Young and Beautiful

My first internship at KETV, I was 20 years old and thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from such incredible professionals in a field I someday hoped to join. Three days a week, I worked a nine hour shift, following around amazing reporters like Tom Elser and Trisha Meuret. This was an unpaid internship, so I also worked part-time, waitressing at Charlie’s on the Lake, in addition to my service work and appearances as Miss Douglas County. I worked every single shift I was offered at KETV; any task, around the clock. I don’t regret one second of it and didn’t think anything of then, either – I grew up with two parents who started their own successful businesses and taught me from an early age that if you want something, you work hard for it. They, and each of these experiences, helped shape who I am, opening doors for me as a broadcast professional at an early age in comparison to many of my peers.

This is why I get a smidge frustrated when I hear young adults complaining about not getting paid enough.. needing a job that allows them to ‘still do stuff’.. or expecting privileges, opportunities, and more will just HAPPEN to them because they ‘deserve’ it.

AND GET OFF MY LAWN, said Old Lady Brandi.


On the flip side.. it’s also why I am so excited about, and want to support, young people who show ambition, passion and a strong work ethic. Last Spring, I connected with Omaha’s Beverly Luma, who had started her own company, Lady Beverly Cosmetics. She graciously offered to present all of the 2017 Miss Nebraska contestants and judges with her products, including a special prize package for our new Miss Nebraska. Grand total: Beverly donated more than $2500 in her product to our organization. That is HUGE for a small business! I was already blown away.. and then I met Beverly.



“I really have sensitive skin and have always used topnotch products. However, being a college student in the US, wasn’t being graceful to my savings,” Beverly explained to me. “My sister, who is vegan, also has that problem. We started with lipsticks and eyelashes. We decided to make it official in 2016 by registering our company and getting the right documents when people would compliment us and ask to buy the lipstick we were wearing. Started small scale then expanded since then.”

With the help of her brother, a business graduate; her father, a retired businessman; and her mother, the sisters’ ‘manager’, Beverly’s hobby has expanded across Nebraska and to several other states, all while she completes a healthcare administration degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her own minor in business. Click here to learn more about Lady Beverly Cosmetics!

Guys. She’s 25. She JUST turned the legal age to rent a car. Let that sink in for a minute.

A 14-year old from Alliance, Nebraska is dreaming big early, too.


Chloe Blumanthal was crowned Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen last fall, a goal she’s been focused on for at least five years, if not longer.

“I was ‘special entertainment’ at the 2013 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant. I was 9 years old and I sang ‘Lights’,” Chloe told me recently. “From then on, I was determined to someday compete in that pageant. This system is for the best of the best and I wanted to be part of that.”


Chloe, a student at Alliance High School, says she’s been singing since the age of 2. (“And before that I would hum everything!”) A love of performing has been a constant as far back as she can remember, and her talent was clear to her family and people throughout western Nebraska.

“I was in a move made by Aperture Films about Western Expansion,” said Chloe. “It will open any day now at the museum under the Arch in St. Louis; we filmed it by Chimney Rock in 2015. I [also] won Little Miss titles when I was 9, 10 and 11 years old.”

Chloe notes those awards were just for fun, but even as an elementary student, she understood she could make good things happen.



“I raised over $2000 and donated it all,” said Chloe. “I thought up the fundraisers all on my own. As a Girl Scout, service has been a HUGE part of my life since 1st grade. I’ve earned my Girl Scout Bronze and Silver Awards; that’s over 70 hours of volunteer time. I am currently working on my Gold Award.”

Being Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen aligns right along with Chloe’s service goals. Each titleholder selects a cause they are passionate about and want to promote; Chloe calls her platform ‘Secret Kindness Agents’.


“It’s a movement that shows how a simple act of kindness can change the culture within a school or group and eventually change the world,” said Chloe, inspired by UNO Instructor and award-winning educator Ferial Pearson. “Her positivity, in the darkest of times, has changed my life. I saved up my babysitting money and bought copies of the Secret Kindness Agent book. [When I visit classrooms], I bring a book for each teacher, a small notebook for each child to journal in, and envelopes of Secret Agent assignments. The children brainstorm new assignments, something that costs no money, so everyone has the same impact. Each child also gets assigned a Secret Agent name; they never use their own name or take credit for their assignments. It’s a great feeling to give without reward or recognition.”

But Chloe says she IS rewarded.. through friendships and life skills.


