​​From Crowns to Causes: A Holistic Journey in Advocacy and Sustainability

By Karlee Smart, Mrs USA Earth Eco 2024

Pageantry has been an enriching journey, providing me with incredible opportunities to connect within a diverse network of individuals. With both my titles, Mrs. New Jersey USA Earth 2023 and Mrs. USA Earth Eco 2024, my commitment has centered around advocating for holistic health and well-being, particularly focusing on our military, veterans, and their families. My initiative, #HolisticallyHealingHeroes, was created from love I have for my own family.  It is through the subsequent challenges in finding alternative therapies tailored to our veteran community that I formed this initiative and began working with organizations that assist in holistic health. 

Being a part of the Mrs. USA Earth organization, I actively contribute to empowering, celebrating, and showcasing the beauty, intellect, and accomplishments of married women across the United States. In alignment with the organization’s mission and fueled by my personal dedication, I have become an advocate for integrating environmental sustainability into everyday life. I leverage my platform to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues and promote eco-friendly practices, although centered for the military and veteran community, I am expanding my reach to future generations by actively engaging with classrooms and school-aged individuals in partnership with local scouts.

My involvement with organizations supporting our military and veterans has broadened the impact I have been able to make. Fostering change and collectively addressing nature’s challenges through ICONIC USA as well as my own passion for #HolisticallyHealingHeroes, I have assisted dozens of military and veteran families as well as hundreds of veterans simply by sharing my passions for overcoming nature collectively. Emphasizing the importance of embedding sustainability into daily routines, as well as highlighting the use of nature as medicine. I strive to exemplify its inherent value and encourage positive environmental practices for a brighter future. 

Integrating my passions for eco-friendly activities for our military and veteran community has allowed me to create a ripple effect, transforming grassroots efforts into substantial change. Collaborating with families, I teach mindfulness techniques, incorporating nature immersion to correlate with sustainable activities. Through organic gardening, I impart grounding techniques, using nature as a therapeutic medium while also showcasing sustainability in growing your own food. In partnership with Green Schools Rock, we are expanding into the classrooms and scouting organizations by delving into sustainable gardening, and teaching students how they can produce their own food at home while infusing STEM and sustainability in these activities. Students are shown how they can repurpose items such as cardboard egg crates or cardboard milk containers in creating their own starter seed beds – all without purchasing items from the store or using plastic seed containers.  By taking seeds from their own organic produce we are teaching students how to propagate with produce families already have on hand – another cost effective and sustainable way to grow your own food sources. 

Expanding the spectrum of sustainable endeavors, I have extended my outreach to include thrifting and styling outfits with students. As a former Fashion Marketing and Fashion Merchandising teacher, my students thoroughly enjoyed upcycling challenges and styling outfits during swaps with classmates. Thrifting not only promotes a circular fashion economy by reusing clothing items but also fosters creativity and personal expression. Working with students on sustainable fashion initiatives allows me to emphasize the environmental impact of clothing consumption and the significance of making eco-conscious choices. Partnering with organizations such as Helpsy and re/make Our World, I have been able to turn key statistics and demonstrate the vital need for sustainable fashion. In addition, through the activity of sewing, individuals are able to practice mindful techniques.  Keeping your hands busy yet with purpose is another way we foster the relaxation response. Through these activities, we not only reduce waste but also contribute to the overall well-being of our health and our planet.

In addition to these hands-on projects, mindfulness in nature remains a cornerstone of my platform. It is one of the simplest, most sustainable, and free methods to engage in the relaxation response. Whether standing outside in the sun, eyes closed, feeling the warmth on the skin, enjoying the sounds of birds and aromas from flowers, this technique can be practiced anywhere. Being present in nature, outside your home, at the beach or in a local park, within minutes, the body feels calmer, and a sense of relief washes over. This relaxation response fills your wellness battery.

My journey through pageantry seamlessly weaves together advocacy for holistic health, support for the military and veteran community, with a passion for environmental sustainability. I once read that the best six doctors are Sunshine, Water, Eating Healthy, Rest, Air, Exercise – Nature is truly the best medicine and it is through pageantry I have been able to share this message with thousands. Being committed to making sustainability a tangible and integrated part of everyday life, inspiring positive change and overcoming nature’s issues collectively – for both individuals and the planet.

Monmouth County native, Karlee Smart, is the reigning Mrs USA Earth Eco 2024.  She is serving as an ambassador for ICONIC USA which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that promotes environmental literacy and inspires collective community changes to help save our planet. Karlee uses her voice to raise awareness for holistic wellness primarily focusing on alternative therapies to our military and veteran community through her #holisticallyhealingheroes initiative. Working with organizations such as K9s for Warriors and Stars for Troops Karlee teaches others that a local impact can ripple into an environmental change. Karlee currently resides in Oakhurst, NJ with her US Navy Veteran husband and two children, where she works as a real estate specialist. Follow her journey as well as request an appearance or to work with your organization by reaching out on Instagram @mrsusaeartheco.

Photo credit:  Aidart