It’s easy to pass judgment, especially when you encounter someone who seems so unlike yourself. The problem is, you really can’t judge a book by its cover… one glance never provides a person’s whole story, or the big picture in general.
For example.. being homeless.. what do you think of?
‘They’ve done that to themself’
‘They should just get a job’
What do you think of this?
The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old.
1 in 4 homeless children do not know where their next meal is coming from.
In Omaha, there are an average of 200 children eating and sleeping at the Open Door Mission every, single day.
Those are the facts Hillside Elementary teachers and students learned about last November just before Thanksgiving. Kindergarten teachers invited Open Door Mission President Candace Gregory to the school to help children best understand the very real problem of homelessness in our community. She told Hillside, “it only takes one person to make a difference.”
Even at 5 and 6 years old, these kids got the message. They and their families, along with Hillside teachers, held a diaper drive and delivered a huge load of supplies to the Open Door Mission, just in time for Christmas.
That is exactly what an Elkhorn teenager hopes to see more of, something she’s been promoting for five years and counting.
“I have made hundreds of blankets for the homeless population,” said Emily Lenser, just 16-years old. “One of my favorite things to do is have blanket drives at schools. This year at one school we collected 106 blankets. I have also donated stuffed animals and books to shelters. It was very exciting taking them a local homeless shelter. I know it makes the residents so happy when they have a comfy blanket and stuffed animal and book for their children.”
This is one busy girl, folks – in addition to her volunteer work, Emily is also a successful student at Elkhorn South, inspired by a family of educators including her grandparents and her mom.
“My goal has always been to be a doctor,” said Emily. “I really enjoy working with children, and I would like to go into pediatrics.”
She’s also an accomplished dancer, competing with the Nebraska Dance Company and the competitive dance team at Elkhorn South, which just won a state title. A few years ago, Emily found a way to combine all of her passions into one outlet; she was crowned Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen in 2017, she’s currently Miss Kool-Aid Days Outstanding Teen 2018, and she will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.
“I love that Miss America stands for Scholarship, Service, Style and Success,” said Emily. “Most people do not realize that people win scholarship money in this wonderful system. It comforts me knowing that as a junior in high school, I already have nearly $1000 towards college. This has also been a great opportunity to further my skills with public speaking and interviewing.”
It’s also been a vessel allowing Emily more opportunities to give to others. She’s delivered Valentines to nursing home residents, promoted community events, and taken part in fundraiser for important causes across the state.
“I believe service is the most important,” said Emily. “I really enjoy helping others. In my opinion, serving the community is something that every middle school and high school should require. I think it makes a person more compassionate and understanding.”
UNDERSTANDING. At a time when it’s so easy to judge, to criticize, to sit back and condemn rather than dive in and help, it is wonderful to see young people who are actively breaking those patterns. Their actions are not only helping improve the lives of others, but I would argue, enriching their young lives as well.
Jesse Jackson once said, ‘Never look down at someone unless you are helping them up.’ Today I challenge you (and myself): don’t judge. Follow the lead of our youngest learners at Hillside, or Miss Kool-Aid Days Emily Lenser… and simply be nice.
“I wouldn’t want to represent anything but Nebraska,” said Emily. “My goal is just to enjoy this wonderful experience.”
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMILY?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.
The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.