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EUSTIS — When Autumn-Marie Bollinger was asked what she wanted for her upcoming 10th birthday

The Daily Commercial - 4/11/2017

EUSTIS — When Autumn-Marie Bollinger was asked what she wanted for her upcoming 10th birthday, her mother, Amy Bollinger, was surprised by her answer.

She told her mom she really wanted to be in the Lake County Fair pageant, just like her personal care assistant and role model, Taylor Pelfrey (Miss Leesburg 2016-17).

“My daughter is autistic and has never really expressed interest in this sort of thing,” Amy said. “Our family has been through so much that I didn’t think it was possible to do it, so I reached out for help and the response was overwhelming.”

Autumn’s dad has leukemia and her two brothers are also autistic, so Amy said she had no financial way to fulfill her daughters dream.

Amy Bollinger turned to Facebook for help.

As the story of her daughter’s wish made it around local Facebook groups, more than 100 people reached out to Amy, offering to donate items and monetary gifts to help her birthday wish, which happened to be the same day as the pageant.

“We had people as far away as Apopka to The Villages willing to help her out,” Amy said. “Every time someone reached out, we were moved to tears from all the support.”

Ross Plumbing in Leesburg paid for her gown rental, Renew Day Spa in Leesburg did her hair and makeup, Star Nails in Mount Dora gave her a manicure and pedicure, Kelly Rolling donated jewelry, Debra Snyder provided photography and numerous others contributed.

On Sunday, Autumn competed in the Little Miss category, showing off a bright yellow and navy blue dress which she said made her feel like a princess. Although she did not place, she had fun and a great experience, which is all her mom had hoped for.

“It scared me at first because I didn’t know how she would do on stage in front of a crowd,” Amy said. “So I just told her to be happy and have fun, that it’s not about winning. It helped build her self-esteem and life experience, and we can’t thank people enough for contributing and coming out to support her.”

The Lake County Fair pageant had about 65 participants, an increase from previous years. Kids 0 to 18 compete in eight different categories for the title, and a special Lake County Fair Ambassador award was presented this year to Andrea Wilkinson for the dedication and perseverance she displayed.

Other winners include: Layla Hunter, Baby; Ariyah Waters, Pee Wee; Karlie Stewart, Toddler; Isabella Wilkinson, Tiny Miss; Addyson Melanson, Little Miss; Sayuri Chang, Junior Miss; Ainsley Gray, Teen Miss; Sydney Howard, Miss Lake County Fair.

The Lake County Fair, 2101 County Road 452 in Eustis, continues at 5 p.m. today.

Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children under 12 and free for 5 and under. Today offers a $15 armband special for unlimited rides.

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