Chattanooga’s own, Claire Portilla, has entered the pageant arena and she is aiming for the Miss America crown. A Signal Mountain native, Claire secured the 2023 Miss Tennessee crown and is headed to compete at the national level in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas on August 24. A first-time pageant participant, Claire embarked on this new endeavor with encouragement from a former Mrs. Tennessee for America.
“I am not a spotlight person, so I really had to get out of my comfort zone to achieve this. I went into the experience with no expectations other than a way to grow myself. I wanted to stay true to myself and not fit a mold,” shared Portilla. Candidly, Claire highlighted that the most surprising aspect of the pageant world has been not only the tremendous outpouring of support but also being a part of an organization that is so uplifting. Whatever negative preconceived notions some may have of the pageant system are quite the opposite. Portilla emphasizes, “The women around me are amazing, sweet and have awesome stories of life to share. I hope we can break any stigma either starting with me or the other queens around me.”
Embracing this new challenge with a positive outlook and grit has made the pageant world a rewarding endeavor. From meeting amazing women and connecting with various organizations to the glitz and glamour of every moment, Claire highlights that the most valuable part of her experience has been the children she gets to interact with daily. “Their faces and eyes light up when I get to know them and I know that they feel special. Something that I learned while traveling for children’s ministry is that when a child can sit there and say, ‘You’re who? ...and you’re CHOOSING to be with me? To talk with me?’ It absolutely blows their minds that someone wants to get to know them. This is the most rewarding piece to my story—making children feel loved, seen and known.”
After a brief period away from Chattanooga, Claire realized just how special our bustling city is and is beaming with pride to represent Tennessee in the national competition. “A huge reason that I love the state of Tennessee is the people. When I look at my life in Chattanooga and in Tennessee, I think of the people. There is a sense of kindness, drive and adventure. I feel so inspired here. I look around and see my friends and family creating their own businesses, getting involved in the community and giving back. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live. It truly is one of the most driven cities ever and it is clear how much the citizens of Chattanooga love their city through their acts of service. Growth defines this city and I
can’t wait to see how it will continually change and impact our state.”
With sights set on securing the Miss America title, Claire is crystal clear on her ultimate vision– to create her own nonprofit in Tennessee that provides children the opportunity to secure a higher education minus the financial burdens that come along with it. “I want to create a scholarship opportunity and support many local community centers in our city.” With a current scholarship goal in the works, Ms. Portilla is determined to reward the first scholarship recipient by the fall of 2023. “I have a family who supported me so much to where I am now and I want to give that same support to children in the state of Tennessee.”
Aspiring for new heights, Claire poignantly and eloquently adds, “Dreams are scary and hard to reach sometimes and, yes, we all have moments of failure, but the beautiful thing is we also have moments of triumph. Let’s change our perspective of failing and start to thank it. The strength you gain means so much more than the pain you feel in the midst. So keep reaching, working and saying thank you.”
Chattanooga is such a beautiful place in the summer! I look around and just feel in awe most of the time! I like to be outdoors whether it's sipping coffee at my favorite coffee house, Mean Mug, or walking through Coolidge Park with my dog who loves to swim in the river! There is an abundance of events and pop-ups and that’s what I love about summer in Chattanooga, you can go for a walk and end up in an outdoor market, meeting new friends and vendors and just find yourself in another world!
When I look at my life in Chattanooga and in Tennessee, I think of the people. There is a sense of kindness, drive and adventure. I feel so inspired here. I look around and see my friends and family creating their own businesses, getting involved in the community, and giving back. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live.