Two days after she won the title, Jillian Zucco of Mattapoisett is still trying to grasp the fact that she is the new Miss Massachusetts.
“It’s just so surreal. I am still in shock and it hasn’t really hit me yet that I’m going to Miss America,” she said. The pageant of pageants is taking place Sept. 10 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Competing as Miss Bristol County on Saturday, Zucco, 24, was crowned at the 78th annual Miss Massachusetts Scholarship Pageant at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester. She was one of 21 contestants.
After being first runner-up for the last two years, Zucco was determined to be first, especially because she was at risk of aging out of the competition. In total, this weekend marked her fifth time competing.
“I’m more in tune with myself and I’m more comfortable with who I am,” Zucco said, since graduating magna cum laude from UMass Dartmouth last year with a bachelor of science degree in nursing and becoming a registered nurse.
“It really sunk in that you have to be unapologetically yourself,” she added.
As a result of the win, she was awarded a $12,000 scholarship. In addition, she received a few more scholarships of more than $200, one being a $250 scholarship as the winner of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Miracle Maker Award.
This year, Zucco raised more than $5,000 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) / Boston Children’s Hospital. Since 2013, she’s raised nearly $25,000 for CMNH.
As Miss Massachusetts, Zucco will highlight her platform, “Choose a Cause, Make a Difference” and promote CMNH, the national platform of the Miss America Organization.
Her platform is about “spreading the spirit of volunteerism,” she said in a phone interview late Monday afternoon. “My goal is to inspire people to serve and to educate the public about the variety of volunteer opportunities there are because there really is something for every one individual talent and interest.”
Rather than donating blood, she’ll host a blood drive and rather than donating money to a cause she cares about, she’ll host a fundraiser, maintaining “The more people who help, the more individuals are impacted.”
The new title means a busy schedule for Zucco. Monday she was off to fill out Miss America paperwork with the Miss Massachusetts executive director. She is slated to appear in the Fourth of July Parade in Freetown. On Wednesday, she has an interview with Fun 107 and Thursday has a Miss America photo shoot.
At the end of the month, she plans to attend a Miss America orientation in Orlando, Florida, and then will likely leave for the pageant in Atlantic City in the last week of August, she said. In the midst of that, she’ll continue her fundraising and blood drive efforts for CMNH/Boston Children’s Hospital, which has a general blood shortage, she said.
Zucco has an extensive resume. She was recently recognized by the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce for averaging more than 750 hours of community service per year, which includes organizing annual blood drives, food drives and the annual “Miss Inspirational” program Zucco created, similar to a pageant, to provide a platform for girls and young women with special needs and disabilities.
She works with the United Way of Greater New Bedford as a member of the planning committee for the Hunger Heroes project and as a volunteer at functions throughout the year. She’s the co-director of the Showstoppers community-service singing troupe. She’s also a volunteer at the Share the Harvest Community Farm in Dartmouth and GiftsToGive in Acushnet.
There are other SouthCoast winners. Semi-finalists received a $400 scholarship and include Aubrie Przybysz of Boston, Miss Lakeville, who also received the $250 Dr. Robert Harney Preliminary Swimsuit Award and Molly Caron of Raynham, Miss Middleboro.
Sara Achorn of Rochester, Miss Plymouth County, received a $200 scholarship as the most talented non-finalist.
Olivia Marques of New Bedford, Miss New Bedford, and Lyndsey Littlefield of East Taunton, Miss South Coast, each won a $100 scholarship.
Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT