A formerly homeless U.S. veteran who credits the Navy for putting her life back on track is now hoping to win the 2018 Maxim Cover Girl competition – and use some of the $25,000 prize money to financially assist other service members and at-risk youth.
Janae Sergio, an assistant business and financial manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is currently leading her category in early stages of the magazine's annual competition, which helps raise money for Homes for Wounded Warriors.
"I always dreamt of being a model, but my life took a drastic turn when I became homeless at age 15," Sergio wrote on her profile. "I have been working tirelessly to change my story and my passion is to inspire those who are currently running out of hope for their futures."
The 36-year-old mother says if she wins the competition's $25,000 prize, she wants to donate portions of it to Hale Kipa, a Hawaii-based nonprofit that works "to better the lives of at-risk youth throughout the state," and the Fisher House Foundation, which "builds comfort homes where military & veterans families can stay free of charge, while a loved one is in the hospital."
The competition, which allows the public to cast one free vote daily, also lets users buy additional votes for $1 each, with part of the proceeds benefitting Homes for Wounded Warriors, an organization that creates and remodels homes for injured vets. Maxim, to date, says it has given nearly $750,000 to the organization.
In an interview with the Military Times, Sergio says she was in and out of homeless shelters in Los Angeles during her high school years. She then decided to join the Navy at 18 -- while at the same time promising to earn her GED after missing too many days of class.
"I was kind of living day to day and trying to figure out where I would sleep at night," Sergio said. "The Navy gave me that future and gave me that footing to establish myself as a successful businesswoman."
The Military Times reported that Sergio was deployed twice before leaving the Navy in 2008, but she rejoined it in August. She spent eight years as a Navy storekeeper, but now, according to her Maxim profile, Sergio helps oversee a $5 billion budget for U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Maintenance.
"I manage a branch of skilled project material managers, supply technicians, and warehouse personnel who support and maintain our Navy's submarines, keeping them mission-ready," Sergio wrote on her LinkedIn page.
Sergio says if people were to see her in person, they would see she doesn't look like a supermodel.
"In real life, I'm just a normal mom who goes to work every day and comes home and cooks dinner for the family," she told the Military Times.
Sergio also said one of her long-term goals is to start her own center that provides services for the homeless.
"I think people underestimate how much at-risk youth need our time and our support," Sergio told the website. "They don't understand that these people have been abandoned. They've lost hope."