“My friends see my confidence and pride in my accomplishments and know that much of that comes from my time as a titleholder,” said Chloe. “People should care about this program because of the exceptional work the titleholders do to make this state great. Because of the variety of platforms, our titleholders are helping so many different people and touching so many lives for the better.”


Just as her own life has been touched by the women who came before her. The Girl Scout alumni and troop leaders who taught Chloe about female leadership, risk-taking and innovation. The pageant mentors who taught her about making goals, and that trying new things often leads to success. And the women in business like Beverly Luma, inspiring Chloe to dream of going to culinary school and someday, opening her own specialty bakery.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”

Beverly Luma and Chloe Blumanthal are two young women not waiting for any magical milestone in life to accomplish their goals. Beverly recently shared a quote on social media.. “Sometimes you need to step outside, get some fresh air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.”

They are women making the world more beautiful by simply dreaming big, and inspiring others through hard work, love for life, and kindness to others. No matter what age, that is something we should all want to be.

Chloe official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“What a great way to work for something!” said Chloe, who will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April. “I want to show all of Nebraska what I can do and how I am changing the world.”


To follow Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen Chloe Blumanthal on Facebook, click here.

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 or Director Kali Tripp at


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


PREVIOUS.. Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis

COMING SOON.. Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Whitney Miller

Hoops For Hope

Be Great.

That was the Westside Warriors motto from day one of winter sports practice. Their coach asked them, what is your goal this season? The girls varsity team answered collectively: they wanted to be great. ‘What does that mean?’ Coach Clark responded.

I reached out to Coach Clark in November to see if some of his girls would be willing to visit Westside elementary schools for assemblies or guest opportunities; they had already been doing it for several weeks. They even volunteered at the District Kindness Retreat, mentoring students one on one. Their message: don’t make excuses, and don’t place blame. Love each other.

It was around this time these student athletes were also forced to practice what they preached; they’d suffered a tough loss to a top team in Class A, and lost their #2 and #3 players to season-ending injuries. They told each other and classroom after classroom, we won’t be defined by our challenges. We don’t make excuses. We don’t place blame. We love each other.

Every game day, the Warriors gathered together as a team for breakfast to reconnect and focus. After select home games, they ate pizza with a younger team, invited as their special guests. Their message when things got hard and when things started going right: no matter what happens, we won’t make excuses. We won’t place blame. We love each other.

District Champs

January – Westside won the Metro Holiday Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

February – Westside won the District Championship and a ticket to State.

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March – Westside won the NSAA Class A State Championship for just the 3rd time since Girls Basketball became a sanctioned sport in Nebraska. Their 28 wins in the 2017-2018 season set a new school record.

Monday night, less than 48 hours after their victory.. these players attended the 8th grade league championship, to support the younger girls they had invited to one of their games weeks earlier.

8th grade

Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

The Westside Warriors seemed to understand early on that to Be Great was so much more than taking the top prize at the end of the season; it was about meeting every challenge, and sharing what they learned with others along the way.

Jessica Shultis gets it, too… both the game, and the message.


She was a multi-sport high school athlete who went on to play collegiate basketball for Doane University. She had barely begun.. when everything in her world changed.

“During my sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer,” Jessica told me. “I [now] speak to students about what it takes to overcome obstacles, whether it is bullying, academic struggles or terminal illness.”



At 23 years old, Jessica found a way to open more doors to share her story ,when she was crowned Miss Kearney and qualified to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska 2017. She finished as 2nd runner-up. Just months ago, Jessica was crowned Miss Lincoln.

“People are far more receptive to having Miss Lincoln come speak as opposed to simply Jessica Shultis. The title gives me an excellent platform to talk about issues that are important to me as well as make a difference in my community,” said Jessica. “Thanks to my connections in the basketball community, I am able to host fundamental camps free of any expense to myself, called Hoops for Hope. Due to the generous donations of others, all proceeds raised directly benefit Children’s Hospital in Omaha.”

But once again, Jessica faced challenges in her journey. At the ‘ripe old age’ of 24, Jessica was past the ‘age cutoff’ for women who hope to compete for Miss America and their state title, and didn’t think she’d be able to get a second chance to represent the state where she’s been her entire life.


“I fell in love with the job of Miss Kearney and was devastated that I only had one opportunity to compete at Miss Nebraska,” said Jessica. “Even though I didn’t walk away with the crown last year, I walked away with thousands of dollars in scholarships that I was able to apply to my educational endeavors. As someone who has completed her Bachelor’s degree and is about to complete a Master’s degree, I cannot emphasize the importance of scholarships enough.”

