La La Land

We are deep in graduation season both here at Westside and across the country, which means I have been writing, writing, writing, and WRITING nonstop. This is a time of year when we are celebrating the achievements of all students, our teachers, and of course, the Class of 2018.

In so many presentations I hear and write, the message is simple: JUST DO IT. Whatever your dreams and goals may be, whatever you want to do, and wherever your path in life may lead you, follow it with everything you’ve got. Work hard, be kind, appreciate the help others give you, and offer the same to those who follow. Be PASSIONATE about the desires of your heart in both career and life in general, and just DO it.

Regan Kolbo is a Nebraska girl hailing from Crete, population 7,000. She’s proud of her state, forever in love with her hometown, but she also heard a calling 1,500 miles away… to La La Land.

Regan Kolbo - Miss Sandhills

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The scary part of life is in the unknowing,” said 19-year old Regan Kolbo, who left for California shortly after graduating from Crete High School. She’s a gifted dancer, model, and the former World’s Miss Glamorous Teen, winning the national competition while representing Nebraska. That experience confirmed several things Regan already knew.. she was drawn to the spotlight, and belonged in the world of entertainment and performing.

Regan courtesy Ali Marie Photography

Photo courtesy Ali Marie Photography

So where to begin? How to dive into this world of fame and fortune?

Regan joined the Miss Nebraska sisterhood.

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“Miss America titleholders seem to have a genuine heart and strong poise, and I knew that I needed to be a part of it,” Regan told me. “This is a system where I can mix my passion for dance and community service. Miss Nebraska is a program to be a part of because it creates a supportive environment for young women to grow and celebrate their successes, past and future.”

 

 

She could have competed anywhere, but Regan wanted to represent the state that owns her heart. She was crowned Miss Sandhills 2018, punching her ticket to compete at the 2018 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition.

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“I am a fifth generation Nebraskan,” said Regan. “Nebraska will always be my home because of the hardworking, passionate and charismatic people that I grew up around. I cherish every ‘ope’ and ‘Go Big Red’ I hear, and top of the steering wheel wave I receive. From my family, to the Crete Cardinal Pride, to small town businesses, there is nothing like Nebraska.”

And history has shown there’s nothing like a little Miss America notoriety to get a leg up in show business. Past Miss America winners and finalists have gone on to find terrific success in Hollywood, including Kira Kazantsev, Vanessa Williams, and Phyllis George to name a few.

“This is an organization of strong, smart and talented women supporting each other and loving each other,” said Regan. “My goal at Miss Nebraska is to challenge myself and become the best women I can be. I challenge myself not to stress, and to enjoy being in the moment.”

Helping in that goal, Regan has focused on a key element of the Miss Nebraska program: service.

“My platform is Adopt, Don’t Shop,” said Regan. “While in LA, I have devoted more than 150 hours volunteering for rescue organizations Catmandoo and Tommy’s Lil Angels. In Nebraska, I lobbied for LB893, a bill that would require the humane sourcing of pets for sale or up for adoption in pet stores. I also plan to work with the Humane Society of the United States – Nebraska and the national nonprofit, Bailing Out Benji, to educate people about and end puppy mills. Nebraska ranks in the bottom four states in the country, described as the worst in the US regarding puppy mills.”

Purpose. Passion. Positivity.

Regan says she aspires to be like the women who will surround her at Miss Nebraska, and some of those in her adopted home of Los Angeles.

“Ellen DeGeneres is a superhero in my eyes,” said Regan. “She uses her show to make the world a better place through laughter, and she recognizes and rewards those who are also extraordinary in this world. As I begin my journey in the entertainment industry, I choose to remain like Ellen, who just wants to positively make people happy.”

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Here’s what makes Regan happy: stepping on stage, posing in front of a camera, and walking up to a little girl in awe because of that sparkly crown and sash. Splitting her time between her two favorite places on the planet: Los Angeles and Nebraska. Regan Kolbo’s not living in La La Land, she’s actively PURSUING it. To all the Coulda Woulda Shoulda’s out there reading this, I’d argue because of that, this young lady has already won.

