This year, the 15th annual Mr. Whitman pageant—organized by the women of Kappa Kappa Gamma—raised a record-breaking amount to support the creation of a new mental health professional position for The Health Center at Walla Walla's Lincoln High School.
"This donation will go a long way to providing medical and mental health support for our Lincoln students," said Marci Knauft, principal of Lincoln and a member of the board of directors for The Health Center. "It's important for us to meet students where they are and to provide for their needs."
In the months leading up to the pageant finale, Mr. Whitman organizers hosted a silent auction, bake sale and other fundraising events in addition to soliciting donations through social media. Combined with ticket sales, their efforts generated $50,594. As the candidate who raised the largest amount of money, Zach Hartzell '17 was crowned the Mr. Whitman winner during the finale.
"When I was approached last spring and asked if I would like to participate, I already knew that I wanted to do it," said Hartzell, a psychology major from San Francisco and member of Phi Delta Theta.
"I'm someone who enjoys some friendly competition as well as a good show. However, after learning that the money would go toward providing mental health care for students at Lincoln High School, I became increasingly motivated to make the biggest difference I could."
As Walla Walla's only alternative high school, Lincoln caters to a primarily low-income student population; behavioral issues, truancy and substance abuse are all prevalent, although the school has drastically improved outcomes in recent years, thanks to its model of trauma-informed teaching. Now, about 70 percent of Lincoln students graduate, up from less than 15 percent in 2008. The school was also the subject of acclaimed documentary Paper Tigers, released in 2015.
Whitman has a long-standing history of partnering with Lincoln and The Health Center, with many students and alumni having served in the clinic or classroom through AmeriCorps. Kappa selected The Health Center as this year's Mr. Whitman beneficiary after a lengthy application process that prioritized strengthening ties with the Walla Walla community.
Philanthropy chair Meghan Ash '17 credits the commitment to community engagement as what made this year's Mr. Whitman so successful.
"We didn't just want to hand over a check; we wanted to incorporate community service and a relationship with the beneficiary," she said. "It was amazing to see our goal materialize and Kappas push this Mr. Whitman into both a fundraiser and a community service event."
Later this spring, women from Kappa Kappa Gamma will also partner with Lincoln to help the high schoolers get ready for prom, as one of the biggest hurdles can be finding and buying dresses for the Lincoln students.
Since it started in 2002, Mr. Whitman has brought in close to a quarter of a million dollars for a wide array of charitable causes both locally and around the world. The offbeat "male beauty pageant" pits seven or eight Greek and independent Whitties against each other for a playful sendup of traditional gender norms. The show culminates in a giant check being presented to the group's charity of choice.
"Having engaged in counseling and other forms of mental health care throughout my adolescence, I felt a strong and personal connection to our cause," said Hartzell. "I am very proud to have been a part of this process and want to thank everyone who contributed."