Then in January, the Miss America Organization announced a historic decision allowing women up to 25 years old to compete. It was the chance Jessica had been watching and waiting for.

“The week before the Miss Lincoln Pageant was a roller coaster waiting for confirmation,” said Jessica. “Friday night before the Saturday pageant, at 11pm, I received a text from Miss Nebraska Executive Director Rachel Daly that I was cleared to compete. I could hardly sleep that night, so I competed on pure adrenaline that stemmed from my excitement to step onstage again.”

Jessica Shultis is a woman who has set goals for herself her entire life. This summer, she will transition into the role of Human Resources Manager with that new Master’s Degree. She plans to earn her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She wants to continue advocating for equality across all social classes, races, and sexes, inspired by women like Oprah Winfrey and the other titleholders she’s gotten to know through the Miss Nebraska program.

Jessica 4

Just like her basketball sisters 50 miles east, Jessica wants to be great. Her state championship trophy is the Miss Nebraska crown.

“I want to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to prepare,” said Jessica. “These ladies know the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in all aspects of life.”

Don’t make excuses. Don’t place blame. Love each other.

Be Great.

Olivia 1

Photo courtesy Olivia Washburn for Westside Journalism

“Love always wins. Love conquers fear. Love is what makes a team. I can whole-hearted say I love my team like sisters. We are truly better together.” – Elizabeth Robinson, Westside Warriors Basketball Player

“I’ve had the opportunity to share my message about the importance of never losing hope. While I hope I’ve had an impact on the kids in attendance, I leave a better person because of each of them.” – Miss Lincoln, Jessica Shultis.

Jessica final

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography


To follow Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis on Facebook, click here.


CLICK HERE * 2017 * The Chameleon Queen

For more information about the Miss Lincoln/Miss Star City Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also email Director Christy Merritt at


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 Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen Chloe Blumanthal

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Often times when I encourage a young woman to try the Miss Nebraska Organization, I get the same questions. “Do I need a coach?” “Do I have to spend a bunch of money for a new dress and clothes?” “But what if I’ve never done a pageant before?”

Maybe I should just attach this photo to my ‘auto-reply’.


October 2000. I received a flyer in the mail with information about the Miss Omaha Pageant. I had grown up IN AWE of the Miss America Pageant on TV; I even staged my own pageant with my friends for my 13th birthday party. I loved to sing on stage and welcomed the opportunity to do that one more time since my high school performance days were done.

That was the end of my pageant knowledge or background. I went to Mall of the Bluffs with my friend Shawna a few days before to buy my talent outfit off a clearance rack, and my friend Suzanne came to my dorm room at UNL to slap together some choreography for a song. I wore the swimsuit I actually swam in. My evening gown was the prom dress I had worn two years earlier in high school. I did my own hair and makeup… with the little makeup and hairspray I had. THANK GOODNESS my Little Sister and now dear friend Kelsey was ADORABLE and clearly stole the show!

God, it turns out, has a plan for everything.. and for whatever reason told those six judges at Westside High School that I would be a good representative of Douglas County; I won a local title and a ticket to compete at the 2001 Miss Nebraska Pageant. I had NO CLUE what I was doing.

Thankfully, this program past and present is made up of incredible former titleholders who are happy to help guide the ‘newbies’ and share their insight into this wonderful, and at times, overwhelming world. Within a few weeks, I was introduced to Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith.

Becky Smith

Becky was an Omaha-area girl like me, crowned Miss Nebraska at just 20 years old. By the time I became Miss Douglas County in 2001, Becky had returned to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to pursue Fine Arts degree in Dance. Word must have spread that the newest member of the Miss Omaha family was a HOT MESS..

Miss Congeniality

.. because within a few weeks, I had an invitation to meet with Becky at Chi Omega, right next door to my dorm on UNL’s campus. She welcomed me to her sorority house with a warm smile and engaging personality, giggling with and not at me as she showed me how to walk in heels and not clomp around on stage like a hippo meandering through the savannah. (Really, guys, it was BAD.) She was just SO COOL, and made ME feel cool because I got to be around her.

Becky was a natural teacher, just one year later opening The Dance Factory in Miss Nebraska’s home base of North Platte. Her studio became a staple in town, so popular over the years, that Becky later opened a second location in Ogallala. I would argue one of the biggest reasons to enroll a child here, would be so they can work with Becky herself.