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“Honestly, I do not quite have a plan,” said Regan. “This Miss Nebraska journey has already taught me so much about who I am and where I belong. It has given me the skills and confidence to embrace the unknown and just to enjoy life’s rollercoaster.”

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Star City 2018 Allison Baird

COMING SOON.. Miss Omaha 2018 Allie Swanson

Me, Myself and I

Disclaimer – I am fully aware of how NERDY the following sentences will sound.

Guys, last night I did something I haven’t done in YEARS – AND IT WAS AWESOME.

After spending the last few seasons stepping up to the plate, awkwardly chucking the bat forward, and dinging a ball back to the pitcher, last night I gracefully swung, connected and propelled that beautiful neon softball over the heads of the outfielders, running to catch up.

It was glorious.

I used to be good. I used to connect. I used to be FAST. 30 pounds and 20 years later, I am slow. I second-guess myself. I don’t know what happened to my coordination. My self-esteem has plummeted along with my batting average.

WHY?!?! It’s slow-pitch, co-ed softball for crying out loud.

Because I DON’T FAIL. If I do something, I want to KICK ASS at it. I want to dominate. Last night, after two at bats and two line drive hits, I felt like I had re-discovered a long lost figment of my formerself.. and I felt like I could fly.

It was a high I really needed. I feel like I’m riding a never-ending roller coaster, battling with my weight, my age, what I want to be as a wife and mother, and all of my other self-imposed goals that seem so far out of reach. For one brief hour, I felt like: ‘I’M AWESOME’.

I think we, as women, constantly compete with ourselves and the inner voices that say ‘you SHOULD be THIS.’ It’s a battle that, at just 20-years old, a Doane University student is aware off, and tries to use to her advantage rather than detriment.

Allison Baird - Miss Star City

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Maya Angelou said that, ‘success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it’,” said Allison Baird. “I am in competition with no one but myself, and if at the end of the day I like who I am and what I do in all areas, whether it be scholarship, service or style, than I have been successful.”

A mature outlook from a woman just starting to discover her adult-self and what she’s capable of. She credits a passion for telling stories, embracing each person’s background and motivation. Often, she channels that through theatre, as a Doane University student on scholarship for the arts.

“I get to play characters all the time,” said Allison. “Some who are similar to me and some who are nothing like me, but still none of them are me. This experience allows me to fully and completely be Allison. In theatre, we call it character work when we research a character that we’re going to play. This allows us to play that character with the utmost amount of truth and integrity. Now, the Miss Nebraska program is helping me to do my ‘character work’ on myself.”

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Allison was crowned Miss Star City 2018 in January, a return to a program she’d competed in for several years as a teenager from Gering, finishing 1st Runner Up twice at the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant.

“I competed as a Miss, won my first local, and made Top 5 at state,” said Allison. “I was thrilled. I took a year off and decided to come back this year because I finally know my why. I became passionate about something, and knew and felt called to compete again.”

Allison found power and inspiration through children. I’ve seen it firsthand in her interactions with my own two boys; this girl instantly relates to kids through their innate creativity, curiosity and positivity.

“My platform is ‘Little But Fierce’, which not only advocates for fine arts education in schools, but also helps kiddos of all ages find their voices through fine arts curriculum,” said Allison. “I have had the opportunity to speak to our state’s representatives about funding and goals, but I have also had the pleasure of visiting surrounding schools and doing workshops with after school programs and classrooms. My goal is to encourage children to be the star of their show. To stand up for what they believe in and discover the voice within that might be little, but it is fierce. Confidence. Character. Compassion. The arts can teach kids those skills, and can translate to all areas of their education and beyond.”

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Allison is sharing that message not only through her words, but through her actions, as both a performer and a public servant, volunteering throughout her college community, her hometown, and abroad.

