Tuesday, October 21, 2014

PALS Pageant gives special students a night to shine


By Christopher Dunn

Elizabeth Andrews and Terry Newson wave to the crowd during Saturday night’s PALS Pageant at Starr’s Mill High School.

What a night. Starr's Mill played host to the second annual PALS Pageant on Saturday and it was a truly amazing evening.
The pageant is a celebration of the PALS (Peers are Linking Students) program dreamed up by Sarah Boyd and Lizzie Keown. With the help of Starr's Mill PALS sponsors Shannon Gagliano, Cindy Hartpence, Jenny Kelly, Jodi Morrow, Colleen Petty, and Julianna Wright, the event becomes a chance to show how beautiful and talented our special needs students are. They team up with some of their school friends for an extravaganza.
Most of all, the night gave the special students a chance to be celebrated for the beautiful people they are.
"One of the main reasons why we host this pageant is to give the kids with special needs a chance to shine on stage because chances are, they would not have this opportunity otherwise. That's why we don't have judges and this pageant is not a contest. It's all about the kids being free to be themselves and having their evening to shine in front of an audience," said Jenny Kelly, one of the event's organizers. "All of the kids who participated had so much fun and that was our number one priority. The audience was very supportive and encouraging and this meant everything to the kids."
Whether it was beaming at the beautiful and handsome special needs students as they were escorted by the friends or cheering them as they showed off their talents, it was impossible for those in the audience to come away without a huge smile. The Duke Auditorium at Starr's Mill was packed with family and friends. Perhaps most touching was seeing how many other students were there to support the participants. High school students always have something fun to do on a weekend, but they wanted to be there that night to celebrate something special.
"I can't tell you how many people, with tears in their eyes, have told me how amazing the kids were, especially those with special needs," said Kelly. "Men, women, and children were all very touched by the courage and determination of these special kids."
Good luck coming away from the night without a little different perspective on life.
"I have had a number of people tell me that the pageant 'grounds' them and reminds them that we all have so much to be thankful for. I hope everyone who attended the pageant feels this way," Kelly said. "I also hope they will remember to always look at others' abilities first, not their disabilities."
So many local businesses chipped in their support whether it was with donations or silent auction items. Because of their generous support, enough funds were raised to donate $500 to the memorial courtyard for Matthew Hunt, a participant in last year's pageant, at Starr's Mill. It was also enough to cover all of the expenses of this year's pageant.
While everyone was a winner, the big winner of the night was Corrie Williamson who won the People's Choice Award.
Another awesome PALS Pageant is in the books. For the students who participated and the audience who enjoyed it, the next pageant can't get here soon enough.


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