Tag Archive | allison tietjen

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

8th grade

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Jessica 4

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

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

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

Be Great.

Olivia 1

Photo courtesy Olivia Washburn for Westside Journalism

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

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

Jessica final

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography


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


CLICK HERE * 2017 * The Chameleon Queen

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


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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter


PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen Chloe Blumanthal

Leading Through Reading

I have a gift for you: 800 hours.

What will you do?

I would take a nap. Then a run. Then maybe another nap while lying by a pool. I would take a trip with my kids and husband to watch baseball somewhere. Come home and take a nap. (Guys.. naps are GREAT.)

Perspective changes over time.. what you do with every hour as a working mom is vastly different than what you did with that time 10 years before. And 10 years before that, how many of us were at home around this time with 800+ hours of summer vacation ahead, whining to our parents ‘I’m bored!!’

You’re about to meet a young lady who is different, using every spare hour she has to serve others.

Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

“I have volunteered over 800 hours since my Freshman year of high school, more than 300 hours the past two years, Nikki-Catrina told me recently. “Studying rigorously at college hasn’t slowed me down. BYU’s motto is ‘Enter to Learn—Go Forth to Serve’, so I have had several opportunities to continue to serve while at school.”

I’ve done the math; as a busy college student, Nikki-Catrina has volunteered, on average, 3 hours a week. EVERY WEEK. (She deserves a nap!) Much of that time has been devoted to a cause Nikki-Catrina has been passionate about most of her life: literacy.

Nikki books 2

“I have always loved reading, even when I was too young to read I loved having my parents read with me,” said Nikki-Catrina. “When I moved to Scottsbluff at the age of five I became involved at the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library participating in the annual summer reading program each year. When I became a teenager, I was asked to join the Teen Advisory Council (TAC). This group introduced me to upperclassmen who became my role models as I went through a tough time of bullying (to the extent of being told to kill myself one time) during my middle school years. Instead of focusing on the bullying going on at school, I turned to reading and volunteering at the library. I continue to volunteer at the library (more than 400 hours, the record for most hours volunteered by a young adult).”

Eventually, Nikki-Catrina found another opportunity to share that passion when she competed for, and won, the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County in her hometown.

“I watched the Miss Scotts Bluff County pageant for years, always wanting to try it, but never having the courage to do so,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I knew a handful of the past titleholders and after talking with some of them about it, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give it a try. Being crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County was so humbling. This program has taught me how to think on my feet and how to be comfortable expressing who and what I am. With the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County, I have had the opportunity to touch thousands of people’s lives and make an impact on a very fast growing and diverse community.”

An opportunity Nikki-Catrina embraced whole-heartedly.

She gave her mission a name, ‘Ready, Set, Read!’ and began visiting schools all over western Nebraska to promote reading. She’s spearheaded several book drives, collecting hundreds of gently used books for a new generation of readers. She shares facts and figures about reading, solidifying the power of literacy.

 Most importantly, she’s helping hundreds of children form the same love of reading she’s felt since she was a little girl. Nikki-Catrina has also worked with after-school programs, helped raise money for a little girl with cancer, and recorded personal messages, in Spanish, to send with care packages for open-heart surgery patients in La Paz, Mexico.

“My goal is to push myself,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I no longer want to be timid of doing something big because it is out of my comfort zone. I have grown, felt the benefits, and seen the impact I can have on others if I am willing to be brave and go for big things.”

That’s the message Nikki-Catrina shares with the students she meets, and what she will share with a panel of judges next week as she competes to become Miss Nebraska 2017. It’s a journey that’s connected Nikki with new friends from several states.

Nikki Nebraska

“My favorite part of this competition and organization is meeting wonderful, kind and successful women,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I have met some of the most intelligent, polite, confident women in my life. I have also been able to work with Miss Utah girls while I’m at school. The Miss America Organization connects girls from around the country and together we can work to accomplish great things. Being a part of that has been truly life changing.”

Nikki school 2

When you open a book, you transport yourself to a different place and time. The benefits then extend beyond when you close that book and return to the ‘real world’;  research shows reading increases your intelligence and boosts your brain power. People who read are statistically more empathetic to others and more understanding of the world around them.

