7 November 2023

Giving back to their beloved city: School friends proud to claim Miss Wagga Wagga titles

| Chris Roe
Join the conversation
two young women as pageant winners

Miss Wagga Wagga 2024 Velika Hayes and Community Princess Jess Barclay. Photo: Supplied.

It’s been a whirlwind few days for lifelong friends Velika Hayes and Jess Barclay after being named Miss Wagga Wagga and Community Princess respectively for 2024 at the quest’s crowning ceremony on Saturday evening (4 November).

Velika said she was so excited to see Jess named Community Princess that it took a few moments to realise that her own name had been called.

“It was such a big surprise,” she said with a laugh.

“I was still in shock from Jess getting Community Princess and I was so proud of her that I forgot that there was even another title coming up, so it took me a few beats to realise!

“But I’m very honoured to get the title of Miss Wagga Wagga.”

man with pageant participants

Mikayla Argus Anderson, Caitlin Burnett, Jess Barclay, Michael McCormack MP, Velika Hayes, Jessica Cousley and Salwa Sulaiman. Photo: Supplied.

Both Velika and Jess are Wagga born and bred and graduated from Kildare Catholic College in 2020.

“If you had told 14-year-old Velika and I that we would be Miss Wagga Wagga titleholders in 2024, it would be like a dream,” said Jess, explaining that they each had signed up separately for the quest.

“It was when I arrived for our first personal and professional development session at Mr Lawrence [cafe] that I saw Velika’s car outside and I was thinking, oh my gosh, what is she doing here?

“So I sent a message and was like, ‘Are you here for Miss Wagga Wagga?’ And then it all kicked off from there.”

READ ALSO Rainbow bee-eaters are summer sky-jewels

It has been a busy year of balancing life and work with development opportunities and quest events raising money for local charities and supporting community events.

“It has been a lot, but it’s so rewarding,” said Jess.

“Just going to bed each night knowing that we are making a difference in the lives of our beneficiaries is the best feeling in the world. It’s unexplainable, really.”

Velika was inspired to enter the quest by a family tragedy and said that being able to give back to charities such as Country Hope and Ronald McDonald House, which supported her family, was the highlight.

“Visiting the beneficiaries was probably my favourite thing about the quest,” the newly crowned Miss Wagga Wagga said.

“It was great to see where the money was going and how much they really needed it.”

quest entrants

It’s been a busy year for Miss Wagga Wagga Quest entrants Mikayla Argus Anderson, Jess Barclay, Velika Hayes, Jessica Cousley, Salwa Sulaiman and Caitlin Burnett. Photo: Supplied.

Velika is studying to be a nurse and works in the disability sector with local NDIS provider New Directions Disability Services.

“I love that I will get to represent my city where I’ve lived my whole life, so it’s such an honour to be able to represent a place so close to my heart and to give back,” she said.

Both titleholders said they had grown in confidence and had developed new skills in public speaking and event organising.

READ ALSO New opportunities available for local artists at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery

Jess added that this had already had a positive impact on her career in real estate.

“‘I’ve probably learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined,” she explained.

“Just knowing what I am actually capable of when I put my fears aside and knowing that I do have the ability to, for example, get up in front of 200 people and make a speech. I would have never, ever expected that!

“Boosting my confidence then enabled me to get a job promotion to become a sales associate to our agent at Raine and Horne.”

The newly crowned Miss Wagga Wagga and Community Princess are looking forward to an equally busy 2024.

“It will be amazing just making a difference in our community and attending all of the events that we’ve been invited to already, as well as making so many more memories with Velika,” said Jess.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.