Brooke Vu, a recent graduate of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, takes a leading role in service to her community using the platform she developed from her time participating in scholarship pageants.
Born and raised in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Brooke attended Socastee High School and stayed active in show choir and Socastee’s International Baccalaureate program. She maintained her volunteerism during that time with her involvement in service clubs, including National Honor Society and Beta Club.
After graduating and entering Coastal Carolina in 2015, Brooke began her involvement in the Rotaract Club, a program of Rotary International that provides students ages 18 to 30 the opportunity to participate in service projects.
“I had lots of volunteer opportunities and did many different service projects during my time in high school, so I think that’s what began my interest in Rotaract at Coastal Carolina,” she said. “Rotaract is essentially the college level of the Rotary Club, which is also a service organization, but is made up of people who already work and are out of school. Rotary helps to fund a lot of the service efforts of the Rotaract. After I graduated from Coastal, I was inducted into Rotary.”
Brooke will soon become president of the Rotary Club in her area, the Carolina Forest Sunrise Rotary Club, for the upcoming year, making her the youngest president in the Club’s history.
DEVELOPING HER SERVICE
Brooke said much of her drive to serve and volunteer stemmed from her participation in the Girl Scouts at an early age.
“I started Girl Scouts at about five years old and did it every day after school. I really think that’s where my service blossomed, because I was given the opportunity to take part in so many different projects. There were projects on any topic. We would do beach cleanups and water drives and all sorts of things. That’s where the start of my story is,” she said.
Brooke said the first time she competed for Miss South Carolina in 2014, her platform was based on hunger awareness. She continues to support that cause. She said a service project she completed with the Girl Scouts increased her interest in one of the first issues she felt passionate about. Brooke also said an experience she watched her friend go through helped her realize the importance of raising hunger awareness.
“My best friend lost a parent in high school, and it really opened my eyes to people who go through different traumatic experiences throughout their life and how they might need help financially,” she said. “In high school I couldn’t necessarily give her money to help her family, even though they had lost half of their income and were really struggling. During those times, people often give casseroles and other types of food to the family, and I think that’s a good way to connect with people — through food. So I set up a food pantry at our school for people who suffer hardships, whether they lost their family member or their house to a fire or a flood or whatever else. Even if you get on government benefits, that all takes time to kick in, so it needs to be a kind of immediate thing where you can be provided with food. That’s what inspired me to get involved in making hunger awareness my platform, because I wanted kids my own age to not have to worry about what they’re going to eat tomorrow.”
Brooke said the Carolina Forest Sunrise Rotary Club is very involved in helping to fight hunger.
“Each Friday with the Carolina Forest Rotary, we package over 250 meals for kids to take home for the weekends. One child told me that he has to hide his snacks because his family will take them, because that’s just the way they live. It’s kids like this that show me the true issue hunger is, the kids that don’t have anything and are still trying to go to school. They’re trying to make good grades but when they have all of these other issues to worry about, it rarely happens where that kid is going to succeed and be valedictorian. There are just too many challenges for them.”
“THE FUTURE IS GREEN”
Since 2014, Brooke has competed for Miss South Carolina six times, and is scheduled to compete a seventh time. Over that time, Brooke has developed her platform based around conservation and has called it “The Future is Green.”
“My platform is about spreading awareness of the harm we do to the environment and what can be done to live a more sustainable life,” she said. “I just try to give ideas for different items that you can use an alternative for. Instead of using plastic water bottles you can use a reusable one every day. It’s little things that will be cost-saving but also help the environment. I think it does have a big impact once you get the bug for ‘What else can I change in my day-to-day life?’ That’s the idea behind it. There’s so many statistics you can look up and throw out and sound so scientific but it is not really about that. It’s more that you changed one action and it’s making this big difference. If you think about how much waste you go through in a day, a week, a year … it accumulates to almost unfathomable numbers.”
A marine science major, Brooke said her time at Coastal Carolina University illuminated the issue of conservation and sustainability to her, particularly the impact on sea life.
“Coastal Carolina began much of my interest in conservation. Right now, every freshman who goes to Coastal has to take an Introduction to Marine Science class. There they learn about the microplastics in the water and the pollution humans are causing. They’re learning things that most people don’t even think about, and it’s really eye-opening to the class. I don’t know of another university that does that, where every student in attendance has to go to that class and see what their impact is. It’s really changing people’s minds. That definitely goes along with my platform, which is awareness and bringing discussion to the table. If you’re not talking about the problem, there’s no way you can solve it,” she said.
Brooke said her interest in conservation and marine science came not only from her time at Coastal, but started at a very early age.
“I’ve definitely been thinking about the ocean since I was young. Growing up here, seeing the trash on the beach and cleaning it up since I was little has shown me the importance of protecting our ocean. That was an issue I saw, where I don’t think a lot of people that live in other places would see it. Living here on the Grand Strand definitely influenced me to be passionate about conservation,” she said.
Brooke said that together, people have the power to make a much bigger impact on the issue of conservation than they often think.
“If everyone adopted a sustainable living routine, that would change the world,” she said. “Coca-Cola said that they make plastic bottles because people want plastic bottles. But if everyone chose not to buy that product, then they would alter their own manufacturing process. They would go back to their cans and glass bottles. Is drinking out of a plastic bottle that’s going to be around for 800 years really that important when you’re only going to be drinking out of it for five minutes? What impact do you want to leave? I think if enough people used sustainable products, then we could drive the whole economy in that direction. It really is up to us, the biggest group of people, the consumer, to choose those products.”
MESSAGES FOR OTHERS
Brooke, the current Miss North Charleston, said pageants have played a very important role in her ability to grow her platform and be able to carry out large service projects.
“I use pageants as a springboard to take part in service in my community,” she said. “Having a title gives me the opportunity to connect with so many individuals I never would have met otherwise. With pageants, I’ve been an advocate for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and I’ve gotten to go into the hospital and meet with the families. Some of these kids are facing life-threatening diseases and have had very traumatic experiences. So, most people don’t just get to walk into a hospital and talk to these people. After getting to raise all this money for the hospital, I’m then able to see the children I’m helping to save. It’s great to write a check and say that it’s going somewhere, but it’s different to actually meet the person you helped. Not many people get to do that. It wouldn’t have been possible without the Miss America Organization.”
Brooke also said there are many misconceptions surrounding pageants and explained how much goes on behind the scenes.
“There is so much service behind these pageants. A lot of people watch pageants on TV and they see a girl who has a dress and walks across a stage and gets a crown and that’s it. But in reality, it’s a service job and it’s a job every day. She’s not just Miss America on that night you see her on TV. She’s Miss America every single day. She has put in lots of philanthropic work to get there and is so much more than her crown. It’s kind of like the iceberg effect. There’s more under the water than what you see at first.”
Brooke said that, to her, any impact she makes while serving is enough to keep her motivated.
“These people that I’m helping, even if their lives only improved 0.0001%, that’s enough for me to keep doing it. Even if it barely made a difference, it made a difference enough for me to keep doing it. If more people took on that attitude I think much more change would take place,” she said.
Brooke expressed the importance of working together in service and of helping others whenever the chance arises, no matter how big or how small the effort.
“A lot of people wonder what they have to do to give back,” she said. “If you’re a young person and you think to yourself, ‘I don’t have a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of resources. I don’t have a car.’ That’s okay. Find somebody who does. Find people who support what you support and network together. Work as a team. Start out small, but keep going. Keep at it. Even if it’s opening the door for someone or even just smiling at them, it’s the smallest things that really matter. Always take that opportunity.”