To Nikki-Catrina.. this journey is very similar. Next week, she’ll be part of what many consider a fairy-tale, competing to become a Queen representing our whole state. But no matter what happens during those final crowning moments next Saturday night, Nikki-Catrina says she will long see the benefits from this experience and her service.. all 800 hours and counting.

Nikki siste

“I have developed more self-confidence and self-understanding and I have learned skills to effectively communicate my beliefs and who I am,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I have met and become great friends with positive girls. I have had the opportunity to make great changes and positively impact my community. I have developed skills I will use in my future career as an elementary school teacher. I have been able to become a better, more well-rounded individual while earning scholarship money to take my education further.”

“One of my favorite things about being a titleholder is the ability to connect with people from all around and hopefully bring a light to their day,” said Nikki-Catrina. “God has a plan for each of us. I know that whoever is supposed to be crowned Miss Nebraska will be. I want to go in, give it my all, and learn and grow in whatever ways He has planned for me.”


CLICK HERE to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson on Facebook!

For more information about Miss Scotts Bluff County or for details about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE.  You can also learn more about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant by visiting their Facebook page (CLICK HERE), or by contacting Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email atcengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.


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.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

NEXT.. 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!

Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.


Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.


“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”


For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.


Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.


Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!


CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.


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.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

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!

Finding Our Purpose

Westside Superintendent Dr. Blane McCann delivered a BRILLIANT speech at our District’s commencement ceremony last weekend. His theme: purpose. In front of thousands of graduates, parents, family members and educators, he said in part..

Purpose is the little flame that keeps you going. Your challenge after today is to find that flame: your purpose. It is something that your parents can’t find for you; you have to look for it. It’s not always easy to find. Every, single one of you has a unique purpose to fulfill.

Every single one of us is here for a reason.

Think about that.

My friend Lisa recently told me something that I have thought about off and on ever since. Her husband is Brian Duensing, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Brian and Lisa

Brian was one of the best pitchers the University of Nebraska – Lincoln has ever produced. He’s an Olympian, representing the United States on the 2008 US Baseball team in Beijing. He was a starter for the Minnesota Twins for years, and now plays for the World Champions in Chicago. He and Lisa could do anything, enjoying his success and living a life few only dream of. Instead, these happily married parents of three devote every, waking hour to their passions: family and doing everything in their power to ensure happiness for other families.

As Brian’s fame grew, he and Lisa started receiving T-shirts in the mail, asking him to share support for pediatric cancer patients across his popular social media accounts. The Duensings embraced the challenge; every day of every September, Brian sports a new shirt and shares information about that child and their cause. He and Lisa started the Brian Duensing Foundation, a non-profit organization taking these fundraising efforts to an even higher level. Every game, as players wives sit in the stands, Lisa sits in the family lounge and works for hours on Foundation plans and ideas, like their now annual fundraiser bringing baseball’s biggest names to Omaha to raise money for pediatric cancer-related causes.


The Brian Duensing Foundation Event in 2015 at Ralston Arena. I was honored to emcee the fundraiser and VIP Q&A session with World Series Champion Alex Gordon, Duensing, future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer and the MLB’s first ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte.

The Duensings have raised HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for Nebraska based causes that help families battling cancer. That text I mentioned that Lisa sent me?

“These are the reasons God made Brian a baseball player. I know it.”

This year, Brian and Lisa Duensing will focus their purpose on a little boy named Sammy.


At four years old, Sammy Nahorny was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that begins on immature nerve cells, and is very difficult to treat. Many cases of Neuroblastoma begin in the abdomen, and commonly affect the adrenal glands. Within days of his diagnosis, Sammy had surgery; doctors told his parents his cancer was Stage 4 and high risk. His mom, Erin and dad, Chris, immediately started researching options.. and found few. Their quest for hope was far-reaching and relentless, not just for Sammy, but for every other child facing this terrible disease. Their community in Columbus rallied, drawing the support of not only the Duensings, but of Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero, Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz, music superstar Jason Derulo and more. They all united to become Sammy’s Superheroes… and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and counting for research, assistance and more. Just as importantly, they have become a voice, loud and clear, for all children and families regarding legislation, funding and awareness.

This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.

Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

“This is a great organization that started in my hometown!” Alayna told me recently. “Sammy’s Superheroes raises awareness to pediatric cancer and has helped many families who are affected by this. I’ve had many family members fight this hard battle and I’m happy that I am able to help this cause.”

