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Just Like Fire

Aleah Peters woke up this morning as Miss Nebraska for the last time.

This is the 36th blog post I’ve written this spring about the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants. Out loud, that’s been my excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write an article about Aleah, her final send-off in blog form. Subconsciously, I think I’ve been avoiding writing this.. because I want her to stay Miss Nebraska forever.

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

As volunteers, we work so hard to make Miss Nebraska relevant, memorable, a woman with substance in our state. From Day 1, Aleah GOT IT. She used every single moment of her year to make a difference, to market herself, to positively represent the Miss Nebraska brand and to take our organization to the next level. She is kind, she is passionate, she is hardworking, she is dedicated, she is down-to-earth, she is smart, she is talented, she is powerful. And with tears in my eyes as I write this, I’m not ready to see her go.

She hugged every child who approached her, and signed every autograph. She accepted every media interview I threw at her, and nailed it with charisma, articulation and humor. She thanked, acknowledged and was truly grateful for every supporter and loved one who stood by her throughout her journey to Miss Nebraska three times and to Miss America. She crisscrossed the state, visiting 2-3 schools every week in addition to fundraisers, galas, and volunteer events. She awed students with her innate talent to twirl, but many remember her long after for the powerful, personal message about bullying she brought to thousands. We want a Miss Nebraska who makes a difference. Aleah Peters changed our part of the world, one visit at a time.

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“I can’t believe that my year is already over and pretty soon it will be someone else’s turn,” Aleah told me recently. “This year has been a huge blessing and an amazing opportunity. Truly a transformational year. Although I feel like I blinked and it was over, there were some weekends and days that felt like a long year of work. A few drives that seemed to take forever or weeks jam-packed with events and appearances I thought would never end. But I wouldn’t trade the long weeks or long drives for anything. Being Miss Nebraska is work. It is a full-time job, but luckily, it’s a fun job.”

When Aleah was crowned Miss Nebraska 2016, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She was a mature young woman who truly understood that this moment of sheer excitement was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that she embraced and ran with from day one.

“I had a very clear idea of the job that I was applying for and what I was getting myself into,” said Aleah. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish as Miss Nebraska and I knew I wanted to share my message in schools. However, I didn’t realize what a voice I had or what an impact I could make until I did. I never knew how many kids needed to hear my message. I never knew how many eyes would light up when I walked into a room. I never knew I had the power to make every child in the room silent by telling my story. That is how this job became so much more than a job.”

Throughout her years just competing for the title of Miss Nebraska, Aleah spoke to thousands of students about Cyberbullying Awareness. As she told me throughout that journey (click here to read more!) her passion was based on her own experiences being bullied as a teenager by a group of girls from school. Her mission to #MakeKindnessViral is increasingly important in today’s climate of technology and anonymous assault; even Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has made Cyber Safety a key platform based on ongoing problems affecting children, adults and businesses across our state and beyond. Schools across Nebraska asked Aleah to come in and talk to their students, and in October, DeMoine Adams and Teammates brought Aleah on board to visit even more.

Several principals within Westside Community Schools invited Aleah in after she was crowned Miss Nebraska, asking her to share her platform. Over and over, she told hundreds of students about those dark days when she was afraid to answer the phone, when she was afraid to leave her house, when ‘mean girls’ simply made her life hell. In every presentation, she found ways to connect with the students she spoke with, helping them understand her story and hopefully, sending them back out into the world more equipped to deal with bullies, and less likely to become one themselves. One of Westside’s Teacher Leaders told me months later, “our students still talk about her and what she said.” This same scenario played out at schools over and over again throughout this past year.

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“One little girl in a wheelchair asked her teacher if I would meet with her after the school assembly to help her with her project,” said Aleah. “She explained to me that she experienced bullying because she is different from the other students. Another powerful moment was when I spoke in a town that recently experienced a suicide. Many of the students raised their hands to ask what I thought of suicide. It was very clear that there were still some open wounds and a lot of healing for the town but the students were trying to learn more and understand why this happened. Any time a student approaches me and lets me know that they appreciated hearing my story, it makes it all worth it.”

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“One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dr. Mark Adler,” said Aleah. “[Dr. Adler is] the Superintendent of Ralston Public Schools who lost his son to suicide because of cyberbullying. Dr. Adler thanked me for the work I was doing, and that meant a lot to me.”

Aleah’s stories from each visit are varied and often, hilarious. To countless children, especially our youngest Nebraskans, Aleah was a princess personified.

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“I will never get over walking into an elementary school assembly and seeing their eyes light up,” said Aleah. “At one school, the principal was trying to get the students to quiet down and she said ‘obviously we have a very special guest with us here today’ and they all started applauding. Elementary school kids are so much fun and they asked the silliest questions. ‘Did you take a limo to get here?’ ‘Do you live in a castle?’ It was always fun to explain what Miss Nebraska is to them. In one 3rd grade class we lined up to take a picture and the teacher told a student to stop being goofy. With a grin from ear to ear he said ‘I’m so happy right now.’

