From Homeless In Hilo To A Crown
The new Mrs. Hawaii grew up poor and today is committed to helping the homeless through the YMCA
Once upon a time, young Jaci Agustin was living out of a van, unsure where her next meal would come from. Today, at any given time, her car is piled to the max with loads of fresh strawberries, carrots and a surplus of other fruits and veggies. That’s because Agustin’s experience with homelessness during her formative years inspired in her a lifelong passion for administering to the less fortunate. The carloads of produce go to 38 sites on Oahu, where Agustin oversees the YMCA’s Food and Fun programs that cater to under-privileged youngsters.
When she’s not delivering groceries to the Y, Agustin is wearing a crown and high heels as the current Mrs. Hawaii.
“Being in a pageant was a bucket-list thing,” says the youthful, bright-eyed 30-year-old. “I had never done a pageant before, and I’m not young anymore. It’s just something I wanted to do. Also, I love doing community service.”
Agustin felt the pageant would be a perfect way to give her platform some public attention as well as get involved in a variety of additional community service venues as a crown-wearing representative of Hawaii. Here’s the clincher: Agustin may be competing for the Mrs. America crown Aug. 28 in Tucson, Ariz., with her older sister (by two-and-a-half years) Alyssa Schock. By the time you read this, Schock’s Mrs. Montana pageant will have happened (July 14) and the results will be known.
“The pageant was something we could do together as sisters,” notes Agustin, acknowledging that the two are extremely close and that adversity in youth only made their bond tighter.
As children, Agustin and Schock were being raised by their single mom in Montana when the three set out for the tropics. Once in Hilo, Mom tried to better their lives by enrolling in college, but with two young children in tow and no steady income, she quickly found herself struggling to make ends meet. At the age of 6, Jaci and family found themselves living on the beach out of a Volkswagen van for a few months.
“I don’t look back on that time as negative,” says Agustin. “Even when we were living it, it was never a ‘poor me’ kind of thing. I had my sister with me and my mom, so it wasn’t bad.
“We were on food stamps, and I knew we were poor. I remember thinking my mom was probably hungry at times, so I would take the school lunch, put it in my pocket and save it for her.”
There was a place where Agustin did feel the repercussions of being poor, and that was in the classroom. Her teachers demoted her to the slower classes based simply on her impoverished living situation. But that didn’t slow the ambitious and sunny girl down.
“We were homeless at the beach - we’d wake up and go swimming. It was great,” says Agustin. “I always had a positive attitude, even at a young age. That’s what has kept me moving forward. I like to use that experience to show the less fortunate that even though you’re coming from there, you can always become better. Don’t let that define who you are. Coming from a lower-income population myself, I wanted to perpetuate health in the lower-income populations in Hawaii.”
Agustin originally entered UH-Hilo as a political science major to become an advocate for children, but switched to the field of education for a more hands-on approach. In her current role running the Y’s Food and Fun program for after-school students in the A+ program, she services more than 7,000 children on Oahu. Agustin creates curricula, researches recipes and teaches the staff what they need to know to translate the information in a way that keiki can catch on easily and have fun in the process. She’s also the one who gathers, sorts and delivers the fruits, vegetables, blenders and other program paraphernalia to the 38 sites, with more sites on the agenda for the near future.
“We want the upcoming generation of children to be healthy and not have diabetes or cancer,” says Agustin.
“Teaching them about food and fun is important, not just health. With children, when you say it’s healthy, they’re like, ah man, I don’t want to eat it. That’s why Food and Fun is working, because it has a ‘fun’ aspect to it,” she says, while guiding keiki at the Nuuanu YMCA as they fill ice cream cones with hunks of strawberries, mangos and pineapple that they’ve chopped themselves.
If there’s a Mrs., there’s got to be a Mr. The man behind the beauty is Chad, a police officer who also is committed to helping others. As a military reservist, he works with the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. The two met while in college in Hilo, where Chad was pursuing a degree in physical education before he entered the military and later joined the police department.
“We met at a party,” says Agustin, describing their unusual first encounter. “He actually rescued me during a pepper spray incident. I have asthma, and I couldn’t breathe, so the first time I ever met him, I was gasping for breath. He was the one who called the ambulance and got me help.”
The breathless damsel and her strapping knight now live in Aiea and have a son, C.J., age 2. Agustin counts chasing after the rambunctious boy as part of her daily workout regimen, which includes resistance training and Zumba classes – all at the Y, of course! The Mrs. program consists of swimsuit, gown and interview segments, along with a state costume portion that’s not judged. Agustin has a Princess Kaiulani-style dress with an elegant high neck and long sleeves in mind.
Along the way, Agustin says it’s Team Jaci at the Y and her family who’ve been steadily supporting her pursuit of the crown and all the responsibility that comes with it. Now, she says, as long as she doesn’t blunder the interview question, she’ll be OK. Having her sister possibly competing at her side will only make for “a good showdown at the finish line,” she notes, as the two have always had a competitive streak.
“The most fun part of the pageant process has been meeting all kinds of people,” says Agustin. “I’m a bit of an introvert by nature, but the pageant has opened me up to meet people outside of my comfort zone. And then I just fall in love with them.”
And the world falling in love with Agustin could mean carrying her through Mrs. America to Mrs. World.
Join Agustin Aug. 16, 6-9 p.m. at Third Fridays Kaimuki for a fashion show sneak preview of the garments she will wear at the Mrs. America pageant. To purchase a $25 VIP Mrs. Hawaii Pass offering exclusive Third Fridays discounts, go to mrshawaii2013.eventbrite.com. To donate, or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 386-8608. Follow Agustin’s journey at facebook.com/MrsHawaii2013.