It had always been a dream for Lauren Compere to compete in a wheelchair pageant; she just didn’t know her dream would come true as soon as it did.
During the Christmas break, her friend, Rebecca Sentell, sent her a Facebook message, asking Compere to compete with her in the “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi” pageant, and Compere readily accepted. But with the pageant being only a few weeks away, she didn’t have much time to prepare. However, Compere’s performance in Meridian, Miss. on Jan. 4, 2015 allowed her to take home the crown and title of “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi 2015.”
“It was very last minute and on a whim,” said Compere. “I knew that [the pageants] were out there, but I just didn’t know they were so easy to get involved in.”
Compere, a senior psychology major at Mississippi College, said the “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi” pageant is all about the ability to advocate and to promote the state. “While they do believe that those affected by disability are still beautiful, it’s not a beauty pageant,” she said.
The importance of being a well-spoken individual can be seen in the pageant’s categories. Contestants must undergo two 10-minute interviews with judges, share a speech about their platform, and answer two onstage questions, one fun and one serious.
In preparation for the pageant, Compere practiced answering the long list of possible interview questions until she felt comfortable and confident with whatever the judges may ask her. “I also tried my best to do a really thorough job on the application and talk about my platform,” she said.
Compere’s platform is “Building Bridges,” a program she created herself that helps connect families affected by mental and physical disability to community and government resources, especially faith-based organizations. Her work this past summer with an organization in California that helps those with disabilities and their families, “Joni and Friends,” inspired her to create something similar in her own community.
Compere said that families with disabled children “don’t always know about resources in their area, and if they know about them, they are still sometimes skeptical.” Her vision for her platform is still being shaped, but Compere hopes “for families to feel even more connected and to not feel like they have to deal with disability on their own. There is support out there for them.”
As the reigning “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi 2015,” Compere has been able to work alongside the pageant’s state director, Kebra Moore, in order to strengthen her platform, make connections, serve her community, and prepare for Nationals. Moore helped establish “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi” in 2013, the same year that she competed for “Ms. Wheelchair America.”
“It’s been awesome working with Lauren,” Moore said. “I really believe with all my heart that she has what it takes to bring home the title for Mississippi. She speaks well, carries herself well, and she’s not afraid of challenges. Her spirit is kind, and she has a strong faith in Christ. She has the whole package.”
During July 27-Aug. 2, 2015, Compere will be 1 of about 30 contestants from around the country competing for the title of “Ms. Wheelchair America” in Des Moines, IA. While there, contestants will spend a lot of time with judges, who will be watching how girls interact with each other and with their caregivers.
Although less than 35 states have wheelchair pageant programs, Compere hopes that more states will get involved. Moore said that the goal is to have all 50 states participating by 2020.
Until then, Compere will be focusing on advocacy, volunteering, and fundraising for the Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi program and for her trip to Iowa this summer. She has already visited several schools and churches, educating others about her platform and encouraging those with disabilities and their families. Inspired by Luke 14, she hopes to help develop disability ministries in churches and show them that ministering to the disabled is not as difficult as it seems.
But no matter what happens this summer, Compere said that she has gotten a lot out of this competition. Being able to network with so many people has enabled her to learn how to better encourage others, as well as how to strengthen her platform. In addition, she feels that the whole experience has improved her interviewing skills.
Compere said that her favorite part about participating in the state competition was “meeting other girls affected by disability and their caregivers. It was also a good taste of what Nationals will be like.”
Because Compere is pursuing a profession that reflects her platform, the connections she makes during this competition are invaluable. “Anytime you go anywhere, it gives you the opportunity to speak to people and network.”
Her busy schedule has also taught her a lot about depending on the Lord. “I learned I cannot do this by myself,” Compere said. She added that this year she wants to be focused on “letting Jesus give [her] strength to pour out [her] heart and to be all there and to learn over the next year.”
She added that she is blessed by the love that her Mississippi College family has shown her through the competition and her time as a student this past four years. “I’m just really thankful for all the support that I’ve gotten,” she said. “I thank them for letting me be here and being so flexible and coming up with ways to make things work for me.”
For Compere, being “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi” still feels like a dream at times. “The day after the pageant, I woke up and asked my mom, ‘Did that really happen?’ It just feels surreal at times.”
If you would like to donate to the “Ms. Wheelchair Mississippi” program or to help support Lauren as she heads to Nationals, you can contact her through Facebook.
Follow “MS Wheelchair Mississippi” on Facebook, Twitter @mswheelchairms, Instagram under mswheelcharims, or go to mswheelchairmississippi.org.
-Abbie Walker, Editor