Among Aleah’s favorite moments as Miss Nebraska was representing our state at the 2017 Miss America Pageant.

“Miss America was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aleah. “I am so happy for Savvy Shields, our Miss America 2016. She is an incredible Miss America and is doing a GREAT job. Regardless of how the competition went, I still won. I won 51 new friends. I won with the relationships I made. I walked away from the competition so fulfilled. I put my very best on the floor and that is exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what place I earned. Some of my favorite Miss America moments include: catching my somersault trick on stage and going crazy! I ran off stage with pure joy and excitement and jumped into Chris the security guard’s arms. I love twirling for an audience and that was one of the most adrenaline rushing performances I have ever done. Another Miss America moment that I look back on and appreciate now is filming our introductions in a hurricane warning. The wind was insane! We went from an amusement park to go out on a boat. I remember curling up in a ball because I was freezing, more than ready to get off, when the camera crew said ‘let’s do that again!'”

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“After we all got done with our swimsuit prelim competitions we crushed about 10 pizzas between 8 girls at our meeting that night,” said Aleah. “I also loved seeing my cheering section in the audience. I was able to spot them right away the second I walked out because there were huge N’s and pictures of my face.”

“Through all the dinners, rehearsals, and late night meetings, I just remember laughing for two weeks straight,” said Aleah. “I won so much more out of the Miss America competition than a crown and scholarship money. I made memories and friendships to last me a lifetime.”

In one of Aleah’s last school visits, she talked to a group of Kindergartners about success. She shared how she competed for Miss Nebraska three times.. winning 3rd place, and then 2nd place before winning our state title. She explained to these children that to her, success was more than just winning Miss Nebraska… it was about working hard, having a great attitude, and being the best version of herself she could be.

To Aleah Peters, this year has been so much more than a pretty crown. She has maintained an INCREDIBLE physique because she learned how to be healthier as part of this journey, and stuck with it. She continued to visit schools and schedule appearances even after her time at Miss America was done, because she wanted to make a difference with the time she had. She opened her heart to this year’s 16 Miss Nebraska contestants, constantly offering guidance and support. She talked about the $26,585 in cash scholarships she has won, and encouraged other young women to sign up for the same journey she’s had.

“I wanted people to know Miss Nebraska,” said Aleah. “I wanted people to relate to her, to be able to talk to her, to try on her crown, learn how to twirl baton, and to be inspired by her.”

As this journey ends, Aleah, true to form, is ready to begin another. She is getting married in September and moving to Florida, where she plans to work in communications.

“The Miss America Organization has given me so much,” said Aleah. “Not only scholarship money and best friends but it has helped me become the best version of myself. It has helped me find a passion in service. This organization has transformed me into the type of woman I want to be. It has given me confidence, shown me what commitment and dedication look like, and pushed me to accomplish more than I thought was possible. I am excited for the big changes ahead! Only God knows what is in store for me and I am so excited for him to show me.”

GIRLS WITH ME

I’m having a hard time perfectly explaining why this woman is such an incredible role model not just to countless children, but to ALL (myself included!) I am in complete awe of how she takes care of herself, eating healthy and getting to the gym everyday despite her crazy schedule. I am so impressed with her strategic business skills marketing herself to make the most out of every moment of this year. I am humbled and inspired by her sheer kindness and goodness, even towards the ‘mean girls’ who inspired the life changing messages she’s taken to so many.

“I think everyone should be proud of all they have accomplished, including those mean girls,” said Aleah. “So instead I say thank you for giving me a story to share. Thank you for allowing me to relate to so many children who have been bullied. To freshman year Aleah, [I would say] you will get through it and you still be stronger because of it. Appreciate the obstacles you’ve had to overcome because they shape who you are.”

We all wake up every morning with a choice.. to get through the day, or to use every day to our full advantage. The Miss Nebraska Class of 2017 has already accomplished so much in their communities, on their campuses and for so many others around them. They each have a spark; so did Aleah at this time last year. And look what she did with it… a young woman who became Miss Nebraska and simply put, was just like fire.

Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I’ll be flying free
I’mma disappear when they come for me
I kick that ceiling, what you gonna say?
No one can be just like me any way..

No one will EVER be like Aleah Peters. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for being YOU, our forever Miss Nebraska.

“Appreciate the little things, word hard and dream BIG! Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Realize that you can always find a commonality with someone and you can always learn from someone. Be a friend and make kindness viral. Appreciate the journey every step of the way.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Can’t Stop The Feeling

It was one of those days where, from the moment I opened my eyes, I just thought ‘nope, not gonna do today.’ I should’ve just called a mulligan on this one, turned off my alarm, and gone back to sleep.

