On a recent Saturday in Milledgeville, 18 young women from throughout the state experienced a day that can only be compared to Christmas morning when they came to town to participate in the state’s 10th annual Miss Amazing program.
“It’s like the best day of the year,” said Caroline Pedersen, a senior special education major at Georgia College and state director of the program. “You wake up, and it’s just a day full of constant joy.”
Miss Amazing is a national self-esteem movement for girls and women with disabilities. Though the program shares some similarities with pageants, there are several major differences. In fact, it’s never referred to as a pageant at all.
“We definitely highlight the program now on just building an opportunity for our girls to speak out and show the world who they truly are in a safe and supportive environment, and we work to build communication skills, build a sisterhood and build that confidence,” Pedersen explained.
Girls are referred to as participants, never as contestants.
“We’re not judging our participants on things like beauty,” Pedersen said. “It is solely based on how a participant can express themselves and show us that they are truly themselves.”
Instead of a talent portion, the girls take part in passion presentations. For 90 seconds, each participant takes the stage and speaks about something they are truly passionate about. During the most recent event, one participant spoke about her involvement with the Special Olympics while wearing her medals. Another talked about the history of crocheting and shared a piece she had made. Others love to sing, dance or cheer.
Participants take part in two other categories as well. One is an interview portion in which they meet with judges one-on-one or with a buddy if they prefer. They are asked basic questions initially before digging a bit deeper to questions such as how they’ve impacted their community. The girls also participate in a personal introductions category. This is scored during the event when they come on stage escorted by a “right hand man” and tell the audience a bit about themselves, including what they love about themselves.
Miss Amazing encompasses seven divisions — preteen, junior teen, teen, junior miss, miss, senior miss and mentor. The event is for ages 5 and up. Rising stars, who are ages 5 through 9, don’t compete, but they can join to get the experience. The mentor category is for ages 36 and up. There is no age cap.
“You could be 84, and we would welcome you,” Pedersen said.
All of the participants are referred to as princesses, and one queen is crowned from each of the seven categories. The queen will represent Georgia for the year and will participate in the national program, which will be held in Chicago this year.
Pedersen has served as state director since 2020, and her involvement with the program actually began when she was just a high school student herself. A fellow schoolmate had become the first state director, and she shared a video about the organization with the entire student body.
“I remember watching that video and being so touched by it,” she said.
Pederson knew that she needed to become involved right away, and she began work with the program as just a high school student. Back then, the first programs were held in Macon and metro Atlanta, but by the time Pedersen took over as director in 2020, she was a Georgia College student and brought the program to Milledgeville.
As director, Perdersen shoulders a large task to say the least. She coordinates the event along with a team she built of graduate and undergraduate Georgia College students from a variety of backgrounds. The job entails working with community members who support the program well.
“I am so thankful for it because without the community, we couldn’t be a program.”
While the task of coordinating such an event is great, the reward in it is greater.
“The biggest impact that I’ve seen is just the pure joy on the girls' faces,” Perdersen said. “I’ve had a couple of times a mom come up to me and say, ‘I’ve never seen my daughter smile this big.’”
Another mom emailed her recently to thank her for the life lessons her daughter was able to learn through the program.
“It provides those learning opportunities without any judgment from anybody because anybody that is at our program has come to learn how to be more open-minded and more inclusive and more loving,” she said. “There’s nobody there that is going to judge you for who you are because the whole goal is to be exactly who you are and to feel the love and support for that.”
And the girls aren’t the only ones who feel that love.
“I get so much joy from my girls,” Pedersen said.
At the last event, when she got dressed out of her t-shirt and into her stage outfit, she said she was immediately showered with compliments, cheers and clapping from the girls.
“They show me just as much love as I try to show with the program, and I just feel so overwhelmed with love. It’s moments like that when I know that I’m making the biggest difference in these girls and that they truly appreciate the effort to make them feel special and unique and that it is completely okay to have different abilities than other people.”
Pedersen said she hopes the program will continue to grow, and she is always looking for volunteers and more participants. A fundraiser, “Cornhole for the Crown,” is planned for April 23 to help fund the current queens’ trip to nationals.