EAGAN, Minn. – Maren Roberge could hardly contain her excitement about returning to the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders "Special Stars" event.
Maren, 22, joined 44 other participants between the ages of 6 and 25 at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last week for the second annual cheerleading clinic that welcomes young women who have special needs or challenges.
"I liked all the cheerleaders. They were [so] fun and more kind," Maren said. "They're fun to talk to."
Throughout the evening, Maren not only learned the cheers and a dance routine but made sure to move around the room and offer encouragement to others, particularly those attending Special Stars for the first time.
Maren and the other Stars – including 8-year-old Gia, who dressed up as an MVC this Halloween after attending last year's event – were each paired with a "big sister" cheerleader for the clinic, which again was led by MVCs Sydney and Andrea.
"I think if you asked most of the cheerleaders, they tried out for the team because they have a passion for dancing and performing," MVC Head Coach Tami Hedrick said. "But when they participate in the Special Stars program, [it makes an impact]. Some of them were part of our program last year, and they walked away with memories that are going to last them a lifetime, and saying that it was their most favorite event of the entire year, including game day.
"It's a special night when you form that relationship and that bond with [your 'little sister'] and you get the opportunity to share something like this," Hedrick added.
The Vikings put on Special Stars with the help of Pageant of Hope, an organization that Hedrick and the MVC have partnered with for a number of years now.
Founded in 2009 by sisters Lisa Maslowski and Lynn Grosse, Pageant of Hope is a year-long program for young women with special needs that culminates with a pageant.
The Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders hosted girls and women with special needs or challenges for the second annual "Special Stars" cheerleading workshop at TCO Performance Center.
Maslowski, Grosse and other members of Pageant of Hope were on-hand to assist with the cheer clinic.
"We got texts at 7 a.m. this morning from a girl who was dressed all in her Vikings [clothing already]," Grosse said. "It's such a highlight for them."
Skylar Cummings is a second-year MVC and was honored to be paired with a young woman who is deaf.
Fluent in American Sign Language, Skylar was able to communicate throughout the event with her "little sister" and help make the clinic more accessible.
Skylar explained to Vikings.com that after experiencing a few instances of being unable to interact smoothly with deaf individuals, she decided to learn ASL.
"It's been so awesome to be a part of the Vikings and be able to talk with so many different people and sign with them," Skylar said. "It's just really rewarding for me, and I know it's [appreciated by] them to be able to communicate with us."
She added that she hoped each participant that evening would leave the Vikings facility feeling inspired and confident that they can be "whoever they want to be."
Challenges and disabilities ranged from missing limbs to spinal conditions and Down syndrome, but all of the young participants that night were simply girls excited to learn more about cheerleading and create bonds during the unique event.
Hedrick explained her personal connection to the Special Stars mission.
"I have several friends who have children with special needs, so I've seen some of the challenges or frustrations they have – where they want to be participate and be in activities that other kids are doing," Hedrick said. "I felt in my heart this was an opportunity for us, where we could partner with a group like Pageant of Hope and some of the other community groups and bring in special needs dancers and athletes and girls to be a part of our program and really make a special impact on them."