Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Racing for Charity

This weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, I invite you all to watch closely as Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch race to win $1M plus $1M for their charity and $1M for one lucky fan.  Paul Menard is racing for Habitat for Humanity, Brad Keselowski is racing for his charity, the Brad Keselowski Checkered Flag Foundation, Marcos Ambrose is racing for Victory Juntion and Kyle Busch is racing for his charity, The Kyle Busch Foundation.  All four (4) of these charities have all been nominated for a chance to win $1M thanks to their driver’s winning one of the Sprint Summer Showdown race events. Here is a little more about each charity so you too can be part of the excitement!

Habitat for Humanity is close to everyone’s heart, especially Paul Menard.  Menard’s is the sponsor of the #27 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet driven by Paul Menard.  Paul and his sponsor have been extremely involved and hands-on in builds for many years and look forward to continuing to help eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.  Many fans have worked side-by-side with Paul helping to build homes in communities across the USA.

The Brad Keselowski Checkered Flag Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides support to individuals, families and other nonprofit organizations, with a special focus on first-responder and military families in need.  Frequently, Brad and the #2 Miller Lite Dodge team is host for the Armed Forces Foundation, the Wounded Warriors Project, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Detroit F.I.R.E. providing them a VIP Experience at the race track as a small token of appreciation for their service and dedication.  Brad is very dedicated to supporting those families who have provided him the opportunity to live out his dream as a professional race car driver.

Victory Junction enriches the lives of children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun, and empowering, in a safe and medically sound environment. Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Tools Ford for Richard Petty Racing, has been an avid supporter of Victory Junction for many years making frequent visits and helping sponsors, like Krispy Kreme donuts, with the annual Drive for 45 campaign.

The Kyle Busch Foundation is dedicated to providing essential tools for less fortunate children throughout the country.  His 501(c)(3) organization continues to support St. John’s Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Church of God Children’s Home, Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, Boys Town of Nevada and the Sunshine Acres Children’s Home.  Kyle, Joe Gibbs Racing, along with all of the NASCAR Driver’s and Team’s are also avid supporters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and many other local charities in race markets across the USA which help children lead happier, healthier lives.

Tune-in this Sunday night to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN to cheer on these outstanding driver’s and their commitment to communities nationwide.  To learn more about Sprint’s sponsorship of the Sprint Summer Showdown and their ongoing commitment to NASCAR and communities worldwide, please visit www.sprint.com/speed.

Janet Bolin

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Queen’s Corner- Perception is Reality

Welcome to The Queen’s Corner. Since becoming Miss International, I have been flooded with questions. They range from how to pick a platform to French manicures vs. nude polish. Periodically I will answer these questions in a “column” I call, “The Queen’s Corner.” 

One question seems to pop up over and over again. At almost every non-pageant industry event or interview someone always asks me, “Are pageants still relevant?” This question can come across abrasive or even offensive if you are not prepared for it. As queens, our reflexive response is an emphatic “Absolutely!” But, it is important to understand and acknowledge that we are privy to a word that most people only catch a brief glimpse of. That glimpse is typically reduced to a fleeting onstage question, evening gown walk or a wave from a parade float. Most people don’t see the intense platform work and preparation or the low key appearances where with a few kind words we give a little girl the confidence to stand up against bullying. So, it is a valid question. 

My answer, well, I am an attorney so I don’t see things in black and white. My world is gray. For every rule there is an exception and for every exception there is another exception and so on. For those reasons, my answer is: Yes, pageantry is relevant but…

As queens, we should make more of an effort to figure out what is important to the communities that we serve and make it a part of our agendas. This shows that we realize that it’s not just about us or winning the next crown. Rather, it is about the people we represent. Whether we realize it or not, queens are like politicians. Although we are not elected, we are accountable to a constituency. Our relevancy and impact as queens will be judged on whether we were responsive and actively engaged.  

Diana Grum, Miss Alaska International, chose suicide prevention as her platform. Alaska’s suicide rate remains one of the highest in the nation. Her platform directly reflects her community’s concerns.

As queens, directors and supporters we need to do a better job of exemplifying our commitment to our platforms by being active and visible in our communities and taking the commitments that we make to others seriously. I’ve been to a number of appearances with other queens in which we were supposed to be volunteers. However, instead of all of us rolling up our sleeves, the better part of the time was spent taking pictures for Facebook. There is a time for work and a time for play. This behavior leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the organization that you are working with and reaffirms a common stereotype that pageant queens are all fluff and no substance. We can’t be upset when people question our relevancy due to our own actions.

