The world has not always viewed people with disabilities the way they are viewed today. Actually, there is still a long way to go, but ideas are finally moving in the right direction. Even 20-years-ago, the ideas around disabilities and inclusion were different.
But Syndi Sills and her brother, Paul Jr., did not let it stop them. Although PJ was born with Down syndrome, it did not keep him from living life. They did everything together, including participating in pageants. The world might not have understood PJ, but Syndi did.
Unfortunately, PJ gained his angel wings in 2009. As much as PJ’s life had impacted Syndi’s, his death changed her forever. Syndi knew she needed to keep his memory alive in a way that honored their life together. If she knew anything, it was pageants.
Syndi decided to start her own organization dedicated to breaking down barriers, promoting inclusion, and most of all, giving those who have a disability the opportunity to shine. And just like that, Butterfly Dreams Pageants were born. People who participate in the pageant come as a delicate caterpillar, and through the pageant process, they are transformed into this beautiful butterfly who knows no bounds.
Butterfly Dreams is a nonprofit, and while they do host and participate in other events, the pageant is the biggest of their events. Currently, the pageants are held in Missouri and Illinois while Tennessee and Oklahoma are joining the Butterfly Dreams family this year. To participate, contestants must live in the state they are participating in, be at least four-years-old and be a person with an intellectual and/or developmental disability.
While Butterfly Dreams Pageants are free, each participant is asked to bring a new toy to donate to the Toys for Tots program. A Marine is on-site to collect the toys during each pageant.
Syndi says the pageant itself is a beautiful concept, giving those who are ‘differently abled’ the opportunity too often they are denied.
Sign up to be part of the Butterfly Dreams
The first step is applying. Next, an analysis of traits is completed by a specialist and each participant is paired with a PAL, person assisting with love.
The PAL helps guide them through a series of events. The first pageant event is a dessert reception where the participants meet their PAL, learn the moves to the group dance, make friends and ‘shop’ for dresses. The males are given cummerbunds and bow ties on pageant day.
A few weeks later, there is a short rehearsal night, and the next day is pageant day! Pageant day is filled with activity. PALs take over so parents and guardians can sit back and enjoy. The day is filled with love, laughter, talent and accomplishment. For people living with disabilities, daily tasks often include struggles and being judged only by their disabilities. Pageant day is about showing the world their strength and abilities instead. Butterfly Dreams gives those ‘differently-abled’ the chance to shine like never before.
Pageant night is life-changing for all. The joy it brings, the friendships it creates, and the barriers it breaks make this night one unlike any other. The best news is the night does not end there because these memories will last a lifetime.
If you are interested in Butterfly Dreams, please visit butterflydreams.org for more information.