CROWNING: Pike County’s Grace Arnette: An ‘Angel’ among us

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Two-year-old Grace Arnette had wanted to participate in the Alabama Angels Pageant in Montgomery in March but she was sick and receiving medical treatment in Birmingham.

She missed the pageant and the fun and excitement of participation. However, she was treated royally by “Miss Sarah Jo” and the hometown folks at a “crowning” ceremony held especially in her honor.

Grace received her Alabama Angel tiara, her sash and bag of goodies at a special individual ceremony at Troy University Wednesday.

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“We wanted the presentation of her tiara and sash to be special for Grace so we decided to make the presentation more formal,” said Sara Jo Burks, a local volunteer with Alabama Angels. “Miss Troy Mary Beth Moore and Teen Miss Troy Mary Catherine Dulaney assisted with the presentation at the fountain on the Troy University campus. Grace was happy and excited. It was special for her and all of us as well.”

Grace has Down syndrome and participating in pageants makes her happy, said her mom, Layla Arnette.

“Grace loves pageants but she sometimes gets sick and doesn’t get to participate,” Arnette said. “She has been in several local pageants, the fundraising, charity type ones. She was excited about getting her Alabama Angels tiara and sash. Getting it at Troy University made it special for her. We really appreciate those that went out of their way to make Grace feel special. I really want to thank them. Grace is a wild and funny little girl. She always has a happy smile. To us, she is an angel.”

Burks said the Alabama Angels Pageant is a noncompetitive pageant for anyone, male or female, of any age, with a medically diagnosed physical or mental impairment.

“Alabama Angels is not a competition,” Burks said. “It is an opportunity to participate, to experience the fun and excitement of what it’s like to participate in a pageant. It’s an opportunity to know what it’s like to have a tiara placed on your head and a sash over your shoulder.”

Burks, who volunteers to work with hair and makeup, said for many of the participants the Alabama Angels Pageant is their first experience having their hair done or makeup applied.

“Being involved with the pageant is a unique and rewarding experience,” she said.

“The idea for a pageant of this kind originated with a lady in a dress shop. She was assisting a customer that was buying a prom dress for her daughter. The younger daughter was confined to a wheelchair. The lady noticed how excited the young girl was about the pretty dresses her sister was trying on so she asked the mother if she could choose a dress for her younger daughter.  Seeing the happiness it brought to the girl in the wheelchair motivated and inspired her to design a pageant so that every person could experience being a queen or king for a day.”

For Burks, being a volunteer with the Alabama Angels Pageant is a heart-warming experience.

“It’s something that I can do that brings happiness to others,” she said. “On an average, there are around 150 participants in the Alabama Angels Pageant. That’s a lot of happiness.”