Alayna Jones doesn't remember the times she visited Fort Myers Beach.
Miss Florida US International 2013 was just a youngster when she crossed Matanzas Bridge onto Estero Island during her childhood years as a resident of Immokalee.
Tomorrow, Jones will be among eight beauty pageantry winners to grace the island's Fourth of July parade, sponsored by the Town of Fort Myers Beach. The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. (Thursday, July 4).
Alayna Jones, Miss Florida US International 2013, will be among eight beauty pageantry winners in the Fourth of July parade tomorrow (Thursday). Come cheer them and other parade entries on at 10 a.m.
The 5', 7" Gainesville resident is fresh off the Miss U.S. International championships, held in Orlando this past weekend. In the Town parade, she will be joined by Miss Teen Florida American Beauty, Mrs. Florida American Beauty, Mrs. Naples, Miss Cape Coral, Miss Fort Myers, Miss Teen Cape and Miss Teen Fort Myers.
"I'm excited to be there and to meet all the people who are going to be there that day," Jones said.
The 22-year-old, who was born in Fort Stewart, Georgia, the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River, where her mom was stationed, has been in the pageantry business off and on for most of her life. Her mother started her in modeling/ pageantry competitions when she was a child in Southwest Florida.
The Joneses moved to Immokalee when Alayna was age 1 and lived there until she was roughly age 10. That is when her mother re-married and the family moved to Gainesville.
Alayna continued pageantry competitions in Gator nation before taking a break for a couple of years in her earlier teenage years. She then resumed entering contests as a sophomore in high school and continued at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee.
As a freshman at FAMU, Jones was crowned Miss Tallahassee Teen USA. She then transferred to Santa Fe College in Gainesville and currently majors in Dance, where she focuses mainly on ballet, but enjoys jazz, modern and tap dancing. She still resides in that city.
"I love to dance," she said. "I've been dancing since I was three years old."
Unfortunately, her current pageantry competition does not involve a talent portion. It does demand three contest areas: swimsuit, evening gown and an interview with the judges.
Winning the Miss Florida US International 2013 pageant was a highlight of her life.
"This is actually my first state title," said Jones. "It's pretty exciting because I've been trying for so long to win one, and I finally have one."
Jones met Pageantry State Director Suzi Hosfeld at the state finals two years ago when she climbed the local pageantry ladder as Miss Hernando County. She was selected as the fourth runner-up that year, then took two years off from that competition before coming back strong this year.
"As far as what will make Alayna successful, she is a sweet girl," said Hosfeld. "Her mother is an educator, so she understands the importance of an education."
Jones credits Hosfeld for her development.
"She has really helped me out by setting up appearances and teaching me how to talk to people," Miss Florida US International said. "She makes sure that I can approach people on my own. It's really important to talk to people without any problems. It's a big help because the interview portion is on stage at the national pageant."
Jones has travelled the state extensively, from Naples to Tallahassee.
"I've been everywhere in the state," she said. "I was in a fashion show in Gainesville a couple months ago and then at another at the Miromar Outlets in Estero afterwards."
Jones has an affection for cooking. She hopes to broaden that hobby into an aspiration to work in the hospitality industry later in life.
"I would like to either open a restaurant or manage a hotel," she said. "I love to cook and bake. I took culinary courses in high school. My favorite dessert to make is chocolate lava cake."
For now, she'll enjoy the glamor of the pageantry business. It was an emotional time when she captured the state title back in November 2012 in Tampa.
"It was really exciting when I was crowned," said Jones. "I cried and everything. I was so shocked when I was called for the top five."
Being in pageantry contests is rewarding and a good stepping stone to life's enrichment.
"These pageants have helped me a lot. I am now so aware and more independent with the things that I do," Jones said.
Miss Florida US International is available for appearances. Any Beach business interested in utilizing her beauty and spokesperson talent for fundraisers and the like just needs to ask.
"Part of what Miss Florida International's duties involves working with the local citizens and businesses to help them," said Hosfeld. "We try to teach our girls that when you give to others, you get back in return. It's especially rewarding for girls who want to work in business and want to learn how business works."
Town full-day celebration
Fort Myers Beach's 2013 Independence Day celebration will be a full day of observance for the country's 237th birthday with a parade, entertainment and fireworks.
Starting with a 10 a.m. parade, residents and visitors alike will witness a long procession of dignitaries, pageantry winners, businesses, nonprofit organizations, clowns, a marching drum corps and other groups throwing candy and beads. Florida Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will be the Grand Marshall.
Parade awards, sponsored by The Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin, will include Best Musical Unit; Best Decorated Float; Best Patriotic Theme; Best Overall Theme; Best Decorated Bicycle; Best Business; and Best Non-Business. Afterwards, winners will be announced at Surf Club, where the judges are viewing the parade.
At noon, the fun moves to Times Square for entertainment and continued festivity action. "The TroubleMakerz" will play from noon to 5 p.m. before "High Tide" takes the stage from 5:30 p.m. until roughly 9:30 p.m. The Beach Pier fireworks show, sponsored by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and put on by federally licensed pyrotechnic experts Garden State Fireworks, a team that has lit up Beach skies for many years, is expected to begin at 9:30 p.m.
According to acting Town Parks & Recreation Director Randy Norton, the Town will have the National Anthem before the fireworks. Town Manager Terry Stewart will sing the "The Star Spangled Banner."
Matanzas Bridge will be closed for the parade from 9:30 to at least 11:30 a.m.
During that span, Lee County Sheriff's Office officials will be disallowing drive-overs. Those wishing to drive over the Matanzas Bridge either to or away from Fort Myers Beach should make earlier plans. Latecomers will be asked to park at the County park-and-ride parking lot at the corner of Fisherman's Wharf and Main Street and walk over the bridge.
Also, from 9:30 to 11 p.m., both lanes on the bridge will be for exiting the bridge only.
LeeTran will operate trolley service with extended hours on the holiday. However, bus routes will not run on the mainland.
Trolley service from Summerlin Square (Summerlin Road and San Carlos Boulevard) to Bowditch Park on Fort Myers Beach will run every 40 minutes, starting at 7 a.m. Parking at Summerlin Square is free.
On the island, trolleys will run every 30 minutes between Bowditch Park at the north end, to Lovers Key State Park and back. The Beach route ends at 11:40 p.m.
Adult trolley fare is 50 cents; seniors aged 65 and older, students, and disabled passengers with required ID can ride for 25 cents. An unlimited-ride All-Day Pass can be purchased from the driver for $1.50.
The extended trolley hours are supported by the Town of Fort Myers Beach, which launches an annual fireworks show from the Beach Pier at Lynn Hall Memorial Park.
For further information about trolley service or NextBus exact arrival and departure times, please call LeeTran at 533-8726 (LEE-TRAN) or visit www.rideleetran.com.