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Sicklerville middle school student makes history

Makayla Dempsey named the first-ever Little Miss Wheelchair of New Jersey

Makayla Dempsey is an eighth-grade student at Ann A. Mullen Middle School in Gloucester Township. She enjoys playing softball and loves cheerleading, and spending time with her three siblings.

Like any kid, Makayla starts her day by going to school. She learns about math and science and takes tests and quizzes. She has her own after-school activities and sports, and eventually, gets back home to do homework and watch television or play with an iPad before going to bed.

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However, Makayla also has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which affects all four of her limbs. Her mom says Makayla has undergone 11 surgeries. She goes to physical therapy and has a metal rod in her back.

Makayla is in a wheelchair, which can sometimes make her or others feel different.

She plays softball through the Gloucester Township Field of Dreams, and Makayla’s coach sent her mom, Jamie, a link to the Ms. Wheelchair of New Jersey website, saying it would be perfect for Makayla to participate in, if she was interested.

“I had called and they said it was only for those 21 and over,” said Jamie Dempsey. “They said if they find out about any other programs that they would reach out. She called about a week later to say they’d gotten permission to do a Little Miss Wheelchair of New Jersey.”

Typically, the adult version requires interviews and layers to pick a final Ms. Wheelchair of New Jersey. For the new Little Miss Wheelchair, it required an application process.

Jamie had to list five words that described Makayla. What were they?

“Brave, outgoing,” Jamie Dempsey said. “Happy, definitely. Social, and then strong was the other one.”

She listed the five words and elaborated on Makayla’s community involvement and school activities along with other information for the application.

It all led up to Nov. 4, when they received the news she was named the first-ever Little Miss Wheelchair of New Jersey.

Later that month, the Dempsey family traveled to North Jersey to the Make-A-Wish Castle in Monroe Township, where they held a celebration for those being named Ms. Wheelchair and Little Miss Wheelchair of New Jersey, where Makayla was given a tiara and sash.

The opportunity to be surrounded by many in her same situation, Jamie feels, was an eye-opener for her daughter. Children, as they get older, tend to become more skeptical of what their parents say, but the lives many of those at the event are living showed that any life Makayla wants is possible.

“I think sometimes being her age, she thinks certain things she’s limited to,” Jamie said. “But there was someone there who is a surfer, one was a social worker, like they all went to college. It was neat for her to be able to see that the wheelchair doesn’t stop her from being able to do what everyone else can. I can say it to her until I’m blue in the face, but for her to actually see it from someone else that’s just like her is different.”

Makayla says she couldn’t be happier to have been named the first-ever Little Miss Wheelchair of New Jersey, and hopes to be able to help others through this opportunity.

“I’m really happy about it,” Makayla said. “I want to inspire people with all types of disabilities.”

Makayla has been welcomed around Gloucester Township to celebrate her new award, being a special guest to Breakfast with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Gloucester Township Recreation Center as well as helping light the Christmas tree at Veterans Park on Sunday, Dec. 9, with Mayor David Mayer.

Later in the year, she will also attend other events throughout Gloucester Township, as well as Ms. Wheelchair America, a Ms. Wheelchair event in Arkansas in March. Makayla will be there to support her home state of New Jersey.

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