In our house, we’re big fans of the movie Trolls. I’d like to think I’m more Poppy than Branch.. and anyone who’s heard my car concerts on my daily commute will echo that this girl loves to sing (and scrapbook!) But sometimes, my inner Branch takes over and negativity, criticism, and pessimism cloud over everything and take hold of my attitude and psyche. The singing stops, the smile fades, and I a) eat my feelings and/or b) pout, feel sorry for myself, and waste away what might have been a great day.

It’s a life lesson that, at 36 years old, I still haven’t mastered. How do you take life’s hits, rise above and prove to the world you are a BOSS? At just 18 years old, a high school student in small town Nebraska has made it her mission to do just that.

Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

“I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to not sweat the small stuff, and to just enjoy life,” Shaniah told me recently. “It’s too short to waste time away with worries and regrets.”

Shaniah has faced some tough choices over the years, namely her decision several years ago to move from one parent’s home hundreds of miles away to another. As Shaniah described to me last year (click here to read more!), this move didn’t just include changes at home; everything in her life was new and different.

“Leaving wasn’t easy; I moved to a new school, with all new people, and was the ‘new girl’ in a small town,” said Shaniah. “It took a lot out of me emotionally and multiple problems arose. I didn’t truly find myself until I was a sophomore in high school when I was tired of being the one who no one really knew.”

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It was around that same time Shaniah discovered something called the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization.

“The minute I heard about it, something sparked my interest,” said Shaniah. “It wasn’t the dresses or the makeup, it was more of what the organization offered. I have always loved to help people and I’ve always had a drive to share my statement with others. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to help build my own character and find my true self, along with helping others throughout it all.”

Shaniah served as Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016, and in this, the first year she was eligible, was crowned Miss Chadron 2017 and an official contestant in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“At state, I’m going to have the best time ever, make amazing friends and endless memories,” said Shaniah. “No matter what the outcome, it’s the experience that’s important to me and gaining experience will help me and my future as I continue this journey.”

A journey Shaniah is taking full advantage of, and appreciating, every step of the way.

Shaniah has volunteered from one end of city limits to the other in her adopted hometown of Gordon, Nebraska. She visits classrooms and civic groups, hoping to connect with everyone she meets with, especially children. She shares her platform, ‘Overcoming Adversity in Order to Be Your Best’, and uses her own story to ensure her message resonates with everyone.

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“In addition to emotional and social adversity, I’ve also faced physical adversity,” said Shaniah. “I was a three sport athlete and I’ve overcome two significant injuries in basketball that set me back, one almost ending my athletic career for good. It was a hard decision for me, but I chose not to play basketball my senior year. As tough as [that decision] was, through hard work, exercise and nutrition, I have gained everything back from my injury. I am at full strength and have received a full ride volleyball scholarship.”

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And for Shaniah, there’s no coulda woulda shoulda. The time she might have been on the basketball court, Shaniah spent focusing on her new title and preparing for Miss Nebraska.

“I am a firm believer that pageants give young women the opportunity to gain many lifelong skills and attributes,” said Shaniah. “From personal experience, I can honestly say that I have become a more well rounded person, enhancing my poise, confidence and leadership skills from my years of competing.”

At the end of Trolls, after countless displays of love, perseverance and bravery, Poppy is named Queen. Shaniah, who describes herself as confident, driven and compassionate, already has her crown… and her journey is just beginning. Sometimes, all any of us needs is a reminder we all have happiness inside, a light brighter than any dark. Poppy, and Shaniah, remind me to crank up my radio and put Can’t Stop The Feeling on repeat.

“My mission is to share my story of struggle and strife with those who have some sort of adversity they’re facing,” said Shaniah. “There is always a person there to listen and there is always a way to get through something even if it seems like it’s impossible. I understand firsthand how hard it can be to have the confidence to overcome something that seems impossible. But with my continued faith and my determination to become better, I have achieved the goals that I set for my life and continue to reach every opportunity I can.”

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Click here to follow Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHANIAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Divergent

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Nebraska’s Top Model

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Sara Smith at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com or by calling (308) 430-2613.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. The Perfect 10: Recap of the 2017 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

NEXT.. Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespare

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Courage With a Smile

Each of us has a hidden story.. something we don’t openly share with others because it’s embarrassing, something we can’t change, something we wish would just GO AWAY.

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I’ve performed the national anthem DOZENS of times in the Omaha area for crowds of a few hundred to 15,000+.  Last fall, I waited off-ice at UNO’s first hockey game of the season, ready to perform once more.  I was running through the lyrics in my head, and about two minutes before I was up… I BLANKED.  I got to a middle stanza in the anthem and could not come up with the words.  In a panic, I googled the lyrics on my phone, just to have them ready in my pocket if my memory didn’t kick back into gear.

It didn’t.  In front of 5,000 fans, I had to pull out my phone in the middle of our country’s anthem and look down for help.  I LOVE MY COUNTRY.  I KNOW THIS SONG.  AND I WAS MORTIFIED.

