- Cullman, Alabama


June 24, 2013

The Miss Alabama experience

Win or lose, if you have worked hard and are determined, being onstage at the Miss Alabama pageant is an honor and an enlightening experience.

Most girls, especially the younger ones, called Rising Stars, who do not compete, but get to enjoy the pageant by spending time with the contestant, say that it was fun, and their moms will chime in with, “When it quits being fun, we’ll stop,” but hardly anyone tells you how hard the adult contestants work to qualify for this competition.

Mary Elizabeth Barker/Caitlin Brunell

For nine-year-old Mary Elizabeth Barker, an East Elementary student who will be entering the fourth grade this fall, it was an amazing experience.

Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Brady and Joy Barker of Cullman was a Rising Star, sort of like a “little sister” to the Miss Alabama contestant. Mary Elizabeth was invited to be a Rising Star by Miss Rocket City, Caitlin Brunell, a family friend. Caitlin’s platform was Caitlin’s Closet, which provides the contestant with an opportunity to do community service while strengthening their platform for the prestigious contest.

Caitlin’s Closet (CC) is a nonprofit that Caitlin started in 2006. It provides clothing for women who cannot afford to buy them on their own. “Things like dresses for teens wanting to attend their prom or homecoming, interview suits for women trying to get back on their feet and into the workforce, and wedding dresses to future brides,” she explained.

“One in four girls are not able to attend their prom and while some may think it is just about a dress and their outward appearance it is so much more,” she said passionately. “These dresses allow girls to feel beautiful and confident in who they are... something that every woman wants to feel. My hope with CC in being a national network is that it will create a domino effect where the giving just continues.”

 It is in this kind of atmosphere that girls like Mary Elizabeth find mentors and role models. She got to spend the day with Caitlin, and was onstage with her for one segment of the program.

“It has been such a joy to be able to get to know Mary Elizabeth,” said Caitlin. “I was able to hang out with her at a few appearances. We enjoyed that week doing rehearsals, going to lunch, and performing one of the preliminary nights. I think of her as the sister I never had and it is a blessing to be able to be a part of her life. I hope I am able to set an example for her and be someone she looks up to.”  

Although Mary Elizabeth described being under the bright lights as an “amazing feeling” she is undecided about just which lights she wants most, the glamour and glitz of the pageant world, the Friday night lights of cheering or if she will one day trade her softball uniform in for an  evening gown. “That’s a hard question,” she said thoughtfully. For now, she is just glad she doesn’t have to make that choice.

Mary Elizabeth collected almost $100 for the Children’s Miracle Network. The Rising Star program has raised over $6,000 for the charity since the program began.

For the older girls in the pageant, it was a different story. A lot of them will tell you its fun, but you hardly ever hear about how hard it is, and what a lot of time and effort goes into preparing for the competition.

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