Alayna Wilson is a recent graduate of Scotus Central Catholic, a cheerleader for both her school and her entire hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. A girl with a constant smile and self-described ‘bubbly and happy’ personality, she was looking for a way to make a bigger difference advocating for causes like Sammy’s Superheroes.

awi miss gering

She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.

“I love the stage and helping others,” Alayna said. “I wanted to spread my platform and this was the best way possible. I perfected my paperwork, platform and talent and drove to North Platte for one of the best weekends of my life.”

And a BUSY one at that, much like every other weekend in Alayna’s jam-packed senior year. She’s a competitive dancer, and a member of the All-American team by the National Cheer Association. The same day she met her fellow titleholders at Miss Nebraska Orientation, she immediately left to head back to Columbus for a major competition.

Still, to Alayna, this new title meant responsibility; to serve others. She’s volunteered for fundraisers in Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha, even using her Senior Skip Day to travel to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to deliver care packages for the Miss Nebraska Serves project.

“My favorite part of this organization is the volunteer work!” said Alayna. “I love how each contestant has multiple hours of volunteer work under their belt. It’s so humbling to be among the amazing Miss Nebraska Class of 2017! There’s nothing that makes me happier than helping others.”

awi little sister

And meeting others is part of what has made this journey so memorable for Alayna.

“It is an honor to be part of this organization. I love every minute of it,” said Alayna. “I have 15 new sisters, a sister queen and a little sister. This is a family. We are a family that supports and encourages each other. This gives me motivation when I need that extra push.”

I’m guessing the Nahorny’s would say the same thing about their network of superheroes. The strangers and neighbors, the celebrities and friends, the Duensings and Alayna Wilson… they are all part of a supportive and encouraging squad of strength who love Sammy like family.

AWI with Sammy

Sammy IS a superhero. This fall, just months after passing the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll join us own personal Justice League to fight the evil that threatens so many innocent children just like him. We will find a way to beat cancer, allowing Sammy to find his purpose, just like his Superheroes Brian and Lisa Duensing have.

Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.

awi europe

“Each day is a new day for laughter and spreading happiness,” said Alayna. “I obviously hope to be Miss Nebraska whether that time is this year, or the next, or the next. I know that that is somewhere along my path. Overall, I hope to do my best and meet and influence people along the journey. My mission is to spread the name of Sammy’s Superheroes and spread love, happiness and encouragement as well.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sammy’s Superheroes

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Brian Duensing Foundation


Click here to follow Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson on Facebook!

Alayna was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! You can also email Director of the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, Heather Hayes, by emailing Heather.Hayes@charter.com.


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.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

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!

Breaking The Silence

“I had nightmares every night.”

“I didn’t understand why it was happening.”

“I didn’t want people to judge me.”

This year, 16 incredible young women will take the stage in North Platte to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.  We only see the sparkle and the smiles.. we don’t always see the story behind each contestant, the life experiences that contributed to who each person is.

One of these women is tired of hiding.  Her name is Tristen, and she is determined to share her story with every, single person willing to listen.

Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

“As one of the 1 in 6 women who have been/will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, I know how important it is to educate America on this problem,” Tristen told me recently.  “Sexual assault is often put on the back burner and not addressed due to its sensitive and uncomfortable status.  Well guess what, I’m not here to make people feel comfortable; I am here to save lives.”



Tristen Wecker is part of a unique Miss Nebraska class; she is one of 13 contestants this year who have never competed at Miss Nebraska before.

“I have always admired the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Tristen.  “It really is an organization that represents such poise, elegance, and empowerment.  Last year I decided I was ready to be one of those girls who makes a difference in her community and stands for something she believes in.  I competed in my first ever pageant last year and was amazed at how much it had to offer me.  Aside from the countless friendships I made, I also took away with me interview skills, a better view of myself as a woman, and scholarship money for college.  Even though I didn’t walk away with a crown that night, I knew competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization was something that God had put on my heart.  I have so much to teach others and so much to share about my platform.”

Tristen returned to compete in the first preliminary pageants possible to qualify for Miss Nebraska 2017.. and she won, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest last summer.


