The last time Rachael Chavez saw her father, she was a freshman in high school in 2007, and he was her escort for the homecoming crowning.
He had just been on a drug binge.
She called him and left messages on his phone begging him to be there. Her father showed up just in time.
Chavez won homecoming queen that night, but after he escorted her off the field, he left.
“And I never saw him again,” she said.
Her father’s absence wasn’t any thing new. She didn’t cry. She wasn’t surprised. She was used to it.
He had been a drug addict and alcoholic most of her life. Some days, he would be gone for two weeks on a drug binge. Some days she, her mother and two younger sisters would come home, and the couch, the televisions, Playstation and “anything electronic” would be gone.
“I remember distinctly having a piano that was in our living room and I was so excited because I had started playing the piano – and I really had a deep love for music – and then coming home to everything being gone because of his setbacks,” she said.
“I just remember being so angry, and (thinking) how could you choose something like that over your family. It happened so many times over and over and over again that eventually it just became expected that he would do something like that.”
Chavez, 23, a Clinton native, was supposed to be a statistic. Drop out of high school, be a teen mom, or become a drug addict herself.
But she said the absence of her father and her willingness to want to do better than he, has driven her ever since. She graduated from UNC-Wilmington, and currently works as a church secretary in Garner.
Chavez, who was crowned Miss Garner in November, will run for Miss North Carolina in June. Her slogan: “Commit and don’t quit.” She speaks at schools and wants to help children in situations similar to the one she was in.
“The basis of my platform is to encourage kids to not allow their circumstances or situations or environments to define who or what they become,” Chavez said. “Because you can’t help where you are environmentally or socially. So what I do is I help kids understand that you don’t have to blend in with an environment that is not going to make you the best person you are.”
Chavez has three components of commitment that she preaches.
• Find a mentor and someone they can talk to and share their troubles with.
• Plug in positive decisions. “Not allowing the ways of the world to pull you,” she said. “That you stand firm in what you believe in. And you know the right thing to do.”
• Always prepare a plan. “That’s why I say the number one thing is to find a person, because that person will help them initiate the plan and they’ll make them accountable to the plan that they, the student, has chosen to do,” Chavez said. “Your plan is going to change...As long as you have a plan and you’re eliminating things as you go, you’re focused and driven to go through with that plan.”
After Chavez’ father left, the family ended up homeless briefly. Their grandparents, her mother’s parents, took them in.
They came to sporting events. They attended pageants and any other events. They were her support system. They helped her be the person she is today.
“I just would not know where I would be without (them),” Chavez said. “They have provided and stood in the gap so many times for my mother and my father. My mother wasn’t always able to be at certain things because she worked several jobs to keep us afloat and long, long hours.”
Chavez started participating in pageants at an early age, but competed on and off for years. She wants to go back to graduate school and aspires to be a city manager one day.
“Hopefully Garner,” she said. “That would be wonderful. I just feel like that type of management and leadership, I feel is where I’m called to be.”
If she wins Miss North Carolina she will win a scholarship to go to school.
Garner has had the most “Miss North Carolina’s” in the state, Harold Garner, executive director of Miss Garner pageant said. He said five past Miss Garners have garnered the award. The last Miss Garner to win Miss North Carolina was Amy Watson in 2008. Arlie Honeycutt, a Garner native, won in 2012, but she represented Kinston and Lenoir County.
Garner said he expects Chavez to win.
“Absolutely,” he said. “She has the qualities to be a great Miss North Carolina and I think she has a very great chance at it.” He said her story is inspiring and makes her a stronger person.
“There’s no telling what she will do eventually,” Garner said. “I love her like a daughter.”
Winning Miss Garner
In the moments leading up to the announcement of Miss Garner, butterflies filled Chavez’ stomach and her heart was pounding. She stood beside four other girls she said were all very smart and beautiful.
She put her head down waiting for the announcement. The judge first announced a runner up.
It wasn’t her. Her heart pounded harder.
“And your new Miss Garner is Rachael Chavez,” the announcer said.
“I was very, very emotional and excited when I won because this is the town that I’ve always wanted to represent,” Chavez said. “I was overwhelmed. I had so many people there to support me because there are so many people in my life who believe in what I’m doing.”
The Misses from around the state will be in Raleigh in June to compete for Miss North Carolina. They will compete in five phases of competition: Private interview, evening gowns, swimsuit, talent and onstage questions.
The top 10 finalists will do the same thing over.
That’s where Chavez will again compete, hoping to have that same feeling of joy, and trying to bring the crown back to Garner.