As a young girl, Penny Ruth Njoroge never dreamed of competing in a pageant. Growing up in Kenya, where only male children attended school, her greatest desire was to get an education.
And last year, on the third anniversary of her American citizenship, Njoroge competed in the Ms. Senior Alabama pageant and received awards for First Runner Up, Miss Congeniality and People’s Choice.
Njoroge earned a doctorate in clinical Christian counseling at the age of 62, and decided to enter the pageant, she said, to inspire other seniors “not to quit on life.”
“Ms. Senior Alabama is not just about a pretty face, but mostly about beautiful and inspiring stories that build, encourage and empower others,” Njoroge said.
Her story is one of hardship, but also victory — overcoming domestic violence, divorce and poverty.
As the granddaughter of a clan chief who forbade educating girls, she and her family were shamed and then banned from their village because of her pleas to attend school.
After that, they struggled for survival in the slums of Nairobi, but she and her nine siblings all went on to graduate from high school.
As a young woman, her marriage seemed perfect from the outside. No one knew what she was too ashamed to tell — she was beaten every day, battled severe depression and had twice attempted suicide.
“When I attempted suicide and [lived] the second time, I knew God had a reason for this,” Njoroge reflected.
“That is when I woke up to the realization that my life was not just about me, and then I knew I had to use my own experiences to encourage somebody else.”
That’s when her community work with the Christian organization Servants in Faith and Technology opened doors for Njoroge’s immigration to America.
Today, 74-year-old Njoroge shares a message of hope. Through speaking opportunities and also in her own Christian counseling practice, Angel Counseling Services in Birmingham, she works to unmask mental illness and help hurting people discover the God who heals.
“Let us look beyond our pain because there is a better life out there,” she tells clients.
“That is the only reason why God has kept us through the pain, through the scars, through the struggles — so that we can be a vibrant illustration for others.”
Similar to Njoroge, Cindy Dixon, Ms. Senior Alabama 2020, also hadn’t planned on entering a pageant. The high school teacher recalls laughing when a student suggested she should compete at almost 60 years of age.
But on a missions trip to Tanzania, she celebrated her 60th birthday, and the people there “marveled” at her “advanced age.”
On the flight home, Dixon considered the blessings of her life and reflected on all the things she had promised to do but had never done. Pageants came back to her mind.
At Tuscaloosa County’s GRAD Academy, Dixon works with high school students who have committed class-three offenses like assaulting a teacher or selling drugs. Competing in the pageant became an opportunity, she said, to teach her students the value of making good choices.
“[Students] can’t believe that I’m as old as I am because their grandparents are younger than me, but they look older,” Dixon said. “But when we talk about it, I say: ‘Well, it’s possible that it’s genetic. But it’s also possible that it’s [positive] life choices.’”
Dixon tells students about her faith in Christ and uses Bible stories and literature to help students see the impact of their own life choices.
Dixon’s missions experiences also provide teachable moments, she said.
“They are fascinated [about] the work that I do in Tanzania,” she explained. “They don’t understand why [Tanzanians] want to hear about Jesus so much.”
As a volunteer with the fresh water well drilling ministry Bucket By Bucket, Dixon leads seminars for women who sometimes walk for miles to hear about Christ. Bucket By Bucket enables Dixon to help little girls, like Njoroge, receive an education by placing wells on elementary school property so all children can attend school, then help each other carry water home.
Dixon uses her platform as Ms. Senior Alabama 2020 to raise awareness of the ministry’s work and the need for clean water. Speaking publicly as the pageant’s reigning “queen” has given her opportunities to mentor and encourage other women, she added.
“It has built my confidence that I can talk about [Bucket By Bucket]. It’s opened up doors for me and also helped me have a sisterhood. Everyone is literally a winner just by stepping out on that stage,” Dixon said.
Ms. Senior Alabama 2021 is scheduled Aug. 27–28 at Springville Camp and Conference Center. No experience is needed and coaching is provided.