Posted Online: April 20, 2013, 8:56 pm

Moline women will show off talents in Miss Amazing Pageant

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By Elena Pena

Like many girls, Mary and Paula Dixon, of Moline, often wondered what it would be like to be crowned a princess.

Today, Mary, 28, and Paula, 27, will compete in the Miss Amazing Pageant in Edwardsville.

Both women have a nonverbal learning disorder that includes developmental issues such as not understanding perception and humor, difficulty with problem solving and a lack of social skills and coordination. The disorder also brings on panic and anxiety attacks.

"I wanted to meet new people and make friends," said Paula, who has a bachelor's degree in early childhood learning and works with children at the Quad-City Child Development Center. "We can do what anyone else can do, no matter what."

The Miss Amazing Pageant for young women ages 10 to 35, began in 2007 in Nebraska to help them build self-confidence, learn life skills and share experiences. There are five age groups and contestants compete in the areas of interview, introduction, evening wear and talent.

A winner is chosen from each division to represent the state for one year. They advance to the nationals where they compete with 25 other state finalists. Every pageant participant is considered a winner, or "princess," and receives a trophy and crown.

There is no cost to enter, but participants are asked to donate five cans of food for a charity organization. Boys/young men with disabilities are encouraged to participate by escorting the young ladies.

The Dixon sisters plan to sing a duet for the talent contest. They chose, "For Good," from the musical "Wicked."

"This song speaks to us," Mary said. "We are doing this whole thing because no matter what we face in life, your disability does not control you, and you can overcome anything."

Mary recently earned a veterinary technical assistant certificate from Black Hawk College and soon will begin a new job at the Scott County Humane Society.

The pageant falls on the same week that the women lost their father a year ago. Sharon, their mother, is a cancer survivor, and said the family has gone through so much and the pageant is a way to celebrate the family's successes and hardships.

"This is an opportunity for the girls to find their passion and be a part of a dream a typical girl would have," she said. "They are excited and happy to not worry about not measuring up and getting a chance at something they normally would not be able to do."

She said her daughters are just now taking leadership roles in their church because of their ability to gain self-confidence. "We are blessed," she said.

Syndi Sills, Illinois Miss Amazing Pageant state director, said the pageant is not about competition, but about learning and offering a growth experience.

"The most rewarding part about this pageant is seeing the big smiles at every age," she said. "The Miss Amazing Pageant allows individuals with disabilities to show their abilities. Everyday these young ladies face challenges.

"Here, everyone is equal. We are here to learn from each other and be confident and feel value in the community."