Hemelt: Something special brewing with new Louisiana pageant

Published 12:03 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

Robin Abrams wants to make dreams come true for girls and young ladies with special needs.

Her vision calls for a network of beauty pageants sponsored by the ARC organizations in each parish, with the subsequent winners meeting once a year in Hammond for the statewide Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant.

It might seem like an improbable mission, but three years into her quest, it’s easy to see something special is happening with the annual Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant.

Abrams, who serves as pageant director, had a lot to be grateful for when we spoke this week.

“It was very uplifting and (the contestants) could be their selves around their own peers,” Abrams said. “The parents could relax. A lot of parents tell me they don’t want to take their children to certain places because they are scared of how they will react or how people will react to them. This way, they can be their own self because they are around their own peers.”

The Very Special Little Miss Louisiana division is for young ladies 23 years and younger who reside in Louisiana. Also, the Ms. Division includes an age range of 24-40.

The events are open to contestants with intellectual disabilities, cognitive delays or development disabilities. However, those disabilities are never the focus.

“Mostly with this pageant, we’re celebrating their life and their abilities, not disabilities,” Abrams stressed. “We want them to have the same experience that any other little girl would have in a beauty pageant.”

That experience has been aided greatly by a growing number of businesses and political backers. Last weekend’s event was attended by Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto and Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller.

Abrams said businesses donate money each year to help fund pageant highlights.

“We have a certain couple that buys our crowns every year,” she said. “Our tourist commission helped us with the trophies. Our banners are donated by one lady, who makes beauty pageant banners for a living. She does this for us for free.

“We do charge a $25 entry fee per girl, but we’re getting to where we are trying to knock that off, maybe next year. (Guests) pay at the door to get in. It’s $6. We do not charge the parents of the contestants. It is a little fundraiser, and we don’t make a whole lot of money. With nonprofits and kids with disabilities this time and day, the state funding is just terrible. Any $2,000 or $3,000 we can raise helps a lot.”

This amazing effort paid off big time for the River Parishes Jan. 21, as LaPlace’s own, Trinity Jacobs, took home the crown in her age group.

Trinity’s mother, Jennifer Frizzell, said, through events like this pageant, she hopes to show other parents that there is no reason to hide from disabilities.

“People often tell me, when I say my daughter has Down syndrome, ‘I’m sorry,’” Frizzell said. “I’ll say, ‘Oh no, she is a true blessing.’ I would like parents of special needs children to realize God entrusted us with His most important babies, His most special babies.

“That is how I see Trinity. She is a true blessing. My hope for her is she knows how to celebrate her abilities and not focus on her disabilities. Nobody is perfect, and everybody can shine in his or her own ways. That is truly how I have raised Trinity.”

Special needs children have better paths to fruitful lives through the enduring spirit of parents like Jennifer Frizzell and community patrons like Robin Abrams. If you are interested in learning more about the Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant, log onto tarc-hammond.com or call Abrams at 985-507-1985.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.