Esther Kang

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: Manhattan Beach resident wants to use Ms. United States platform for bigger things

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Manhattan Beach resident Sande Charles is Ms. California 2014

Manhattan Beach resident Sande Charles is Ms. California 2014

California seemed like the logical answer for Sande Charles.

The blond, affable Arizona native had just graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in biology. Though she intended eventually to proceed onto med school, she thought there was no better time to pursue her dream of becoming a sports television personality. So she packed up her bags and moved to Hollywood.

That was 20 years ago. Today, Charles lives in El Porto of Manhattan Beach with her English bulldog Cali (short for California) and works two jobs — by day, she is a production assistant in Tarzana for the Major League Baseball Network, and by night, a hostess for a restaurant in Manhattan Beach.

And as of last month, Charles is Ms. California 2014. On July 6, she will represent her adopted state at the Sphinx Club in Washington D.C., where she and 53 other contestants will vie for the title of Ms. United States. The Ms. United States title, which recognizes unmarried women over age 25, is under the umbrella of the Miss United States Organization, a separate entity from Miss America and Miss USA. The winner will claim cash prizes, products, wardrobes and endorsements and commit a one-year term of service.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she said, smiling with wide eyes. “In a good way.”

Pageant life is new to Charles, who grew up in an athletic family with five brothers. The opportunity fell onto her lap last year when a recruiter tapped her to interview for the title of Ms. Manhattan Beach. Initially she was hesitant — she was going through a challenging point in her life (“financial stuff, life in general … a low, low, low time”) but she decided she could wield the platform as a way to empower herself and others, she said. So she signed on in February, and as Ms. Manhattan Beach, took the Ms. California title in Santa Barbara among 20 other representatives.

Since then, her days have been filled with looking for sponsors and doing volunteer work with the three other California representatives — Miss, Junior Teen and Teen — on top of her regular jobs. One afternoon she could be reading to inner city kids in L.A., and on another be volunteering with the Amateur Baseball Development Group, an organization which helps financially-struggling children enroll in club baseball teams.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” she conceded. “It’s not just getting up on stage and walking on heels.”

Sande Charles being crowned Ms. California last month in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Sande Charles

Sande Charles being crowned Ms. California last month in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Sande Charles

In particular, she is working to champion a cause close to her heart in partnership with the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. Growing up, she said she didn’t realize how having an alcoholic parent would affect so many aspects of her life — her self-image, relationships, day-to-day routine. A “no-talk” policy kept the issue under wraps, and her family never sought outside support.

“You don’t know what to do as a kid,” she said. “I would say a lot of my friends growing up didn’t even know what I was dealing with.”

Her goal as an advocate for the organization is not to “throw a loved one under the bus” but rather help the kids and family members who are being affected by their loved one’s disease. She wants to bring much-needed dialogue to the table.

Charles — who has worked for ESPN, the L.A. Dodgers street team and the L.A. Kings as an Ice Girl — no longer believes med school is the path for her. She will continue to aspire to her original dream of becoming a recognized face in sports broadcast. Until then, she said she hopes to inspire and help younger generations — whether affected by alcoholism or not.

“There is a way to break the cycle,” she said. “You can do it. I’m living proof.”

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