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Published on March 22nd, 2013 | by NSB Observer

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The Making and Makers of Our Shining S.T.A.R.S. Pageant

By: Brittany Gaither 

It all started with a little girl’s compassion and a loving mother who showed her the way. Dawn McDonald has been a pediatric in-home nurse for more than 20 years and has always had patients around that were nothing short of miracles. Among many of her patients, she has cared for terminal children, children with cerebral palsy and children with brain injuries. As a young girl, Tia McDonald, always showed special interest in helping her mother not only care for these patients, but provide them with memories to last a life time.

When Tia was around 3 years old she started competing in pageants professionally, and let me tell you, not only did she light up a room, she stole the stage. By the age of 5, Tia made her way across national pageantry stages and brought home multiple crowns and trophies.

One night, while helping her mother care for a patient at home, Tia glanced over at her crowns and the idea of the Our Shining S.T.A.R.S. Pageant was born. She immediately told her mother that she wanted her patients to be able to experience the feelings that she does on stage. Dawn, being a supporter, let Tia do exactly that. Tia went around and asked local businesses such as David’s Bridal to donate or reduce the price of some dresses and she even donated her own crowns. Right there in the living room, at 5 years old, Tia held her first special needs pageant.

Mary, the very first contestant, had the chance to walk across the makeshift stage (a few taped X’s on the carpet) and experience the feeling of being crowned a princess in front of a live audience (Tia, Dawn, Myself, Ben (Tia’s Brother) and some animals). After seeing her face light up, Tia knew this was the beginning of something special.

Over the course of the next 4 years more people wanted to join in on the pageant. Then, in 2003, the city of Ormond Beach decided to let her hold the pageant at their Performing Arts Center. All of the contestants were so excited to walk across a “real” stage and subsequently, be crowned a real prince/princess. The first year was a great success, featuring 35 contestants. Each and every one of our special stars got to do whatever they wanted on stage, with the spot light on them, followed by being crowned with a real crown. Not to mention the donations and gifts provided from Tia.

tiaFast forward to March 2, 2013, the 10 year anniversary of the pageant with a record breaking 52 special needs contestants. The night started out with a performance by the one and only, Beu Sisters that led into the introduction of Lori Koplin who has donated countless hours towards making sure everything comes together, followed by a very moving performance by our recurring special contestant, Tommy Fager.

Tia kicked off the pageant portion of the show with our 14 “Twinkling Stars” on stage. Each contestant was escorted by current and former pageant queens with Tia reading a biography about the contestant. Among the “Twinkling Stars” division is Ms. Sierra Factor, who suffers from cerebral palsy and has been a contestant since the beginning. Every year Ms. Sierra puts on a very touching singing performance that is always followed by a standing ovation. This performance was just like the rest; after she sang “Little Things” by One Direction, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The show moved into the introduction of the 12 “Nova Stars,” the 12 “Stars of the Zodiac,” and the 13 “Stars of the Galaxy.” The next contestant to perform was Mildretta Williams, who was dressed to impress in her sparkly purple dress and matching hat. Once she opened her mouth to sing everyone was so captivated, I don’t think her outfit was even noticed.

Now, for the moment they have all been waiting for, the crowing of the special contestants. Each contestant was escorted back out on stage, individually to be given their gift bag and to be officially crowned a prince/princess. There is nothing more touching then to watch the eyes of a special needs child or adult light up when they are in the spotlight and everybody is clapping for them, it’s simply amazing.

The show was closed with a few performances; the first ones are by some special contestants who are part of two very special cheer groups, Challenger Cheerleaders and Power Cheer Cheerleaders, followed by the Beu Sisters singing “I Got You” with all of the contestants and volunteers dancing on stage.

For those who do not know the Beu Sisters, they have been on tour with Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken, did the official music video for Disney Channel’s Home on the Range, and you can find them on movie tracks such as the Lizzy McGuire Movie, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Ella Enchanted.

It’s amazing to be able to look back and realize the growth of this pageant and of all of the people that have taken a part in making it what it is today. This pageant started with just girls, and led to kings and has crowned 6 month old children all the way up to a 60-year-old adult.

In fact, Miss America Organization allowed Tia to crown the first Miss America’s Outstanding Baby. There is nothing more rewarding than to be a part of a day that someone with special needs looks forward to all year and although it is Tia’s last year holding the pageant, I am happy to announce that her legacy is being lead on by the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center. She is attending the University of Florida and is proud to still come back to emcee and help.

Thank You, Tia McDonald for creating such a special event and for being a role model to every little girl out there looking to make a difference in someone’s life.


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