By Megan Davis

The world of pageantry is a foreign one to a lot of people, but to one Darien family it became very familiar, very quickly.

Grace Rodi, 12, recently placed second runner-up, also known as "in the Queen's Court," in her first pageant ever, the National American Miss Connecticut Preteen on Aug. 4. Grace also won third runner-up in the Actress competition, fourth runner-up in Photogenic,and won the top award for Most Recommendations.

"I was always wanting to do [a pageant], and I'd always walk through the living room, asking my mom to go," Grace said.

Her mother, Nicole, said using by Google they found National American Miss, but that they "weren't right on board."

After they attended an open call in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., the family decided to enter her into the pageant.

"I think she thought it was going to be putting on a pretty dress, but we quickly learned that there's a lot more to it, this pageant especially," Nicole said.

National American Miss Pre-teen is an all-natural pageant judged on poise, public speaking, community involvement and one-on-one interviews with the judges.

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Nicole said once the winners are crowned, their mission is focused on community involvement. In fact, in order to compete for the title of National All American Miss at nationals, the competitors had to do four hours of community outreach.

Grace reached out to Person-to-Person, an organization dedicated to those who are less fortunate and volunteers her time every Monday to help organize the food and clothing that are donated.

As for how the volunteerism works into the pageant itself, each girl is given a 60-second self-introduction. Grace's focuses on her volunteering for a group at Middlesex Middle School, where she attends the seventh grade, called Global Girls Unite, which is the Darien chapter of a larger, independent, social organization founded in January 2010 by Anne Wells that aims to provide connections, resources and expertise to advance and grow women's health, education and microfinance programs in select communities throughout Tanzania, East Africa.

Grace said interviewing is her least favorite part of the pageant. "Sometimes they ask you questions off your resume," Grace said. "At the state pageant, they didn't ask any questions off my resume."

The first question Grace received was, "Who do you think has it easier boys or girls?" Grace answered boys.

"I guess sometimes they give you questions you're not prepared for," Grace said smiling.

Nicole said Grace's winning second runner-up truly showed her that the National American Miss organization recognizes the intellect and public speaking as well as the poise and "puffiness."

"They called second runner-up and you would have thought she won the thing we were cheering so loud," Nicole said laughing. "We went in skeptics and came out true believers."

The cost of entering the National American Miss was approximately $5,000 between the entry fee, the dress and other attire, according to Nicole.

Grace said she loves acting and being on stage and that is what she's looking forward to at nationals.

"If you win nationals, you get to travel across the country and you get to go to the Miss America pageant and you do a national photo shoot," Grace said.

She and her family will be traveling to Anneheim, Calif., the week of Thanksgiving so she can compete for the National All American Miss Title. About $500,000 in prizes and scholarship money will be distributed. The winner receives $2,000, a trophy and travel expenses.; 203-972-4107;