Little Miss Shine Your Way Peageant

In Amanda Belgard, Community, Kiddos by Lola Magazine

The Little Miss Shine Your Way pageant was founded in the summer of 2014. The idea stemmed from my oldest daughter, Mckenzie, in hopes of raising money for children with cancer or special needs.

Mckenzie was born at 25 weeks and weighed only 1 lb. 11 oz. As her mom, I had to bear the heart -wrenching truth that she would always have medical setbacks due to her Cerebral Palsy. Regardless of her developmental delays and the effect of CP (primarily on the right side of her body), she was determined to live life to the fullest. She began walking at age three and never slowed down.

Mckenzie has always worried about the well being of others, even strangers. She shows compassion to others unknowingly and impacts people every day. When Mckenzie was four years old, I entered her into a local beauty pageant because she had a passion for being on a stage. I will never forget that day as I was in awe of how beautiful she looked in her dress. She went on stage and OWNED it. She smiled and waved as she walked, with her right leg dragging a little and each step she was on her right tiptoes. The other contestants in her age group hit the marks on stage with such precision, and my little girl was not at the age of realizing her way of walking was different. The time came for crowning and as I stood there behind her, I noticed her looking at the other girls as they were being handed awards, trophies, and crowns. My heart was broken because I knew why and I was trying to come up with the right words in my mind so I could make her smile. As we were driving home, the tears were rolling down those little cheeks, and I said to her, “Why are you crying?” Her response was that she only won a shirt (that was included in the entry fee.) This was my first opportunity to explain how her CP would affect many things throughout her life.

I know that every mom out there wants the best for her child, and parents of a child with special needs get a new perspective on life. The dreams we had set in our hearts and minds completely turn into prayers in the moment of a diagnosis, an obstacle, another procedure, another specialist added to the list, and the “big moment” when we realize this is not something we can fix but learn to accommodate their individual needs. Moms out there like myself, I know you get it, especially when you are biting your tongue as people stare or praying and crying to God for another day with your perfectly created child.

Mckenzie became a big sister in 2016, and shortly after my second daughter was born, I find out she has special needs. Both of my daughters are diagnosed with CP, while the youngest, Braylyn, is more extensive with additional diagnosis. We are facing so many uncertainties. The hardest part of having children with special needs is “letting go” and relying on your faith that God is in control and He will not fail. Does this mean His will is what we selfishly want? Not always, but with faith and trust in Him, the peace of all that comes with this life is easier to embrace.

In the summer of 2014, Mckenzie wanted to start raising money for kids with cancer or medical difficulties. I asked her if she would like to do a pageant, but not one like she had participated when she was little. She agreed and I did not have a clue on how to even begin creating this pageant, but we gave it a shot. I reached out to a few people to help me get the ideas in order and begin planning. The name “Little Miss Shine Your Way” was suggested by someone after watching the movie “The Croods.” The theme song, “Shine Your Way,” was perfect for what we would be incorporating into the event.

The Little Miss Shine Your Way pageant was established to give each contestant the opportunity to SHINE on stage while showing the inner and outer beauty. Contestant registration is open to girls and boys ages 0-21, individual has cancer or had cancer, special needs (an extensive list of what falls into this category), or is medically fragile. The only required category to enter is beauty. Pageant-style attire is not required, because we want the contestants to be who they are and feel 100% confident while on stage. The optional categories are photogenic and talent. Talent has been a crowd favorite as contestants have sung, danced, played instruments, and more.

What makes Little Miss Shine Your Way so unique?

Each contestant entered will receive a sash, tiara, trophy, certificate with title won, and gift bag filled with themed prizes, pageant shirt, and more. The contestants who wish to participate in talent will receive a trophy. Photogenic awards are given to the judges’ top three picks. Sponsor trophy is awarded to the contestant who sold the most tickets (these are included in registration packets and each sponsor ticket is $5).

The judges decide on an overall Princess (ages 0-7) and Queen (8-21). The overalls receive a crown, certificate, sash, and trophy. The titles chosen for contestants are titles that represent their individuality. Examples of titles include Miss Adorable, Miss Vivacious, Miss Irresistible, Miss Inspirational, and Miss Lovable. The selection of overall Princess and Queen are not based on the contestants’ attire, willingness to engage with judges/audience, or their stage appearance. Judges select the overall by the impact the contestant had on the audience as well as themselves. Some of the contestants are in wheelchairs, use walkers, are blind, deaf, or have extreme sensory issues that make them fear crowds, noises, or anything out of their element. The judges are not aware of each contestant’s special needs/medical condition so they are experiencing firsthand seeing the child in another light as he/she SHINES!

Every year, I select a family/families who has a child with special needs or terminal medical condition and are in immediate need of medical/adaptive equipment, medicine not covered by insurance, transportation cost to travel to a hospital or doctor out of town or any other specific need that would benefit the child. I ask for nominations and narrow selections down to the most urgent one. The child is then selected as the poster child for the current year. There is a cookout prior to the pageant to help contribute directly to the selected family. A raffle drawing is held at the pageant each year and I ask for merchandise, gift cards, or anything that would appeal to someone to purchase a ticket. I recently have struggled with the production of our pageant shirts that is also part of the fundraiser.

There is a lot of hard work and planning going into this event each year and in the past I have worked full time and juggled the pageant planning as well as being a mom. I have cried many times while preparing for the pageant because there has been a decline in number of individuals/businesses willing to help every year. The worries and tears quickly vanish on pageant day when I witness the contestants take stage and SHINE. I have witnessed contestants who would not hold their head up, go on stage and OWN it. I get the pleasure of observing the audience as their eyes are teary and faces are gleaming with heart-felt joy. The best reward of all is at the end and Mckenzie and I are able to do again what she wished for in the summer of 2014. I love the sincere and thankful hugs from the chosen poster child family at the end of the pageant. The pageant is held during July or September each year.

I used to question “Why God?” “Why my daughters?” I know now it’s not a question but rather a thankfulness response in prayer. I thank God for my daughters, and I thank God that He created them so fearfully and wonderfully made. He created them with purpose and reason and the love they have of others is his works.