Every Girl a Princess in Local Special Needs Pageant

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 10:36 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -Most little girls dream of being a princess, and in one local pageant every girl is.

“My pageant is a little bit unique, said Princesses of Paradise Pageant founder Mia Bennett. “It’s completely free to sign up and to participate.”

Mia Bennett was just 12 when she won her first pageant title, Jr. Teen Miss Freeport.

Part of her duties included participating in the Seaside Fourth of July parade.

“After the event when I was walking around in my tiara I met a young girl with down syndrome and she proceeded to tell me she could not be a princess too,” said Bennett.

She never forgot that meeting and the longing in that young girl’s eyes.

“When I was 16 I decided to spring into action and start my first pageant,” said Bennett.

She was competing in a scholarship pageant that included her choice of a community service project. That’s when Princesses of Paradise Pageant for Special Needs was born.

“So being the entrepreneur that I am I asked my parents for a little bit of money and they gave me $250 and I crowned my first 7 princesses in 2016,” said Bennett.

These princesses may not look like other pageant contestants.

“My pageant is open to anyone with any kind of medical condition that can impact self-esteem or special needs,” said Bennett.

Evening gown is the only required competition and then it’s on to the crowning. That’s where every girl leaves the stage as a princess.

“Each girl gets to walk one more time to their favorite song and they are taken to the center of the stage crowned a princess and they walk away with their own sash that is just for them,” said Bennett.

Each young lady gets her own title such as Miss Sea Oats or Miss Tiger Lily or Miss Seaside. But more importantly, they take home self-confidence.

“Usually the first year someone participates you can tell they’re a little more shy and they’re a little bit more reserved,” said Bennett. “Then the next year when they know how it works and they’re comfortable getting dressed up they will stay the entire song and dance around.”

Aside from the evening wear, there are other categories for competition.

“They’ll have the option to compete in Miss Photogenic, casual wear or my favorite... the best part of me which is where they pick an outfit and they get to make an outfit out of what they think represents them,” said Bennett,

Many parts of the program have changed over the past 5 years. Bennett had to take two years off because of the pandemic. But one part will never change.

“On the back of my program every year you’ll notice Psalm 139:14,” said Bennett. That was a Bible verse that my mom actually showed me when I was very young. You are beautiful for you are fearfully and wonderfully made. That’s the whole premise of the pageant you’re beautiful because there is no one else like you. and so by putting that verse on the back of my program I’m showing that I’m not the only one that thinks that.. God thinks that too.”

Bennett is hoping to raise enough money in the next year to have crowning ceremonies for home or hospital-bound young ladies.

This year the pageant will be held on April 16 at the Holley Lecture Hall on the FSU-PC campus at 2:00 pm.

She is encouraging everyone to come and cheer for the young ladies.

Bennet is always in need of volunteers and sponsors. The crowns and sashes are not cheap.

The pageant is now a 501c3 and there is an online store. That merchandise will also be sold at the pageant.

If you’re interested in participating or volunteering or being a sponsor log onto www.princessesofparadise.com

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