Becky official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Yes, Becky looks EXACTLY THE SAME as she did 18 years ago. Same sparkle in her smile, same passion for dance, same energy for life and everyone around her. People turn to Becky because they want to BE like Becky.

Her daughter, Gabriella, is no different.. and she’s ready to follow in her mom’s footsteps.


Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have been watching pageants for years and always wanted to try,” Gabriella told me recently. “My goal is to feel successful after everything is over. I want to feel that I did a great job and made an impact.”

Gabriella, a 15-year old student at North Platte High School, was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen last fall.

Gabriella dance

She, too, is a gifted dancer, practicing her craft at home and at The Dance Factory from a very early age. As her mom continued to volunteer with the Miss Nebraska Organization over the years, Gabriella saw an opportunity to both perform and to serve.

“Community service [is my favorite part]. I love visiting kids and helping others,” said Gabriella. “It makes me so happy to meet all of them and teach them about my platform, ‘Someone Is Your Type’. It’s all about blood donation so no matter your race, your blood type or your gender, you can donate blood that will save someone’s life. To promote my platform, I visit kids and educate them about blood donation and the importance of giving.”



Gabriella, who wants to someday be an anesthesiologist, notes her gratitude to be able to share a message she is passionate about. She’s also grateful for and aware of the connections she’s making, whether it be through dance, school, or with other teens from across the state who will compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“My favorite moment has been meeting all of the girls in the competition,” said Gabriella. “It’s so great to meet people who are just as motivated as you and who make you feel encouraged to persevere.”

Ultimately, those are the qualities that drive Gabriella Wagner. Even at 15, she is a young woman who values success and pushes for it in every aspect of her life. When asked about her female role models, she references Taylor Swift and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Morgan Holen, noting how they’ve inspired her by taking advantages of opportunities as young women with innovation, creativity and passion.

“You can do so many things, but if you don’t feel successful after completing them, you didn’t do it right,” said Gabriella. “Success to me means that you met your personal goals and you feel good about doing so.”


This photo shows Gabriella with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith Wagner, and Morgan Holen with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1988 Jodi Miller Holen. Becky, Morgan and Jodi are all INCREDIBLY inspiring women to me. They are hard working. They are caring and kind. They are dynamic. They endlessly give of themselves. They are friends to everyone they meet.

Gabriella hopes to be just like them.. for reasons that extend far beyond a crown.

“I come from a pageant involved family and I really enjoy being a part of it,” said Gabriella. “However, I chose this path because I love it and I want to make a difference in the world.”


Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography


To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner on Facebook, click here.

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 or Director Kali Tripp at


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


PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird

NEXT.. Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis

Girls Rule The World

This week at Westside, I got to do one of the things I love most at work.

We put these incredible Westside High School students on TV, to recognize them for their achievements and talents. Ramya Iyer, Victoria Chin, Raeanne Sando and Emma Carlson have all been honored with NCWIT Awards in the field of computer science. As each of them talked to KMTV’s Emily Szink, they shared how they want to pursue coding and STEM in their careers… and how one teacher mentored and inspired all of them to explore this field and stick with it.


Kristeen Shabram is a Business and Technology Teacher at Westside Middle School. She’s also the leader of the Computer Programmer’s Club, organizes Family Code Nights across the district, participates in CodeCrush at UNO and Nebraska GenCyber Camp. Her students were Nebraska’s winner in the 2017 Verizon App Challenge, scoring free technology and $5000. Mrs. Shabram was named the 2016 Tech Educator of the Year by AIM, and takes part in conferences across Nebraska, working with other STEM teachers.

Shabram and Teachers

Through Mrs. Shabram, students learn the value of learning this complex and valuable field. Employment of health information technicians alone, which is what Emma Carlson wants to do, is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all other occupations. And at a time when the number of girls interested in STEM plummets as they grow older, Mrs. Shabram is a much needed female expert in this field. She inspires everyone around her, especially Westside’s female students, to learn MORE. (Click here to see for yourself, by following Mrs. Shabram on Twitter!)


We can spread a message through our words. We can tell lecture kids and young people to do something or say something.. but how often do those same kids grow up wanting to be something because of what a role model DID. You never know who is watching you, thinking ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up.’

Morgan Baird is proof of that.

Morgan 2

“My sister has gone through the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen] and [Miss Nebraska] programs and I’ve seen the positive impact it has had on her and other girls,” Morgan told me recently. “I wanted to have the opportunity to develop the life skills and confidence she had and also have the chance to serve my community.”


