Newcomerstown Middle School was the venue for the first ever "You Can Do Anything! Pageant" on Friday, May 2.
Richelle Lefler of Newcomerstown was inspired to organize the event, which celebrates the true beauty of individuals with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, when she saw a documentary about a similar pageant started by Abbey Curran, Miss Iowa 2008.
Lefler shares that at the end of watching the documentary, her daughter, Chelsea Gardner, who happens to have Down Syndrome, asked if she could be in a pageant someday. Wanting to make all of her daughter's dreams come true, Richelle began to ask herself why not. After contacting Abbey Curran, she learned that there are no such pageants in Ohio, so she decided to recruit some women from Newcomerstown to help her brainstorm and plan -- Heather Berndt, Tricia Buss, Kirsti Buss, Linda Russell, and Cindy Staggs. The desire of the event was to provide all of the contestants with an opportunity to shine and show their true beauty to the audience.
The event consisted of a parade of contestants, two group talent numbers (choreographed by Lacey Bright and Richelle Lefler), a special comedy act and vocal performance (Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line") by Lonnie Thornton and Scott Morrison (both consumers at Starlight Workshop), a fashion show, and an awards ceremony. Angela Stewart served as emcee for the event. Five judges, including, Darcee Beach, Steven Brode, Morgan Burtscher, Kim Meek-Obed and Cat Mitchell, provided commentary and feedback to the contestants throughout the evening.
Eleven contestants between the ages of 3 and 55 participated in Friday night's events. Thirteen local queens, princesses, kings, and special guests assisted the contestants throughout the event as well as crowned each contestant during the awards ceremony. Contestants included Kody Miller, Raegan Daugherty, Josey Rome, Gunner Bradford, Logan Storck, Donni Storck, Taylor Moger, Corie Downer, Chelsea Gardner, Scott Morrison, and Lonnie Thornton. Local guests include Kirsti Buss, Amanda Fowler, Tessa Harrold, Abbey Keating, Charlie Kuemerle, Lydia Lehman, Michala Metzcar, Maddy Schupp, Kayla Scott, Dalton Sprowl, Taylor Sprowl and Morgan Woodhall.
Those attending the event were encouraged to make a donation as the cost of admission. All proceeds will be donated to various non-profit organizations or agencies that enrich the lives of individuals with special needs. These donations will be made in honor of various contestants. The event itself was dedicated to the memory of Lefler's best friend, Jennifer Lynn Milburn, who, like the contestants, exemplified true beauty to all of those around her while she was alive.
Lefler is hoping that this becomes an annual event. She felt that many of the spectators left feeling inspired and encouraged. Her daughter, Chelsea, who wore her tiara for two days following the event, simply said, "It's my dream come true."