The inspiration came when Mollie Tew was helping her mother, Vickie Youngblood, unpack after a move this summer in Raleigh. Tew, 25, came across some ribbons her mother won in a baking competition at the N.C. State Fair back when she was also 25.
“She said ‘I want to do that, too,’” Youngblood said. “I want ribbons to hang up.”
Tew, who was born with Down syndrome, graduated with a diploma from Middle Creek High School in Apex and currently attends Wake Tech. She wants to be a recreational therapist assistant who works with senior citizens.
Youngblood told her daughter they’d check to see if there was a special category she could enter at the fair, but if there wasn’t, she could compete against everyone else.
Turns out the fair has special awards in 11 categories and dozens of sub-categories. The fair established The Exceptional/Special Needs Culinary Division in 2013, and this year added categories for miscellaneous crafts and for LEGO blocks.
Tew wanted to enter her jewelry, having previously won state and local competitions for jewelry making, and also baking – because that’s what her mother won for.
“She wanted something easy, so we said cookies are easy,” Youngblood said. “We looked through recipes, and she decided on a pumpkin recipe because it didn’t require a mixer. We made a trial batch, and it was so easy and turned out really well.
“She made the next batch on her own, and that’s what got entered.”
Tew won a third place ribbon in the cookie category, but the pumpkin treat got her the coveted Vonnie Allred Creative Cookie Award – named after a former special ed teacher, Vonnie Allred.
Denise Walker, the Competitive Exhibits Director at the fair, says she established the award last year in memory of her deceased mother, who worked with exceptional and special needs students as a teacher’s assistant in Moore County. It is given for the most creative cookie in the exceptional/special needs category, Walker said.
Tew didn’t know she’d won a ribbon until she arrived at the fair Thursday with her family. She thought she was just going to see her cookies on display, but when she saw the green Allred ribbon, she gasped.
“Yay!” she said over and over, before turning to hug her mother. “I love you!” she told Youngblood.
Tew posed with her ribbon and cookies while nearly a half dozen people took photos.
“I’m loving it,” she said after the shock wore off. “But I thought I was going to win.”
Tew said she plans to enter the contest again next year, and she’s already thinking about what she’ll make.
And the jewelry? Her pink rhodonite necklace, bracelet and earring set won a blue ribbon, bringing her total for the fair to three.
“I’ve won two,” Youngblood said. “So she’s ahead. She outdid me.”