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A sash and crown for hope

Perched on the back of a convertible on a chilly morning last April, Gresham resident Chiavan Chriestenson was one of the star celebrities in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade in Portland.

The reigning Miss Gresham Outstanding Teen had invited two young girls she had met through her volunteer work at My Father’s House to join her. Both were adorned in rhinestone tiaras and sashes like Chiavan, but tomboy Courtney was living a dream.

“She nearly knocked me over with a huge hug after the parade and told me, ‘This was the best day of my life! I had the best time,’” Chiavan recalled. “That made me feel so good to know I had made her feel special.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Chiavan Chriestenson, Miss Gresham Outstanding Teen, believes every young girl is special. She symbolically crowns each new member to her dance class at My Fathers House as a princess.

Helping young girls feel important and special is more than simply a pageant community service project for 14-year-old Chiavan. It’s a passion she embraced after realizing that even the smallest positive interaction with a child living in poverty or homelessness gives them hope for their future.

The youngest of five children, who all attended the Gresham-Barlow Web Academy, Chiavan grew up “feeling loved and cherished.” She began dancing as a toddler and was a regular visitor at local retirement homes, providing entertainment for residents. But even at such a young age, Chiavan recognized hopelessness in others.

“I had a little rock with the word ‘hope’ written on it,” she said. “I took it with me when I visited the retirement homes, and I would place the rock on the residents’ hearts to give them hope.”

In 2009, Chiavan participated in the Miss Oregon Princess Program. Open to young girls ages 4 through 12, the program is a branch of the Miss America pageant and provides mentorship between the Miss America state contestants and the younger “princesses.”

Chiavan became acquainted with Stephenie Steers, Miss Oregon 2010, and accompanied her on several appearances and pageant competitions.

“She inspired me with her platform of preventing human trafficking,” Chiavan said. “Children living in poverty or with parents trapped in addiction are at risk of being exploited by gangs, drug dealers and human traffickers. One of my goals is to make sure children feel cherished, because children living in poverty are very vulnerable. The opportunity to make a difference in their life is sometimes very short.”

Chiavan is acutely aware of her position as a role model. She is part of the Worship Team at East Hill Church in Gresham, helping mixed ages of younger children take part in creative worship and church activities.

And for the past three years, she has been teaching dance to the girls living at My Father’s House, whom she refers to as her “precious treasures.” Every girl is a princess, Chiavan said, so each new arrival to the dance class is presented with a sash and crown to symbolize how special she is. The idea is to instill confidence and self-esteem, enabling girls to stand up for themselves.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK Chiavan uses €sˇÃ„úPrincess Charades€sˇÃ„Ã1 as a way to teach positive skills, by having children act out a word such as €sˇÃ„úshare.€sˇÃ„Ã1

“I want girls to know they can say ‘no’ and be confident in themselves,” Chiavan said. “But dancing and singing aren’t the only talents out there. There are talented accountants too. If you can help someone find their talent, they will believe in themselves.”

One of Chiavan’s goals is to create a community arts program where local professionals help at-risk children explore a variety of artistic endeavors to discover their talents. She also is working with schools and various agencies to increase awareness of child exploitation by inspiring others to share their skills as mentors.

“When these little kids have something they love to do and know they can do it well, they’re less likely to be drawn into exploitation as children or when they grow up,” Chiavan said. “Simple things like reading to an at-risk child, teaching them to draw, dance, sing or allowing them to shadow someone at their workplace can make a huge difference.”

Chiavan hopes to pursue a career in communications and the performing arts after high school and plans to be a future competitor for the Miss America title. But for now, she is simply part of the village working to raise a child.

“None of us can do everything,” she said, “but all of us can do something. That’s all I can do, as a 14-year-old in Gresham, is help one child at a time.”

<blockquote>Do you know a Shining Star?</blockquote>

The story of Chiavan Chriestenson launches a new feature called Shining Stars, which recognizes local students quietly doing great things in the community. Outlook readers, parents and teachers are encouraged to tell us about a student of any age, whose talents outside the academic arena are making our world a better place. Do they volunteer regularly at a retirement center? Have they taught an artistic practice to a youth group? What are they doing in the community that makes us proud to call them neighbor?

Tell us about a Shining Star you know by contacting Anne Endicott at 503-492-5118 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

And watch for the next Shining Star in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 issue of the Outlook.



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