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Stars shine at ConnectAbility talent show
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Jason Reynolds sings the Happy Days theme song at the ninth annual ConnectAbility Talent Show Jan. 25. - photo by Jessica Taylor

For a shining moment Friday night, everyone was a star.

The ninth annual ConnectAbility Talent Show returned to the Performing Arts Center in Dawsonville and gave people of all ages and all abilities a chance to shine bright and show the community their talents Jan. 25.

“Our talent show is one of our biggest events of the year and it’s just a time where we look forward to highlighting the talents of everybody,” ConnectAbility founder Jacqueline Daniel said.

ConnectAbility is a nonprofit organization based in Dahlonega that works with kids and adults with disabilities and their families to help them feel included, valued and empowered in their communities.

The annual talent show is one of ConnectAbility’s biggest events of the year with hundreds of people coming to cheer on local talent.

This year’s show once again featured X Factor finalist Rion Paige as co-host with Dahlonega’s Tommy Pirone.

“I’m very excited to be back,” Paige said. “I had so much fun. It’s an honor to be up on stage with people who inspire me and they say I inspire them so it’s a really neat relationship between the two. It’s awesome.”

Paige, who has a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenital that limits her hand and arm mobility, used the talent show to unveil a new talent she had been working on: piano.

For Paige, learning piano was a scary challenge that she thought she would never be able to accomplish. During the show the 18-year-old from Nashville sat down behind the piano to perform for the very first time in front of a live audience, saying that she doesn’t have a disability, but a difference.

What she loved most about ConnectAbility’s message is “people with differences being celebrated in the spotlight.”

It’s a sentiment that Angela Cooper shares.

“I just can’t say enough good things about ConnectAbility,” Cooper said. “You will leave here tonight feeling so humble…It’s so good. You know, it takes so much for these kids to get up there in front of people.”

Cooper’s daughter became involved with ConnectAbility  15 years ago, when she was three years old.

“When it first started she and one other boy were the only two kids in the program. There were adults, but they were the only children,” Cooper said.

Because of ConnectAbility and opportunities like the talent show, Cooper said it helps her and her daughter feel like they are part of the community.

“Because when you have a special needs child, you feel like a squared headed peg trying to fit into a round hole,” she said. “It really makes us feel like we are included.”

The show celebrated people from contestants as young as six to as old as 70 during the 20-act evening.

From dance routines and cheers to poetry readings and singing to puppetry, artwork displays and a dramatic reading of a picture book, the night was filled with something for everyone to enjoy.
“I like how it brings the community together with the kids and it’s something like a date night, a little fun outing for a Friday night,” said Community Based Instruction Lead Ashley Elliott. “It’s for the whole community which is awesome.”

During intermission of the show, the Unified Tigers coffee shop, led by the CBI students at Dawson County High School, served up free coffee and concessions in partnership with their friends at ConnectAbility.

“It’s One Dawson. It takes everyone (to put the show together),” Elliott said.

“I love, love this talent show. I love all the little kids, all the older people who come up on stage,” said special education teacher P.C. Charnley. “I’ve seen a lot of people that were up there last year doing it again.”

With a large number of returning participants and audience members, Daniel and the ConnectAbility team saw an opportunity to bring communities closer together and unveiled their new “Meet Your Neighbor” program.

“It’s a community building project and the whole point is just to bring people together, to make connections with people of all abilities,” Daniel said. “So we just try to make accommodations and make it possible for everybody to be involved each step along the way from planning the event, volunteering, attending events.”

The goal of “Meet Your Neighbor” is to create connections through conversation. More information on how to get involved with the program can be found at ConnectAbilityInc.org/Meet-Your-Neighbor.