I still shudder when I think about it… because to anyone who HADN’T heard me sing before, I will forever be the idiot who didn’t know the words to the national anthem.  I’ve only performed the anthem once since then… terrified this could happen again.

Now, an example of COURAGE.  A woman who not only accepts mistakes, she shares them to empower others to shrug their shoulders, learn and move on.

Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

Though I had interviewed Emma last year during her time as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, I had never heard her perform.  When she sang at the 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.. this was me in the audience.

Emma won 1st runner up, an honor in large part due to that extraordinary vocal performance.  It’s something she’s quite accustomed to; a senior at North Platte High School, Emma’s earned the lead role in school productions, she’s a member of the NPHS Pacers dance team, and and she’s competed in multiple vocal and dance competitions.  CLICK HERE to read the North Platte Telegraph’s article on Emma when she was crowned in February.

Just this week, Emma shared a clip of her performance as part of a high school music contest.  (CLICK HERE TO WATCH!)  BUT… she also noted on the same post, ‘this was before I forgot the words.’  She wrote: After working for a month, I let myself down when I forgot many of the lyrics due to nerves and poor confidence. I walked away extremely upset with my performance. • I have chosen to take this experience as a lesson. All I can do from here is work harder next time, show up with confidence, and hope that I prove my worth. • Always take each experience as an opportunity to become a better you, no matter the end result. #motivationmonday#missnebraska2017

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Emma Wilkinson will turn 18 years old tomorrow.

An amazing display of maturity, acceptance and understanding, the result of a personal journey that Emma bravely speaks about as Miss Twin Rivers 2017.

“My platform, ‘Rethink Your Drink’, is focused on informing children of alcoholic parents that they are not alone,” Emma told me recently, noting alcoholism has touched her family as well.  “Once I reached the fifth grade, I made a best friend with similar experiences to my own.  We shared our struggles and helped each other cope with the pain brought about by alcoholism.  Addiction does not have to debilitate a child’s aptitude to achieve success and I want to spread those words like wildfire, especially to those who need to hear them most.”

Emma class

Emma has visited several schools throughout the North Platte area to share her story, her message carrying extra weight as a local girl who will compete right in her city at this summer’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.  As she told me last year, it was those former Miss Nebraska’s (namely Brittany Jeffers and Becky Smith-Wagner) who greatly impacted her life as she grew up.

“I hope to reach every person when making appearances by sharing the negative effects that alcohol can leave on everyone,” said Emma.  “Children are often informed about alcohol in elementary school, but I feel like they forget about the dangers of alcohol once they are surrounded by it in high school.  This is about spreading awareness of alcoholism in order to make people realize that it is not a rare occurrence.”

Emma is also already taking her title statewide, including a 8-hour roundtrip trek to Omaha to take part in the Miss Nebraska Princess Party fundraiser last month.  Emma and Miss Fur Trade Days Courtney Pelland left North Platte early, met dozens of little girls at the event, and drove BACK to North Platte the same day to take part in a dance team gala the same night.

“The amazing thing about the Miss Nebraska Organization is that it brings together poised, confident and beautiful young women from all over the state to catalyze positive change,” said Emma.  “Whenever I see one of our girls at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital visiting patients, I hold a huge smile on my face because this is what we’re about; making a positive impact within every life we can.”

And that includes their own lives.  Emma notes her own growth within the last year alone, crediting it to her time as both a teen and now miss titleholder.

“My social skills and confidence have improved the most through appearances and performances,” said Emma.  “My main goal is to use my platform as a tool to serve as a mentor to those who are affected by alcoholism, but I also want to continue to grow as a person through this organization.  I am one of the youngest in the pageant this year; I have so much more to learn and I trust this will help me become the best woman I can be.”

Emma with girl

A woman who aims to be warm and open to others.  A woman who is open-minded and remains positive, despite challenges and hurdles she has come across throughout her life.

“I do not judge someone based upon their values and beliefs,” said Emma.  “Everyone has been raised in different ways and has gone through different struggles; it is incredibly important to me that we accept people as they are.”

Someday, I want to sing the anthem again just to prove to myself that I will not let one embarrassing moment define me.  And if I feel those nerves, that fear, bubbling up again… I will remind myself of this amazing young woman, suck it up, smile, and rock every single lyric.  Here’s hoping I make my hometown as proud of Emma Wilkinson is making hers.

“I sometimes get upset when people think that our pageant is all about beauty, but I’ve realized, maybe it is about beauty; the beauty found within,” said Emma.  “Through any circumstance, I try to remain as positive as possible.  Any challenge can be overcome and I like to live through those words within every aspect of my life.”

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Click here to follow Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMMA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Sister Act

Emma was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! For more information about the Miss Twin Rivers/Miss Sandhills Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

She Thinks She Can

This year, 16 incredible women will compete to become Miss Nebraska 2017.  18 hope to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Every one of them is already making an impact on people and the world around them and for decades, visiting schools has been a constant thread linking generations of contestants.