“I knew this was a sign from God that I was ready to make an impact,” said Tristen.  “With a crown on my head and the Lord at my side, I knew that this was my calling.”

Young women join our program for any number of reasons; they love to perform, they enjoy networking and meeting people, and they benefit from the thousands in cash scholarships we offer.  Tristen, a Minatare High School graduate now studying at Black Hills State University, was drawn to all of it.

“Being driven is a huge part of where I am now,” said Tristen.  “When I want something for myself or another person, I do everything I can to help make it happen.  Between juggling 18 credit hours in college, volunteering for local organizations, working part-time, being family oriented and preparing for Miss Nebraska, I have no choice but to be motivated.  Being driven has helped me achieve everything that I have done so far.”

Tristen was also eager to share a message.  To many of our titleholders, this is known as a platform of service.  To Tristen, it’s an opportunity to expose part of her soul in the hopes of helping others.


“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember a series of strange events happening to me,” described Tristen.  Her story is graphic and disturbing, detailing years of assaults she kept quiet from everyone.

“I finally decided to say something when I was in 7th grade,” said Tristen.  “I was at a Wednesday night Youth Group and my youth pastor had a lesson that had really told me that it was time. All of a sudden I see myself pouring my heart out to my pastor. I had no intentions of this happening that night. I felt a sigh of relief when she listened and I learned that the same thing had happened to her when she was young. I felt comfort in sharing my secret to someone who understood. I thought that she could help me in this silent battle. A couple days later, I am at school and get called to the office. My school counselor informs me that we are headed to CAPWN, a local organization that takes on cases like mine. I knew what was happening. I was so angry, words couldn’t even explain. I thought to myself, how could she say something? My entire high school life is going to be ruined, I’ll never be liked. I hated myself and everyone.”

Tristen began counseling, and in time, opened herself to support, encouragement and confidence.

“I realized what an amazing woman I am,” said Tristen. “At this time I was an 11th grader, I had more volunteer hours than I could count, I had straight A’s, I was a starter in volleyball and basketball, and was the captain of the cheerleading squad. I really evaluated myself and thought, ‘Why are you hiding your secret?  You are a bad-ass woman and its time to stand up for those who can’t’. (Excuse my language, I NEVER cuss, but that was literally my thought that day.)”

Tristen is now using her notoriety as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to share that lesson and to address taboos about sexual assault, assumptions even victims may feel about their situations and about themselves.


“Through the Miss Nebraska Organization, I am able to educate citizens on how to identify if someone has been assaulted, how to be an effective bystander, and the legalities and right you are entitled to as a survivor,” said Tristen.  “Being encouraging is something that is so important to me.  When I look back at past events in my life, I remember those who supported and encouraged me through my journeys.  I remember how good it felt for someone to believe in me.  I strive to make others feel that way.”



“Creating lifelong friendships is better than any gown I could try on.”

“I am thankful that my struggles have made me realize my true self and my purpose in life.”

“I’m not quite where I want to be, but I know I will get there.”

In preparing to write this article, I told Tristen how sorry I was all of this had happened to her.  She told me, “Don’t feel sorry, God had it happen for a reason and now I know why!”  This incredible young woman chose to speak out.  Beyond just breaking her silence, she turned the volume up to 10, hoping to make a difference for someone else.  She exemplifies what I hope people in our audience in North Platte and far beyond remember about all of our contestants.. that they are so much more than sparkle and smiles.  They are style, success, scholarship and service.  And in the case of Tristen Wecker, Miss Old West Balloon Fest.. STRENGTH.

“Obviously, my goal is to win Miss Nebraska,” said Tristen.  “It has been my dream to represent this great state with grace and elegance.  I am confident that I would serve the title well.  If my dreams come true and I win, I hope to share my platform on the Miss America stage and reach millions of people who desperately need to hear my message.  To me, sharing my platform is more important than winning the Miss America crown, but doing both would be nice.”


CLICK HERE to follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Tristen Wecker on Facebook.

For more information about Miss Old West Balloon Fest or for details about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE.  You can also learn more about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant by visiting their Facebook page (CLICK HERE), or by contacting Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email atcengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.


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.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Elkhorn’s Oustanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

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!



