Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Crowning Achievement

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Crowning Achievement

Article excerpt

When little girls gathered around Karrie Hughes-Kay, 1994's reigning Miss Oregon, (who had been involved in a variety of organizations that benefited children and adults with disabilities) their questions were all the same: "When can I get a crown?"

With the goal of providing a sense of self-esteem for special children, Kay gained assistance from her friends and a variety of businesses to start the Oregon Special Beauties Pageant in 1996. The pageant was modeled after the Special Olympics; everyone receives a prize--or in this case, a title, and crown--emphasizing beauty from within.

Pageant plans

My six-year-old daughter, Chantel, was diagnosed with kidney problems, deaf in one ear, blindness as a result of immature retinas (though that has corrected itself), and spinal cord anomalies problems, and VACTERL association (Vertebral anomalies, Anal Atresia, congenital Cardiac disease, Tracheo Esophageal fistula, Renal anomalies, radial dysplasia, and other Limb defects). She has had numerous surgeries, hospitalizations, countless procedures, lab work, a cardiac arrest, and more. As a result of having these disabilities and developmental delays, Chantel has had many negative experiences.

Her first few years of life were filled with fear of people she did not know, and with good cause. After all, it seemed as if every time she turned around, she was either being stuck with a needle or getting a test done. Now, however, Chantel has come out of her shell, enjoying the experience of being on-stage in front of people. These new experiences mean a great deal to her. She got involved in a charitable fashion show and was in two on-stage school productions: "The Three Pigs Opera," and an autumn/spring program. She loved performing, but, most of all, she did it for the applause!

When my husband and I read about the Oregon Special Beauties Pageant, we agreed that it sounded like something Chantel would enjoy. After carefully scrutinizing the information package on the event, we signed her up.

We told Chantel's good friend, Briana, five (who was diagnosed with congenital myopathy (muscle weakness) about the pageant, and she decided to sign up too. A local columnist wrote about both of them and as a result, they were both invited to the Miss Murietta Pageant--in the town of Murietta, California. Chantel and Briana were crowned honorary queens and a raffle held on their behalf helped raise funds for the expenses to get from our home in Temecula, California to Oregon.

On Their Way

In November 1997, our family flew to Medford, Oregon to attend the pageant. The first activity was the interview. Each girl was given a "Special Beauties USA Pageant" T-shirt to wear and a contestant number. The panel of judges had a bio for each contestant and asked questions accordingly. The atmosphere was friendly and non-threatening--each of the girls were interviewed privately and were allowed to have a family member join them. For those contestants who were non-verbal or had limited speech, a friend or family member could assist in the answer.

That Friday evening was also a chance for the participants to get acquainted with each other. Pretty soon, some of the teens had taken Chantel under their wing and she had a lot of fun hanging out with them, making new friends, and watching a video of the previous year's pageant.

A chance to shine

Finally, the much anticipated formal proceedings of the pageant had arrived. We entered a festively-decorated room glowing with lights hung like icicles. …

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