As a queen, don’t allow yourself to be typecast. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are equally smart as you are pretty. Misconceptions persist because we don’t take that extra step to make a connection with the people we meet. It can be intimidating to talk to a stranger, but by sharing a little about ourselves, our backgrounds and our passions we can break down the invisible barrier that the crown and sash often creates between us and others. While a crown is an important way to get your foot in the door and grab attention, it is just rhinestones and metal.

Your heart will attract more people than the prettiest crown. For example, people are excited to learn that I am an attorney, that I’m clumsy as all get out and that I love peanut butter. Not because these facts are particularly impressive but, because they show that I have a life outside of my crown and sash and that I am a real person. I’m not saying walk up to people and tell them all your business :) But, don’t concentrate so hard on staying on message that you allow your interview prep to prevent you from making a genuine connection.

Mrs. New Mexico International, Donna Millar, personified the spirit of pageantry. By sharing her story, she made a connection and lasting impression on everyone she met. I can only imagine the impact she has at her appearances.

I am proud to represent a system that values substance as much as beauty. Pageantry is relevant, but it is up to us to further establish, maintain and expand that relevance.

Ciji Dodds
Miss International 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Book teams up with America’s favorite Mouse to fight illiteracy!

What do you get when you combine a mouse that you would love to be in your house with breathtaking innovations and a passion for literacy...You get the Celebrating the Power of Imagination D23 Expo Storytelling event! Disney Publishing is one of First Book’s most generous corporate partners and they outdid themselves this time. On August 19, they donated $500,000 to First Book, as well as 8 million Disney books! Their contribution will provide millions of children with brand new books, putting them on the path to literacy.

Disney Publishing has been a staple in children’s book publishing and is the largest publisher of children’s books worldwide. My favorite Disney book is Mickey Mouse’s Picnic. As a child, I read it over and over and over again. I think I had it memorized! Like all things Disney, there was a lesson to be learned. I learned the importance of sharing and of honoring your friendships. I have found that the lessons that we learn as children ultimately shape our character as adults.

I can think of so many lessons that I’ve learned from reading a good book. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, taught me the importance of selflessness and unconditional love. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss, taught me one of the toughest of all lessons, that there will be highs and there will be lows but, through it all you have the power to endure and choose your destiny. I can’t forget The Baby-sitters club! I learned that you can get through anything with a great group of girlfriends :)

Disney’s amazing contribution will put these life lessons and many more in the hands of children all over the world, one book at a time! Thank you Disney!!

Happy Reading!
Ciji Dodds, Miss International 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Michigan Trip

This past weekend, I ventured back to my college town of Bowling Green, Ohio where my husband and I had ‘date night’ at the National Tractor Pulling Competition.  To some this may seem a little strange, but for us it is a wonderful way to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation and visit memory lane.  My husband use to compete with a top-ranked team at truck and tractor pulling contests in South Carolina.  The opportunity he had to tinker around back then actually led him to take his hobby and morph it into a full time job.  Who knew!  It is always humbling to remember where you came from and continue to support those with similar aspirations.


We also had a chance to take in the Kenny Chesney ‘Goin Coastal Tour’ thanks to our friends at Ford Motor Company.  While Michigan International Speedway is a healthy 2 hours from Ford Field, the drive was all worth it to meet new faces and spend quality time with all the great people from Ford.  We missed Uncle Kracker, but thoroughly enjoyed Billy Currington, Zak Brown Band and the main man, Kenny.  Many of the fans at the concert also had a chance to hang out with Ford Motor Company President and CEO, Alan Mulally and Desmond Howard.  Mulally waved the green flag and Desmond Howard was the Grand Marshall at the Pure Michigan 400 the next day at Michigan International Speedway.

Chip Bolin & Alan Mulally at MIS

A big thank you to all the great fans and volunteers I had a chance to meet this weekend at The NASCAR Foundation display.  We continue to collect a record amount of donations thanks to the generosity of so many.  For those who are interested in volunteering at an upcoming NASCAR race, please visit NASCAR.COM/unites.  Free race tickets are available for the volunteers to enjoy the race events as well.  I hope to see you all at an upcoming race or charity event.

With Katia Thomas

Janet Bolin

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Camera Loves You!

After an 8 hour car ride of singing Disney songs, I reached the most glamorous town in the south, Dothan, Alabama. A mere three weeks after being crowned Miss Teen International 2011, it was time to work it in front of the camera with the incredibly talented Clay Spann. We spent morning to evening working on a variety of looks to best capture what the title of Miss Teen International truly is.

