Elaina Burt is not exactly the type to rest on her laurels. Crowned Miss Alabama Teen just this past spring, the ambitious 17-year-old senior at Briarwood Christian is pursuing numerous dreams.
“Being crowned Miss Alabama’s Teen 2023 was an absolute dream come true,” she says. “I will compete at Miss America’s Teen in January 2024, and next year is actually a really special year because Miss America and Miss America’s Teen will be held together for the first time ever. I will compete in interviews, talent, fitness and evening gown/on stage conversation.”
Elaina serves as a national ambassador for the Epilepsy Foundation of America and is president of her own nonprofit, Charlie’s Chance. Her interest in advocating for epilepsy — and her nonprofit’s namesake —were inspired by her cousin, Charlie, who was diagnosed with the disorder at just a year old.
“I have seen what it takes for Charlie to overcome challenges, and I’ve watched my aunt Hannah become her champion,” Elaina says. “Charlie is now 7 years old, and we like to say she explores the world from her wheelchair. Witnessing my aunt be an advocate for her daughter sparked a passion in me.”
Her aunt, Hannah Wilson, has uplifted the mission of the Epilepsy Foundation for years, hosting fundraisers and events such as fall festivals with wheelchair accessibility. Watching her aunt’s dedication in raising awareness, Elaina followed in the same footsteps and hosted her own successful fundraiser last fall known as Wings of Hope.
Held at the Southern Museum of Flight, Wings of Hope garners donations for a key program in Charlie’s Chance: going to area schools and ensuring teachers in every classroom are certified in seizure first aid. With the help of the Southeast director of the Epilepsy Foundation, Sarah Franklin, Elaina has certified about 415 teachers in the area. “I love visiting the schools and talking about why it’s relevant,” Elaina shares. “I’ve been able to work with many schools in Alabama and work a lot with Sarah on great contacts.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of is how hard Elaina works on getting schools in our state seizure first aid certified,” Hannah adds. “I know that it means the world to so many other moms in my same position.”
The fundraiser’s poetic name, Wings of Hope, was inspired by Elaina’s love for aviation. As though the teen did not already have enough to keep her busy, she’s also earning her pilot’s license this year, achieving the dream that her grandfather, also a pilot, helped bring to fruition. She plans to attend Auburn after her senior year of high school and obtain a professional flight degree.
“I have early memories of being in my grandfather’s tiny plane, and my 16th birthday gift from my grandparents was a flight lesson. I fell in love with seeing life from a different perspective,” Elaina says. “Now my dad is also in flight school with me, and it’s so cool to do this as a family. I know it makes my grandad so happy to see me fulfill and continue his passion.”
This November will be the second annual Wings of Hope fundraiser for Charlie’s Chance, and Elaina looks forward to another successful event. She says last year exceeded her imagination — both in how much goes into orchestrating an event and the awesome results of her hard work.
“I wanted to merge my passions of aviation and epilepsy advocacy and, as a 17-year-old, seeing all that work come to fruition and that night of celebration and community was one of the most rewarding and special moments I’d ever had,” she says.
“On behalf of the epilepsy community, we are incredibly lucky to have someone as passionate as Elaina on our team who strives to make a positive impact,” Hannah says. “Receiving a diagnosis can be terrifying. That’s why spreading awareness is crucial, especially for a condition as common as epilepsy.”
“I have early memories of being in my grandfather’s tiny plane, and my 16th birthday gift from my grandparents was a flight lesson. I fell in love with seeing life from a different perspective."