This year, Morgan was crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2018. After admiring her mom Krista and her sister Allison for nearly all of her life, it’s now her turn to inspire.

Morgan has helped with fundraisers to support Special Olympics and Children’s Miracle Network. She also visits schools, talking to younger students about her personal platform, ‘Be Here Now’.



“It’s about putting away the distractions and experiencing life to the fullest with the people around you,” said Morgan. “I am promoting it by being the example. I try my best to not be on my phone excessively in public or when I’m with family and friends.”


Many of those friends are fellow titleholders from across Nebraska who are sharing their passions through service and performance, just like Morgan. They will compete against one another in April, for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, but this year more than ever, these young women use phrases like ‘competing with’, instead focusing on the benefits of organizations that bring together women of all ages to support and inspire each other.

“That’s what the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization is all about: The sisterhood,” said Morgan. “Besides my mom, my female role model is Emma Watson. Her advocacy for feminism is what I love to see. She believes that all women have a voice and should be sharing their opinions and beliefs. I strive to be like her.”

Morgan TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Girls rule the world.  We can dance and be still, speak and listen, be beautiful and be bold.


Women are pioneers and mentors. Teachers and computer scientists. Nurturers and bad-ass experts in coding and technology. We can do ANYTHING we want to do, and we inspire others when our passion shines through our own actions.

 I would argue that neither of the kids in the above photo went to Nebraska GenCyber Camp because they felt like they HAD to – they wanted to because they enjoy it, and especially for the girls who took part, Mrs. Shabram has showed them THEY CAN. Morgan Baird is competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because she WANTS to, and has seen through the women around her that we can choose any path that brings us joy.

Meryl Streep once said, “I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.”

Thank you, Mrs. Shabram, for being a lighthouse for girls everywhere. Morgan Baird hopes someday, she can say the same.

Morgan official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

 “My favorite part about being a titleholder is getting to meet all the little girls who tell me they want to be just like me when they grow up,” said Morgan. “I know it’s because of the sparkly crown on my head, and who doesn’t want to be a princess when they get older?, but it makes my heart feel so full when I hear those words come out of their sweet, little mouths. I am there to help in whatever way I can.”


To follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird on Facebook, click here.

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 or Director Kali Tripp at


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


PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner


Bo Knows Inspiration

Once in awhile, you meet someone that makes you want to jump higher and run faster. You meet a Bo Jackson.


He won the Heisman… AND played baseball for Auburn. He was a #1 NFL Draft pick AND a 4th round draft pick for the Kansas City Royals. To this day, he remains the only person to be named an All-Star in both the MLB and the NFL. Bo Knows Awesome.

(Sorry, guys – Spring Training is here. Get ready for lots of baseball references!)

We are surrounded by Bo Jacksons, right here in Nebraska. I know one.. he goes by the alias Tyler Hottovy.

Hottovy 3

Tyler is a musician. He’s a church leader. He’s a proud husband and father. And as of last summer, he has been the principal of one of the largest schools in Westside, Westbrook Elementary.

Westbrook is a Title I school; a relatively high number of the students enrolled here receive free or reduced lunch. For many of them, their biggest worry every day is not homework or getting enough screen time.. it’s thinking of when they’ll eat next, or wondering how they’ll stay warm when the temperatures drop. Mr. Hottovy has made it his career mission to make school consistent, comforting, and a source of hope and opportunity for every, single child who passes through his doors.

“If they are hungry, we will feed them. If they are cold, we will make sure that they are warm,” Mr. Hottovy told me recently. “We don’t turn anyone away. We learn to support and serve the students that show up at our door and give them as many opportunities as we can.”

On the first day of school, he literally rolled out a red carpet for Westbrook students and invited Westside cheerleaders to root on kids as they walked into the building. He and Teacher Leader Amy Falcone don goofy glasses and deliver snacks by wagon, endearing themselves to their students as friends and trusted adults. Mr. Hottovy goes above and beyond to bring experiences and inspiration to his students, like the Nebraska Brass Band (of which he’s a proud member of!) His goal: to make both his students and teachers LOVE coming to school everyday. Click here to follow Mr. Hottovy on Twitter!

“My beautiful moments are when I hear adults supporting each other, recognizing the positive in kids, building meaningful relationships with students, and when I hear staff stop talking about what our kids have done and instead talk about what they will do,” said Mr. Hottovy.

It’s one thing to accept a role and fulfill your responsibilities. It takes a Bo Jackson to keep pushing, to test the limits and to do more.