“You want to see change? I’ve seen girls with a crown do more for their communities in one year than many politicians do in their entire term,” said Allison. “We are dedicated, service-oriented, and committed to making the world around us a better place.”

 

 

And Allison considers many of her fellow titleholders, past and present, her closest allies and sources of inspiration.

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“My favorite moment was actually after crowning! I had decided pretty late int he game that I was going to compete for Miss Star City, so my family and friends weren’t able to come watch,” said Allison. “Seeing that I was a ‘loner’, former Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell, her roommate Megan, and current Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen crowded over me for a picture. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and it was a reminder of the sisterhood this organization instills. Some of the most inspiring, supportive, encouraging ladies are there to step in as your ‘family’ and share in your victories.”

Which reminds me of softball. When I ran into the dugout after my first and then second hit, I was greeted by high five after high five from my teammates who are also among my closest friends. They were genuinely thrilled, I felt, not for the fact that we got a run or two out of the deal, but that I had FINALLY remembered how to bat. How to succeed. How to smile and enjoy WHY we still play all these years later.

It’s just softball. But for a few shining moments, I felt like the BEST version of myself. When so often these days I question what I look like, what I say, how I act, what I do… it was nice to feel GREAT.

That is what this program does for so many young women – it helps them focus on the best parts of themselves, to empower others, to showcase what they love.. and to be rewarded for that with smiles, encouragement, and some really nice prizes and scholarships to boot. It’s not just a pageant.. it’s a way to provide these incredible people with countless opportunities for greatness.

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Allison Baird will tell you she wants to win this competition next month. But she’ll also tell you she sees and understands the bigger, more important contest… with herself. Winning the game isn’t about how far you hit the ball, it’s figuring out WHY it felt so damn good, and how to channel that every day off the field.

“I’m working to better myself everyday,” said Allison. “I’m always working toward growth, and if I like who I am, what I wear, and what I say on the Miss Nebraska stage, that’s a victory for me. I’m staying true to Allison this year. No need to be anyone but her.”

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To follow Miss Star City Allison Baird, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Standing Tall

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Just Add Glitter

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers Hayden Richardson

NEXT.. Miss Sandhills Regan Kolbo

Priceless

I just shared a jaw-dropping stat across social media:

This year, we will award a record-breaking $70,000 in cash, gifts and services to Miss Nebraska contestants, PLUS we will offer more than $1.4 MILLION in college scholarships!!!

That’s not a typo. $70,000. $1.4 million.

There are so many great things about participating in this program, that huge scholarship and prize haul being one of them! But more often than not, when new young women try a Miss Nebraska local pageant, we learn it’s the intangibles that drew them to compete.

Hayden Richardson was inspired by a friend and sorority sister, leading by example.

Hayden Richardson - Miss Twin Rivers

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I had seen how Allie Tietjen had thrived in the system,” Hayden told me. “She is my role model because she is the most positive and compassionate woman I have ever met. As a sister in Alpha Phi as well as a dear friend of mine, I have seen all sides of her and her bubbly personality is so authentic, whether she in in pajamas or in crown and sash, she is true to herself.”

At 19 years old, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student decided to give this pageant thing a go, too.. and won the title of Miss Twin Rivers on her first try. Her friend, Allison, aka Miss Nebraska 2017, was at her side to crown her.

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“I could not think of a better way to improve as an individual than to partake in something that has made Allie the strong woman she is.”

Allison won the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award in 2017. Hayden immediately followed suit, setting a goal to hit the ground running with a platform targeting a crisis spreading throughout Nebraska and beyond.”My platform is based on child trafficking in the state of Nebraska,” said Hayden. “I am focused on raising awareness of the issue, educating school faculty, and creating positive self image with our students. I have partnered with the Nebraska Coalition Against Human Trafficking, in which I have been able to speak to differing groups, from schools to girl scout troupes, advocating for each different aspect.”