We had such a fun day full of laughs and hairspray. Clay tried many different looks on me and we had a blast on the set! Clay made me feel like a gazillion bucks!
After all the photos, I headed over to meet with Joey Rutherford at The Competitive Image to try on some stunning dresses that I will be wearing throughout my year. I love trying on gowns so we had fun playing dress-up!

(L-R) Terri, Joey, Janet, me, Mary, Clay

Janet Bolin, Mrs. International 2011, had her photo shoot the day after mine. It was such a pleasure to meet her. I am so blessed to share reigns with you! International Pageants Director, Mary Richardson, was on set as well. I love this woman! She has a heart of gold and I cannot be more honored to be her titleholder.

Another special treat at the photo shoot was seeing Terri again! She has a passion for fashion and I absolutely love working with her!

Being a part of the 2011 Official International Photo Shoot was an experience of a lifetime that I will hold near and dear to my heart. I am estatic to release these photos to the world! If you are ready for the incredible work of Clay Spann, check out www.clayspann.com and book your photo shoot today!
Jurnee Carr

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My 2nd Trip to Dothan

Last week, it was very surreal to be walking into The Competitive Image as Mrs. International!  Red carpet rolled out, rose petals everywhere and champagne toasts…ok, so the last part was the way I felt, and there wasn’t actually any red carpet, but the energy was electric! 

My ‘day job’ doesn’t give me the opportunity to play ‘dress-up’ with Sherri Hill and other fabulous designers, and since we all know there is a little girl still hidden inside of us who loves to do that at any age, this was my time!  Joey had an array of dynamite dresses and accessories laid out for me to try on for the photo shoot.  Clay had his vast display of amazing make-up colors from his Clay Spann Cosmetics line.  Terri was my assistant helping unpack my crown, clip my dresses, assist with jewelry and anything else – she’s wonderful.  It’s was also great to spend some quality time with Mary Richardson.  My schedule didn’t allow me to be at the trunk shows earlier this year, so I missed out on that opportunity to meet her and so I really enjoyed ‘girl time’ with my ‘new boss.’ 

It was a day I’ll always remember and I look forward to the big unveil of my official headshots as your Mrs. International 2011!

Janet Bolin

Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome to Dothan!

Every girl deserves to feel like princess and that’s exactly how I felt during my photo shoot with Clay and Joey! When I walked through the front doors of The Competitive Image it was as though I had entered a world of taffeta, seed beads and lace.  It was sheer perfection!

However, the road to Dothan wasn’t such fun.  While at the airport, one of the worst thunderstorms this season, passed through the D.C. area.  The last thing that I wanted was to be on a plane during a thunderstorm, but I also didn’t want to miss my plane.  As the hours went by it became apparent that my flight would be delayed, if not cancelled.  I immediately knew that I would probably miss my connecting flight in Atlanta.  I kept my fingers crossed, but by the time I made it to Atlanta, I had missed my flight and I had to stay in Atlanta overnight. Bummer!
When I finally arrived in Dothan the next morning, I was teeming with excitement and ready to get started.  The first thing that I saw when I walked in was the entire section of clothes and accessories just for me!  Each look was fresh and dynamic!  Clay got to work on my hair and make up and a blur of hair spray and AB stones later, I felt and looked like a billion bucks! 
The photo shoot was everything that I imagined it would be and more!  I can’t thank everyone enough for such an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to share the photos with all of you. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

So Now What? My life since I was crowned Miss International

So now what?  This question loomed over my head from the moment that I was crowned.  Everyone said that it would be a whirlwind and it has been!

How exciting! Not even in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined seeing photos of myself broadcast in Times Square! This is definitely something that I will share with my grandchildren.

The morning after I was crowned I had an interview with Sherrie Gearheart, Editor in Chief of  Tiara Magazine.  We spoke at length about my platform, the International System and of course, what it felt like to be the new Miss International but, we also discussed the role that pageantry plays in self development and personal growth.  Tiara Magazine does a fantastic job of focusing not only on the glitz and glam of pageantry, but also on the hard work that goes into being a titleholder.

A quick photo after my interview with Tiara Magazine.

Once I returned to Maryland, I realized that my work had only just begun! I contacted First Book and Reach Out and Read and they were thrilled to learn that they had a national titleholder on their hands.  We have since begun planning appearances and ways that I can increase my involvement with both organizations.   I even scheduled my first visit to the North Carolina Children’s Hospital!

