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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Dozens of babies will converge at the community center Saturday to hear how special they are.

Their egos are probably not fully formed enough to appreciate the compliments. But their parents might just make up for it.

“It’s very fun to see how excited they get about this, said Lana LaFortune, outreach manager for Family Advocacy at Aviano, and organizer of the base’s sixth annual baby showcase.

LaFortune was referring to the parents. But the kids can get a little excited too. In fact, they may earn some recognition for their exuberance, or for the lack of emotion they display (a calm demeanor) — or for just about anything they do when they get their turn on the stage.

The showcase is not a contest. And the children — participating in four age categories up to the age of 2 — aren’t really performing. They’re just supposed to go with their parents on stage, where a panel of judges will observe and take notes.

“What they find is something special about each child,” LaFortune said, adding there’s more than 100 factors the panel can choose from. “If you get a baby that’s asleep, it may be the most content child.”

Or that baby might be the one best able to set aside distractions for a nap. With about 100 children likely to participate, it means there will be hundreds of people in the center.

“It’s very loud in there,” LaFortune said.

The event is designed to be an inexpensive activity that families can participate in on base, while meeting other parents in similar situations and getting information about services the base provides.

The Easter Bunny will be on hand to pass out candy and balloons, and refreshments will be available. Parents can get pictures of their infants taken and pick them up in a few weeks at no charge.

LaFortune says she encourages the families to stay for the entire event, partly to increase their chances of getting an array of door prizes. The prizes are donated by the Aviano Community Enlisted Spouses and Aviano Officers Civilian Spouses Club.

There are a few other reasons, though. One is to get more information about base services. Another is to provide an audience as other infants take the stage.

“It’s disappointing when you’ve got five people in the audience when they’re showcasing your baby,” she said.

The event starts at 1 p.m. with the oldest participants (18 months to 24 months) starting off. The infants gradually get younger over the next few hours.

LaFortune said every baby will receive a certificate that recognizes something special about them. But none of them will be judged as being the best.

“We no longer have the most beautiful baby in Aviano,” she said. “It caused some hurt feelings.”

Parents can register their children at a handful of spots around the base or show up at 11:30 the day of the event.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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