You can take the girl out of Long Island, but if it’s Miss Long Island, she’ll just bring Long Island wherever she goes.
That’s what East Setauket native and 2011 Miss Long Island winner Marina Montes has done.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill School of Law in 2011, Montes decided to launch a pageant modeled after Miss Long Island in her new home in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
“I wanted to give girls here the same opportunities I was given by competing at Miss Long Island,” said Montes, 29.
Montes said she created the Miss Raleigh-Durham USA pageant under the mentorship of Smithtown’s Lori Thomas, the founder of Miss Long Island and a former pageant queen herself.
“She’s my life mentor,” Montes said.
Local pageants like Miss Long Island and Miss Raleigh-Durham not only give contestants a chance to win fully paid entries into the state-level Miss USA pageants, but Montes said they also provide a support system that includes local sponsorships, networking opportunities and guidance.
“We really are kind of like a family, a sisterhood,” Montes said of the current and former contestants.
Although she no longer competes, Montes said she still attends the Miss Long Island Pageant every year. She’ll be there Sunday when the 2015 Miss Long Island and Miss Long Island Teen hopefuls compete for the two crowns inside the Patchogue Theater.
Montes said that to win a Miss Long Island title a contestant needs to be “well-rounded ... and really determined to win.” She said it requires months of preparation.
“It’s a job interview and it’s for a demanding job,” she added.
While fulfilling her duties as Miss Long Island in 2011, which she said included interviews, event appearances, and charity work, Montes was also finishing up her second year of law school.
Montes practices law today, but only minimally, she said. Instead, she devotes her time to the Miss Raleigh-Durham Pageant, of which she is the executive director, and runs a swimming school on Long Island called urSWIM. Right now, she provides private swimming lessons in people’s backyard pools, but next year, she said she will be opening an indoor location in Smithtown.
A former competitive swimmer, Montes chose water safety as the cause she wanted to promote during her reign as Miss Long Island, speaking about the topic at schools around Long Island throughout 2011.
“There’s something about wearing a crown on your head that makes people listen to you,” she said. “It’s like having a microphone. That’s what Miss Long Island is all about.”