Next, I had an interview with WEAA, 88.9fm, the largest public radio station in Maryland.   It was my first radio interview ever and I was a bit nervous.  Although I conducted numerous radio and television interviews while I was in college, it was different being on the opposite side of the microphone.
Then I had the privilege of launching Maryland Fashion Week!  I was interviewed by MDFashionWeeek.com TV.  Pageantry and fashion go hand in hand, so I had a fabulous time!

Finally, it was time to kick back a bit.  My state director, DeShawn Shepard, organized a reception for me at Ranazul’s Tapas Bistro!  We were given the red carpet treatment!  The manager even let me pick the music that was played throughout the restaurant.  Ranazul is now one of my favorite restaurants :)

My break was only brief, as I geared up to walk in the Maryland Fashion Week Finale!  There is nothing more intimidating than a long white runway and all eyes on you.  But, it was a ton of fun!  It was my first time walking in a fashion show and what an experience!

Enjoying the pre show reception

Ciji Dodds

Friday, August 19, 2011

Snapshot of Janet's World

I share with you all a piece of my world.  I have the honor of working for the 2nd largest sports organization in the world, so for those of you who are fans, you know we are four weeks away from what is predicted to be one of the most nail-biting regular season finale races at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, September 10.  Night race, tensions will be high, and this year looks to be one where there won’t be one or two ‘hopefuls’ to land a spot in the top-12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Contending positions – more like ten.  Over the coming weeks as drivers clinch their position in the Chase for the Championship, others are on the ‘outside’ looking in, tirelessly strategizing to capture a win to vault them into the Chase or continuing to place high enough to be there on the main stage taking photographs for hours to be part of NASCAR history.  I share this with you because in many cases, especially for me, there is a strong correlation between pageantry and NASCAR.  Months of preparation, strategic planning, teamwork and those final prayers to ask for strength, support and knowledge to do your best all wrap up into being in winner’s circle.  The scope of what International Pageant system provides to strong, intelligent women worldwide is a stage to educate others.  I am very thankful for the opportunity to share the excitement of NASCAR, The NASCAR Foundation and our passion to help communities and children’s charities including our military charities.  While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ‘Race for the Chase’ stirs excitement, the passion of those away from the track is just as important.

More than 300 nominees were submitted for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.  Finalists will be named shortly and from that point fans will be able to text their vote and vote online for the charity whom they feel most passionate about and who they feel should receive $100,000.  One of the nominees is a sister queen, and Top-12 Finalist, Mrs. Pennsylvania International 2011, Dawn Hicks.  Dawn and her family support the Armed Forces Foundation (AFF), a non-profit organization that provides comfort and support to our military community when they need it most. 

Dawn is a 9-year military veteran.  She began volunteering with AFF at a dinner for Wounded Warriors at the National Naval Medical Center, where she served food to patients and in return, they shared stories with her.  The AFF’s services help veterans and active duty members and their families.  Offering home-cooked meals, assistance carpooling and even homework are welcome ways everyone can help – even if you aren’t a military family, a helpful hand is always in need.  Dawn is able to help you finding families who need help, or sending care packages to our military by emailing her at dawn@papageants.com.  As the 10th anniversary of the unfortunate events on 9/11 approaches, Dawn and her family, Todd, Maddie, Aidan will be laying a wreath at the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, PA in honor of the 3,000 innocent lives lost and the 2,663 US military casualties since. 

I am proud to recognize Dawn and her charitable efforts.  Should she make it to the semi-finals for the Betty Jane France Award, I encourage you to vote for her as she is an outstanding leader with amazing strength, passion and commitment to our military families as well as her own.   In the meantime, the AFF is always in need of volunteers and funds to host morale events for our military children.  Text 50555 to make a $5 donation.  Stay tuned to NASCAR.COM/Unites for the announcement of the four finalists.

Janet Bolin

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Belk Kid's Fest Back-to-School Fashion Show

Belk department store in Kingsport, TN asked me to host their 2011 Back-to-School fashion show!

There were over 30 adorable kids modeling self-chosen ensambles from Belk's kid's store!

After the show we ate popcorn, colored, and did face painting! We had an absolute blast and I made many new friends! I also met a very special celebrity...


Jurnee Carr

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From Dothan to Detroit

My first trip to Dothan was a delightful experience.  Joey, Clay and Terri welcomed me with open arms and my entire day was just delightful.   I am thrilled to return to Dothan for my Official Photoshoot at Mrs. International 2011 with Clay Spann and find some new additions to my wardrobe with the help of Joey Retherford.  My husband was so impressed with my Clay Spann headshots that I used for Mrs. International, he has copies of them proudly displayed on his desk at work.  (He did share that the original spot he had them in was “too distracting” so he had to move them to be able to focus on work.)