Classrooms are hotbeds for knowledge and learning; about the 3 R’s, about social skills, about the arts and more.  It’s no different when Miss Nebraska titleholders visit schools and share their messages.. but how do you talk to a first grader about the serious issues these women are trying to impact?  How do you write a lesson plan about sexual assault, cancer, or in one teen’s case, a chronic health diagnosis?

It’s a challenge Sheridan Blanco has eagerly accepted.

Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

“One challenge I face everyday is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis,” Sheridan told me recently.  “I have not let this affect or limit what I accomplish.”

Sheridan served as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen last year and competed for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Almost immediately, she jumped back in to try again, winning the title of Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen over the summer.

Sheridan crowning

(Side note: Old West Balloon Fest is a huge, annual event in Mitchell, Nebraska.  16+ hot air balloons go up simultaneously to coincide with the historic Old West weekend!)

Sheridan balloon

After the annual ride into the clouds, Sheridan got back to work sharing her story.  She focuses on the bigger picture, calling her platform ‘Conquering Challenges.’

“Many challenges people face can be unknown to others,” said Sheridan.  “Since we do not know what people are going through, we need to show empathy and be kind to everyone around us to help them through their challenges.  I have taken this opportunity to overcome my own challenge and turn it into an opportunity to strive to be a positive role model and an inspiration to others.”

Sheridan National Night Out

Sheridan, a Gering High student and Gering native, volunteers throughout her community at events.  Often times, she joins forces with her sister queens in Western Nebraska to make an even bigger impact.

“Pageants bring out the strengths of the young women involved,” said Sheridan.  “We may not know each other when we first arrive, but by the end of the competition many of us become very close.  Some of my best friendships came from doing pageants.  [They] give young ladies an opportunity to present a platform and to represent the values, integrity and scholarship that is an integral part of the pageant process.”

Sheridan and girls

And terrific attributes for a maturing young woman learning more about the world around her.  Sheridan has been selected for All-State Band, Doane Honor Band and Chadron Honor Band. She’s a state speech qualifier, and a national DECA qualifier.  She has been selected for the All-State Academic Team for Tennis two years running, and is a dancer on the Gering High POMS team.  She’s an Honor Roll student, a member of the National Honor Society, and a Best Actress Award recipient.

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“This organization helps young women gain confidence, poise, and public speaking,” said Sheridan.  “These are important skills to have for the future no matter what occupational path is taken.  The benefits are for a lifetime and provide a remarkable experience.”

One that’s taking Sheridan to Omaha next weekend to once again compete for the state title.  No doubt she’ll stop at a few classrooms along the way… which brings us back to that challenge about the message.  How do you help children understand the deeper meaning behind the sparkly crown?

“When I go to schools I read ‘The Little Engine That Could’,” said Sheridan.  “This way the younger kids can see the challenge that the train faces and how friends around him help him to conquer his challenge of getting up the hill.  I usually tell kids that the best way to get through the day is to wake up and be positive!”

Sheridan christmas

She thinks she can, she thinks she can, she thinks she can… and Sheridan Blanco plans to show everyone at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“The main goal is to do the best you can, have fun, and hopefully win,” said Sheridan.  “My mission is to be the best representative for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization.  It would be a terrific honor to promote this organization and its high standards to other teens across the state.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHERIDAN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Let’s Dance

For more information about the Miss Old West Balloon Fest Outstanding Teen Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook!  You can also contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email at cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com or by phone at 308-783-2940.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Katy Greene

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

The Meaning Of Life

Guys, I’m pooped.  Not enough coffee in my house and not enough creativity in my head.  I’ve been sitting here, grasping for inspiration, and a moment outside caught my attention.. a little boy doing backflips on his trampoline.  Do you remember that?  Boundless energy.  No fear.  The adrenaline rush of trying something like a flip and boom–just doing it.  That little guy isn’t thinking about everything on his to-do list, or how nice a nap sounds right now.. he is enjoying every second of springing backward without a care in the world.

As adults, we take every moment for granted.  We don’t just jump.. we dwell on all of the reasons why we can’t; we don’t have time, we should be working, we could get hurt. But then I see things like this:

At 10:10 am on March 3, 2017, in his mamma’s arms, Trucker took his last breath here and went home to be with Jesus.💔💔💔  We prayed that his passing (and I say passing because we have hope of seeing him again in Heaven) would be peaceful, not painful and with ohana there.

This brave child, just 3 years old, died Friday after a valiant battle with cancer.  This morning, I just stared at my boys for a few seconds.  How do I ever take for granted each precious second God has given me with them? How do I think of anything but how blessed we are that we have two happy, healthy boys?

The simple answer is.. because we subconsciously have an ‘invincible’ mentality.  ‘This is so sad.. but it could never happen to me.’  We get busy with work and drama and what we think is so important, and we forget the everyday beauty that life truly is all about.  Even after 15 years of covering terrible things that DID happen to us, right here in Nebraska.. it takes moments like this to wake me up. To remind me to celebrate everything special we have and to never, ever assume the next day will happen.

