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Tongan family finds a new home through pageantry and community work

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jun 25, 2020 at 10:09 AM

PINEY FLATS — Since moving to the area in April 2019, the Tongan-native Tupous were quick to make themselves at home.

The Piney Flats family recently left Hawaii when 38-year-old Marine Aloha Tupou was assigned to be stationed in Gray after multiple active-duty deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and Japan. His wife Lupi, 35, and daughter Esther, 9, looked for ways to make themselves comfortable in yet another new place.

Esther eventually took up her mother’s passion for community and charity work and most recently, pageantry.

“Esther was like, ‘Mom, what am I going to do?’ Because it’s a little bit different than where we have been,” Lupi said.

Esther decided then that she would try competing in local pageants, which eventually led her to compete in Pigeon Forge last weekend for Tennessee Festival Pageants’ Miss Pre-Teen Tennessee competition.

With little experience in pageantry, she managed to come home with the Grand Supreme title. She also won Most Beautiful, Miss Rising Star and Entertainer of the Year, which she won by sharing a bit of her island’s culture through Polynesian dancing.

Esther said she was “humbled and happy” about winning the competition with the help of her coach, Tiffany Porter.

Immediately after winning the crown, Esther set out to get more involved in charity work. She plans to donate some of her pageant gifts, including a ring, to Haven of Mercy to help the homeless.

“OK, mom. Let’s go back and do my community service,” Esther told her mom after the competition, which ended on June 21.

Esther’s passion for charity is something the Boones Creek Elementary School student takes after her mother, who is pursuing an online professional certification in community project management at Syracuse University.

Lupi said Esther enjoys assisting the local homeless population most and has set a positive example for her younger siblings Israel, 21-months-old; Dorothy, 3; Finau, 4; and Androcles, 7.

“She likes them because she can connect with the feeling of helping someone,” Lupi said. “I think she likes it because it’s one-on-one and it’s direct interaction.”

Getting involved in local charity work has always been a way for them to make new connections in each community they’ve moved to.

“I think that’s what the military has taught me as a spouse,” Lupi said. “It doesn’t matter where we move, it’s how you adapt to things. Wherever we go, we do the same things.”

Lupi said she’s enjoyed settling down in Northeast Tennessee and eventually plans to retire here.

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