Me and Clay Spann after my first photo shoot back in March 2011.

As I look to board a plane and travel to the diamond-in-the-rough town of Dothan, I will also share that I will be visiting Krispy Kreme as they are only 1-mile away from The Competitive Image.  Everything in moderation is my motto.  (And, there is a gym in my hotel.)  I’ll share more after my visit to The Competitive Image!

When I return to Charlotte, I'll have a quick change of luggage bags and then find myself boarding another plane headed to Detroit.  This weekend you will find me at the Michigan International Speedway volunteering at The NASCAR Foundation display, then the National Tractor Pull on Friday night in Bowling Green, Ohio, and to top off the weekend, my husband and I will be guests in the Ford suite at Ford Field for the Kenny Chesney 'Goin Costal Tour' featuring the Zak Brown Band.  (It's good to have neighbors and friends on the local police force to keep an eye on our home.) 

I hope everyone enjoys their weekend!

Janet Bolin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Empire State of Mind

Two days after I was crowned Miss Teen International 2011, my crowning moment was displayed in Times Square, NYC!! This is the coolest thing EVER! Thousands of people from around the world were able to share my treasured moment with me. I am still in awe of being named Miss Teen International. This has truly been a dream come true.

Jurnee Carr

Monday, August 15, 2011


I want to put ending illiteracy at the forefront of the national agenda.  Illiteracy is an issue that flies under the radar.  It is the unspoken of symptom of a failing education system.  It is a badge of shame for adults and children alike who struggle to live everyday life in a world of words. 
The facts speak for themselves.  Currently, 774 million adults around the world are illiterate in their native language.  Women represent 2/3rds of the 774 million illiterate adults.  20% of adults in the United States function at the lowest level of literacy, with 14% of the country’s adult population reading at or below a fifth grade level. 34% of children enter Kindergarten without the basic language skills that they will need in order to become literate.
There is a direct correlation between illiteracy and extreme poverty, crime, substance abuse, low self esteem, the spread of preventable and infectious diseases and gender abuse. Illiteracy affects all aspects of a person’s life, from their ability to fill out a job application to their ability to take control of their health.  Individuals who are illiterate spend, on average, 17% more at the doctor’s office and are more likely to suffer complications due to their inability to read labels, follow directions and make informed decisions.
The greatest barriers to literacy are access to books and access to literacy instruction.  As Miss International, I will leverage my partnerships with First Book and Reach Out and Read to attack these issues. 
Using my partnership with First Book, my first goal is to take on the issue of access.  As a result of First Book’s relationships with corporate sponsors such as Walmart, Cheerios and Target, as well as its relationships with major publishing houses, such as Random House, Disney Publishing and Harper Collins, First Book donates about 18,000 brand new books per day.  As Miss International and an ambassador for First Book, I will increase that number through the implementation of my virtual book drive and by securing additional corporate sponsors and donations.
Through my partnership with Reach Out and Read, I will address the issue of access to literacy instruction.  Reach Out and Read believes that the best way to immunize children against illiteracy is to read aloud to them.  As Miss International, I will tour the world reading aloud to children and I will work to establish literacy friendly areas in pediatric centers.   My goal is to spark the desire to read in children and to make reading a family affair. 
Lastly, through my partnership with the American Heart Association and the Go Red for Women Campaign, I hope to advance the mission of the AHA and raise awareness of the link between women’s health and women’s literacy.
The journey of a lifetime has begun!  Let’s Go!!
Ciji Dodds

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crowning Moment

The first thing that I was told about Nationals was that I would meet some of the kindest and most accomplished women that I would ever meet in my life.  When someone tells you that you are going to a national beauty pageant and that you will make lifelong friendships, you don’t necessarily believe them. Or at least I didn’t.  I thought to myself, “We’ll see.”  But, I can honestly say that from the moment that I arrived at the airport, I was humbled and amazed by the women that I met and the sisterhood that they extended to me.  
This is what sets the International System apart from, and above other systems.  The fact that the contestants’ collective reputation for kindness, warmth and dedication to their platforms precedes them, says all that you need to know.  It’s like the DoubleTree Hotel turns into this incubator of greatness and one can barely withstand the weeklong wait to see the outcome.
The first person that I met was Deshauna Barber, Miss Virginia.  She was my roommate and we met at the airport and shared a taxi to the hotel.  Aside from the fact that we became fast friends, I will always remember Deshauana for one reason, she literally gave the shoes off of her feet to two of her fellow contestants.  The level of generosity that she extended to all of us throughout the week is a testament to the size of her heart.
My wonderful Director, DeShawn Shepard flew into action as soon as we arrived.  Helping us unpack, making sure we had all the items listed on our wardrobe sheet and she even brought her magic cache of extra jewelry and clutches!  I managed to go to the hotel restaurant in my downtime and  there I met two women who not only became my friends but became apart of my support system.  Toni Findley, the Arkansas Firecracker and Stefanie DeLauri, the New Jersey bombshell. 
Me and Toni

