River Parish royalty represent Very Special Miss Louisiana

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2022

LAPLACE — The Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant is giving two young ladies in the River Parishes a platform to show the world that their disabilities do not define them.

C’Jea Frank of LaPlace and Madeline Young of Vacherie are ready to make their voices heard.

C’Jea, 13, was crowned Ambassador of the Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant on June 25. According to pageant organizer Robin Abrams, C’Jea was awarded this title as a result of her commitment to advocacy in recent years as she reigned as queen of her age division.

C’Jea has previously been declared a Louisiana Ambassador by Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. She was also recognized by St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and Sheriff Mike Tregre for her commitment to the Very Special Miss Louisiana title.

“We pick an ambassador every year that promotes our pageant, and this person will appear in all of our billboards, TV and radio advertising. She will be our spokesperson,” Abrams said. “With C’Jea and her mom being so active and promoting our pageant while she was queen, we thought that she would be a great asset to our organization.”

C’Jea was born with autism and a chromosomal condition, and her mother Brandi Frank has watched her blossom over the past three years under the Very Special Miss Louisiana spotlight. While being a special needs mom has had its setbacks, Frank said being able to participate in the pageant is an honor that has changed her and her daughter’s lives.

“We pray this great event expands to more families, more hearts and more hometowns. Special needs families and individuals deserve to feel the joy this event brings, not only on the day of the pageant, but all the days and events that follow during C’Jea’s reign,” Frank said. “The Very Miss Special Louisiana title has built C’Jea’s confidence and given her courage to simply be her wonderful self. To see the growth from my little soft-spoken, timid and limited special needs individual to the beautiful social butterfly we see here today is an unexplainable emotion.”

C’Jea won her first Very Special Miss Louisiana title when she attended the pageant in 2019. Before it was time to walk on stage, C’Jea approached Miss Christmas on the Bayou and said that she wanted a big crown just like the one she was wearing. The pageant queen gave C’Jea some last-minute pointers that worked like a charm on stage, and she’s worn the crown ever since. Her three crowns, sash and certificates have been displayed in St. John Parish during events attended by photographers, reporters and several community leaders.

“Although the past few years have been limited (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), C’Jea has not missed an opportunity to throw on her crown and sash to represent the great state of Louisiana. Our hometown of St. John the Baptist Parish has especially adored and supported C’Jea in her reign,” Frank said.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Madeline Young of Vacherie won the Very Special Miss Louisiana crown for the first time on June 25. It was her third year participating in the pageant and working toward the coveted title, and hearing her named called out under those bright stage lights felt a lot like being crowned Miss Universe.

“I couldn’t believe it at first because I’ve worked so hard, and getting to represent this title is my dream,” Madeline said.

Due to having spina bifida, Madeline has been underestimated for most of her life by teachers, coaches and peers who take one look at her and see her as the girl in the wheelchair. According to Madeline’s mother, April Young, pageantry has made her daughter stronger both physically and emotionally.

“It’s hard for us to find therapies that are worthwhile for teenagers. Since we started doing pageants in 2018, it has helped her posture and improved her scoliosis. It’s also helped her gain self-confidence. Even the principal at St. James High School saw how she has blossomed in her confidence,” Young said.

Madeline’s first title was Relay for Life’s Cure on the Bayou Queen. Losing family members to cancer made her passionate about giving back to the community through advocacy. In 2020, she was crowned as an ambassador for the VFW, following in the footsteps of her grandfather. Through involvement in the Louisiana Disability Council Youth Leadership forum, Madeline has attended Legislative sessions as well as events across the state to advocate for home- and community-based services.

“What she plans to do with the Very Miss Special Louisiana title is advocate for children and adults and remind them that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t get up on that stage and do your best,” Young said. “Through this pageant, these children are being acknowledged for who they really are, not their disability.”

Madeline said her favorite part of the Very Special Miss Louisiana pageant is getting to speak to the other contestants and have fun. She looks forward to meeting new people throughout the state, and she’s especially excited to visit the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge.

Madeline said those considering participating in Very Special Miss Louisiana should “just do it.”

“It’s an amazing organization that makes you feel loved and makes you feel accepted,” she said.

The Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant is going into its eighth year, and Abrams hopes to expand to other states with an ultimate goal of eventually hosting a Very Special Miss USA Pageant. The event, hosted annually in Hammond, is open to girls and women from infants up to age 40.

“It’s really hard to pick winners because they were all so beautiful. It’s hard find judges for this pageant because everybody wants everybody to win, but in this case, the parents appreciate that it’s a competition like it would be for any pageant,” Abrams said. “They want their children to feel the competition aspect.”