PORTSMOUTH—Journey Pelfrey said that her Miss River Days journey so far has exceeded all of her expectations about the pageant process.
“This journey has been more than I expected it to be and more than I ever thought it would be. There were some negative connotations surrounding River Days at one point, but I got into it and I’ve met awesome girls and awesome committee members. Nobody goes alone through this process—everybody has someone there to help them if they ever need it,” Pelfrey said.
Pelfrey, who is representing East High School in the upcoming Miss River Days Pageant, knows from personal experience how vital it is to find a strong support system in challenging times. Growing up in a family which struggled with drug addiction, Pelfrey’s childhood was beset with challenges and insecurity.
“I grew up in a three bedroom house with seven siblings,” Pelfrey explained. “We had rough times with our parents being addicted to drugs. Actually [my siblings and I] were each other’s support system the entire time. I know that if I saw someone in a high respect—like a River Days candidate—advocating for a child like me, I would have been super excited,” Pelfrey said.
Pelfrey’s community service platform felt like a natural choice and one which Pelfrey wished she could have experienced as a child in an addicted household. She wanted to show children like her that despite hardship brought by the actions of adults in their lives, that is not the defining chapter in their story. And it is not their fault.
“There were times when we didn’t have water, we didn’t have electric,” Pelfrey shared. “I know that there would be kids that would understand and appreciate that there are others out there like them who have gotten out of [that situation].”
As Miss East, Pelfrey thought it was important to use her platform to communicate that urgent message to the children who needed it most and to give them a free, fun-filled day as well.
“It was such an easy concept to bring to a head. We knew we wanted something that the kids could come to for free. We wanted them to have fun, and what’s more fun than a free carnival?”
Pelfrey worked to infuse the day with tools she learned on her healing journey, utilizing the acronym HELP to guide the children in attendance: Health, energy, love, and peace.
“We also had about twelve games set up, we had multiple prizes—fidget [toys], the way kids like these days. We had food, coffee [for the adults]; we had so many different games. I spoke, and we had a couple different speakers—just anything to help them get out of that situation for a day.”
Pelfrey noticed as she grew a bit older and moved out of the home she shared with her mother that other students in her school struggled in similar home lives. She knew that utilizing resources from her school would be an excellent way to inform those who needed it about the carnival without publicly calling attention to any certain individuals.
“I advertised through my school webpage, which gave [all students] and their parents an opportunity to see it. And maybe their parents just want them out of the house for the day—that’s fine,” Pelfrey said, “send them to me.”
Pelfrey says that publicly sharing her story as a speaker at the event was somewhat difficult, but that ultimately, she knew that others could benefit from what she struggled with and ultimately escaped from.
“I had never publicly come out about the extent of my situation. My mom was in attendance [at the event], and that was very hard for me to look her in the eyes and talk about my situation. I didn’t want to make her feel singled out. It’s hard for me to do it, but I think it gave me clarity, and I think it gave the kids clarity,” she said.
And Pelfrey knows that a bit of clarity can go a long way toward healing trauma.
“I think it was healing for me. I can’t really speak on [my mom’s] behalf. But I hope that she understood, ‘this is how my children feel.’ I’ve told her before in private, but I think saying it in public, she may have taken it a little bit deeper,” she said. For the children who attended her event, Pelfrey pledged to advocate for them long after her time as Miss East (or Miss River Days) ends. And though she says that her mother still struggles with addiction, Pelfrey has learned to reframe their relationship in a way that helps her cope.
“[As a child] I would go about my day and think that my parents were sober because I was around them every day and that’s just what I knew,” explained Pelfrey. “But once I was out of that situation, it is so much easier for me to tell ‘oh she’s not sober—her words are slurring.’ It’s a situation I try not to let bother me because if my mom dies tomorrow, I don’t want to be mad at her whole life.”
“Anger hasn’t worked,” Pelfrey added. “I tried anger, I tried sadness. Now, I’m trying [to be] content because I want to spend as much time with my mother as I can.”
Follow Miss East, Journey Pelfrey, as well as the other Miss River Days candidates online at friendsofportsmouth.com/river-days-festival. The Portsmouth River Days Festival will take place from September 2nd through September 4, 2022.