WINCHESTER — The basement of Winchester Church of God was alive with excitement and anxious laughter Saturday.

Girls were getting their hair and makeup done and devouring that last bit of pizza before getting ready to go on stage.

The occasion was the Miss Abilities 2018 pageant. The Miss Abilities Organization is a nonprofit group that creates accessible pageants and community service projects for girls and women with disabilities of all kinds, from Down Syndrome to autism.

“This is giving them the opportunity to do something everyone else does, but it’s not always accessible for them to compete in a mainstream pageant,” said Winchester resident Jessi Edwards, founder of Miss Abilities.

This year, 28 participants ranging in age from 7 to 42 participated in the pageant, which took place at the church on North Frederick Pike (U.S. 522). Participants came from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

A queen was crowned in each of seven age groups, and the rest of the contestants were crowned princesses.

There was an interview (with questions like who is your role model or what is your favorite food), an on-stage introduction, a showcase-your-ability talent segment and an evening wear portion.

This was the first year for the talent segment, which included anything from contestants showing off their artwork to their favorite stuffed animal.

Anna Yanc, 26, of Lovettsville, was getting her hair straightened amid the chatter Saturday. She was both nervous and excited.

Yanc said she enjoys the pageant because she can encourage the younger girls who might be shy.

“I like making new friends,” she said. “Including girls that feel left out.”

Ivory Long, 10, of West Virginia, said her favorite parts of the event were getting something to eat, being with friends and getting a crown. She wore a blue ruffled dress for her evening wear.

“I love the pageant,” she said.

Her older buddy, Hailey Culbreth, helped her through the big day. Since last year’s pageant, they have exchanged cards, talked on the phone and communicated through social media.

“I love it,” said Hailey, a former Sherando High School graduate. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever come across. It’s good experience for them.”

Jayden Edwards, 11, and Kayleigh Conlon, 13, sat next to each other giggling — best friends because of their time in the pageant.

“I love how you make new friends who understand you,” Kayleigh said. “They’ll be nice to you because they have a disability, too.”

This was the third year for the pageant.

For more information about Miss Abilities, visit or call 540-303-1700.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at

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