1. great brightness; luster
2. excellence or distinction; conspicuous talent, mental ability, etc.
3. splendor, elegance, or magnificence:


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This week at work, my friend Kim asked me if I watched Miss Universe.  With that, she unknowingly invited me to share my original oratory for why I LOVE pageantry, and in particularly, the Miss Nebraska Organization.

 1. INSPIRATION. These women are clear evidence of how beautiful our bodies can be when we exercise, eat right and take care of ourselves.  Every single time I feel that fire within myself rekindling to JUST DO IT, looking like that IS POSSIBLE with focus and hard work.

2. RADIANCE.  I am a proud, strong, confidant woman.  I can be all of those things and still LOVE to dress up and feel like a queen.  The gowns, the glitz, and regarding Miss America, the beauty and art behind each talent performed on stage.. I LOVE IT.  Being a woman is a beautiful thing; focusing on that beauty and allowing each woman is radiate is spectacular.

3.  CONFIRMATION.  Evidence of the intelligence, articulation and confidence so many of these women possess in their interviews on stage and off.  Women at Miss Nebraska last year were asked questions on issues ranging from prison overcrowding, to education funding, to social media challenges.  These are real issues we as a society face, and in front of hundreds (and sometimes, millions of people on live TV), these women address each topic and prove time and time again you can look amazing, and FEEL fantastic, AND be BRILLIANT.


And with that… the time has come for Year 4 of There She Is, my annual series profiling each of the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants.

This program is RELEVANT, providing countless opportunities for young women in our state to speak, perform and to raise money for their futures beyond pageantry.  Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson went on to perform the National Anthem for tens of thousands at the College World Series and is currently pursuing a recording career.  Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters has visited dozens of schools crisscrossing Nebraska to speak to children about cyberbullying and what they can do both before and after it happens.  Both she and Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell topped $20,000 in cash scholarships during their time competing for Miss Nebraska and then Miss America, money that helped both pay for their college educations.

One of the other things I have come to cherish about this program is the camaraderie it creates between the women who compete, and the women who work behind the scenes to make it happen.  I look forward to Miss Nebraska events all year long not only for the glitz and glamour, but to be surrounded by women who work everyday to ‘have it all’.  Our goals are so similar; to give to our families while serving others, to make sure we are hitting the gym and eating right despite nonstop schedules, to reach the top of our career fields the right way, through hard work, respect and kindness.

“Someone else’s strengths are not my weaknesses.”  

–Miss Pennsylvania 2014 Amanda Smith

We live in a competitive world, folks; I can’t tell you how many times people seemed surprised when I told them Melissa Fry was one of my dearest friends at KETV and that Julie Cornell was a leader and mentor to all of us.  Much like in the pageant world, I think people assume there’s an Anchorman/Miss Congeniality mentality where women are constantly fighting with each other to be the It Girl.  Programs like Miss Nebraska reinforce a culture of unity and support between women.  Is it competitive?  For sure.  But one of our constant goals is to teach women to compete with themselves and not others.  To focus on defeating procrastination, weakness, distractions, NOT other women.  To be the best THEY can be, and allowing others to inspire, not deflate.  Those lessons translate far beyond pageantry in teaching young women how to support each other, creating more positive work environments, support networks and friendships.  To better handle challenges and disappointments, to better foster team work and productivity.  I daresay these are intangible qualities that every employer in America prizes in their staff.

Happy February; the countdown has officially begun.  To this weekend’s Crowns and Gowns event in North Platte and to the final weeks and months leading up to the competitions that will determine the next two women to represent Nebraska in this storied organization.

If I can’t convince you to become a Pageant Junkie like me (shout out to the talented Carrie Lakey!), I ask you this.. to please support the women who take part.  They are talented.  They are beautiful inside and out.  They are intelligent and well spoken.


Photo courtesy Kali Tripp

They are BRILLIANCE defined.


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

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


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!

Fire and Gold

June 4, 2015.

I had the humbling honor of hosting the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, and spent the day at North Platte High School in rehearsals.  During breaks, I tried to upload as many photos to the Miss Omaha Facebook page as I could, typing furiously to tag contestants and draw more viewers to our site.  I almost didn’t notice when a stunning blonde sat next to me and said ‘Hi, how’s it going?’

Her name was Alyssa Howell.