Me, Stefanie and Deshauna before Orientation

Before I knew it, it was time to go to Orientation.  I was excited and nervous.  Mainly I was nervous because I was wearing a white dress and Ciji plus white, typically equals disaster! But it wasn’t and I had a blast.

Quick group photo before we head in!

The next day we went to the John Hancock Observatory, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Boys and Girls Club.  I sat next to Whitney Young, Miss Washington, and I think I nearly talked her head off!  While I loved feeling like I was on top of the world at the Observatory and checking out the animals (especially the lions!) at the Zoo, my favorite part of the day was the time I spent at the Boys and Girls Club.  I met the sweetest little girl. After spending the afternoon with her, hearing what was on her mind and sharing the limited wisdom that I have accumulated in 27 years, what started out as an arranged “blind play date” turned into the realization that sitting before me was the reason that God sent me to Chicago. She hugged me tight before I left and said, “I’m really going to miss you.  I had so much fun.”  Riding the bus back, I thought to myself, “Mission Accomplished.”  Making top ten was no longer at the top of my wish list, I felt that God’s purpose had been fulfilled and I could go home knowing that I had a lasting positive impact on someone’s life. 

You don’t know my life!   Next, there was Group Photo.  Afterwards there was the contestants’ dinner.  It was my privilege to listen to a presentation by Eddie Peterson.  I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. His words forever changed my outlook and for that I am eternally grateful and indebted to Eddie.  

Miss Illinois International, Aubry Bozzano.  Aubry is the epitome of elegance, style and sophistication.

Margo Huffman, Miss Teen Maryland International.  I adore Margo! She is truly a class act.  A Christian girl with a heart the size of Texas, I can’t wait to see the great things that she will accomplish.

Then all of a sudden it seemed like someone pressed fast forward.  There was the Princess Ball at the Skokie Library.  Cuteness Overload!! Next, it was off to teen prelims! I showed up in the lobby feeling fantastic in my all white, jersey Jovani dress and then in walks Miss Midwest, Megan Herickhoff and Miss Pennsylvania, Julia Pauline!!  Normally having another girl, not to mention two, wearing a dress similar to yours would be a level 10 crisis!  But not for us!  We thought it was hilarious! 
The best way to describe Megan is that she is the girl you meet at summer camp who tries her best to make sure that you don’t feel homesick.  She was so sweet to me.  Julia Pauline is a rock star! We became each other’s cheerleader and I can’t wait to make a trip to PA :)

Mary's Angels

Next: Interviews!  I love talking to people, but it is a little different when you are being judged.  The night before Interviews when I said my prayers, I didn’t ask God to help me answer the judges’ questions in the right way, rather, I asked him to help me to be myself. 

My interview group

And then, it was our turn to take the stage.    Luckily I had received great advice from Mary Tate so I was ready to go!   Backstage was a cyclone of AB stones, hair spray and cutlets!! It seemed like as soon Prelims started it was over and we were left waiting and wondering. 

Goofing off backstage!

I normally have nerves of steel, but on Finals night, I was a wreck.  I kept telling myself that I would have an answer after the opening number.  Before we went on, I huddled backstage with Miss North Dakota, Stacy Schaffer, and we did silly dances to get rid of the nerves. I don’t remember the opening number, all I remember was the intense music that accompanied the top ten announcement.  I wasn’t expecting much; I was happy to be there and pleased with the friends that I had made and my experience at the Boys and Girls Club.  When they called my name, I was so surprised and humbled that I barely knew what to do.  Luckily the production staff had drilled us enough that I knew to look for the number and stand on it!   Then they called Margo’s name and I became overwhelmed!  I almost cried in excitement for her. 

