Georgia College students coordinate statewide event for girls with disabilities

Georgia College students coordinate statewide event for girls with disabilities

I t’s a day filled with primping, poise and personal development. Run like a pageant, the Miss Amazing event teaches self-advocacy skills to girls and women with disabilities in a fun environment. 

Participants take part in an interview, a passion presentation that showcases a talent or hobby, get their hair and makeup done, then bring it all together for the final show.

“Miss Amazing is an advocacy program for girls and women with disabilities,” said Caroline Pederson, junior special education major and Georgia director for Miss Amazing. “We work to dispel stereotypes and build confidence in a safe environment.”

A participant and volunteer pose for a photo.
A participant and volunteer pose for a photo.
Pederson began working with the program in high school. Since then, she’s taken on several different roles and served as director of the Georgia chapter for the last two years. During that time, she brought the event from Atlanta to Milledgeville and created a registered student organization for Miss Amazing at Georgia College.

 “We’ve got a good number of participants and student volunteers now, but we also have volunteers from across the state since it's a statewide event,” Pederson said.

During this academic year, the group worked to raise money and awareness about the project on campus.

“Miss Amazing has been a way for me to get more involved and get more experience with working with women with special needs,” said junior Halle Staples, a special education major.

Participant smiles before she takes the stage.
Participant smiles before she takes the stage.

“I’m currently the fundraising coordinator, so I’ve been working to create events to raise money for our big event in April.”

This year, Pederson says they’ve raised more money than in the last several years thanks to the efforts of Staples and others. The funds are used to buy supplies and other items for the main event The remainder is used to help send the division queens to the national competition in Nashville.  

“For the girls that win our division, they get to go to nationals,” Pederson said. “There's a national fee that they have to cover, and we can help their family with travel expenses.”

Caroline Pederson
Caroline Pederson

For some, it may be the first time their family has traveled to an event specifically for their daughter with exceptionalities.

“I’ve had parents tell me before this is the first time that we've ever gone out of state or gone to a weekend event just for our daughter with a disability,” said Pederson. “They say ‘We have other kids and go to sports tournaments all the time for them, but it's always about them. It's never about my daughter.’”

Miss Amazing makes sure the event is all about them. Each girl is assigned a buddy, which is a Georgia College student who becomes “their best friend that day,” Pederson says.

“That’s our goal— to be best friends with the participants,” Pederson said. “The whole concept is to make friends and help them learn to love themselves.”

A winner is crowned.
A winner is crowned.
Girls can participate as young as five. There’s no age limit, but this year, the oldest of the  14 participants is 41 years old.

Throughout the year, the Miss Amazing organization on campus connects with girls across the country in many ways.

“My friend who runs South Dakota’s Miss Amazing told me one of her participants got assaulted at her school dance,” Pederson said. “Our organization wrote letters and words of encouragement for a little pick me up for her.”

They did the same for another participant whose house burned down a few months ago. 

It’s the small things that sometimes that have the biggest impact for these girls, who know what it’s like to be different.

“For the main event, it’s great to see such a lively environment. You can tell everybody is excited to be there and everyone is so encouraging,” Staples said. “The participants are so kind to one another. It’s just so sweet to see how everybody interacts with one another, which is honestly most impactful to me.”

For Pederson, the work to coordinate an event of this size can be grueling at times. But she’s proud of the team she’s established and the effort everyone put in the make this year’s event a success.

“To see the joyous smiles on each of their faces makes it all worth it,” Pederson said. “They’ve probably taught me more about self-confidence than any other experience in my life.”

More information on the Miss Amazing program is available here.