Dressed in a sparkly black evening gown with hair and makeup done to perfection, Redmond’s Neelam Chahlia stood on stage alongside 23 other Mrs. Washington America Pageant contestants June 15 at the Kenneth Minnaert Center in Olympia.
“The only person I wanted to impress was my daughter,” said Chahlia, 39.
That night, Chahlia impressed many and was crowned Mrs. Washington America.
For Chahlia, competing in the pageant was more than receiving a crown and sash. She said her life journey embodies the “American Dream.” Chahlia was born and raised in a small town in India where she worked hard to complete her master’s degree and Ph.D. Chahlia said she is proud to be the first Indian-American woman to win the Mrs. Washington title.
As Mrs. Washington, Chahlia is using her platform to raise awareness about drug abuse among young people through the Victoria Siegel Foundation. The foundation was started by Victoria’s parents who tragically lost her to a drug overdose. Chahlia said she is raising awareness and accelerating the fundraising by working with top employers including Microsoft, Google, Boeing, Facebook and Starbucks to match employee donations to the foundation. Chahlia is also making an effort to reach corporations across the country and will provide guidelines to all state titleholders to assist them in similar efforts.
“My goal is to leave a legacy of continued financial support for the Victoria Siegel foundation,” she said.
Chahlia is also reaching and inspiring mothers in her own community after a complicated second pregnancy where she was left bedridden and broken. Her unborn son was diagnosed with a hole in his heart. Doctors advised that she terminate the pregnancy, but she chose to fight for her son’s life, who today is a healthy 4-year-old boy. Instead of feeling hopeless, Chahlia said she made it her mission to help support mothers going through similar pregnancy experiences. She initiated the Strength in Motherhood program, which helps mothers share their stories and support one another.
For about a year now, Chahlia said she has been actively seeking to get back into the workforce, but has had no luck.
“I realized it’s hard for women to get back into the workforce after taking time off to care for a sick child or an aging parent,” she said. “Instead of getting rewarded for their sacrifice, they are penalized for helping those in need.”
As Mrs. Washington, Chahlia has made it a goal to help women who have set aside their careers to care for family. Together with Sen. Manka Dhingra of the 45th Legislative District, they are working on a tax incentive bill for corporations that provide “returnship” programs for women like Chahlia.
To help women regain their physical strength post-pregnancy, Chahlia is working with Pro Club in Redmond as a brand ambassador for the Fit Mom Series.
“You can achieve what you dream for,” Chahlia said. “You just have to open your mind to the possibilities… there’s no limitations.”
Chahlia will compete for the national Mrs. America title on Aug. 24 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“We applaud Neelam and all the charitable work she is doing,” said Pamela Curnel, executive state director for the Washington pageant. “She has a strong commitment to community service and serving others. We will be there to cheer her on at Mrs. America as she vies for the coveted Mrs. America crown.”
Mrs. Washington Pageant is a preliminary to the Mrs. America Pageant. The pageant was established to honor married women throughout the United States. The Mrs. Washington Pageant highlights women from all over the state to showcase their achievements and passion for their communities.