Our exit only appeared graceful, I can assure you that as soon as we were offstage, shoes came off and we bolted down the steps to get ready for onstage interview.  I ran my 30 second speech as I got dressed and headed back to the stage just in time to hear Margo.  As soon as she exited she gave me a high five and a hug, and it was my turn.  I don’t remember what I said; I just remember thinking, “The hard part is over!” 
When I got back to the dressing room, I was amazed at the outpouring of love and support that I received.  These women had my back!! They made a point to let me know that if there was anything that I needed, they were there for me.  Stefanie gave me a much needed pep talk and I was off!
I knew that the competition would fly by, but I made it a point to have fun on stage and soak in every moment. I had already told myself that this was the last pageant that I would compete in and I didn’t want it to be complete blur.  Soon enough we were back onstage and names were being called.  I stood there clapping for my fellow contestants and pleased to be in the top ten.
Then the words that everyone was waiting to hear, “Miss International 2011 is….” Did she really say my name?!?!  I was STUNNED!  Flabbergasted!  Gobsmacked!  I could not believe it!  I looked into the audience at my mom and brother and they were going wild.  Then I looked at my normally composed Director and she was clapping and jumping frantically, and although I still didn’t believe it, I walked to the center of the stage. I distinctly remember looking into the audience and seeing an overwhelming display of happiness for me.  I was floored!
Everything after that was a whirlwind!  The contestants rushed me and with tears in their eyes congratulated me.  That was the best part! Having Mary Swenson, Miss Minnesota squeeze me and say “Girl we are so happy for you!!” and Miss British, Victoria Coleman, in her voice that sounds like music say, “I am so very happy right now at this moment!”  Stefanie saying to me “You did it!”   Contestants telling me that they told their families and friends to cheer me on.  It makes me cry just thinking about it.  There were so many others, please don’t take it to heart if I left you out because I appreciate and remember everything that was said to me and done for me.  
My post would not be complete if I didn’t tell you about my wonderful sister queen, Mrs. Maryland International, Sandra Bryan-Grier. Every morning and sometimes at night, she sent me encouraging text messages.  She kept me sane and when I was feeling tired, gave me that extra push to keep me going.  Thank you Sandra, for everything that you do and continue to do for me :)
After the photos and the tears, DeShawn and I went to the dressing room to collect my things and I was the beneficiary of yet one more act of kindness.  Deshauna had packed my things for me so that it would be easier for me to leave for the Coronation Ball.  Wow!
I had a fantastic time at the Coronation Ball and got to meet Jurnee for the first time!   I still couldn’t believe it, even with the weight of the crown on my head.  It finally sunk in the next day when I was at the airport, eating chips, guacamole and hot wings.  I called DeShawn and said, “I’m Miss International?” and she said, “Yes sunshine, you sure are!”

Ciji Dodds

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Journey

“Man's extremity is God's opportunity.” -Lord Belhaven. It’s more than rhinestones, fancy gowns, and a head full of hairspray. It’s an opportunity. We are blessed with countless opportunities every single day. As Miss Teen International I know that there are an infinite number of opportunities waiting for me to seize. I plan on utilizing every single one and molding them to have a positive outcome for animals and people everywhere.

A new line of jewelry will be on my website in the 3rd week of September. All jewelry is only $5 and buying 5 or more items = free shipping! Please check out www.jurneesjourney.org to see the latest Paws and Claws Jewelry and make a difference fashionably! I also have a children’s book in the works. I would like to see it published with proceeds going directly back to the animals. Being on the Youth Advisory Board for The Humane Society of the United States has opened up so many doors for Jurnee’s Journey. Therefore, I plan on working even more closely with the HSUS, advocating and educating across the nation.

As an International Pageant titleholder, I am proud to be affiliated with the American Heart Association. As a state titleholder, I volunteered with my local AHA at their Heart Ball and Heart Walk. Now as a national titleholder, I plan on advocating for Go Red on a national level.

My dream is to travel internationally as much as Go Red and The Humane Society of the United States will allow! I am ecstatic to commence my reign and see what God has in store!

Jurnee Carr

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Experience of a Lifetime

The Windy City was definitely blown away from all the 2011 International Pageant contestants! Our agenda was adventure-filled! From Lincoln Park Zoo to the Skokie Library, we did it all!
We kicked off the week with orientation! During orientation we introduced ourselves, went over the agenda for the pageant week, heard reflections from the entire pageant staff and Juliana McKee – Miss Teen International 2010, received our group line up and contestant number, and learned more about the International Pageant’s alliance with Go Red for Women.  Miss Teen Massachusetts International 2011-Jazmin Hampton, Miss Teen Hungary International 2011-Sylvia Nádor, and I won the Go Red door prizes!!
The next day we were out and about in Chicago! Our first stop was the John Hancock Observatory. We skyrocketed up 1,000 ft in just 40 seconds in North America’s fastest elevator!! At the top floor, our view consisted of 4 states (Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois) and Lake Michigan!
Our view was extraordinary!!!

