TULSA - Miss Oklahoma 2016 Sarah Klein has a packed schedule since placing in the top 15 at Miss America in September.
The 24-year-old Tulsa native has been traveling the state and the nation, helping service men and women from deployment to employment.
Klein started working with veterans 11 years ago with a program called the Hugs Project, an Oklahoma-based non-profit organization that started in 2004. She helped gather, pack and send care packages to troops serving in the Middle East.
Klein said her commitment to troops became personal as she became a young woman.
"When my friends started being deployed to Afghanistan, it became real to me," Klein said, "to send them pieces of home, to support them to write them letters."
In the last 15 years, Klein says she has collected 30,000 items and raised more than $150,000 for America's Armed Forces. She's also devoted countless hours to programs for veterans.
After graduating with a degree in elementary education from the University of Oklahoma in 2014, Klein attended cosmetology school in Los Angeles. That's where she got involved with Makeovers that Matter, a group that empowers women returning from military service. Klein used the skills she learned while training to become Miss Oklahoma - makeup artistry, interview techniques, fashion - to boost confidence in women who served in the military as they prepared to enter the workforce.
"Of course I'll never understand what they've been through," said Klein. "Helping them with job skills and interview training so they can transition back into the workforce is how I've been able to relate to them."
Klein says one of her most fulfilling moments with America's troops came on her recent Honor Flight with war veterans to Washington, D.C. She marveled at the congregation of heroes from so many wars as they took in the memorials and monuments that honor them.
Klein said, "It was an honor, truly to be on this flight with 72 Veterans who now have the opportunity to see the memorials of the wars they fought in."
She and the group watched the emotional moments a veteran placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"I felt so proud standing next to these amazing men and women who sacrificed for us," said Klein. "I'll never forget that trip."
Klein says her passion to serve troops will burn long after she passes along her crown to the next Miss Oklahoma in June of next year. She says she hopes she can encourage other young people to support those who sacrifice so much of their youth to keep America free.
"Let’s all find a way to relate, to encourage, and show gratitude to those who have chosen to fight for the freedom that you and i wake up with each morning."
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