Pageant’s purpose to let special needs kids shine
The dress, the makeup, the stage, the strut. The applause, the crown, the ribbon, the feeling of being noticed. It’s pageant life. But for children with special needs, the opportunity for this doesn’t often come their way.
Participating in pageants can be stressful and competitive, as junior interdisciplinary major Tessanie Marek knows, but she wanted kids with special needs to have their moment in the spotlight too. Marek is working with her mother, Susie Marek and a friend Jamie Grisham to host the first ever Texas Angels Pageant, a competition only for children and young adults with special needs.
“I have a brother with autism, and I was talking about how I wanted to do a pageant for kids with special needs, and it kind of took off from there,” Tessanie Marek said. “We started researching online, and we found another pageant like this in Arkansas called the Arkansas Angels pageant. We’re kind of modeling ours after theirs.”
The event is set for Feb. 25 at the Lee Lockwood Museum in Waco and starts at 2 p.m.
Because she wanted any child to be able to participate in the pageant, Marek knew it needed to be at no cost to the families. The price is about $50 per child and about $7,000 total. The team is still looking for sponsors and volunteers.
“We have some volunteers that are going to man the booths and activities we’re going to have in the morning, and there’s also volunteers for each child that will be that child’s buddy for the day. They’ll go around and help them play games or just help them out for the day. Then during the pageant, the buddy will sit with the family and be their fan section,” Marek said.
The best way to volunteer at the event is to email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophomore nursing major Kaitlin Curry decided to volunteer as a child’s buddy after receiving an email from the nursing department about the competition.
She said, “I thought it would be fun, and I am hoping to specialize in pediatrics, so I thought the experience would be nice.”
Curry enjoys being around children because of their perspective on the world and expects not just to serve but also to gain a better understanding of children from helping out with the event.
“I’m sure I will learn something from these kids that will have an impact on me. I love children because they see things so differently and enjoy the moment they are living,” she said.
Senior nursing major Ryan Hilliard has known Marek’s brother Logan since last summer and will be his buddy at the pageant.
He is excited to spend the day with Logan and has high expectations for the event. Hilliard not only wants the participants to enjoy their day but for those in attendance to open their eyes to a reality bigger than what is average.
“I hope that all the contestants and community will realize that we are all beautiful and have unique gifts that are wonderful,” Hilliard said. “The contestants and community should realize that it’s what’s on the inside that counts — our hearts our love, our compassion — that makes us beautiful.”
There are other ways to get involved besides being a child’s buddy. Volunteers are needed to man the booths and games that will be available to the contestants before the pageant starts.
Sponsors were vital in making the event possible. Hair dressers and makeup artists from salons are donating their time and skills to the children. Individuals donated dresses to the pageant for the children who didn’t have formal attire to wear.
Marek said, “There’s a lot of people coming, so we’re trying to get all the help we can get. It’s kind of everyone working together and utilizing what they can.”
The team is taking advantage of the skills of some of the special needs programs in local schools to prepare for the pageant.
“What’s really cool is there are a lot of schools in the area whose special ed programs have businesses, and that’s what we’re using to make our programs. Special ed programs around the area are making them,” Marek said.
The pageant is open for anyone ages birth through 24 with special needs, and the number of participants has increased rapidly from day one.
“It’s growing like crazy. We’re really excited. It’s stressful, but it’s really exciting. We already have the program written out, and we’re trying to put volunteers in spots of what they will be doing. We just have to figure out who’s doing what,” Marek said.
Despite the stress that she is currently experiencing preparing for the pageant, Marek knows it will all be worthwhile when the participants take to the stage.
She said, “I want all the kids to have a blast, and I know that some might feel that they want to do a pageant themselves and that’s not always offered to a child with special needs. I really just want them to have the opportunity to just strut their stuff and know that nothing should hold them back.”