Cue Nikki-Catrina.

Final TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

People think beauty queens brawl for tiaras to wave their hands and ride in convertibles. Nikki-Catrina Anderson has put her crowns and sashes through more than 1,300 hours of community service… and counting.

“One reason I love serving is the people I have met and the stories I have heard,” Nikki-Catrina recently told me. “It’s a two-way street; I’m helping people, but it is rare that I don’t leave a service opportunity enlightened and uplifted from the people I have met. Serving in my community is something I will do for the rest of my life.”



The current Miss Kool-Aid Days has jumped into ice-cold lakes to raise money for Special Olympics. She’s flipped pancakes and handed out ice cream for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. She’s spoken to schools from Scottsbluff to Kearney, walked in charity fashion shows, served food to families in need.. the list goes on and on. But Nikki-Catrina’s prime focus and favorite contribution is through an ages-old hobby and essential skill: reading.

Nikki TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“My platform is ‘Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader’,” said Nikki-Catrina. “It is about promoting family reading and children’s literacy, sharing the importance and relevance of reading, and the bond it can create.”

From business to personal health to civic empathy.. there are endless pieces of evidence as to the positive benefits of simply reading. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, C.S. Lewis, Maya Angelou, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis… they all agree(d) reading is the key to success. Nikki-Catrina shares their messages and puts in the time on the ground, getting books to as many children across Nebraska as possible.

Nikki books

“Last May, I did a book drive in which I collected more than 4,800 books to give to students,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I’m also privileged to partner with the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library, which has allowed me to vastly promote literacy in the community. With them, I was able to visit every elementary and preschool in the Scottsbluff Public School District to encourage 1,800 students to sign up for the summer reading program!”

Two years ago, Nikki-Catrina amplified her message and mission as a titleholder within the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Program. She soon realized that crown and sash also netted her some personal rewards for her hard work.

“This has been a life-changing organization,” said Nikki-Catrina. “Even before I was old enough to compete, I was inspired by the titleholders in my community who became role models and the women I aspired to emulate. Since becoming a titleholder, I have found countless friendships with women who’s strength, determination, and stories inspire me to be better. I have developed a greater confidence and a deeper sense of who I am. I have been given opportunities to serve my community in a way I would not have been able to do without the prestige reputation of this organization. I have created large projects from beginning to end, and because of those experiences, I am now confident in my ability to continue to make great change even after I am no longer a titleholder.”

all girls TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I do not want to get wrapped up in the idea that this is a competition, I see this more as an experience,” said Nikki-Catrina. “A chance to get to know amazing and wonderful girls. I do not want to be the shy person I typically am in large groups; I want to get to know the girls and build relationships with them. I am surrounded by uplifting, inspiring, and friendly women. I want to make this the best experience it can be, because I am blessed to be able to have it.”

At one recent appearance, Nikki-Catrina warmly greeted a deaf family who approached her… and she communicated with them in sign language. Yup, she does that, too. THAT is the beauty this young woman has defined in the phrase ‘beauty queen’. Look at the faces of the children in these photos. Just like Tyler Hottovy’s pictures, I not only see a caring, person to devoted to making the world better, but I see sheer happiness in the children she is impacting.

People like Tyler and Nikki-Catrina are talented. They are hard working. They do it all.

They are our Bo Jacksons.

The sports legend once said, “Set your goals high and don’t stop ’til you get there.”

Tyler with suit

Tyler Hottovy has started his doctorate. He thinks about expanding his work with Title I schools, but for now: “I’m focused on making Westbrook a great place for kids.”

Nikki-Catrina hopes to work in an elementary school, too; she is studying to become a teacher, and may someday be telling her students the story of her time as Miss Nebraska.


Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I never believed in myself enough to give it a try,” said Nikki-Catrina. “[Now] I love it. This gives me the chance to grow, to be who I am, and feel I have a place.”


To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki-Catrina Anderson on Facebook, click here.


CLICK HERE * 2017 * Leading Through Reading

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains/Miss Kool-Aid Days Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also emails Directors Angie Trausch at or Angela Keiser at


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 Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird

Love, Learn, Kindergarten

This is a tough time to be an educator.

I’ve always had deep respect for teachers; mine throughout the years at Papio had a profound impact on my life. Ms. Blase, Mr. McCaw, Mrs. Gess… and the high school teachers who were also my mentors and now, friends: Mrs. Ruff, ‘Nien’, Ms. Kollars, and Mr. Johnston.

