The new Miss Missouri is hitting the ground running. Hayley Leach said she’s excited to travel around the state and share her community service initiative – autism awareness and acceptance.

She is a Washington University law student and is a former public school teacher, who said her initiative hits home.

“I want to work on advocating for students and families, especially for those in the Individualized Education and 504 Plan process, and that was also inspired by my family’s own struggles because my brother, Matthew, has autism,” she said.

She has co-authored two books with her brother: “See the Able, Not the Label” and a children’s book, called “Frankie and Finn”.

Miss Missouri said competing in the program has been life changing. The 24-year-old has been competing in the Miss America organization in some way, shape, or form for the past 17 years. Leach said being a part of the organization has opened many doors for her.

“My public speaking skills and my interpersonal communication skills have been honed so wonderfully the last several years that I’ve been competing in this organization. And not only that, but my interview skills, too. I credit the Miss America organization for getting me into a program like WashU law,” she said.

There’s more behind the crown and the gown of the new Miss Missouri. Leach said she appreciates the organization’s focus on scholarships, community service opportunities, and education.

“I have met young women with doctorate degrees, pursuing master’s degrees, all forms of education who are truly the most astonishing and intelligent and community-minded young women that I have ever met in my entire life,” she said.

Miss Missouri has earned more than $14,000 in scholarship money as a result of winning the crown.

She will be competing in the Miss America scholarship contest at a later date.

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