HAMMOND — The organizers of the Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant want each contestant to feel like a queen.

Pageant contestants, though age 40, are showered with many of the amenities, including parties, hair and makeup artists, and tiaras.  

The pageant, scheduled for Jan. 19, affords girls and women with special needs the opportunity to participate in a competition designed for their unique needs and talents.

The pageant weekend starts with a kickoff party for the contestants and their families at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, at the Oak Tree Church on the North Interstate 12 Service Road. The pageant begins at 1 p.m. at the same location the next day.

The pageant is a fundraiser for TARC, a Hammond agency that provides opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to realize their full potential and to become self-directed and contributing citizens. 

"The competition puts its contestants on a memorable path," says Robin Abrams, director of the pageant, which was started five years ago. "It will leave the contestants with memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. This is a one-in-a-lifetime experience for these very special contestants." 

Continuing, Abrams observed, “Five years ago I could not have imagined how this pageant would impact so many lives. In those short years I have made so many friends and met so many amazing families. Each family has a different story to tell but they all have one thing in common and that is their beautiful daughters.”

Contestants are given various experiences in connection with the pageant. For example, on Dec. 18 the contestants were treated to an outing in Baton Rouge and a luncheon hosted by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. One of the judges for this year’s pageant will be Trina Edwards, wife of former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

New for the pageant this year will be an optional interview with the judges so that the judges can get to better know the contestants. The interviews will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday before the party. A parent or guardian is invited to accompany the contestant. Abrams described the interviews as “laid back …the girls will be asked to give details of their day-to-day challenges and what this pageant means to them and their families.”

The pageant is for girls and women from infancy to age 40. The pageant categories are 0-11 months, 12-23 months, 2-3 years, 4-5 years, 6-8 years, 9-11 years, 12-14 years, 15-17 years, 18-23 years and 24-40 years.

Specialty awards will be given for fashion, prettiest eyes and prettiest hair, and for the most photogenic.

To be eligible, each contestant must be a resident of Louisiana and have an intellectual disability, a cognitive delay or a developmental disability.

Escorts, as well as hair and makeup artists, will be provided for each contestant on the day of the pageant. “We want to make sure that every young lady feels extra special. We want all contestants to feel like a queen. Friday we will have a Meet and Greet party, where we will have a fun, magical time with food and drinks provided. This will give each contestant the opportunity to meet their escorts and our staff in hopes of providing a smooth transition to the day of the pageant,” Abrams said.

Contestants will also have a chance to practice on stage. All contestants will receive a tiara and a Very Special Miss Louisiana T-shirt. Queens at the first, second and third levels will be crowned in each division.

“This is a very special event for some very, very special ladies. We ask these girls to give the pageant a try and to set all their fears aside. We want them to give the pageant a chance so that they can try something different. We want them to accomplish something that some people may say they cannot do. With the Very Special Miss Louisiana Pageant, we think that these girls can do and be whatever their hearts desire,” Abrams said.

Admission to the pageant is $6.