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Adults with disabilities given chance to shine with Mr. Inspiration Pageant

By Sarah Hunt - | Mar 10, 2023

Courtesy Brittany Junelle

Contestants pose for a photo with their awards alongside judges at the Mr. Inspiration Pageant at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem on Thursday, March 9, 2023.

It had all the grandeur of a traditional pageant — with a twist. On Thursday, 15 men with disabilities brought their own unique talents and experiences to the stage for the 2023 Mr. Inspiration Pageant.

Taylor Shields took home the title of Mr. Inspiration. The award itself was handed to Shields by Sam Eliason, the now-former Mr. Inspiration who served in the role for the last five years as the pageant was canceled multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being able to interact with the contestants was the best part! All of the men were so unbelievably sweet. Taylor Shields, Mr. Inspiration 2023 gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek when I saw him. I’m so grateful they are giving our community an opportunity to meet these individuals and see all the good they do. I was honored to be just a small part,” said Emma Checketts, community partnerships and events manager for Ken Garff.

DJ Mecham was awarded 1st attendant, followed by, in order, Albert Christensen, Darren Ford and Kirk Jackson. Together with Mr. Inspiration, these five men make up the royal court. They will serve for two years alongside Miss Inspiration and her court.

The two courts will be involved in grand openings, ribbon cuttings, events, Orem Kindness Week, Christmas programs, parades and other community events. Occasionally they are called upon to be a spokesperson on behalf of individuals with disabilities.

Courtesy Brittany Junelle

Former Mr. Inspiration Sam Eliason performs a dance routine with Miss Utah 2022 Lindsey Larsen at the Mr. Inspiration Pageant at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem on Thursday, March 9, 2023.

At the beginning of the event, each contestant displayed a poster they made describing their achievements, interests and hobbies as judges walked around the room, speaking with each participant and reviewing their posters. The judging panel was comprised of local pageant winners including Miss Orem, Miss Provo, Miss Nebo, Miss Orem’s Outstanding Teen and Cache County’s Miss Wellsville.

As the contestants took to the stage, they were each escorted by different members of Noteworthy, an all-female a capella group at Brigham Young University. The group later performed a rendition of “Special” by Lizzo and a mashup of “Boogie Wonderland/I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” during which they invited the audience to get up and dance.

At the end of the show, Eliason was invited up to the stage to help hand out the awards to the new royal court alongside the judges and was surprised with a slideshow presentation of photos from his years of service.

David H. Hennessey, CEO and executive director of TURN Services, had a chance to speak with attendees about the pageant’s creation. TURN is a statewide organization fcused on providing program services for their adult children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“One of the ladies at our Spanish Fork Art Center was invited to an assembly at Spanish Fork High School to talk about living with a disability, and the young lady who invited her was Miss Spanish Fork at the time. Heidi came back from the assembly and asked why she couldn’t be in a pageant. So we put a small one together that year. It wasn’t until 2015 that we did it again and (began collaborating with Utah royalty),” he said.

Courtesy Brittany Junelle

Tanner Alder juggles at the Mr. Inspiration Pageant at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem on Thursday, March 9, 2023.

The pageant was hosted by TURN Community Services with support from Ken Garff Automotive Group at the SCERA Center for the Arts.

“I think the biggest benefit I have seen to the contestants is the confidence it gives them to take pride in who they are and the abilities that they have. For one night they are in the spotlight, not because of their disabilities, but because they truly live amazing, wonderful lives that are worthy of being celebrated,” said Leisa Bolander, TURN’s director of program services.


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