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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Ms. America Julie Harman laughs while putting on her crown in Midvale Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. The original winner of the 2016 pageant, Amanda Wamunyima, relinquished her title recently.

MIDVALE — With packed bags and a loaded car, Ms. Utah Julie Harman was halfway home from the Ms. America Pageant in California when she was offered the role of Ms. America 2016.

Amanda Wamunyima relinquished her title as Ms. America after discovering a medical condition that would leave her bedridden for months, said Susan Jeske, pageant CEO.

After hearing the news, Harman, originally first runner-up, headed back to Brea, California, for photo shoots and gown fittings. She was officially announced as Ms. America 2016 on Sept. 12 on the pageant webpage.

Harman, 35, of Midvale, said the most exciting part will be carrying her platform of self-reliance to the nation.

According to Jeske, the Ms. America pageant offers "a crown with a purpose" to single, divorced, married or widowed women ages 26 and older. Unlike other pageants, the prize package is not scholarship but recognition that enables the winner to promote a cause.

"Our nation is pretty co-dependent, and the opposite of co-dependency is self-reliance," Harman said. "The floods happening in southern Utah and all that's going on in our nation with natural disasters is major news, and being prepared is something every single person needs to become."

Harman said she will spread her message of self-reliance through in-person meetings, videos, news conferences and charity events. She breaks personal preparedness into five points: act responsibly, commit to a plan, decide and deploy, and encourage others.

Harman said she had a taste of self-reliance as a young, married BYU-Hawaii student, but that her real passion for personal preparedness came seven years ago after her divorce when she felt overwhelmed with her personal responsibilities.

"I came from a husband that was making a lot of money to me making nothing really," she said. "I realized I had only myself to rely on, and that I needed to help my children."

Her platform emphasizes preparing for emergencies and other calamities before they occur and knowing where to turn when challenges do emerge.

Harman said she will be a personal preparedness intermediary for the public and the groups she designated as the "five areas of community:" businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, political leaders, and service providers.

Viewing the fire department as the "heart of community," Harman started her platform by going on ride-alongs with firefighters and then distributing the information she learned to community members.

Desmond Johnson, Unified Fire Authority paramedic, said campaigns like Harman's are important because many emergencies are preventable or at least helped by proactive measures of the public.

"There are only four to eight of us at a fire station at a time, and we can't be everywhere at once," Johnson said. "If people have some view of what is going to happen, whether it is small-scale or large-scale, it won't be complete chaos."

Harman will be voicing her cause at the Fashion Place Mall on Tuesday with Dress for Success, a nonprofit whose vision is to offer women long-lasting solutions to poverty. Harman said the event will be specifically powerful because Dress for Success offers the help toward self-sustainability that she needed but couldn't find when she was first a single mom.

Harman's official crowning ceremony will be in Salt Lake City on Sept. 29. More details on Harman's platform and crowning will be posted on her Facebook page, Ms. America 2016 Julie Elizabeth Harman.

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