“Life is too short to go one second without a smile,” I heard recently. “Whether I am having the most stressful day of my life or I am having one of the most exciting days of my life I always remember to stay positive and smile through it all.”

Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

Krista is a brand new titleholder in the Miss Nebraska Organization, showcasing her own ‘live for the moment’ mantra when she signed up to compete for Miss Kool-Aid Days last summer.

“Before 2016 I don’t think I could ever picture myself gliding across a stage in a formal gown or speaking in front of hundreds people,” said Krista.  “One of my close friends, Chelsea Arnold (Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016, click here to read more) asked me if I would be interested in participating.  I always followed her journey and I thought it looked like an amazing experience.  I told myself to just go for it and see what would happen.  I was overjoyed to hear my name called as the new titleholder and it is a moment I will never forget.”

And since that night, Krista has graciously accepted and embraced every life experience that crown and sash have offered her.

“In the past few months I have had the opportunity to go to parades and perform, speak to schools about my platform and participate in so many fun events that I will cherish forever,” said Krista.  “I have been able to volunteer throughout my community and help others in need and find out more about how others live around me.  I have learned so much about communicating with others and being able to stand up in front of others and express what is important to me.  The Miss Nebraska [program] has given me more confidence than I knew I was capable of.”

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Krista’s Miss Kool-Aid Days winter newsletter

Krista also knows the impact she can have on children who view her as nothing less than royalty every time she enters a classroom.  She’s used that exposure to teach kids a lesson that will be important now and long after her pageant days are done.

“My platform is Distracted Driving,” said Krista.  “[This] affects all ages and everyone has a voice when it comes to protecting the ones we love.  It is important for older ages to be informed on the dangers they have on others if they are driving while distracted.  It is also important for younger ages to understand that even though they are not driving they can always remind their parents or older siblings that they love them and they want everyone to arrive at the destination safely.”

Krista does all of this; speaking at schools, volunteering at events and advocating for important causes, while studying at Midland University, where she’s majoring in Psychology and Art Management and performing for the school’s award winning dance squad.

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“I always remember to set goals for myself and push myself to achieve my goals one step at a time,” said Krista.  “Whether its working towards a first place award at a dance competition, achieving a high GPA or going for Miss Nebraska, everything comes in steps and each step will bring me closer to achieving my dreams.  While balancing school, dance team, family, friends and pageant events I have learned to make the balance equal between all of these activities so I can be the best I can be in each area.”

This young woman is making the most of every day, filling her life with meaningful moments while appreciating every person and experience.  Much of that she credits to self determination, compassion for others and positivity.. traits she hopes to impress upon others throughout this special year.

“I love taking any opportunity I can get to be a role model for others,” said Krista.  “This organization has allowed me to serve in a way where younger girls can look up to me and I can offer them words of encouragement and allow them to believe in themselves.”

Krista’s goals: she wants to take the feedback she receives competing and use that to improve as a person, while also supporting her fellow contestants in anyway she can. She wants to raise as much money as possible for the Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals, money that goes straight to our local hospitals and doctors finding ways to save little boys like Trucker.  (To date, she’s raised $1857) To everyone who meets Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs, whether it be a little girl at a parade or a someone simply looking for inspiration, she offers a reminder to live in the now and to be grateful for every minute.

“I would be honored and thrilled if I was crowned the next Miss Nebraska,” said Krista.  “I also hope to always continue to be a role model to others throughout my life and be there for others whenever they may need me.  My final goal is to always be happy and positive and enjoy every moment of this amazing experience.”

My sincere condolences to those who loved Trucker Dukes, especially his mom and dad.  My heart is broken for you, and your sweet boy is in my prayers.

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To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

For more information about the 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 angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Naomi Turner

NEXT.. Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Best Friends Forever

How many people, when they hear the word ‘pageant’, think of this?

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Tears through the confetti.  A cat fight over the tiara.

It’s kind of like when people ask me if news is really like this:

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Yes, Rob has many leatherbound books.  NO, we did not brawl with the other stations on the streets of Omaha.  And despite all of the pageants I have watched over the years, I have yet to see a cage match over a crown and sash.  Repeatedly, though, I DO see this:

Competitors who become best friends. Fellow contestants who end up being bridesmaids in each others’ weddings.  Women who lift each other up as they prepare to represent their state.. and continue to reach out long after their pageant days are done.

“The purpose of this competition is to become the best version of yourself. That means preparing in a healthy way. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. That includes lifting each other up and supporting one another.”

That was the message Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters shared with the Class of 2017 Saturday night, with Miss South Dakota 2016 Julia Olson sitting at her side.  It’s also one of the reasons a contender for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen title signed up to compete in the first place.

Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway

“Last year, my friend and fellow student was crowned at our local pageant,” Sydny told me.  “After seeing someone I actually know compete and win, I got the idea that I wanted to do a pageant.  I mentioned this to another one of my friends and we started competing last year.”

