Friday, March 27, 2009

PSA features story of homecoming queen with Down syndrome

From the Deseret News in Utah. You can watch the PSA here.

SANDY, Utah — True beauty endures and is not forgotten. Here's proof.

Almost 12 years after she was crowned Murray High School's homecoming queen, Shellie Eyre's inspirational life (pictured) and Cinderella-style story is back in the spotlight, this time on a worldwide scale.

In a special red carpet event March 25 at the Megaplex Theatres at Jordan Commons, a new public service announcement was highlighted. It recognizes the accomplishments of two Utah women with Down syndrome — Eyre, now 29, and
actress Becca Winegar, 31, of Provo, who portrays her on the screen.

Titled "Homecoming Queen," the 60-second spot highlighting the message of "true beauty" has now been viewed by millions in the U.S. and more than 200 countries.

"We chose Salt Lake because that is where the story began with Shellie Eyre, who in 1997 was crowned homecoming queen at Murray High School," said Gary Dixon, spokesman for the Foundation For A Better Life, which helped create the PSA.

Eyre was born in 1979 with Down syndrome and suffered a stroke at age 3 that left her paralyzed on her left side. She was one of the most popular girls in school because of her easy smile and loving heart. Her landslide victory for homecoming queen was due in part to a wonderfully accepting student body that embraced unselfish inclusion, as well as Eyre's attitude toward all her classmates.

"Shellie's inspirational life is an example of what true beauty can be and where love, acceptance, and inclusion can triumph over any disabilities," Dixon said.

When Eyre became a finalist for homecoming queen, her parents counseled her to be a good sport in case she didn't win. They carefully explained only one girl among the 10 final candidates would be selected queen.

But the 17-year-old senior was chosen almost unanimously by fellow students. She had also truly believed what her father always said, that she was a princess, and she knew a princess becomes a queen.

The First attendant was April Perschon, who had physical and mental disabilities resulting from a brain hemorrhage suffered when she was 10 years old. Upon April's introduction by student body officers, April, she too, was urged to center court of the gym with a standing ovation.

"Shellie loves everyone equally," her father, Ted Eyre, told a nearly full theater of family, friends and community members. "I was overwhelmed by the moment," he said of that homecoming event in 1997. He said the mother of another homecoming candidate had put it all into focus by approaching him and saying there were no losers at that rare homecoming — everyone won. Ted Eyre wrote a book about his daughter titled, "You Always Call Me Princess."

The PSA stars Winegar under her real name.

"It was a 12-hour filming day," she recalled. "The lights were so hot I got absolutely sick." Winegar said the makers of the ad were looking to replace her because of that and when she realized it, she got up and said, "Ain't no way you're going to replace me!"

Winegar said it was a "very remarkable experience" to film the PSA. She also stressed "true beauty is to be yourself. It's from inside of you."

Eyre was equally thrilled about the production. "I think it's great," she said. "I'm so excited about it."

The PSA has already won a Telly Award for excellence. The Backstreet Boys offered their song "What Makes You Different (Makes You Beautiful)" for use in the production.

The Foundation for a Better Life creates public service campaigns to communicate values such as honesty, caring and optimism that make a difference in communities.