Last Saturday, Kayla Martell competed in the Miss Delaware pageant as Miss Kent County and came home with the crown.
Martell has been active in the 4-H youth development program since she was 5 and she credits 4-H, in part, for who she has become today.
“Delaware 4-H was where I learned poise and self-confidence,” says Martell, who turns 22 on June 27.
The Milford resident demonstrates that poise every day in dealing with alopecia areata, an auto-immune disorder that causes hair loss on the scalp and sometimes on the body.
Martell wore a wig during the Miss Delaware competition but often goes without one, equating a wig to other accessories such as rings and watches. “Sometimes I wear a wig but sometimes I don’t,” says Martell. “4-H helped me become comfortable in my own skin so when I was diagnosed with alopecia areata I didn’t feel like I have to hide the condition,” she says. “This is simply who I am.”
During her reign as Miss Delaware, Martell’s platform will be the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. In 2006, she created an effort called Caps for Yaps – Caps for Youth Alopecia Patients. She designed simple hats and taught youths how to make these hats for youngsters with alopecia. More than 2,000 hats, caps and scarves have since been collected and distributed.
Martell began her involvement in 4-H as a kindergarten Cloverbud. She was a member of the Harrington Sunshine, Houston Cardinals and Holler and Hooves clubs. She has played an integral role in Delaware 4-H initiatives to combat substance abuse by youth and teens. In 2000, she became a certified peer educator for the Health Rocks program, a 4-H curriculum that teaches at-risk youth about the hazards of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs. The cause is personal for Martell, who is driven by the loss of an 11-year-old friend who died of a drug overdose when they were in 6th grade together.
As a 4-Her, Martell devoted more than 2,500 hours of community service to the Health Rocks program and she continues to be active in Health Rocks today. During high school she also created the organization PLEDGE — People Learning to Eliminate Drugs by Gaining Education.
“The mission of 4-H is to be a catalyst for positive change and I can’t think of anyone who epitomizes this better than Kayla Martell,” says Dr. Jan Seitz, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension. “She is such a force for good in the community.”
“Kayla’s life has always been about giving to others and serving as mentor and supporter to those in need,” adds Seitz. “I cannot think of an individual more suited to be named the new Miss Delaware.”
Martell is the daughter of Ron and Rhonda Martell of Milford. Rhonda Martell is an Extension educator who has served a number of roles in Delaware 4-H.
“4-H provided Kayla with opportunities that not only enhanced her public speaking and communication skills but helped her to develop leadership, citizenship and community service skills,” says Rhonda Martell. “Her desire to help others was not only instilled by her father and I but by her 4-H volunteer leaders and county and state 4-H staff.”
Martell is a graduate of Dover High School and while in high school was the Delaware state winner (out of 20,000 nominations) of the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. This month, she received the Top Ten Outstanding Young American award from the United States Jaycees. The only other Delawarean so honored was Vice President Joe Biden, who received the award in the early 1970s.
A rising senior at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., Martell will be taking a year off from school to commit to her responsibilities as the new Miss Delaware. She will compete in the Miss America pageant on Jan. 15 2011 in Las Vegas.