Wiregrass Newsroom: Dothan native competes for Miss USA

Dothan, AL (WSFA) -- 19 year-old Rachel Philippona's heart lies in her hometown.

"I was born and raised here. It is my home in every way possible," says Philippona.

A former Miss Dothan and now Miss Alabama USA, she's on her way to Las Vegas for the chance to become Miss USA.

It's an opportunity she says she owes to the Circle City.

"I would love to show people we are Dothan, and we may be small, but we have hospitality and great morals, and just a great great village.  I couldn't ask for anything more," says Philipppona.

But it hasn't always been easy.  Rachel says the loss of her mother last year could have crippled her hopes for a crown, but instead it gave her strength.

"I tried to turn it into a positive thing and remember everything good about her and just kinda have that fuel to my fire. I remember winning that night and she was the first person I thought of.  She's everything to me," says Philippona.

Everything--something many residents say Rachel is to them.

"To me, it's a blessing just to know her.  To know her and what she stands for. Even if she goes and doesn't win, she really is a true winner," says David Parker, Philippona's photographer.

"Rachel is my heart. I love her so much.  As she goes to Las Vegas, I'm just so excited to see her grow. Such a beautiful girl, inside and outside," says Philippona's hair and make-up stylist, Deedee Morris.

But win or lose, Rachel says she's ready to be an ambassador for her city.

"I'm gonna represent Dothan the very best I can."

With best wishes from family and friends this young woman prepares to make Dothan proud.

Reporter: Melissa McKinney