We did some window washing as well! Wax on, wax off!

Afterwards we visited Lincoln Park Zoo in the heart of Chicago! I love animals so this was a perfect fit for me!

We saw an assortment of animals: lions, tigers, and pageant girls..oh my!

For lunch the Miss and Miss Teen International contestants rallied at the Boys and Girls Club.

We signed autographs and made crowns with the girls!

That afternoon we gathered for a Princess Ball at the Skokie Library! The ball was such a heart-warming experience because we met all kinds of new princess friends!
We colored, played games, danced, and talked all about princesses!

That evening after rehearsals, the Misses and Teens dressed up for a group photo, dinner, and a motivational speech given by Eddie Peterson (California International Pageants director).

His words were touching and inspirational. Quote of the week: “You don’t know my life!”

The next morning: INTERVIEW!!! My favorite part of competition! The view of the Chicago skyline from the interview room was very relaxing. I thank God for granting me His peace and for speaking through me during my interview.

International Angels!

Thursday and Friday were the preliminary pageants for Teens and Misses, respectively. I was honored to receive the Miss Teen Photogenic award!! Also, congrats to Miss Teen Tennessee International 2011-Randi Strong for winning the Miss Teen Congeniality award!!!!
With Clay Spann on Prelim night

Now we have reached Saturday: Finals Night. The day began with rehearsals early in the morning. That night over 80 gorgeous contestants lit up the stage! Miss Teen Arkansas International 2011-Blanche Murphy, Miss Teen Rhode Island International 2011-Stephanie Mulcahy, and I were hand in hand, waiting on the calling of the Top 10. I was very blessed to have advanced on. After competition was over and every contestant reentered for the announcement of the new winners and courts, I stood side by side with my new pageant sisters and couldn’t help but become teary eyed. We made it this far and I was so overcome with emotion to be able to be a part of this life changing experience. I’m not going to lie, once the Miss 1st runner up was called, I began to sink in my heels. I recalled a discussion a judge and I had: whether I placed last or I won, I would be satisfied with whatever plan God had for me. Next words I hear: Miss Teen International is…Carr…Virginia. Wait, did I miss something? My last name is Carr and I’m representing Virginia. Um, did I just….win??? I was flabbergasted!! My first reaction was to scream but nothing came out! I could feel my mascara running as Juliana walked over to me, sash in hand. I looked at her and asked, “Is this for real??” She just smiled.

As the banner was draped around me and the crown was placed on my head, I couldn’t help but look up and touch the crown to see if it was really there. (And yes, it was!) I was then handed flowers along with a hug from Kevin Michael Raponey, the extremely talented entertainer for the pageant. When I turned around to take my first walk, the waterworks became uncontrollable. The same was true for my mother and father, who were sitting in the front row cheering me on! After hugging and congratulating the Top 5, Ciji and I took the stage!
I was taken aback; never will I forget that treasured moment.

Mackenzie Carter-4th runner up, Miss Teen California International 2011; Blanche Murphy-2nd runner up, Miss Teen Arkansas International 2011; Jurnee Carr-Miss Teen International 2011; Jenny Monson-1st runner up, Miss Teen Minnesota International 2011; Margo Huffman-3rd runner up, Miss Teen Maryland International 2011
Wow! I am so honored to be among these girls! You show tremendous passion for your platform and are incredible role models to all those who are fortunate enough to hear your message. Infinite congratulations to:
Jenny Monson-1st runner up, Miss Teen Minnesota International 2011
Blanche Murphy-2nd runner up, Miss Teen Arkansas International 2011
Margo Huffman-3rd runner up, Miss Teen Maryland International 2011
Mackenzie Carter-4th runner up, Miss Teen California International 2011

Aside from all the appearances and rehearsals, one thing that will always be treasured is the experience the contestants shared throughout the week. I met over 80 new friends that will always be my pageant sisters. I thank God for bringing us together during the week. It’s no accident that we were brought together! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to Mary Richardson and the entire International Pageant family for maintaining integrity and respect in the pageant; I am forever grateful for your hard work. My dream came true and the 2011 Miss Teen International Pageant was an experience I will never forget.

Jurnee Carr