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Sydny’s venture into something new also became a test of persistence; she competed five times before winning the title of Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen in October.

“It was the best feeling ever,” said Sydny.  “I think that people need to know that doing pageants actually has the ability to bring teens and young adults out of their shells.  It improves a girl’s body image and many other things.  It’s a great learning opportunity.”

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This, from a young woman who has taken advantage of opportunities presented to her throughout her life.  A junior at Gering High School, she’s active on the Poms (dance) team and has danced for Tabor Dance Academy since the age of 3.  A German student traveling to Europe in June, who is also working to become a certified Emergency Medical Responder in her community. Sydny is also a member of the Class B State Champion Journalism staff and has written for the Gering Courier.  Simply put, Sydny describes herself as ‘committed’.

“I am in a lot of things, and now that I was crowned, my life is even more busy,” said Sydny.  “I have been able to find a balance so that I don’t have to stop doing something that I love.”

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In addition, Sydny competes for the speech team, sharing a persuasive oratory on seatbelt laws in Nebraska.  Driving safety is a message she’s extremely passionate about, and her personal platform as Miss Alliance’s OT.

“Last year, my cousin was in a horrible car accident, which caused him to have an acute brain injury and he almost did not survive,” said Sydny.  “If he were to have been wearing a seatbelt, it was likely he wouldn’t have had to suffer the severe brain injury.  I want to put the facts out there that anybody can get in a car accident, but there are also precautions you can take in order to save yourself.  Even if you aren’t driving, you should be practicing the right safety.”

Sydny is sharing that message across her community, as well as advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, the community partner to the Miss America Organization and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

In the short few months since her crowning, Sydny has taken part in numerous events throughout her community.  She’s volunteered to paint faces, collect Christmas gifts, host Halloween celebrations, and collect donations that go directly to patients at local hospitals, like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  She is a constant advocate for service, and hopes to share more about that journey when she competes for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“My favorite part of the actual competition itself is the interview portion,” said Sydny.  “Going into a room with five strangers and just telling them about my life is kind of exciting.  I used to be really shy before trying out pageants, and now I am able to talk to anybody.  I believe I owe that to all the interview and onstage questions in pageants.”

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And Sydny Ridgeway is ready to show the judges she is a cheerful, independent, outstanding young woman with or without a title.

“Even if I am in a bad mood or anything where I shouldn’t be laughing, I am.  I am always smiling or laughing; it makes me really happy,” said Sydny.  “My goal for the state pageant is to just perform the best I can and be myself.  Even if I don’t even place in the top, I want to make more friends and just have a great time.”

MORE friendships… in addition to this:

Teenagers from across Nebraska who will meet on stage, side by side with their classmates, contestants, SISTERS, who represent the best, the brightest, the kindest in our state.  Young women just like Sydny Ridgeway.

“I’ve made so many great friends that I probably wouldn’t have if I wouldn’t have done pageants,” said Sydny.  “That has really made my life better.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

CLICK HERE for more information about the Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, or email Director Melinda Cullan at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

NEXT.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Glass Half Full

I’d like you to meet my friend, Chinh.

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Chinh is one of our lead reporters here at KETV.  She is tenacious, driven, she runs at 100% non-stop to use every waking moment to her advantage.  She is also bubbly, kind, and one of the most caring people I have ever met.  A few days before Mother’s Day, Chinh gave me M&M’s (have I mentioned how much I love treats!?!?) and a card with the sweetest message EVER.  No matter what terrible story she’s covered that day or what she’s facing, she is always upbeat and POSITIVE.  That’s terrific; factor in Chinh’s childhood and it’s hands down INSPIRING.

Chinh Doan’s father fought for the South Vietnamese Army during the war.  So did her mother’s first husband.  Both faced persecution by North Vietnames soldiers once the war ended, ripping their marriages and families apart.  They survived poverty,  POW camps, oppression, and hoped to start over when they found each other.  They married, and Chinh was born on Christmas Day 1989.  Chinh treasures early memories like riding on the front of her father’s bicycle in urban Vietnam as a toddler, but life was hard, very hard.  When the United States offered an opportunity for POW’s like Chinh’s father to move, the family was thrilled, until they learned only Chinh and her father would be allowed to move.  Once again, a family was torn apart, this time, so their little girl would have a chance at the American Dream.

Chinh’s father found a job as a janitor at an Oklahoma City newspaper; Chinh poured over every article her father brought home, and learned English by watching local news every night.  17 years later, just 6 days before she received her journalism degree as “Outstanding Senior” from the University of Oklahoma, Chinh’s mom moved to the United States.

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CLICK HERE to read more of Chinh’s story in her own words, published by the Asian American News last year.