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“Service is absolutely the most important part of the Miss America crown to me,” said Hayden. “My goal as Miss Nebraska is to have 10,000 children and community members hear my message. In spreading awareness of human trafficking and helping to reduce the risk factors, my goal is to change the lives of children that may have fallen victim.”

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Hayden’s goals are not exclusive to winning that Miss Nebraska crown. The self described ‘political science geek’ plans to someday become a lawyer.

“I want to pursue a life rooted in the advancement of human rights laws on the nonprofit side,” said Hayden, who is currently working for Nebraska State Senator Kate Bolz. “Later down the road, I wish to run for the House of Representatives to advance my message and serve my state and country. The Miss Nebraska Organization is allowing me the opportunity to begin my work now as a freshman in college to advance the knowledge of human trafficking here in Nebraska, as well as giving me the life skills necessary to work in an adverse field.”

And like so many other contestants this year and for years prior, this outlet is also an opportunity for Hayden to showcase her other talents and improve every aspect of herself creatively, mentally and physically. As a national-level competitive cheerleader and dancer, Hayden has found new stages to perform. As a 2012 Nebraska Gymnastics Championships competitor, she’s found new reasons to continue a focus on physical health and wellness.

“Miss Nebraska is essential to the state because it provides the role models for young girls across Nebraska,” said Hayden. “As a public servant, Miss Nebraska educates and inspires our youth to be the best they can be. It is so important to continue that.”

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Just as Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen inspired Hayden, she now hopes to inspire others. Little girls in her hometown of Bennington are now watching not only Hayden, but newly crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Kelsie Therkildsen. And early next month, just one day before she leaves for her own state competition, Hayden will invite many those children to join her and directly make a difference in the lives of other Omaha kids.

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In the end, that’s what so many women like Hayden, and Allison, and myself, recall most about being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization. The money is AWESOME to help pay for school. The opportunities to perform and shine are empowering. But the impact you can have on your community and world around you thanks to a little extra notoriety in a ‘Miss So and So’ title…. those memories are priceless.

“The best part of this has been interacting with my community,” said Hayden. “I have made so many more connections than I would have ever been able to without the Miss Nebraska system. This  It gives us a way to voice who we are as women, and further develops our sense of self.”

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To follow Miss Twin Rivers Hayden Richardson, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

NEXT.. Miss Star City 2018 Allison Baird

 

Breaking Out Of The Box

I wrote a few months ago about the STEM explosion here at Westside Community Schools, particularly with our female students. Led by a cadre of phenomenal female educators, girls at Westside Middle School and Westside High School continue to crush anything coding/engineering/robotics related. AND I LOVE IT.

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I love seeing people crush stereotypes. If you’re good at one thing, that must be it, you must fit into this box.

Um, no.

One of the young women starring in this story of students slaying science is Ramya Iyer, a freshman at Westside High School. She’s been to UNO Code Crush. She’s the 2018 regional NCWIT Award winner for Aspirations in Computing. She just won her FIRST state championship as a freshman in photo illustration. AND… just this week, we announced she also won first place out of 5,000 international submissions in a student video contest.

Ramya

Scientist. Student. Techie. Producer.

There ain’t a box big enough for what this girl is capable of.

Same goes for 23-year old Emily Curtis, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Nebraska, who also happens to be competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

Emily Curtis - Miss Panhandle

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Mechanical Engineer.. AND a pageant queen? Could it be?

Hell yes.

Emily’s kind of a genius when it comes to ‘figuring things out’; solving puzzles using a scientific approach is her career and her passion.

 

“I was part of the Husker Racing Baja SAE Team, a student organization at UNL that got to design, build and race an off-road vehicle,” said Emily. “At the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium in August of 2017, I was able to present my research in Austin, Texas to other students and researchers in the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing fields. Ultimately, I want to work as a research engineer, focusing on sustainable manufacturing with 3D printing.”

<Editor’s note… here’s me just reading that.>

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So why pageants? Why Miss Nebraska?

