Emma Edelmann, 12, and Kennedy Stillman, 16, both of Somers Point, have been rehearsing and practicing for the Miss Precious Gem pageant since February. The opportunity to get involved was one that neither girl could turn down.

"My director asked if I wanted to get involved, and I said, 'Of course,'" Kennedy said.

"We heard about it through Kennedy and her mom," said Shana Edelmann, Emma's mother. "Emma is through-the-moon excited about it."

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Emma has never competed in a pageant before, and Kennedy has been competing for less than a year. Nonetheless, Kennedy currently holds the title for Miss Eastern Shore Outstanding Teen 2014, and the girls have been rehearsing for the Miss Precious Gem pageant determinedly.

The first ever Miss Precious Gem pageant was created by Faith Miller, of South Seaville, the director of the Miss Eastern Shore Pageant of the Miss America Organization, and Kennedy's director. The pageant aims to partner pageant winners with girls with special needs.

"Last winter, I was in Florida, and I saw a pageant with special needs girls and thought I would love to do that with Miss New Jersey," Miller said.

Kennedy, who will act as Emma's mentor, has been coaching Emma in all aspects of the pageant, including the interview segment and talent portion, for which the girls have choreographed a song and dance.

Miss Precious Gem is not officially sponsored by the Miss America Organization; however, former winners, directors, and other MAO affiliates have been working hard to produce the pageant, which will take place on April 27.

Emma and Kennedy already knew one another, having performed in a school play together three years ago, said Kennedy's mother, Veronica Stillman-Fath.

"It's nice having a teenager work with your child and know she's in a safe atmosphere doing something they're both enjoying," Shana Edelmann said.

Shana Edelmann said that her daughter loves to entertain and loves dressing up and wearing high heels.

"It gives her a reason to have six outfits for one day," Edelmann joked, saying her daughter is ecstatic to be a part of the pageant.

Emma is also excited about working with an older girl with whom she has performed before.

"She knows she's doing the pageant with a person who she knows is in high school," Edelmann said. "It's more appealing. Emma lights up when she sees Kennedy."

Having a mentor is meant to teach the pageant newcomers about what to expect, Miller said. The different portions of a pageant can be confusing to navigate independently.

Despite first-time jitters, Kennedy said, all of her pageant fears were mitigated after her first contest.

"I was terrified my first pageant that the girls would be catty and mean, but they weren't," Kennedy said. "At the end of the day I had 20 new best friends."

Even so, Shana Edelmann said her daughter won't feel nervous, and would "easily" participate in something like a pageant again.

"I'm proud to say what she's a part of, that she's under this umbrella of Miss New Jersey," Edelmann said.

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