Printed on: June 15, 2013

Alabama bound


Natalie Stoker graduated from Idaho Falls High School on June 4.

On Aug. 28, she'll start studying business finance at Brigham Young University-Provo.

Before that happens, however, Stoker has some unfinished business.

She leaves today for the 56th Distinguished Young Women National Finals.

Stoker and 49 other state representatives are vying for college scholarships during the finals -- scheduled June 27 to 29 in Mobile, Ala.

Stoker, who won the state program in October, said she'll keep busy learning choreography for a fitness routine, practicing the event's opening number and preparing for the interview portion of the competition.

Participants also will complete community service projects before competing to become America's Distinguished Young Woman for 2013.

But Distinguished Young Women, Stoker said, already has helped shape what she has chosen to study for her future career.

"When people are judging the interview part of the program, they ask you about current events, your life, everything," Stoker said. "But one of the things they've always asked me about is the biggest problems facing young people today."

That question got Stoker thinking about the amount of debt young people rack up with credit cards and student loans, among other things.

Few young people understand the consequences of spending money they don't have, she said.

"Through (Distinguished Young Women), I realized I'm going into the major I'm in (business finance) because I want people to realize they can get help with their finances," Stoker said. "I want to help them be happier and live better."

Founded in 1958 in Mobile, Ala., Distinguished Young Women -- formerly known as Junior Miss -- is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls.

Stoker joins more than 700,000 young women who have participated in Distinguished Young Women. The program has awarded a combined $93 million in scholarships at the local, state and national levels.

Stoker's mother, Darlene, said Distinguished Young Women has helped make her daughter more confident.

The support Natalie has received for community outreach projects and school assemblies has gone above and beyond their family's expectations, her mother said.

"This gave me hope that there are still a lot of good things going out there," Darlene Stoker said. "I think this shows that people have a need to find good (projects) and capitalize on them. That's why people support this so much, because they see there really is value in what these girls do."

Reporter Christina Lords can be reached at 542-6762.