Largo event aims to make women with special needs feel ‘Beyond Beautiful’

Robin Lally, founder of Help Us Gather, poses recently with two women with special needs who will be honored during the Beyond Beautiful event April 14 – Andrea Spensiero, left, and Heidi Fenton, right. Spensiero will receive a crown in the event’s “Fearless” category and Fenton will be awarded with a crown in the “Inspirational” category.

LARGO – An area nonprofit is rolling out the red carpet this weekend to make women with special needs look and feel beautiful.

On Saturday, April 14, St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo will host the Beyond Beautiful fashion event organized by Help Us Gather, a Clearwater-based nonprofit that advocates for inclusion and connects people with disabilities of all ages to social events and activities.

The group’s first large community outreach event will serve 70 to 80 women with special needs by providing them with a glamorous evening to inspire confidence and friendship, according to HUG founder Robin Lally.

“The women are able to come and experience a night of glamour and pampering for the first half and then we’re having an inner beauty fashion show in the second half,” she said of the event, which costs guests just $5 to attend.

Lally said HUG also has partnered with Miss America and Miss International organizations and 10 title-holding beauty queens from all over the state will be attending and taking photos with participants.

The Belleair Shore resident said the pampering will start right away when the women walk into red carpet entry where a photographer will take their photos and a pair of beauty queens will pose with them. From there, they will move on to hair, makeup and nail stations, a glamour table, where each guest will take home two pieces of jewelry, and a friendship table, where guests can connect with others.

Lally said the second half of the event will include a pageant highlighting inner beauty and will award several inspirational women. Also, each woman who attends will be invited to walk the runway and tell everyone why she’s beautiful.

“We just wanted to honor women across all different abilities and show that what’s really important after glamming up and having fun with being beautiful is our inner beauty,” she said.

Lally said the event has attracted a distinguished crowd, including several disability advocates and board members and administrators from Miss America and Miss Wheelchair.

In fact, she’s been so encouraged by the feedback and the partnership with the St. Paul Handicapable Ministry that she hopes to turn it into an annual event.

“It’s our first big community outreach event,” she said, adding that she expects about 200 guests, which includes family and caregivers. “We definitely have been working hard at it and paying attention to all of the details because we want it to be really special and memorable. The goal is to have every woman that attends leave with a sense of friendship, confidence and inclusion.”

Lally also emphasized that the event is not a fundraiser because it’s purpose is solely to support the women.

“It’s really about creating that sisterhood between the women and the community,” she said.

For those who wish to attend, Lally said there is still time to sign up by visiting hugtampabay.org/beyond-beautiful.