To be a teacher is to believe in someone, to make them feel like they are something special and that you want to take the time to help them do everything they want and more in this world.

My friend Matt, a phenomenal educator now at Creighton Prep, told me once, ‘anytime you get discouraged, just go to a school.’ Best. Advice. Ever. When I walk into the doors of any of Westside’s 13 schools, I see hope. I see joy in learning. I see happiness.

Perfect example: Mr. Carlson’s Kindergarten class at Rockbrook Elementary.


Every time I walk into Dustin’s classroom, he is on the floor or at a table with his students. They are engaged and laughing. On the day I stopped by last week, Mr. Carlson and his students were making robots – he is a leader in STEM and coding, making this ever-important skill FUN for kids as young as 5 and 6 years old. He is teaching them educational and life skills, things that become the building blocks for a lifetime of learning… but to these children, Mr. Carlson is their buddy and a guy they look forward to seeing and spending time with everyday. Click here to check out Mr. Carlson’s Kindergarten website, and click here to follow Mr. Carlson’s Kindergarten class on Twitter!

From his principal (another incredible educator) Garret Higginbotham: “Mr. Carlson is a teacher often remembered by his former students and visited years later as well.  He keeps the caring and character that has made Kindergarten such a special place while infusing skills such as coding and robotics.  Few Kindergarten students are concerned with their teacher’s professional credentials, though his include being an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, but students have certainly benefited from his professional commitment.  More importantly, Mr. Carlson does what makes our most memorable teachers so… well… memorable.  They know their students, they care about them, and they make learning an adventure.  The love of teaching shines through in a love of learning and in the commitment to see each and every child grow, learn, and succeed.”

A commitment to children. Making a difference in young people’s lives. Those are the same things that are pulling a young, future teacher to this wonderful world of Kindergarten education.

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“To me, service is most important,” says Kiera Rhodes, Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2018. “Being able to go out and help others can also teach you many valuable lessons.”



Kiera, a 17-year old from North Platte, has wanted to positively influence lives since she was impacted as a little girl, a Little Sister in the Miss Nebraska Organization and mentored by Miss Douglas County Mindy Schreiber (click here to read more!). That desire to lead and teach was reinforced again last year, when Kiera herself  was a titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

Kiera and Lianna

“Last year I was Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT, and my ‘big sister’ was Lianna Prill,” said Kiera. “She has become a huge role model to me; she’s so selfless and genuine and she taught me so many things this past year.”

Kiera wants to pay it forward, hoping to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April. Already, she’s visiting children’s groups and elementary schools with a message: Turning Setbacks Into Comebacks.


“[I] focus on doing just that, turning the challenges we face into something positive,” said Kiera. “I make it known that there are always people to talk to about your challenges. I love going to classrooms. I want to teach Kindergarten and I think this is absolutely helping me. Through this organization I’ve learned how to talk to people in a way that all people can understand.”


Look at those smiles.. a clear measure of the impact one person can have on the world and the people in it.

“I think that if we really push that being yourself is ‘the thing’ to do, then more people would just be happy with who they are, which is how it should be!’ said Kiera.

The average life span of an American is 79 years. Think of everything we do in those eight decades. At just five years old, Kindergarten often becomes the foundation for it all.

“Kindergarten is a magical moment in the life of a child,” said Garret Higginbotham. “For many children, it is the first full day experience they have with school. Countless memories are made and nearly all of us can recall the name of our own Kindergarten teacher.”

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Hundreds of children will remember Mr. Carlson. Dozens more educators are inspired by his work, hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Kiera Rhodes hopes to make a difference, too – as an educator, and possibly, as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

Kiera official

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography


To follow Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes on Facebook, click here.


CLICK HERE * 2017 * It Takes A Village

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 or Director Kali Tripp at


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


PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days Tristen Wecker

NEXT.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki Catrina Anderson

Power & Voice

I am a gymnastics nut. When I left KETV, my good friend Stacey presented me a group photo of the 2016 USA Men’s Gymnastics Team with their ‘personal’ messages wishing me luck. That’s friendship, folks.

I, like so many others, have been sickened, revolted, and angered by the stories that have come to light about Larry Nasser, the former US team doctor accused of molesting more than 100 elite gymnasts, including national, world and Olympic champions. MORE THAN A HUNDRED. How does this happen???? Why did no one listen??

