DESTIN — Locals rolled out the red carpet for dozens of distinguished women Sunday.

"We're excited to be welcoming Distinguished Young Women to our area and introducing them to their host families," said Carole Byrd, state chairwoman for DYW.

 

For years, the state finals of the DYW scholarship program were held in Winter Park, but this year the young women will be performing for the state title in Fort Walton Beach. Throughout the week, the young women from around the state will be visiting schools, reaching out to the community and even playing a little tourist in the area.

"We want to highlight the beauty and culture of our area," said Mia Lawson, co-chair for the Okaloosa County chapter of DYW. "We'll be doing tours of a military base, visiting the Gulfarium and different outreach events."

Lawson is the mom of 2014 Okaloosa County Distinguished Young Woman, Natalie Lawson. It had such an impact, she continued to stay involved.

"It's a great program that helps girls with their confidence, they gain friendships ... it's a positive experience," Mia said.

During the arrival ceremony, the young women representing different region in Florida were announced to the stage where they smiled for pictures wrapping their arms around one another.

DYW is a national prestigious program based on five categories: scholastic, fitness, talent, self-expression and interview. Highest scores are awarded scholarships, which come solely from private donations.

Northwest Florida has already made a good first impression on Andrea Werder of Miami, who came to cheer on her daughter Madelyn.

"Oh my gosh, it is so beautiful here," she said. "The people are so friendly and I've never seen white sand before."

Destin resident Skylar Babin is Okaloosa County's Distinguished Young Woman. She said she is already pretty familiar with the white sands. This upcoming week she said she looking forward to making new friends and gaining new perspectives.

"I'm excited to be building bonds with my new sisters and developing myself," she said. "It will be fun to see this area through the group of girls who have never been here."