Chinh and Tu are two of the happiest, most grateful people I have ever met.  They emit sheer joy.. and after every event in their presence, you leave feeling more optimistic about.. well, EVERYTHING!  PROOF of the power of positivity.  Or as teenager Emma Young likes to call it, ‘Positivity In The Face Of Negativity.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was born with a condition called Strabismus, which is where the eyes cross,” Emma told me recently.  “I have had issues off and on with being bullied for years.  I had also had close firends who have gone through depression and at times, have contemplated suicide.  My platform encourages being kind to everyone, because you never know what people are really going through.”

Emma, a North Platte, Nebraska native, had two constants in her life as a young child.. eye surgeries to fix her condition, and the Miss Nebraska Pageant, which Emma’s family has been involved for years.

with little sister

“I had the opportunity to be in the Little Sisters program,” said Emma, shown above in the 2009 pageant with her Big Sister, titleholder Jessica Brock.  “I think I was hooked then!  I love being on stage, and the whole week was glamorous and exciting!”

But at a very early age, Emma also recognized the responsibilities of a crown and sash off stage, through volunteering and service to others.

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When she became Miss Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016, Emma completely devoted herself to community.

“I was able to help girls select prom dresses and formals through a Lincoln County Child Abuse Prevention Council event, Dresses for a Cause.  In turn, I was invited to serve on their Youth Council Board,” said Emma.  “Also, through this organization, I met a great 5th grade boy who is alsot trying to spread kindness by purchasing Buddy Benches for schools in our community.  I have been able to speak to civic groups for him, to help him raise money to purchase them.  This is an ongoing project!”

Emma also delivered meals on Christmas Day, and volunteered for a recent fundraiser for her school district.  She’s a certified Kiwanis Key Leader, and now serves on the Junior Ambassador Leadership Committee, helping to choose future youth volunteers and projects for the group.  She’s a frequent visitor to schools to talk about positivity in both words and action.

“Something fun I have been able to do is crete ‘Kindness Jars’ and have students make these when I speak to them,” said Emma.  “Each jar is decorated by the student and inside they put actions they can do to show kindness to others.  Then later, they can pull an act of kindness from their jar and do it!”

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One of Emma’s favorite places to volunteer is her local hospital, where she’s been giving back ever since those surgeries as a small child.

“I am a Junior Volunteer at Great Plains Health (our local hospital), 5 hours each week in the Emergency Room,”  I love being able to help people feel more comfortable about being in a stressful situation.  I have always watned to be a doctor.  When I was 3 years old, I asked my parents for a toy crash cart for Christmas!  Being a volunteer at the hospital has allowed me to experience many aspects of the medical field.  The only way I will miss going to the hospital to volunteer is if I am sick!”

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Emma’s efforts have not gone unnotice, featured by the North Platte Telegraph in March for all of her hard work.  (Click here to read Kamie Stephen’s article!)

All of that time volunteering comes in addition to school and North Platte High activities, including National Honor Society (Emma’s the Publicity Chairman), Key Club (she’s Editor), Speech and Debate, Orchestra, Concert Choir and Drama.  Emma also spends several hours a week dancing, taking lessons since the age of 7.

Emma Ballet

A true testament that Emma is living what she preaches come in her own answer, when asked WHY she does all this??

“Competing in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant has given me the opportunity to make connections that I may not have had, if I had not been competing,” said Emma.  “In setting up appearances and speaking about my platform, I had had to contact promiment leaders in my community.  Every one of them has been gracious and kind.  I have also made some great friends in the other contestants.  We encourage each other to be the best we can be.  I think competing has also taught me to be resilient and to never give up.  I am so grateful that I have this opportunity and have chosen to follow this path.  It is not easy, but the rewards, both big and small, are worth every ounce of effort I have put into it.”

How often do we hear from people who feel entitled to what they believe BELONGS to them?  Things they think they should just HAVE, that it’s their RIGHT?  And how often do we witness, in others and in ourselves, instant and toxic negativity when we don’t get what we feel should just happen?

Not from Chinh.  No entitlement.  No complaining.  Never even a frown or a negative word.  In addition to her full-time career at KETV, Chinh is also a CONSTANT presence in the Omaha area, a member of Junior League and the Omaha Press Club, even recognized as one of 10 Outstanding Young Omahans in 2015.

They are separated by age, distance and backgrounds, but much of the same holds true for Emma.  No talk of what she deserves, no complaining about the hand life dealt her.  Just hard work, a focus on others, and a CONSTANT smile.  To people like Emma and Chinh it’s a no brainer–the glass is ALWAYS half full.  And Emma Young is ready to take that optimistic attitude and message across the state as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“The Nebraska Tourism Board has a new slogan, Nebraska Nice,” said Emma.  “I feel that should describe every Miss Nebraska contestant, Miss or Teen.  I know there were, and still are, many times I wished that someone would say something nice to me, just to make me feel better.  I try to be that person now, because I know how much it means.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Young

on Facebookon Instagram, and on Twitter.  You can also email Emma for appearances and events at missplatteriversot@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Carsyn Long!

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!