Nicole Johnston is using her entry into Miss World Canada this coming May as a platform to convey her anti-bullying message to kids in her community, and to help a children's charity along the way.
"I like to help people and I want to make a difference," Johnston said. "I'd like to one day go into schools and talk about bullying. If we start at a younger age to talk to kids and teach them right from wrong we can show them that words really do hurt. As you get into high school the words get a lot worse."
The 17-year-old Pitt Meadows resident has quite a back story. She graduated a year early from Thomas Haney Secondary and is currently working full time and teaching dance part time.
A dancer since she was three, Johnston practises three days a week at Langley's West Coast Contortion and Maple Ridge's Peggy Peat School of Dance to hone her skills.
"I've gotten to train with Cirque du Soleil and been down to Vegas to train with them," she noted.
Johnston aspires to be a contortionist performing on cruise lines and further down the road, a preschool teacher.
And she's had a near lifelong connection with charities.
"Since I was five years old, I have always been involved with fundraising," Johnston said.
Among the organizations she's helped through the years: BC Children's Hospital, Cythera Transition House, Cops for Cancer, the Christmas Haven, Welcome Home, and the local food bank.
A few years ago Johnston received a card from Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp, thanking her for her efforts.
"He told me I was a role model," Johnston said. "I still have that card."
But confidence has always been a struggle for Johnston. In her early years at school she was bullied and the problem spilled into high school.
"Girls are really mean," she said. "It [bullying] definitely made me stronger in the end but as I was going through it, it was really hard for me. It always kind of follows you. There's always those people who are. putting you down."
Johnston has a built-in support system in her mom Marlis.
"I come from a single-parent family, and while we really didn't always have what others had, my mom worked a few jobs to keep me in dance," Johnston said. "I became a very good dancer but really didn't believe that I was good as once again I was bullied."
To succeed, Johnson said, you need confidence, something she admits she was lacking.
Johnston says she found her voice through pageants.
"In the summer I did a pageant for Miss BC," Johnston related. "I didn't place, but what I got out of the three days made me feel like I won. The confidence, the public speaking, the friends [I made], truly made me feel blessed."
She was contacted a few weeks later to enter the Miss Earth Canada contest in Montreal but declined because of the expense of the flight, fees, and hotel cost.
"Then I got accepted to do Miss World Canada," Johnston said.
She filled out an online application to enter and a couple of weeks later, fielded a phone call.
"They asked me a few questions, and they said if I get in, they'd send me an email," Johnston said.
About two weeks later, the email came, informing her that she was accepted.
Johnston will be in Vancouver for nine days, joined by girls from all over Canada. She said the contestants will benefit from life-skills coaching and training.
She will be performing contortion at the May 9 competition at the River Rock Casino Show Theatre.
Johnston stresses that this upcoming pageant is not a beauty contest.
"As a delegate we raise money for the charity of choice," she said. "The charity is Variety, the Children's Charity."
She added, "The pageants you see on TV, it's not like that. All the girls are so down to earth and so caring, and they do a really good job of weeding out the true ones from the fake ones."
To raise funds for Variety, Johnston organized a dinner and dance that was held this past Saturday at the Kinsmen Centre in Port Coquitlam.
Johnston is also selling poinsettias, with proceeds going to the cause.