Meet Haylee McCarthney, our fourth national pageant winner from Buford City Schools. Haylee is a fifth-grade student at Buford Senior Academy who is looking to empower others through her service initiatives.

In July, Haylee was crowned America’s Ideal Miss Preteen 2023. Photo courtesy of Kristina McCarthney.

The 10-year-old says, “Never give up on your dreams because one day they will come true.” 

She saw her dreams come true when she won the title of America’s Ideal Miss Preteen 2023 at the national pageant in July at the Avalon in Alpharetta after being the first runner-up and second runner-up in the previous two years’ competitions.  

Like the other four winners, Haylee got her start in pageantry in the Little Miss Buford Pageant when she was six years old. At that pageant in 2019, Haylee would win the crown at her very first pageant.

In 2019, Haylee won her very first pageant, the Little Miss Buford Pageant. Photo courtesy of Kristina McCarthney.

Being a national pageant queen provides many opportunities to influence others and the world around them. Each queen has their own initiatives they have that they work on throughout the entire year of their reign. Haylee’s initiative is #positivelybettertogether.

“(#positivelybettertogether is) my initiative empowering others to join in because together we make a bigger difference,” says Haylee.

Haylee sets a positive example of how people can get involved in their communities and make a difference. She collects and donates stuffed animals for foster children, makes sandwiches for those in need, makes sleeping mats for the homeless, teaches the importance of learning self-defense and more. Haylee completed 424 hours of community service last year. She has received three Gold Presidential Community Service Awards from the President of the United States and four National Community Service Awards from her parent pageant organization, America’s Ideal Miss.

Over 800 foster children in the north Georgia area received stuffed animals from S.A.F.E. Cuddles, Inc. this past holiday season. The organization was founded by Haylee and has since been picked up by people in other areas of the country. She plans on continuing to collect and gift stuffed animals this coming holiday season with hopes of reaching even more children in the foster care system.

Haylee collects stuffed animals to give to foster children in north Georgia through her organization, S.A.F.E. Cuddles, Inc. Photo courtesy of Kristina McCarthney.

Haylee works with her fellow pageant queens and friends to make sandwiches for people in need as part of the Sandwich Project. They have provided over 20,000 sandwiches to their own community and the project as a whole has provided over a million sandwiches to the homeless in Atlanta and the surrounding areas. 

Another community service project she works on with her friends benefits the homeless and the environment. For the Linked Together project, Haylee and others collect plastic grocery bags and repurpose them by using a weaving loom to turn them into sleeping mats for the homeless.

Haylee designed and gifted this seed packet as part of her Earth Day initiative. Photo courtesy of Kristina McCarthney.

Being out in nature is something that Haylee loves and another way she shows her love for the Earth is through Seeds for Kindness.

“I designed a flower seed packet to share with others throughout the world my love for the Earth and spreading kindness and compassion to others,” says Haylee. 

Haylee worked with the Bentley Seed Co. to produce the seed packets which were part of her Earth Day initiative this past April. The wildflower seed packets were given out to everyone Haylee would come across including her fellow pageant participants. 

Last November, she initiated a family fun “scavenger hunt” to provide Blessing Boxes for the holidays while encouraging families and friends to do it together while having fun” explains Haylee’s mother, Kristina McCarthney. The event benefitted the North Gwinnett Co-Op and had several major business sponsors involved including Top Golf, Bubba’s 33, The Complex, Stars & Strikes and more. The event is now in its third year and it will be held on October 22.

When Haylee was seven years old, she survived a kidnapping attempt and since then, she has worked hard to make sure that if something were to ever happen again she would be able to defend herself. She has been taking regular classes at the Dojo in Braselton and is well on her way to earning her black belt. Haylee wants others to learn about the importance of knowing self-defense and has turned what was a traumatic situation into one of empowerment which she is busy sharing with others through The Karate Queen Tour.

Haylee uses The Karate Queen Tour to empower others and teach them the importance of self-defense. Photo courtesy of Kristina McCarthney.

“I host workshops teaching others your voice is your biggest weapon, confidence, and self-defense,” says Haylee.

Community service is one of Haylee’s favorite aspects of pageantry but she also loves the chance to cheer for her friends, get dressed up and shine on the stage. 

She says. “The stage is my happy place where I can show off all of my personality!”

Her mother says, “As she has participated in pageants and various events through pageantry, she has been blessed to meet so many amazing role models and enhance her abilities to pave the way for a prosperous future.”

Haylee, as well as other pageant participants from Buford always have a “guaranteed Buford cheer section.” Kristina explains, “Buford believes go BIG or go home!!! Pageants are no different.”

“It takes a village to raise a kid these days and the Buford pageant family is no different,” says Kristina. “We are all ready to pour love into each child to make them the best version of themselves and provide them with a big heart of green and gold!”

Haylee is posing in the gardens of another historic Buford mansion, 375 East Main Street also known as the Bona Allen, Jr. home. Photo by Alicia Payne.

As busy as Haylee is, she always finds time to be the best little sister she can be to her older sisters, Kayla, 18 and Matisyn, 21. Her parents, Trevor and Kristina McCarthney own a 200-acre farm in south Georgia and it is one of Haylee’s favorite places. Her family laughs and says that when Haylee is around, the cows come running to her earning her the nickname of the “cow whisperer.” At the farm, Haylee lets loose and loves to get dirty playing with the animals, planting in her garden or riding four-wheelers.

Haylee started at Buford City Schools in the first grade and she has been working hard. She loves being a Wolf and is proud of being on the Honor Roll each year. 

Catch up with Haylee and see all the amazing things she is up to this year as America’s Ideal Miss Preteen 2023 on Instagram. For more information about the parent pageant organization that Haylee won her title with, visit their website

Featured photo: America’s Ideal Miss Preteen 2023, Haylee McCarthney loves representing her hometown of Buford while participating in pageants. She is seen here with the beautiful historic Bona Allen Mansion in the background. Photo by Alicia Payne.

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