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Village board members Monday night recognized a ten-year-old Park Forest girl who let no obstacle stop her from becoming a beauty pageant winner.
Kiera Armstrong, who's in the fifth grade, has been a pageant participant each year since 2021. But it was not until this year that she finally walked away as the American Elegance Princess Pageant's big winner.
Her mom, Jocelyn Armstrong, explained that Kiera, who is autistic and partially non-verbal, had to overcome challenges to participate in a pageant and finally learn the ropes.
"The first year, we didn't know what to expect," Jocelyn said. "It was hard for her to understand what she was supposed to do fully. She ran on stage. I think she jumped off at one point. Needless to say, she didn't place that year, but she received many consolation gifts for participating."
Jocelyn said she was very nervous for her daughter due to her disability. She was concerned about how the other girls in the pageant would treat her. But she was grateful they were understanding and inclusive and assisted Kiera.
Jocelyn said those experiences helped her prepare Kiera for the pageant; last year, she placed fourth runner-up.
"This year, we tried again, and Kiera was crowned first place in her division, which was her age group," Jocelyn said. "She's the 2023-24 American Elegance Junior Miss Princess."
Jocelyn said Kiera was up against nine other girls at this year's American Elegance Pagent at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Burr Ridge, Illinois. She was crowned Junior Miss Princess last month on Aug 12.
Jocelyn said with Kiera being partially nonverbal, she couldn't express completely how this experience impacted her.
"As her mom, I witnessed the challenges she encountered trying to understand her cues as to where she would be on stage, making sure she acknowledged the judges. It was hard at times, but Kiera never gave up," Jocelyn said. "Once she figured it out, that was it. I didn't need to practice repetition with her. I believed she understood what to do, and I didn't want to overwhelm her."
Jocelyn said when Kiera got on stage this year, she knew what to do and wowed the crowd. She ultimately won first place, and everyone cheered.
As part of her reign, Kiera and her mother hope to spread awareness about people with disabilities. Additionally, they want to learn more about how different organizations and programs within the Village inclusivity and safety for individuals with disabilities.
At Monday night's Board meeting, Kiera walked to the podium and recited the Lord's Prayer. Additionally, she took pictures with the Board. Mayor Joseph Woods and several trustees congratulated Kiera and said her story is one all Park Foresters can appreciate.
"I just wanted to say congratulations Kiera," Trustee Tiffani Graham said. "You are so beautiful. And don't you ever let somebody tilt your tiara."
Trustee Maya Hardy added, "We are so very proud of you."
Jocelyn said having Village board members honor Kiera by acknowledging her at the board meeting and taking pictures with her meant everything to their family.
"We're so grateful that our hometown, Park Forest, celebrated Kiera and made her feel special," Jocelyn said. "Trust me, Kiera was very appreciative."