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Date Posted: 02/17/05 4:11:04pm

Feb. 16, 2005, 11:51PM

Miss Houston to campaign to reduce hunger
Pageant winner knew at young age she wanted to sing

As 23-year-old Betsy Uschkrat looked back on the last weekend in January when she was crowned Miss Houston, she said the experience was like a whirlwind of nonstop activity.

"I am a little overwhelmed right now, trying to keep my equilibrium," she said.

And no wonder. Uschkrat, who was raised in Sugar Land, has had to juggle an array of activities. In addition to the beauty pageant, she handles schoolwork, teaching, performing and applying for graduate school.

She is working on her major in vocal performance at the University of Houston, and she performs regularly in operas and musicals.

The days around the Miss Houston pageant were especially hectic. On Jan. 28, the night before the Miss Houston pageant, Uschkrat played the role of Adele in the opera Die Fledermaus at the Moore's Opera Center. By 7 a.m. the next day, she had to be at Montgomery College in Conroe, where the pageant was being held. Then on Sunday, she performed in the chorus of Die Fledermaus, and on Monday, she had a full day of school, followed by another night performance.

For some this might seem like an overload, but Uschkrat took it in stride.

"When it's booming, it's going good," she said. "I don't really complain about it."

Uschkrat was tired from the experience, but she said it was worth all the effort. The pageant has added excitement to her life.

"I was incredibly excited and kind of thrown back," she said. "I thought, 'This is going to change some things,' but it was thrilling, and it felt good to make an achievement like that."

Uschkrat is no stranger to winning beauty pageants. She was named Miss Woodlands 2001-02 and Miss Southeast Texas 2002-03.

She looks forward to having the chance to talk to people about hunger in Texas.

Most people don't know that Houston ranks second in the nation after Detroit in the number of children that go hungry each year, she said.

"With food being the basic necessity of life, I think it is one of the most important causes to support," Uschkrat said. "We have a devastating problem that is so easy to forget. A lot of people that are hungry don't speak up because they're too busy just surviving."

Uschkrat also said that the people seen on the street begging are just a small portion of the people who go hungry.

Uschkrat has been actively working to reduce hunger in Texas since 1998, when she was a junior at Clements High School in Sugar Land.

That year, she came up with the idea of planning a benefit concert for the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry. She helped get area schools involved, and a concert drew 1,000 people. The benefit concert since has become a tradition at the ministry.

"It taught me a lot about how good it feels to help other people and that music really does have a power to unite," Uschkrat said.

As a result of that experience, when Uschkrat began entering pageants, she decided to make it her platform to help the hungry. She calls her platform "Heart and Soul: Fighting Hunger in Our Communities."

She said she is looking for support from potential sponsors.

"Any and all help in these endeavors is appreciated because it's not only about supporting me," Uschkrat said. "It's about supporting the community."

Aside from representing Houston over the coming year, Uschkrat will continue to teach singing and to perform whenever she can. She also has plans to pursue a master's degree in either vocal performance or opera.

Uschkrat has been singing since childhood. She said she will never forget an incident that occurred when she was about 4 years old.

She and her family were at the hospital visiting relatives, and she was in a meeting area where there were a lot of toys.

"I stood up on the table in front of everyone and sang 'The Greatest Love of All,' by Whitney Houston because it was my favorite song," Uschkrat said. "So I knew then that I'd be a performer."

Uschkrat performed in school choirs throughout her elementary, middle and high school years. In high school, she made the All-State Choir.

Uschkrat said nothing can compare to that moment when she is singing on stage.

"It's probably the most alive that I could feel in my life," she said. "When I come offstage, I know this is a life moment, something really worthwhile."

She said the moment she won Miss Houston was one of those life moments.

"She is a consummate professional," said Curtis Dumesnil, executive director of Houston Pageants. "She takes every step of the process seriously, and she gives 110 percent."

Her parents, James and Karen Uschkrat, also have been supportive. They said that their daughter's experience with pageants has given her many life skills.

"The pageant has helped her in her grooming, poise, social etiquette and in learning to present herself well in an interview process," James Uschkrat said. "Any time a younger person has to get up in front of older people and present themselves, that's a good skill to have. I wish I'd had that when I was her age."

As for what lies ahead, Uschkrat said she hopes to be the next Miss Texas and the next Miss America.

"Life is a journey," she said. "It takes so many turns that you never expect. I am grateful so many have turned out to be just wonderful experiences."

To suggest a "Faces in the Crowd" profile, e-mail karen.zurawski@chron.com or send a fax to 713-362-7552.

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Re: FACES IN THE CROWDDathan Bennett03/ 7/06 10:24:10am

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