldest sister. The teens also have a younger sister, Lily, 12; and a brother, Liam, 10.

Eva and Chloe aspire to go to college at the University of Florida, and both are appreciative of the awards they will earn after their year-long reigns end in September 2018. Eva receives a $5,000 college scholarship, and her pageant sisters get $500 each.

The Miss Leesburg Scholarship Program notes on its website that $165,000 has been awarded to young girls since 1997.

“It’s such a gift,” Eva says. “The best thing about being Miss Leesburg is meeting and getting to know people in the community, and it can definitely help in the future. We’re making more friends.”

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