Benton resident Sarah Young-Price, 20, was crowned “Miss Awesome Personality” in the 2012 Arkansas Angels Pageant on March 17 at Beebe High School.
The pageant was marked with the traditional grandeur - participants attired in rich gowns and suits, jewel-laden tiaras and satin sashes. Unlike other pageants, however, Arkansas Angels contestants are male and female, ages zero to 21, who have special needs.
A special needs contestant is one who has been identified by a doctor as having a physical or mental impairment; this could include hearing or sight impairments, as well as autism or any other condition deemed differently abled.
This was the first pageant for the 2009 Bauxite High School graduate.
Sarah said she had 19 participants in her division. "There were 150 contestants this year; there was a girl in my division from Tennessee who was born with cerebral palsy," she said.
Sarah said she was escorted across the stage while her biography was read.
"I'm really not the pageant, girly-girl type," she said. "It was really fun."
Judy Young, Sarah's mother, said there were volunteers everywhere.
"People were there to do hair, makeup and nails," Young said. "She looked beautiful."
All participants were awarded a crown, sash and medal, and through sponsorship all costs were covered.
Pageant Director B.J. Thorne, a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and husband Johnathan created the Arkansas Angels Pageant when their daughter, Andrea, now 13, begged to be in pageants like her identical twin, Bailee, and younger sister, Lauren Grace, 7.
According to Thorne, Andrea and Bailee were born at 25 weeks and both suffered brain bleeds at three days old. "It was devastating; Andrea has hydrocephalus, or water on the brain," Thorne said.
"She has had more than 70 surgeries and spent a lot of time in the hospital."
It was a dress-shopping excursion that led the nurse and mother of three daughters to be an advocate for those with special needs.
"We've never been a die-hard pageant family, like 'Toddlers and Tiaras' or anything," Thorne said. "The other two girls were trying on dresses and Andrea said, 'Mama, I want to be in a pageant.'"
Andrea's request was all the motivation Thorne needed.
"When finding nothing 'just right' for her, we decided to make our own. We are blessed to be surrounded by special individuals who exuberate beauty inside and out. No matter what physical or mental different ability, everyone has the right to 'strut their stuff' and feel beautiful," Thorne said. It is only the second year for the Arkansas Angels Pageant, and with pageants in 15 states from coast to coast, Thorne's mission has grown to the Angels Pageant System.
"We will have 1,000 kids crowned by January 2013," Thorne said.
Sarah, a client of the Civitan Adult Program, is one of the proud recipients of the impressive crowns. She said she may participate again next year.
"I think she really did well. I'm really proud of her," said Robert Young, Sarah's dad.
To participate, volunteer or sponsor, visit arkansasangelspageants.weebly.com.