Everyone is listening now; each victim has been allowed to publicly address Nasser in court during his sentencing hearings. In front of packed courtrooms, with cameras sharing their secrets to every corner of the country and beyond, these brave women spoke out. Some did it through tears; some kept their eyes down and read their accounts from prepared statements. Then, Aly Raisman stood up.


Photo courtesy Brendan McDermid/Reuters

She’s won three Olympic gold medals and served as Captain on both the 2012 and 2016 USA Olympic teams. She has since shared that for years, she was sexually assaulted by Nasser under the guise of ‘massage and medical treatment’. When she stood up to confront her abuser in court, Raisman looked him straight in the eyes, HELD that stare, and boldly stated, “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women, you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force and you are nothing.”

Click here to watch Aly Raisman’s full victim-impact statement.

If you are a young woman, or a parent of a young woman, I strongly suggest you watch this. It is a powerful demonstration of bravery, grit, intelligence; a strong woman finding her voice when for so long, she was engulfed in a world of silence.

Cue Tristen.

Tristen TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

For nearly a decade, she kept her secret. In silence, she’d flashback to memories of strange things happening to her at just 5 years old. As a teenager, she found comfort and safe haven through her youth group pastor, finally revealing her past. Through counseling, Tristen also found the strength to share her story.

“I am currently an ambassador for DOVES, I’ve partnered with CAPWN and CAPSTONE, and I work closely with No More,” said Tristen. “I travel to area schools, elementary through college, and talk about how to be safe. I have three points that I really like to touch on when speaking to a group: how to identify if you are someone has been assaulted, what legalities survivors are entitled to, and how to be an effective bystander. These points are vital for both survivors and non-survivors to know.”

Tristen also uses social media to share alarming statistics about sexual assault, and ways we can all stay aware and step in to help.

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In 2016, Tristen started spreading her message through another program: the Miss Nebraska Organization. The Minatare, Nebraska native was crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017, then Miss Fur Trade Days 2018.


“[This] gives us each a VOICE!” said Tristen. “Each girl has a personal platform they devote their service to. My platform, Speaking Out Against Sexual Assault, has been more influential than I could have ever hoped, all because of the continuous support I receive through this organization.”

Click here to learn more of Tristen’s story and mission, shared by Madison Elliott and KOTA-TV!



The Miss Nebraska program combined many of the elements Tristen is passionate about: as a talented vocalist, she was offered a stage to perform. As a student at Black Hills State University, she was provided thousands of dollars in cash scholarships. As a future elementary school teacher, she was given incomparable experience inside classrooms across western Nebraska, connecting with the children she hopes to someday nurture.


“With the generous scholarships provided to every Miss Nebraska contestant, I will graduate college this December 100% debt free!” said Tristen. “My work has definitely been beneficial to my career goals. The biggest takeaway would be social skills and interactions. Public speaking is now one of my favorite things to do. Not only do we gain this valuable money to put towards our degrees, we also have countless doors open up for our careers.”

And as a woman fueled by a personal mission, Tristen has been empowered to share a powerful message, united with like-minded titleholders from across the state united to serve others.


“Through Miss Nebraska, I have gained friendships I never would have had prior to competing,” said Tristen. “With those friendships came a huge support system full of women lifting each other up,” said Tristen. “My favorite memory at this year’s local [competition] was being backstage with the other contestants during rehearsals. During this time, I looked around and saw how each of us were working on something. Whether it was our talent, current events, or college homework, we were all involved. We are confident, talented, smart girls who dedicate ourselves to greatness. Each of as are all good at something. It’s amazing to watch us all in action, off stage as well as on stage.”


When Aly Raisman gave her victim impact statement, she made something very clear: she is no victim. She’s a survivor.

“I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them,” she said. “All these brave women have power.”

My friend Stacey texted me that day and noted that Aly could go on to win 10 more Olympic gold medals.. and it wouldn’t be as impressive as she was in those moments of strength in court.

Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The same is true for Tristen. She is certainly a worthy candidate for the iconic title of Miss Nebraska… but crown or not, she is a model of courage, using her power and voice to inspire other survivors to come forward, while encouraging all of us to join their support system.

“Being a ‘Miss’ titleholder opens up so many doors. You get to show the world how amazing and powerful women are,” said Tristen. “My goal at Miss Nebraska is to share my platform with everyone who will listen. I want to create a domino effect of advocates. I strongly believe that even if you touch one person, they will go out and do the same.”


To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Tristen Wecker on Facebook, click here.


CLICK HERE * 2017 * Breaking The Silence

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also contact Director April Grant by calling (308) 430-0479.


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


NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes