Johnston, USA, January 2012
Source: JohnstonPatch Newsletter

Miss Iowa 2011-12, Jessica Pray, is using her personal story to draw attention to the national cause of blood donation in the USA.  Donor blood saved the life of her mother, Rita Pray, 19 years ago after giving birth to Jessica.

Jessica has held the story close to her heart for more than five years after first becoming involved in the Johnston High School Student Council blood drive.

"I hear a lot of people that they are afraid to give blood. I can sympathize with that. I consider myself more a volunteer than a donor."

Now in her role of Miss Iowa, Jessica has crossed her home state, Iowa in the Midvestern USA, advocating about the benefits of donating and volunteering for blood donations. She has attended blood drives, conferences and talked about her cause at the Miss America Pageant.

Jessica Pray was placed in the top 10 contestants and received a $16,000 in scholarships, while advocating for blood donation on a national level.

But her involvement in raising the number of blood donations started many years ago at a high school blood drive.

"I made this my cause because of my personal blood donation story," she said of her mother, who hemorrhaged after giving birth to Jessica. "She would have died from that without a (blood) donation."

Rita Pray said she’s had several blood transfusions in her lifetime, but the most precious was when she gave birth to Jessica.

Jessica first heard her mother’s story when she began to show interest in blood donation during her sophomore year of high school.

“One of her grandmas had transfusions and her great-grandma, so it was talked about,” Rita said. “It was kind of like she thought, ‘wow that’s really cool that I’m involved’.”

Jessica worked that first year to turn around the school’s blood drive.

"It was kind of a failure before and I made it my goal to have a high number of donations,” Jessica said.

Chris Beguhn, student council sponsor, said Jessica’s work parlayed into a successful drive.

“Jessica did a great job of assessing what worked and what didn’t,” Beguhn said. “She implemented improvements. She definitely helped build a format for the sign-up process of our blood drive. We continue to use her ideas because they are successful.”

After hearing her mom’s story Jessica believed in the need for blood donors and began volunteering at LifeServe Blood Center.

Christine Hayes, Vice-president of communications for LifeServe, said Jessica's involvement with the high school blood drive was just a jumping-off point.

"She sought us out to be a regular volunteer," Hayes said. "She committed to volunteering several hours a week or month depending on her schedule."

From there, Jessica's connection with the cause continued to grow.

When she decided to become involved with the Miss America organization a year ago, Jessica knew her work with blood donations would be a good fit.

"It (joining Miss America) was a way to share my voice and talent of singing, that's what I study at the University of Iowa," Jessica said. "When I found out about the community service portion, I wanted it to be blood donation."

In June og 2011, Jessica was crowned Miss Iowa, so she took the year off from school to focus on her duties.

"Jessica is a phenomenal spokesperson, it was nice to see someone competing in a pageant choose a platform she was already involved with," Hayes said. "We really could not have asked for a better spokesperson."

Jessica, who also advocates for the DeGowin Blood Center in Iowa City and the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Davenport, has spoken on behalf of the centers, handed out fliers, attended parades and talked with prospective donors to continue raising awareness.

A recent blood drive in the East Village in Des Moines drew the best turnout the center has ever had, Hayes said.

"We've certainly gotten a lot of interest from young girls that want to see her and have a picture," Hayes said. "I think that is one of the messages that she's been able to pass along, it's important to donate, but not everyone can."

When her Miss stint is over, Jessica Pray will continue to support blood donations.

"I'll be a lifelong volunteer,” she said.