“I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” said Emily. “I have about five more years left of school and two more degrees to earn, so the scholarship money provided by the organization is a huge help, allowing me to remain debt free throughout my higher education. Along with that, the performance aspect, and preparing to present myself on stage has made me more comfortable with presenting my research and approaching others in the field, two things that are necessary for researchers.”

 

 

Any scientist knows there is trial and error before success. The same holds true for Emily in this latest experiment. She competed several times, over several years, before winning a local title.

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“Finally earning that title with overall interview and overall talent awards, after so many years, and numerous local pageants, really validated the hard work I had put into my platform and this program,” said Emily. “I was just so happy, ecstatic, delighted and ready for this to happen.”

She seized the opportunity to take her platform to the next level; a message for all little girls and women called ‘Empowering Women in STEM.’

 

“I advocate for a network of support and opportunity for women and girls interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Emily. “It starts with highlighting strong feminine role models within STEM, and then continues by providing women opportunities to connect with each other and the means to achieve their goals.”

Emily’s own networking circle has expanded to include the same women she’ll compete with next month.

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 “[My favorite part of this] is the sisterhood,” said Emily. “Before this, I have never felt a more instant connection than I did with each of the titleholders in this year’s Miss Nebraska class. We all want to see each other succeed, and I can honestly say that I feel that I have made 14 new lifelong friends.”

“The foundation of this organization is a sisterhood, and the concept that women support women,” said Emily. “This organization celebrates the strength of women, not only a individuals, but as a collective group as well. I personally have never met a more dedicated, selfless, and passionate group of people (people, not just women) than the contestants, directors, volunteers and parents I have met while competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization.”

How’s this for a hypothesis: perhaps, engineering, and computer science, and video production, and being a beautiful human being, aren’t as dissimilar as some would assume them to be. Perhaps you CAN be a ‘pageant girl’ and brilliant all at once. Maybe, just maybe, YOU and only you, can define yourself and determine what you want to become.

Both KMTV and KETV are sharing Ramya’s success across Omaha TV this week. (Oh yeah, she’s also EXTREMELY well spoken, nailing every interview I threw at her.) Simultaneously, Emily posted this on social media.

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‘I am so thankful for the opportunity to receive an education, and still thankful for the Miss America Organization for providing scholarship dollars to women like me to further their education. Next stop, Grad School!’

The message at Westside High School, within the Miss Nebraska Organization, and from incredible young women like Ramya and Emily is simple and clear: BREAK OUT OF THE BOX. Find what you love – all of what you love – and DO IT.

“I look up to women like Katherine Jackson, Jane Goodall, and Sally Ride, who broke barriers and showed us all how strong, tough and determined women can be,” said Emily. “With my local title, I have become a role model and strong female voice, and I know have a bigger platform to reach out to my community and show women of all ages what possibilities and potential they have.”

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To follow Miss Panhandle Emily Curtis, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2018 Brooke Lodl

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2018 Hayden Richardson

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

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When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

Yellow

Yellow is the perceived color of sunshine. It is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Have you guys ever seen the Lego Batman movie? That part when Alfred tells him he has to go to Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party, and Batman just doesn’t want to?

Yeah. Click that. Because that’s how I feel about saying goodbye to our Yellow, our sunshine, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long.

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When you are around a person like this, do you just KNOW they are destined to be something amazing? Carsyn Long is a young woman who isn’t just good at everything she does, SHE IS OUTSTANDING.

Carsyn has won state championships and other honors in DECA, competitive speech, and theater. She is a gifted singer, performing for the Harlem Globetrotters and winning the Overall Talent Award at last year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition. She is confident and well-spoken, nailing live TV interviews repeatedly in the last two years. She is a woman of faith, a strong advocate for her church youth group in her hometown of Gering. She is SMART, winning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama, in part because of her Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen resume. And she is kind, voted Homecoming Queen by her peers, a woman with a proven servant’s heart at just 18 years old.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program was created for women like Carsyn Long. She’ll pass on that title tonight, crowning a new state titleholder in Omaha.

