By Keysha Drexel
Auburn University’s homecoming week may have come and gone, but the Vestavia Hills native named Miss Homecoming 2014 isn’t resting on her newly-crowned laurels.
Francie Harris, who raised more than $6,000 during Auburn’s homecoming week for a pediatric cancer organization started by another Auburn student and Over the Mountain native, said she is making plans on how to raise even more money for the cause.
Francie, 21, was nominated for the 2014 Homecoming Court at Auburn University and ran on the platform of raising money for Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, a nonprofit organization started by Auburn freshman and Hoover native Kayla Perry, who is battling a rare form of pediatric cancer.
“The really wonderful thing about winning (Miss Homecoming 2014) is that now, I will be able to raise donations for Open Hands Overflowing Hearts throughout my senior year,” said Francie, who is studying to become a child life specialist at a pediatric hospital.
After being nominated for the AU Homecoming Court, Francie and the other candidates went through a series of interviews until five final candidates were selected.
“When you’re nominated, you have to turn in a platform, so immediately I knew that mine would be related to pediatric cancer,” she said.
Francie said she has been following Perry’s blog about her battle with pediatric cancer for a while and knew about her work to raise awareness and money to fund research for pediatric cancer through Open Hands Overflowing Hearts.
“I wanted to do something that would raise awareness about the amazing things Kayla is doing and to share her story with the other students here at Auburn,” Francie said. “I want her to feel the support of her Auburn family.”
Francie said she also wanted to give other Auburn University students who have been affected by cancer the opportunity to share their stories.
“One of my favorite memories from homecoming week was a candlelight ceremony we had with Kayla and another student who is a leukemia survivor,” she said. “It was really amazing, and it was a chance to show that we care.”
Throughout homecoming week, Francie organized several events, including a bake sale, T-shirt sale and frozen yogurt benefit to reach her initial goal of raising $5,000 for Open Hands Overflowing Hearts.
“Within four days, we had met the goal and the donations just kept coming in, and I felt like no matter what happened after that, I had already won,” she said.
Francie said she was so focused on how quickly the donations were coming in for Open Hands Overflowing Hearts that when it was time to take the field for the homecoming ceremony at Jordan-Hare Stadium Sept. 27, she was almost surprised to hear her name called as the new Miss Homecoming.
“I wasn’t expecting to win so that made the whole thing a little surreal, but it was an amazing moment,” she said.
What made the moment even more special, Francie said, was when she was escorted onto the field by her father, Wayne.
Wayne was an Auburn University cheerleader from 1984-1987. His daughter is following in his footsteps as the squad’s head cheerleader this year.
Wayne said escorting his daughter when she was crowned Miss Homecoming is a memory he will always treasure.
“We were obviously very proud and happy when Francie won,” he said. “But more importantly, we were happy because she had accomplished what she set out to do to help other people.”
Wayne, a founding partner of Bridgeworth, LLC, a certified financial planning group, said his daughter’s passion for helping others has inspired him.
But his daughter said it was he who first inspired her.
Wayne has served in leadership roles with Leadership Vestavia Hills, the Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation, the Auburn Alumni Association and Brookwood Baptist Church.
“My dad really does have a servant’s heart, and giving back to others is something that he and my mom, Anna, have always instilled in my brother and me,” Francie said.
Francie said she remembers helping her mother at a lemonade stand to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and hearing about her father’s mission trips with the family’s church.
“Before I was old enough to join the youth group at church, my father went on several mission trips, and I remember being so impatient about being old enough to go with him,” Francie said. “Both of my parents have always been involved in helping out the community, so for me, it’s just a natural part of life.”
Francie said community service was also heavily emphasized when she was a student at Vestavia Hills High School, where she served in the Student Government Association.
Each fall, the Vestavia Hills SGA selects a charity to support. During Francie’s junior year, that charity was Magic Moments. “That year, we raised enough money to grant the wishes of three pediatric cancer patients from Vestavia Hills, and I got involved with Magic Moments through that and then worked at the (Magic Moments) family camps,” she said.
Francie has continued her volunteer work in college and said being an Auburn University cheerleader has given her the opportunity to get even more involved with helping sick children.
“Through cheerleading at Auburn, I’ve had the opportunity to do appearances at Children’s (of Alabama) and I’ve met patients and their families, which also led me to get involved with aTeam Ministries,” she said. “It’s something that I really care about, and it lines up with my major.”
And while Francie said she’s grateful for the opportunities being a cheerleader at Auburn University has given her, she admits being on the squad wasn’t on her radar as she prepared to enter college.
“I grew up going to Auburn football games, and when I was very young, I would go to the games in my little Auburn cheerleading uniform,” Francie said. “But by the time I got into middle school, I was really devoted to competitive gymnastics and I had no idea I would cheer in college.”
But in her freshman year at Vestavia Hills High School, Francie said, she “hung up her leotard” and tried out for the high school cheerleading squad.
“And then in my freshman year here at Auburn, I went full-out into cheerleading,” she said. “It’s been a great experience, and it’s wonderful to have that shared experience with my dad.”
Wayne said he was glad his daughter decided to try out for the AU cheerleading squad.
“It was something she really did on her own, but I had told her that being a cheerleader in college would give her a chance to represent Auburn in a great way, in a positive way,” he said.
Along with sharing stories about Auburn cheerleading traditions, the father and daughter also share another fun cheerleading connection, Wayne said.
“Here’s a fun fact–my cheerleading partner at Auburn was Juli Carr, and now her son, Evans Carr, is Francie’s partner on the squad,” he said.
Wayne said he was proud of how his daughter ran her Miss Homecoming campaign, which was managed by her lifelong friend Will Hightower.
“I think Francie realizes that it was not about her, and I think she was very humbled by the whole thing,” Wayne said. “She has surrounded herself by good people working together for a good cause, and any parent would be very proud of that.”
In addition to being head cheerleader and Miss Homecoming 2014, Francie is a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board.ϖ