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People with disabilities celebrate ‘Butterfly Dreams’ at Edwardsville pageant

Butterfly Dreams pageant in Edwardsville

People with disabilities participate in the Butterfly Dreams pageant in Edwardsville.
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People with disabilities participate in the Butterfly Dreams pageant in Edwardsville.

For Lynn and Megan Huebener, Butterfly Dreams means the chance to be yourself without fear of rejection — for them, and for the other participants in the annual pageant Saturday.

Lynn Huebener has cerebral palsy, and her daughter Megan has hearing problems as well as other challenges. Megan uses hearing aids and glasses, and is very shy because she is afraid of rejection, Lynn said.

“She doesn’t like to be around strangers,” Lynn said. “She won’t speak unless she knows you, because she’s been made fun of before.”

But much of that changed after Megan began participating in Butterfly Dreams. After serving as queen of the junior team last year, Megan and Lynn returned to the Butterfly Dreams Pageant in Edwardsville on Saturday.

Butterfly Dreams is a noncompetitive talent show and pageant for people with developmental disabilities. The event celebrates the participants’ abilities and their efforts to overcome their physical or mental disabilities.

It has made a huge difference for Megan, according to her mother. From being too shy to speak to strangers, Megan now has worked with Toys for Tots, been on TV for Show Me St. Louis, and been a guest at the Monroe County Fair.

“This has really opened her up,” Lynn Huebener said. “It’s really brought her a long way as far as talking to people. She enjoys it, she smiles more, she has a whole different manner.”

Lynn said Butterfly Dreams is a place where she can encourage Megan to open up. “She doesn’t have to be afraid of rejection, because they’re not going to do that.” Lynn said. “That’s what the pageant means to me.”

It’s not just for girls, either. Pierre King, 34, of Swansea was looking forward to his first year as a designated “escort,” dressed in a sharp suit and looking forward to escorting “the young ladies to the stage.” He also performed the song “Uptown Funk” solo in the talent portion of the event.

Sarah Cawvey returned to participate this year after winning a crown in last year’s show. She is 25 years old, intellectually disabled and requires a hearing aid to hear properly. She lives at Beverly Farms, a home for people with disabilities in Godfrey.

Cawvey said she was “very nervous” around all the strangers at last year’s event, but she made a lot of friends and loved Syndi Sills, the pageant organizer. She sang “Party in the USA” for her entry in the talent show, and was “a little shocked” when they read her name as the queen of the show.

“I had no idea I would win,” Cawvey said. Sills said she was crying and shaking as she accepted her crown.

It was a little bittersweet to return on Saturday to Edwardsville High School and pass the baton on to a new queen, Cawvey said. As one of the Butterfly Dreams participants, she has spent the last year riding in parades and throwing candy, attending public events, and even throwing out the first pitch at a Gateway Grizzlies game.

That’s one of the goals, Sills said: not a beauty pageant, but a chance for girls and boys of all ages to show how they have managed or overcome their disabilities. Sills said Butterfly Dreams is a cross between the Miss America pageant and the Special Olympics, with participants ranging in age from 4 to 75 of both genders. In fact, the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” rang out at least twice during Saturday’s talent show, with its themes of letting go of society’s restrictions and being yourself.

They are not “contestants” in competition with each other, Sills said, but “differently-abled” participants there to make friends.

“They are not judged on their outside beauty, but interviewed about their ability,” Sills said. “Some girls are so shy when they come here that they don’t speak, but when they’re done they’ve stepped up to the microphone and spoken in public. We call it a pageant because there are crowns and trophies, but we’re here to provide life experience.”

Sills said the point of Butterfly Dreams is breaking down barriers, to allow people with disabilities the same opportunities and special moments as all other young people. “Our whole idea is inclusiveness and acceptance,” she said, and dispelling ignorance by showing the public that they can open the doors of society to the disabled.

Sometimes the participants amaze them, Sills said: Last year, a young woman using a wheelchair managed to dance “The Twist” to the tune by Chubby Checker, using only her arms to elevate herself in her chair — “With a smile you can’t even describe,” Sills said.

Other participants are physically unable to speak, but they can sign to songs or display other talents. “It’s very inspiring,” she said.

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