Madison Stewart has seen firsthand the difficulties faced by kids with special needs, and she’s determined to see things change for the better.
“I really want kids, especially, to be more accepting of it,” the South Surrey teen said, reflecting on how some people have reacted to her sister, Jada, in the past.
“People can be really quick to judge.”
Jada, who attends Grade 7 at Morgan Elementary, has an invisible disability, meaning many people don’t realize she has special needs.
“It’s frustrating,” Stewart said. “She’s the sweetest girl… but they maybe exclude her because she acts just a bit different.”
Stewart, in Grade 10 at Earl Marriott Secondary and a volunteer for the Variety Club, got off to a good start on changing those perceptions for Jada and other kids recently, when she won the title of Miss Teenage South Western B.C.
Competing in the pageant, which was held April 2-3 in Richmond, gave the 16-year-old a platform for her cause; a means of raising awareness.
Winning the regional crown means she now gets an opportunity to take the awareness up another notch – on the national stage next month, when she’ll vie for the title of Miss Teenage Canada.
According to the MTC website, more than 60 finalists will compete for the role of beauty and goodwill ambassador – along with $25,000 in cash and prizes – in the pageant, to be held July 17-27 in Toronto.
Contestants will be judged on everything from their community engagement to their prowess at public speaking.
Stewart said preparing for the regional competition, which also included public-speaking, evening gown and swimsuit components, boosted her confidence in front of a crowd.
She’s since done fundraising for Free the Children, and to help victims of the Fort McMurray wildfire.
As that continues, she’s also looking for sponsorships to help with costs of entering the pageant, including a $2,800 entry fee.
While Stewart said she was “a bit surprised” to win at the regional level – “all the girls there were so amazing” – a national title will go a long way to further honour Jada and other kids.
“I’ll be able to become an even bigger advocate for children with special needs,” she said.
To contact Stewart, email firstname.lastname@example.org