Funny how such a small gesture of kindness, just taking a moment to ask someone how they are doing, can make such a big impact on how you think of a person.  A panel of six judges thought VERY highly of Alyssa.. naming her Miss Nebraska 2015 just 24 hours later.


Photo courtesy the North Platte Telegraph

“Miss Nebraska week was the most fun I have ever had!” Alyssa told me recently.  “I was surrounded by 12 amazing contestants that not only were great friends to me during the week, but who also supported me throughout my year.”

And so began a reign that represents everything this Miss Nebraska has stood for; friendship, kindness, genuineness.

As a longtime Miss America fan and a journalist who is always subconciously observing, I’ve noticed over the years the reaction of other contestants speaks volumes about the woman crowned.  Minutes after Alyssa was named Miss Nebraska, she was immediately embraced by  her ‘pageant sister’, Miss Omaha Megan Gould.  Just weeks later, Alyssa invited Megan, as well as other Miss Nebraska finalists Brooke Ludemann, LaRissa McKean and Allison Tietjen, to perform at her send-off party for Miss America.  These women, Alyssa’s competition at this time last year, seemed genuinely happy for her and showed up in full force to give her their support; Alyssa was eager to share her spotlight that night to showcase the titleholders who had become her friends.

For me.. it goes back to that day in the cafeteria.. Alyssa Howell is REAL.  She doesn’t pretend to care about people; she just DOES.  She’s taken that incredible quality across the country for the last year, focusing much of her time and energy on children.

“Not having grown up in Nebraska, this year took me to so many new places!” said Alyssa.  “Just being able to reach Nebraskans across the state was such a wonderful experience.  Whether it was a Pumpkin Chuckin’ in a cornfield in northeastern Nebraska, a small town elementary school with a total of 42 students, or a large scale fundraising Gala in downtown Omaha, I was able to reach out to the people of Nebraska on so many levels.  If anything, this year reminded me just how much I love being a part of the Cornhusker State.”

Alyssa visited dozens of schools across Nebraska, and four Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in several states.  THAT has been Alyssa’s passion for years now, connecting with sick children through her Miracle Bags program.


Alyssa recruiting 2016 Miss Nebraska contestants to put together and deliver bags of goodies, ‘Miracle Bags’ to kids at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story about Alyssa & her Miracle Bags!

“As soon as I won Miss Nebraska, one of my priorities for the year was to impact as many children as I could with my Miracle Bags program,” said Alyssa.  “And with that goal in mind I was able to visit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Omaha, Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, and deliver over 180 Miracle Bags!  Many people ask me how I am able to visit children who are in such dire situations, and not be completely depressed after the fact.  I always tell them that the feeling of seeing a child who is going through the most difficult time in their life light up at the sight of my crown and Miracle Bag is indescribable.  And I will never forget the parents who tell me that this is the first time they have seen their child smile in days.  Children’s Miracle Network will forever be a passion of mine.”

To countless families and children, Alyssa made a profound impact.  She also made a huge mark on the pageant world, when in September, she travelled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska in the 2016 Miss America Pageant.

“I have watched the Miss America Pageant every year on TV since I can remember, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would one day be on that stage!” said Alyssa.  “Even after winning Miss Nebraska, my goal for Miss America was to have a blast, meet some amazing girls, and represent Nebraska well.”

Check, check, CHECK.  And when 7-million Americans tuned in to see who would make the Top 15..

Left photo courtesy Getty Images

..they heard Miss Nebraska, Alyssa Howell.  I screamed and jumped in my living room.. Alysa’s family and friends were EXUBERANT in the crowd in Atlantic City.  With the confidence women dream of and the swagger of Bruno Mars, Alyssa strutted her stuff on that stage in Lifestyle and Fitness.. and sauntered right into the Top 12.

Photos courtesy Getty Images

“Being called into the Top 15 was a complete and total shock,” said Alyssa.  “Standing on that stage with 51 other talented, beautiful, intelligent women, I never thought that I would hear NEBRASKA called! I still get goosebumps when I watch the video.  When I made the Top 12, I was just so excited and honored to move on!  I was surrounded by some of my best friends in the competition and it was such a surreal moment.”


