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Miss Ability pageant models inclusion for girls with disabilities in Prince William County

For the past seven years, Prince William County girls with disabilities have been given the unique opportunity to participate in a special pageant – the Miss Ability pageant, thanks to the volunteer efforts of Donna Notarantonio.

“It is the most fascinating thing,” Notarantonio said. “The looks on the girls’ faces are amazing.”

Notarantonio is a reading specialist at Pennington Traditional School who began to voluntarily coordinate the Miss Ability pageant after she learned about a similar pageant in West Virginia. She said the pageant celebrates every participant, while including students from schools across the school division.

“Every girl gets a crown and every girl gets a sash,” she said. “I started this to provide a chance for students across the division to volunteer and give them an awareness of girls with special needs. I have boys who have volunteered to help with this pageant all seven years.”

Notarantonio said she works through the Key Clubs at the high schools to find volunteers for the pageant. She said she has received volunteers from Osbourn Park, Battlefield, Stonewall, Patriot, and Colgan High Schools, and that she is overwhelmed by number of volunteers who want to get involved.

“We also have volunteers doing hair and makeup for the girls,” she said. “We have a dinner and the Girl Scouts volunteer to serve the food. We try to make it fancy for the girls.”

The pageant includes talent, interview and evening gown categories, and is limited to 24 girls ages 10-23.

“I want to keep it personal,” she said. “We have a smaller group so we can focus on the girls and make them feel special.”

Each participant receives a goodie bag, and the money raised through the pageant provides a $1,000 scholarship. Notarantonio said the girls are each assigned a buddy, and the girls love getting their pictures taken with their buddy.

“The girls have so much pride and they get so excited,” she said. “One girl called me in the middle of the night to talk about the pageant.”

The 2018 pageant was held at Osbourn Park High School several weeks ago.

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