“As I’m preparing to give up my MNEOTeen title, it’s pretty bittersweet,” Carsyn told me. “This has been such an emotional, humbling, and gratifying year that I am dreading to see come to an end. Honestly, I wish I could be MNEOTeen forever! Of course, I am so read for the college experience (Roll Tide) and to start my adult life, but it’s still so hard to say goodbye to something that has consumed my life (in all the best ways) for an entire year.”

When Carsyn was crowned one year ago, she was closing out her junior year of high school. Immediately, still focusing on finals and state championships, she also turned her attention to preparing to represent our state at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition in Orlando, Florida.

I’m gonna be completely blunt here for a second. I was CONVINCED Carsyn was going to be Nebraska’s first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. I remember texting her director, Heather Edwards, absolutely sure Carsyn was going to win.

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Photo courtesy PG Photography

“One thing I remember so vividly (and I pray I never forget this moment), was the very first night of prelims,” said Carsyn. “We marched through the auditorium aisles with our state flags. The music was blaring and the screams of the audience were just deafening. I got to my spot on stage and I saw the big Husker N’s in the audience and could hear my family cheering for me. It took everything I had to not start bawling. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is real life. This is happening. I’m the girl from Nebraska who gets to experience this.’ It was very surreal and so emotional. I was so in awe and so grateful that I was the girl that got to stand on this stage. I felt so humbled, because I knew how many people would have loved to be in my shoes that at moment.”

Carsyn did not take the national crown, but she did take away several incredible friendships.

“I literally talk to Autumn Arsenault from Tennessee everyday, she’s one of my best friends,” said Carsyn. “Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen, Holly Brand, is my college roomie. I love her to death; we really hit it off in Orlando and we’re now forever best friends.”

Carsyn also came home with a resolve to make the absolute most out of the title she had already earned, our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. She threw out the ceremonial first picture for the Omaha Storm Chasers. She was a featured performer for WOWT-Omaha’s live fundraising telethon, and at the annual Crowns & Gowns weekend in North Platte. She’s emceed local pageants across the state throughout the year, and volunteered her time at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. Carsyn will also be part of the Annual Cattleman’s Ball in June. She has also distributed her Blessing Bags to children across the state, reminding them they are loved and valued.

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“I have done a TON of traveling this year,” said Carsyn. “A lot of my events were somewhere like North Platte or Omaha, which can be quite a drive since I am from western Nebraska, basically Wyoming! Most of my appearances, I drove by myself. It hasn’t been easy juggling everything this year, especially my senior year. I have had to sacrifice a lot in order to make it work, but it has all paid off. It was really imperative that I knew which things were most important.”

“I had been feeling really stuck when thinking about life after handing down my title,” said Carsyn. “Obviously, I’d go to college and what not, but I had been wondering, ‘how am I going to continue making my mark?’ But I’ve realized because of this program, being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and my drive to succeed, I am so capable and equipped with everything I need to continue moving mountains.”

And by being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Carsyn was eligible for a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama. She found out over Christmas break that the she was accepted, and that every dollar of her higher education, an estimated $115,000, would be paid for.

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“In August, I’ll be heading to Alabama to pursue a degree in news media,” said Carsyn. “I’m planning on rushing a sorority to be really involved on campus and meet so many new girls. I’d like to get involved in theatre and performance down south a well. But there’s a lot of things I’m just kind of going with the flow with and knowing that God will provide. I couldn’t be more excited to start this new adventure.”

Will that adventure bring her back to Nebraska someday, to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska?

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I guess people will just have to wait and see… :),” said Carsyn. “Haha, yes, I plan on competing for Miss Nebraska… or Alabama? Most likely Nebraska because I’ll always be a Husker, even if I do come back with a Southern accent.”