Photo courtesy Getty Images

That is where Alyssa’s journey ended, sadly, before she could play her INCREDIBLE piano solo for America.  But when I spoke to her just a few weeks later at the Miss Omaha Pageant, Alyssa didn’t have ONE negative thing to say about her experience;  no trash talk on her fellow contestants, no coulda woulda shoulda’s.. simply a completely EXCITED outlook on what she could accomplish next in her home state as Miss Nebraska.  And holy cow.. has that been a lot.  After Miss America, Alyssa was featured in US Weekly and Pageantry magazines.  She was a high profile model in Omaha Fashion Week.  She secured and strengthened partnerships and sponsor connections with Omaha’s world renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Sun Tan City, Kontempo. and nationally known stylist Kirby Keomysay among others.

Alyssa also became a frequent muse for photographers, taking part in numerous photo shoots with Deyo’s Photography in Nebraska and Jenn Cady Photography based in South Carolina.

Alyssa accepted every interview request that came her way, including the nationally recognized Pageant Junkies (CLICK HERE to listen!), Omaha’s KFAB and KETV (CLICK HERE to watch!)the North Platte Telegraph (CLICK HERE to read!), and ME!

“This year was definitely more challenging than I expected,” said Alyssa.  “Seeing all of the work Miss Nebraska does from Facebook and Instagram posts pales in comparison to the actual job.  What people don’t see is the full hair and makeup 4+ days a week, the early mornings, the days when I drive 8+ hours for an appearance, the days that I was sick, the days that I had three appearances and events.  Truly, this is a 24/7 job.  But what I also didn’t expect is how rewarding this whole experience would be! By going through everything this job requires, I have not only learned so many life skills, I have also learned so much about myself.  I know that if I can be Miss Nebraska, I can do anything.  This job has given me a strong sense of confidence about what I am capable of, as well as so many amazing memories and friendships!”


June 4, 2016.

I have the humbling honor of writing this blog post, chronicling Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell and her year of service.  Initially, I wanted to title this article Humble and Kind, inspired by the Tim McGraw song that to me, so reflects who this incredible young woman is.  Despite her jaw-dropping beauty, smile and grace, she doesn’t radiate a shred of arrogance.  She is giving, real, and most of all KIND.

Alyssa Howell is fire and gold.  She has a huge heart that she has opened to countless children over the last year and more, with the aura of a woman who can only be called QUEEN.  As this journey ends, she’ll pick up where she left off one year ago.. pursuing her Elementary Education degree at Creighton University, intending to impact even more children through her career, now with a big boost from her life experiences and financial awards from being Miss Nebraska.

“I have won over $20,000 in cash scholarships for school,” said Alyssa.  “This has made all the difference in my future!  I started at Creighton University with a total of $27,000 in student loans over four years.  Graduating to become an elementary school teacher with that debt was going to be difficult to say the least.  This program is first and foremost a scholarship organization, and I cannot say enough about the impact that Miss Nebraska and Miss America makes on young women who are getting a college education.”

As I close out.. I must share a ‘shout out’ to part of  Alyssa’s dream team.. her boyfriend, Grady, and her directors, Kayla and Rachel.

These three are superstars in their own right; people who have been in Alyssa’s corner since the moment that crown was placed on her head.  They have also become near and dear to my heart with their humor, loyalty and dedication to helping Alyssa become the absolute best she could be.  Each of this year’s 36 women I’ve profiled have set out to make the world a better place, supported emotionally and otherwise by their own #TeamAlyssa’s.  To ALL of you, THANK YOU for helping these fires burn so brightly, for allowing these gems to sparkle.  They’re about to embark on one of the craziest, exhausting, yet exhilarating weeks of their lives.. and they’ll need you.


“To this year’s contestants, whether you win or not, Miss Nebraska week is the most fun you will ever have!” said Alyssa.  “Don’t let the stress get to you, and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Just have fun and enjoy that time that you get with your Miss Nebraska sisters!  To Miss Nebraska 2016, I am so incredibly excited to see everything that this year has in store for you!  Remember to make this year your own, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and find those small moments that make every challenge worth it.  Most importantly, remember that this is a year of service.  Never underestimate what an impact a crown and a sash can make.”


Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography


CLICK HERE to watch Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Farewell Video

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell

on Facebook and on Instagram.


2015 * ROAR

2015 * Miracle Worker

2014 * The Kid Whisperer


CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska Pageant 2016 Recap: The Year of the Phoenix

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!