Student's Non-profit Shines Light on Women With Special Needs


Written by: Ashley Green (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: April 26, 2016

When Lillian Townsend started competing in pageants in 2010, she never imagined her experience would lead her to change the lives of girls across Texas.  Her dream, Miss Magnificent Pageantry, is doing just that, with the goal of impacting lives across the nation.

Townsend, an interdisciplinary studies major, started competing in pageants during her early high school years when she lived in Alabama.  Because of those pageants, she spent hours doing community service and quickly learned her passion was working with children with special needs.

“When I moved back to Texas, I joined Best Buddies.  My buddy, Lauren, thought my pageants were the coolest thing.  She wanted to go with me, to try on my dresses, see my pictures and hear all my stories.  I knew she would love something like this,” explained Townsend.

Townsend started researching special needs pageants and was disappointed to learn there were no special needs pageants in Texas and no affordable crown-all systems where all participants took home a medal or trophy.  Townsend knew she had to change that and help make a difference in the lives of these girls.  She spent her senior year reading books and doing research about starting a non-profit.

In late 2012, Townsend applied for domestic non-profit status to become recognized by the State of Texas.  The application was approved and planning for the first Miss Magnificent pageant in Dallas began.

“We had our first pageant that July.  Lauren was the only one there, but that didn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if we have one person or if we have 30.”

The Miss Magnificent pageants run like a standard pageant, but instead of physical appearance, the contestants are judged on on-stage confidence and communication skills.  Townsend’s focus is on building self-esteem and confidence for these girls who have dealt with extreme challenges most of their lives.

“The look on their faces when they get a trophy is priceless,” explained Townsend.  “I’ve seen these kids get bullied and picked on until they were in tears, so for them to have this whole day all about them is a big boost.”

Since that first pageant in 2013, Townsend has held eight others in Dallas, San Antonio, College Station and Louisiana.  The most recent was held on April 17 at the Brazos Center in Bryan.  Another pageant will be held this summer in Corpus Christi.  Townsend and her team hope to expand the pageants to all 48 continental states.

“My hope is to give everyone with a special need or disability, who might be discouraged or picked on sometimes, to feel special and have a whole day about them.  A lot of the people we have compete have never won a trophy before.”

Townsend is set to graduate from Texas A&M next year and become a teacher, but that does not mean the Miss Magnificent pageants will end.  She plans to continue her work with the pageants while hiring directors for other areas and other states to ensure Miss Magnificent’s continued success.

For more information about Miss Magnificent Pageantry, visit www.missmagnificent.org.