So, since you last heard from us we have gone through many changes. I suffered a serious illness that didn't allow me to homeschool my children anymore. The kids are back in public school. :( No, we aren't thrilled about it, but it was a "must do" at the time and as I heal, I am slowly considering the transition back to homeschooling. It's a tough choice though, because I don't like the yo-yo approach to schooling and don't think it is good to pull them back and forth. Since they have adjusted (fairly well) to the public school system, I question if it's a good idea to pull them, only to put them back in at High School (it was always the goal for them to transition back at High School). As I have watched their struggles to adjust, it concerns me to have them go through that once again a few years down the road. But with the speed bumps we have hit this past year in public school, I'm beginning to think it's still really for the best. This will take many prayers on my behalf to find the answer for the Clifford kids, but until then...let's get to the point of this post. Cayleigh.
Cayleigh has always suffered from anxiety (mostly social anxiety) so public schools have NEVER been her thing. One day after surfing through the channels on our television, we bumped into a pageant show called "Toddlers and Tiaras"...I'm sure you are familiar. Well, Cayleigh mentions to me, " I would like to do that." You can image my surprise when this is the child that I had to literally drag into her classroom everyday as she clawed at the door frame with a death grip every day for months of both Kindergarten and first grade. I asked why and she said, "to feel like a princess". I could understand this line of thinking coming from her now as she has ALWAYS enjoyed dressing up and "modeling" in front of the family. But this (a pageant) would be much more than family and I wasn't sure she could really get up there, but did see some good things coming from it in regards to facing her fears for something she really wants so I kept my mind open.
One day, a paper came home from her school advertising a local pageant. It said "Everyone wins a princess tiara". I thought this sounded like the perfect pageant for her to try since no one really loses and she can test her foot in the waters of the pageant world. Needless to say, she did it! She was a nervous wreck the first time on stage and told me after that she was shaking the whole time, but she enjoyed it and wanted to do it again. Many pageants later, she has fully blossomed on the stage and it has been a real confidence booster for her. We have been very careful on what pageants we select and I as her mother have been extremely careful to send positive messages that just going on stage makes her a winner, it's about inner beauty as much as outer and showing that on stage shows through, smile and be confident, etc. The first time she had to do a "Personal Introduction" she was scared, but now she does it with ease, therefore adding to her public speaking skills. And last, we are enlisting only in "natural" pageants as they promote her natural beauty and don't encourage her to be more grown than she is or fake in any way. What was an added surprise to us about the pageant world was the community involvement some of them have as well as charity work. Many of you know I have always taught my kids to "Pay it Forward" as Cayleigh did in 2011 with her YMCA Spirit Campaiging where she raised over $900 herself through lemon-aid stands and a Comedy show!
So, it only felt appropriate to get involved with pageants that "give back". Last year, we chose the "Queen of the Commonwealth" pageant that benefits the Humane Society and Anti-Bullying. It's a great system and we learned much through that system. The girls and families were all very kind (not competitive or mean spirited in any way) and we have made MANY wonderful friends through QOC. We also have learned that the director really makes the pageant what it is and Kelly Durham lets you know from the beginning what she expects from her girls...good sportsmanship, being a friend and example to others and community outreach are highly encouraged.
This year, her older brother, Allan Thomas, was deployed to Afghanistan in January. When we were looking for another great pageant system to get involved with for 2013, we ran into the Kentucky Beauties Pageant system. We were thrilled when we found out their chairity involvement was with Military Missions, a non-profit that sends out care packages to deployed soldiers. We knew that is was the one for us! Cayleigh participated in the January preliminary in LaGrange. She collected 1008 items to be packaged up in those very care packages. She was tickled pink with herself to have won the "Kentucky Beauties Civic Queen" title, which means she brought in the most items from that pageant. After the pageant, she told me that this crown was her favorite crown. Not only because it "jingles" (dangling stones, lol), but really because in her own words, "she really worked for this one". She knew the sense of pride difference from really earning that crown than the others she had won from her appearance on the stage. That girl (yes, the shy girl with social anxiety) got out and pounded the pavement, knocked on doors and collected items and money all on her own. With no fear. I watched her knock and talk to people with such joy. Something comes alive in Cayleigh when she knows she is helping others in need...she feels the joy of service. And everything else (nerves) just goes away. It reminds me of watching the stuttering Cuban boy on American Idol that can sing as smooth as Frank Sinatra when he is in his element, singing. This is Cayleigh's element (although she does love singing, too!). This is a safe place to her. She knows she is doing good in the world and it fills her heart with a safe, protected joy. It's a beautiful thing.
Cayleigh started asking questions about who actually shipped the items, how they got there, etc. So I did some more research on the organization and found they had several events where people could come help pack up the boxes to be sent off. The next one was the Easter care package drive and of course, she was ALL IN.
We went there last night and she was so thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful organization. The people were wonderful and the project was amazing. We asked one of the staff how many packages we were actually assembling that night and she told us, roughly 1800 packages! That is a WHOLE LOT OF GOOD!
Deployed soldiers have a very soft spot in our hearts. Not only is her older brother currently serving, but we also had an amazing Brother-in-Law and Uncle that served and came back with PTSD. We, and all those who loved him, lost him to suicide. It's a great loss that our entire family, his extended military family and friends all suffer.
Ben's Tribute Slideshow
We PERSONALLY KNOW the importance of simple thoughts, cards, packages and anything that may uplift a deployed soldier.
So, in honor of Uncle Ben, Allan Thomas, and her father who served in the Army, Cayleigh CANNOT WAIT to hit the pavement again for this mission and plans to attend every package drive they hold. When we drove home from Lexington last night, that child was so fueled up on "good" that she melted my heart. Her heart is golden. I only hope that it is contagious to everyone touched by her.
Pay it Forward. Get involved. Make a difference.
To help support Cayleigh in her efforts, please click on the GoFundMe Link below and show her that you care! In return, she will make one card for every dollar that you donate. So if you donate $25, she will make 25 handdrawn cards in your honor with your name on them...in addition to the shopping for items with the $25. She can generally buy 2-4 of the requested items on the list for every dollar that you spend! Please give as generously as you can as she wants to ensure EVERY deployed soldier gets a care package. At our last care package drive, she was so sad when we ran out of wipes and couldn't make any more packages. Please help her to see that doesn't happen again!! Let's make her make 5000 cards and spend $5000 towards LOTS of items!!
GO TEAM CAYLEIGH!!