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Heroes With Heart

I am WEAK… when it comes to blood, needles, shots.. BARF. When I was 19, I passed out in the doctor’s office while getting my blood drawn. While covering a story in pre-op before a patient’s surgery, I saw the needle and had to kneel on the ground before I dropped (which the doc thought was HILARIOUS.. click here for the story.) Even having my own babies in the hospital, getting IV’s put in made me lose my lunch.

Still, when I learned Westside High School was hosting a blood drive, I decided I was going to suck it up and DO IT. Every blood donation saves up to three lives; I could certainly withstand a little queasiness to do my part.

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I was so proud of myself – ROCK STAR STATUS! I squeezed that little ball and laid back and relaxed… until they took the needle out. WHOOOOOSSSSH!! The tech immediately jumped to my side and called for help…

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… and Gabby Henderson came to my rescue. Gabby is a student at Westside High (featured in this photo on the far left), and she has a special talent for taking care of people. I met Gabby a few months ago, when the Nebraska Medical Center brought the Stop The Bleed program to Westside’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies. Westside High students interested in Nursing and Medicine learned how to triage patients and save lives after an accident or tragedy. Gabby was also one of the student volunteers helping run the blood drive that day at WHS.. she helped fan me off, talk me off my ‘pass out’ ledge, and then sent me on my way with a smile and without any judgement the the Director of Communications for her district almost lost her cookies over a little bit of blood. You can guess how delighted I was to hear last month that Gabby was part of the state championship HOSA team (Health Occupation Students of America) who will now compete at the International Conference in June!

People like Gabby truly have a gift; they see beyond blood or sickness, and only feel compassion and a compulsion to help others. About 4 hours west of Omaha, Jade Vak knows the same calling.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have always wanted to go into the medical field,” Jade told me recently. “While volunteering, I have discovered my career ambition of becoming an Emergency Doctor.”

 

 

Jade is well on her way, excelling in her studies at North Platte High School, practicing hard work and dedication as a member of the dance team, and further improving her ‘bedside manner’ and people skills through volunteer work across her community.

That last trait is part of what compelled Jade to try something new this year; she’s competing for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“I wanted to further my communication skills and gain more self-confidence,” said Jade. “It is my passion to help as many people as I possibly can within my life. One of the amazing things about the MNOT program is that it gives you such an opportunity to help those in need.”

Crowned Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen in November, Jade has embraced every service opportunity offered to her.

“My platform is Volun-Teen. It is about promoting teenagers to volunteer so when they get older, it is just a way of life,” said Jade. “I visit patient’s rooms to provide comfort services, I serve food for those in need, and I ring bells for the Salvation Army. You name it, I have done it! I also talk to volunteering organizations about my platform. At elementary schools, I read a story and then we talk about how we can help others, or volunteer, just like the main characters.”

To Jade, volunteering not only makes the world a better place, it is a potential cure for the ills impacting her peers and beyond.

“I believe the greatest issue for my generation would perhaps be technology,” said Jade. “We need to learn how to balance it with the real world. Technology is an amazing tool and has done great things for the world, but we struggle on the line of the technology world and reality. I suggest volunteering! It forces us (in a good way, of course) to look up and get out!”

And as Jade hits the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen stage in Omaha, hoping to win the chance to spread that message statewide, she’ll be cheered on by the woman who’s inspired her to help others throughout her life, crown or not.

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“My female role model is my incredible mom,” said Jade. “She supports me with everything and always tries to make my dreams come true, even if it means sacrifices. I think that is beautiful and I hope I can do that for someone else someday.”

Ironically, Gabby’s biggest cheerleader is also HER mom. Christine Henderson works with me here at Westside, and literally glows with pride every time her hero makes a difference in someone’s life.

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For both Gabby and Jade, that difference may very well be saving lives within a few years. Today, it’s simply making a child smile.. and sending out a smiling adult, grateful for the girl who helped her survive a weak moment.

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To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak, 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 heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland

 

Spirit of Service

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.”

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.”

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To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMILY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Stethoscopes & Tiaras

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen Hope McCoy

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival Alexandria Warneke

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JESSICA?

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 Christy.Merritt@TheWaterFord.net.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen Chloe Blumanthal

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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

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

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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.

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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.”

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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 heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

Nikki

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“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.”

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NIKKI-CATRINA?

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 angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss 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.

Kiera final

“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.”

Carlson 3

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT KIERA?

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 heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days Tristen Wecker

NEXT.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki Catrina Anderson

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.

Ruth

“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!