“We were initially baby sitters for their three boys — a set of twins and a 10-year old,” Beverly said. Also, their other daughter, Tara Pollard, and her husband, Mark, have two daughters, 10 and 2, and a son, 5. So babysitting becomes the norm, since Tara volunteers with the DYW (formerly Junior Miss) program, too.
Two girls each year stay with the Dunns. Last year, the Dunns had Chelsea Milligan, the 2010 Junior Miss. Their 10-year-old granddaughter “loves being around the girls,” she said “and it breaks her heart when they leave.”
James agreed with Beverly the girls bring a lot of joy into their home. Although most are a little shy at first, they soon relax and feel at home. “We have a wonderful time,” Beverly said.
About midweek, after hours and days of practicing and activities, the young ladies get tired. For example, at 7:45 a.m. they begin practice and do this all day, every day.
The Dunns make sure they have a good breakfast and as a rule, would take the girls out to breakfast. This year’s special guests say they prefer breakfast at home — fruit, cereal and juice. “We keep a lot of fruit and healthy snacks on hand,” Beverly added. “We keep them on their pattern and their routine.
“They become your children,” she added. “If they forget something or even need help with fitting their dress, we want them to feel like they’re home.” Whatever they need to be comfortable, we want to provide it, she said, and each one has “her space.”
On Sunday, the Dunns took their girls to the Cracker Barrel and then to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream after the reception. That was also a good time for breaking them in with one of their grandchildren, since the toddler decided to visit the restaurant’s kitchen.
Beverly gets to know the girls — why they came and how they feel. She said she knows they have doubts and fears and tries to make them feel comfortable. She said when parents let their daughters go to another city, they have to know they’re leaving them in capable hands.
“We keep in touch,” Beverly said. Hope Morrison (Murray County Junior Miss two years ago) has visited them and sang at their church — Shiloh Baptist Church.
The church this year is hosting a brunch for the contestants on Youth Day and Hope will be singing again at that event. And several “has-beens,” Beverly confided, have stayed with them. Chelsea Milligan came back and brought her boyfriend to meet the Dunns this past year.
Beverly said she looks at the girls as wonderful role models. They are super nice, warm, friendly and goal-oriented, she noted. Girls at the start are nervous, she said, so we listen and let them talk about their concerns. “You don’t know what the Lord has in store for you,” she tells them — “how God will bless you on down the road.”
Volunteering to work with the Distinguished Young Women’s Program in the various capacities becomes the whole gambit of the program. The Dunns urge families to become host families — “it’s a wonderful experience.”
“The program encourages the girls and gives direction toward the future and what they want to do,” Beverly added. Her advice to the contestants: “Be the best you can be and honor God in what you do.”
This program, she said, is “all about the girls — it becomes a high priority.” She said the girls work closely together practicing their routines and sharing interview skills.
“All the girls are winners,” Beverly said, “to be able to step outside their comfort zone.
James said he’s become used to ladies in the home. “I’m not much of a talker,” he said, “but meeting the girls has helped a lot ... made me more outgoing.”
He serves as “fetcher and getter,” he said, for his daughter. Like Monday, they took tables out to the Barn Celebration and Country Hoedown. And Traci offered her dad’s pickup when luggage had to be transported.
Then sometimes the unexpected happens, such as having a meeting at the Dunn home, but “haven’t asked Mom yet.”
There are perks, Beverly said, like getting to travel to Mobile, Ala., for the National competition. Last year in Mobile, they met a lot of new people and got to sample different foods. At the reception Sunday, a fellow host asked James if he was “going back for fish.”
Beverly said she is so glad how Cleveland and Bradley County embrace the girls in the DYW program. The citizens, the businesses, Lee University, the mayor and the president of the Chamber of Commerce — they welcome the program with open arms. And she enjoys all the newspaper promotion. “I’m collecting the papers for the girls to take home with them.”
She noted how Traci’s host family (1991) in Chattanooga wanted to be involved and do something for the program. This year, the Chattanooga “Mom” sponsored the reception held at the Museum Center at Five Points Sunday afternoon.
The Dunns said they do everything they can to keep stress down for Charles and Traci. Beverly said this year, Traci is relinquishing some responsibility. Her sister Tara will be with the girls in rehearsal at Arnold Memorial School and Beverly will be there Wednesday. That will “free up Traci to do other things,” she said, as she prepares for the many activities and program on Friday and Saturday.
Beverly said, “We could “not, not host again.” Each year, close to the date, they start getting everything ready for special company, she said — even to cleaning the carpets.
“As the Lord keeps an open door for us to do it, we’ll continue,” agreed the Dunns. “The key is to love them — the Golden Rule. They’re family.”
That feeling was very apparent on Monday morning when the girls left for rehearsal.
With a wave, it was “Bye, Dad, see you this evening.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Distinguished Young Women, formerly America’s Junior Miss Scholarship Program, is sponsored by the City of Mobile, Mobile County, Eastern Shore Toyota, Encore Rehabilitation, Mobile Gas-A- Sempra Company, Regions Bank, Alabama Power Foundation and Master Boat Builders. The 55th National Finals will take place in Mobile, Ala., June 28-30, 2012. For more information about Distinguished Young Women, visit www.DistinguishedYW.org.