FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson children will step into the spotlight Friday at the second annual Exceptional Family Member Program talent and fashion show 6 p.m. at the Joe E. Mann Center.

The idea for the talent show came about last year said Cheryl Jackson, EFMP manager.
"We were trying to find something a little different to get our families out and involved," Jackson said. "A lot of these parents don't normally have their children participate in other things at school because they feel like with their disabilities they don't fit in."

What was initially planned as a small, EFMP-only event quickly grew to include the entire community.

"We decided to expand it out, to not only just our EFMP families, but we decided to include the Child, Youth and School Services program, because we wanted all of our children to integrate together and feel comfortable with each other," Jackson said. "It worked out perfectly, because during the talent show, when we started to bring out all of these talents together, you didn't know who had a disability and who didn't."

The show will feature a variety of talent, from musical performance and dancing to displays of artwork.

Jackson said that giving the children an outlet for their talent in a prejudice-free environment is empowering for both the children and the parents. She said parents of children with disabilities are often misunderstood by people who are not familiar with the situation and attribute the child's behavior to "bad manners."

"These parents are dealing with school issues, with behavior issues, constantly," Jackson said. "I'm hoping that the parents will come to an atmosphere where they feel comfortable, where their children can experience a whole new different side of being in the public's eye and doing something that they really enjoy doing. And that they can walk away feeling encouraged and feeling empowered and are ready to go out and tackle something else."

One way organizers aim to achieve that is by encouraging crowd participation from adults and children alike.

"During (last year's) talent show, kids were up dancing, they would come to the front of the stage any time the music came on. ... And we told parents, 'Don't bother sitting them down. They're OK,'" Jackson said. "It was unique. And it was special to our families, because our families had the opportunity to come to something and not have other parents look at them and say, 'Why isn't your child being quiet?'"

The talent show is not just for pure fun, though. A trophy will be awarded for the winner of each of five age categories.

"We want our children to learn to be competitive. Because when they get out here in this world, they are going to be competitive, no matter what they do, whether it's in the classroom, whether it's playing a game," Jackson explained. "They're going to have to understand as well that there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. This is something that we want to instill in them now."

But the event is not only rewarding for those who participate, but also for the organizers, said Marisa Willis and Brandi Palmer, both EFMP specialists.

"I'm just looking forward to the excitement in the children's eyes," Palmer said. Their eyes light up as soon as they walk in -- from the decoration to the balloons, the stars all over -- it's their night."

About 40 contestants participated in last year's talent show. More than 250 people were in attendance.

Jackson said she encourages everyone in the community to attend, even if they don't know any of the contestants.

"We want other people from the community to have the opportunity to know and to support our families that have special needs and disabilities," she said.
Jackson said she introduced the idea for the talent show at last year's EFMP conference with the hope that it will catch on.

"We're hoping that other installations will pick it up as well. And as these families move from place to place, they can continue to keep their children involved in things like this," she said. "And you never know, we might have an American Idol come out of it."