Charity founder creates special needs pageant
by Michael Langley
Jan 09, 2014 | 3349 views | 1 1 comments | 93 93 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roxanne Zanassi’s daughter Shawna lights up around people her age. She wants to play and interact, but she has little opportunity, according to her mother, because there are few local activities for adults and children with special needs.

Shawna, 31, was born with mental and physical disabilities. She attended classes in Tracy Unified School District until she reached the age limit 10 years ago and joined the one class for adults in Tracy sponsored by San Joaquin County. Her classmates, Zanassi said, are all decades older.

“But if she is with people more her level, I think she would have a blast playing with them,” Shawna’s mother said.

San Joaquin County provides education for what it estimates to be 7,200 students through the Special Education Local Plan Area, which includes the Tracy school district. The city offers S.N.A.P. after-school classes for adults with developmental disabilities. There are two private organizations in Tracy for people with special needs — The Kendal Centers, 510 Whispering Wind Drive, Ste. 110, and Autism Treatment Solutions, 672 W. 11th St., Ste. 339.

For years, Zanassi has wished for more activities that her daughter and other children and adults with special needs could participate in. She said playgrounds aren’t set up for people who don’t have total control of their bodies, and since people with special needs are often loud they usually cannot watch new movies in the theater.

That lack inspired Zanassi’s niece Lori Souza — founder of Case for Kids, a charity that helps foster children — to launch a pageant just for girls and women with special needs in Mountain House and Tracy, ages 3 to 23.

“Tracy has never done something like this for special needs children,” Souza said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do, is put the awareness out there that a lot of special needs kids just need something for them. This event is just for them. This is also an event to promote their self-confidence. These kids can’t be in regular pageants. They don’t have the opportunities that other kids get.”

The Crowns and Cases Special Needs Pageant is scheduled May 3 at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, 715 Central Ave.

Souza wants to not only offer a special event for people with special needs and their families, but also start the community talking about the needs of foster children in Mountain House and Tracy. Case for Kids provides gifts of personal necessities to children in foster care when they move to a new home.

“You’ve got two minority groups of kids that are often ignored,” Souza said.

She said the Grand Theatre is the perfect place for the first pageant because of its status as a crown jewel in the community.

“Where’s a better platform in Tracy to really highlight these children?” Souza said. “We’re doing this big and we’re doing this loud, so these kids can not only feel special but be treated special.”

Souza is getting some help from the co-captain of the CSU Stanislaus Warriors cheer team, Emily McNiel, who is competing for the Miss San Joaquin County crown. McNiel said each contestant will have her own introduction and a personal interview and get to wear a formal dress for the pageant.

The reigning Miss California, Crystal Lee, who is the first runner-up Miss America for 2014, will also perform.

Souza said the Tracy Bean Queen and Princess and Little Sprout will crown the participants.

“You can have all these ambitions and be what you want to be,” Souza said, “and that’s so important, because Tracy lacks that focus for providing special events for the special needs kids.”

Zanassi, Shawna’s mother, said awareness and acceptance of people with special needs is an important step in the community.

“We get a lot of stares, funny faces, a lot of mean things,” she said about reactions to her daughter in public. “Maybe this will kind of open things up and let people see that they are really awesome, awesome people.”

The Crowns and Cases Special Needs Pageant is accepting applications from kids and adults ages 3 to 23 through Feb. 15.

• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or

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January 09, 2014
So excited to honor Children with Special Needs in Tracy and have have the real Miss California join us in this very exciting event. If you are interested in an application, please email us at or follow us on Facebook at

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