Ashley Rae Klinger of Thompson, N.D., was crowned Mrs. International 2020 at a pageant held July 25 in Kingsport, Tenn.
Klinger will spend the next year as Mrs. International 2020 continuing her work in advocating for foster children and the need for foster care families in this country, she said. Ashley Rae and Andrew Klinger are adoptive and foster parents to four young children.
Ashley Rae Klinger won the Mrs. International 2020 title in a competition that drew 34 contestants from around the United States, competing in the categories including interview, fitness wear and evening gown.
In the final moments of the pageant, Klinger was joined on stage by her husband and was crowned before an audience excited to be part of this tradition that spans more than 35 years, according to a pageant news release.
The International Pageant system emphasizes community service, with half of each contestant’s competition score based on knowledge of and work with her platform. For Ashley and Andrew Klinger, whose lives have been impacted by infertility, that platform is rooted in a desire to encourage interest in adoption and foster parenting.
They welcomed their first foster child, Micah, into their home in December 2017.
In their prayers to start a family, “God placed a question on my heart that would change the course of our lives forever: Do you want to be pregnant, or do you want to be a parent?” she wrote in a recent issue of It’s Her Brand magazine. Reflecting on this question, “our prayers changed from ‘please help us conceive a child’ to ‘please help us become parents in whatever way you see fit.' ”
The Klingers launched the “Be a Foster Movement” last summer as a way to spread their message about the need for foster care through virtual programs and services, including panel discussions, support groups, one-on-one meetings with political leaders, a weekly book club and continuing education for foster parents, she said.
It is estimated that more than 437,000 U.S. children are in foster care, and there is an average of 200,000 licensed foster homes, 30% to 60% of which drop out each year.
Klinger works to support the national campaign, “FosterMore,” which exists to encourage employers to provide work environments that are supportive of foster parents.
“One of the biggest hesitations that we have when recruiting foster families is whether or not their employer is going to support them,” she said. “Our hope is to get more businesses, more employers on board who show their support of the foster community and foster families that are serving these children.”
Klinger also collaborates with Melissa Ernst of Thompson, Mrs. Red River Valley International 2020, and her platform, FOSTERing Positive Mentoring Relationships.
Impact of COVID
“Now, more than ever, as we all do our best to navigate the impact of COVID-19, it’s vital that we support some of the most vulnerable members of our society, those being children living in the foster care system,” Klinger said.
“There’s been a tremendous increase in child abuse, neglect and deaths due to recent times of quarantine. I believe we’re all called to love and serve children living in at-risk environments and in need of the comforts of a stable home and loving family. My new role as Mrs. International 2020 will help me amplify my mission locally, nationally and globally.”
Her mission as Mrs. International “is to help vulnerable children find the comforts of a real home and a loving family to help them cope with, find hope and succeed during these difficult times,” she said.
The Mrs. International Pageant, the only platform-based system, is owned and operated by International Pageants Inc., which also operates the Miss, Miss Teen and Miss Pre-Teen International competitions.
The Mrs. International competition showcases married women 21 to 56 years of age and includes their husbands as an integral part of the program.
"(It) celebrates the accomplishments of married women and the work we’re doing in our communities,” Klinger said. “We’re not just prancing around on stage in pretty gowns.”
Other contestants have developed a wide array of platforms, including those committed to addressing mental health issues and heart health, she said.
Klinger, 39, also holds the titles Mrs. North Dakota International 2016 and Mrs. Midwest International 2017 and was awarded the title of Mrs. Central States International in August 2019 through the International Pageant system, she said.
A 2002 UND graduate and cancer survivor, Klinger is founder of the Cope Well Foundation, which supports cancer patients and their families, and owner of It’s Her Brand Enterprises, a lifestyle, empowerment and development business, which includes coaching, public speaking and magazine publishing.