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To the 19 young women competing to follow in Carsyn’s footsteps, and to everyone learning more about the program that has been such an important part of her life, Carsyn has a message.

“I wish you could meet 14-year old Carsyn, compared to Carsyn now,” she said. “I not NOT exaggerating when I say that this program has completely transformed me into a different young woman – in the best ways possible. I can no excel in interview for a job or scholarship without hesitation. I take the health and wellness of my body very seriously and have more knowledge of how to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. I know that God has provided me with a voice that I have no problem in utilizing and performing with. I can be proof of the idea that even though you are young, you can accomplish amazing things.”

“My year has been all about small moments,” said Carsyn. “You make the biggest impact in the smallest moments. People aren’t going to remember what songs I sang at Crowns and Gowns or what I wore at Miss Nebraska week, but they remember how I presented myself and how I made them feel included in my journey. That is something that has been really important to me this year and I plan on continuing that legacy no matter where I go.”

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“I knew this was something that God made me for and boy, did He use me this year,” said Carsyn. “This may feel like the end, but it really is the beginning of the rest of my life. I will never take for granted the year I had as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. I have been so inspired and motivated by Nebraska communities and I couldn’t be more appreciative. I can’t believe this is it. I can’t believe I was the girl that got to experience this amazing year. I am forever thankful to be Nebraska’s girl.”

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Carsyn, you are our Yellow. You are joy, happiness, intellect, and energy personified.

You will forever be our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

To learn more about all of the 2018 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, click here.

From ‘Sea’ To Shining ‘Sea’

Today is the day! Tonight, a new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen will be crowned in Omaha!

For the last several months, a small network of volunteers has been working tirelessly to provide this wonderful opportunity for the best young women our state has to offer. Through those efforts, a record-breaking 19 teens are competing tonight, representing all corners of our state. Many of you have read about each of them in this series (THANK YOU!), and the following three teens round out this incredible class.

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Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Sofia Drelicharz, a student at Westside Middle School in Omaha. She’s a natural performer; she was just in her school’s amazing production of Mary Poppins all last weekend. Her mission as a local titleholder is to spread awareness of food insecurity, especially in children.

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Photo courtesy Tiffany Williams Photography

Miss Heartland’s Outstanding Teen Aubrie Charter’s motto is Dance+Baton+Point+Golf+Pageant=Happiness💗. She’s a busy young lady!! Aubrie is a 7th grader in North Platte, and a lifetime fan of the Miss Nebraska Pageant that takes place annually in her hometown.

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Photo courtesy Photographic Images

 Miss North Platte’s Outstanding Teen Aspen Golter is another North Platte native, an 8th grader trying Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen for the first time. She is also a dancer at The Dance Factory, owned by former Miss Nebraska Becky Smith, and a former participant in the America’s National Teenager Scholarship Organization.

Tonight in Omaha, these three will compete with other teenagers spanning our state; from the winding Missouri River that borders Omaha, to the sleeping giant Platte River in North Platte, to the… ok, there’s no river border in western Nebraska, but you get my point!!

Tonight, these girls will take the spotlight, but in the shadows of the crowd, they will be cheered on by all of the volunteers who helped them find this path to Omaha. Roxanne Ludemann, Kelsey Ellis, and so many more; they are the local directors across our state who worked countless hours to provide resources and assistance to these titleholders. They don’t get paid to do this – they do it because they love to empower young women, and they love what this program stands for.

Ladies

With that, a sincere GOOD LUCK and THANK YOU to the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen organization, especially to directors Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards. Never before has this program had 19 contestants, a powerhouse panel of judges, record-breaking scholarship and award opportunities, and more. These powerful women are revolutionizing this program, and in doing so, empowering the teenagers who take part, creating an army of well-spoken, polished, service-minded citizens of Nebraska.

From ‘sea’ to shining ‘sea’… the best of the best. That is what will be represented on stage tonight.

CARSYN

Photo courtesy KC Creations Photography

Only one will become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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