Tag Archive | Autism Awareness

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

Jesus

When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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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 Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

Edge Of Glory

Every time I begin writing an article featuring a Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen titleholder, I scroll through our conversation and their photos. I look not only at their words and pictures, but their faces and body language within those images. Are they engaged? What did they say about their experiences? How often are they serving as their community’s local titleholder?

When it comes to Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, I simply don’t think WordPress has enough space online to share everything she’s doing.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

She is a patriot. She is a community servant. She is a natural performer. She is a proud Nebraskan. She is wise. SHE IS 13. 

When I was crowned Miss Douglas County in October of 2000, former Miss Omaha and Miss Nebraska Jodi Miller-Holen told me, “you do what you want with this title. You can do nothing, and we won’t be happy but that’s your choice, or you can do everything.”

Here’s what Phoenix told me after being crowned Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen: “Most teens are not interested in giving up their time and energy for a greater cause. I want to change that. We are the future of America. We will inherit the social issues affecting our parents now. I’m only 13 years old, a freshman in high school. I want to lead by example because if we can motivate teenagers now to be the change, just imagine the great things they will accomplish as civically engaged adults.”

Guys. When I was 13, I sat in my brother’s room for hours playing Nintendo and read Babysitter’s Club books walking home from school.

 

This young lady isn’t just talk, either. Phoenix Stanford is proving herself through action, a tireless civil servant advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, school safety and security, sexual assault awareness and women’s rights, world health causes, Autism awareness.. and for several years now, support for military families.

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“I have been a military brat my entire life and to me civilians don’t completely understand the sacrifices made by military families,” said Phoenix. “It’s not easy being a military child. Deployments and relocations not only affect their academic success, but their social and mental well-being are affected. These kids are at risk for depression and anxiety. I get involved with Offutt Air Force Base’s events that are designed to boost family morale. I help raise scholarship money for military dependents, I’ve testified for a military bill, I’ve collected food for veterans, visited sick veterans at the VA Hospital, talked to schools about the hardships of being a military child, collected books for a free, little library at base housing, helped with Gold Star family events, etc.”

 

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Many of Phoenix’s efforts coincide with the work of the current Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen, who has spent her year of service advocating for our nation’s past and present military heroes. Much like Allie, Phoenix says she’s deeply impacted by the stories she hears from the very people she’s helping.

“Volunteer work is important to me,” said Phoenix. “While being a titleholder, not only have I found out so much about the world around me but I have found out so much about myself. My title has given me the opportunities to meet and connect with amazing people and hear their uplifting stories. Coming across these people has helped me expand my platform to places I didn’t know it would go. I have come across many different non-profit organizations that I didn’t even know existed. These organizations inspire me to do more.”

Being a titleholder has also provided Phoenix with a way to explore two of her passions: education and singing.

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“So far, I have won five scholarships as a local titleholder,” said Phoenix. “My career goal is to become a professional singer. I am working on getting to my dream college, Juilliard. I not only want to break into the music industry but I want to know exactly what I’m doing, and I want something to fall back on in case things don’t go as planned. Nebraska should care about the Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen Pageant because it helps shape the future leaders of America. Providing scholarships to well-rounded young women is worth investing in.”

“I have dreamed of performing the most amazing shows for the biggest audiences since I was a little girl,” said Phoenix. “All I have wanted to do is sing and perform my heart out and that is what I intend on doing. Performing gives me a sense of freedom and a power I look for in life. This program has been a blessing and a huge stepping stone for me.”

No surprise then that Phoenix’s female role model comes from the world of music: Lady Gaga.

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“We have one life, so live it regardless of what anyone else says. That is what Lady Gaga has taught me,” said Phoenix. “I also look up to her untouchable music career. She writes the majority of her own music and performs at high profile events. Even if you are not a Gaga fan, you will certainly be entertained by one of her cinematic shows. I praise her amazing work ethic; she is a rolling stone showing no sign of stopping any time soon. It is people like her I admire and dream of being.”

I would argue Lady Gaga has shifted her status from sensation to legacy by ensuring there is substance and meaning behind every song and every performance. Phoenix is already emulating that.. certainly thinking of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen crown she’ll compete for in 2 weeks, but also using her microphone to make sure people hear and understand things happening in our world. Proof… a message the Miss Nebraska Organization received from Phoenix on March 14, just a few short months after we lost a beloved member of our pageant family, Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson.

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“Just wanted to let you know that Kaelia won’t be forgotten and people are still fighting for her even on this day,” wrote Phoenix. “Attended the Nebraska State Advocacy day held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.”

At just 13 years old, Phoenix is now also helping Stomp The Stigma against mental illness, the very personal cause that Kaelia fought so passionately for.

“The biggest issue my generation is facing is suicide,” said Phoenix. “It’s an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. More teens have been diagnosed with mental illness in this generation than ever before. We need to pass Nebraska’s LB998, a collaborative school behavioral and mental health program. We also need to eliminate the stigma of mental illness so teens can comfortably seek help and not feel ashamed of what they are going through.”

Lady Gaga once told a journalist she wrote ‘The Edge of Glory” in about 10 minutes, the same night her grandfather passed away. She told Lisa Capretto, “I started playing and I said to my dad, I said, ‘Don’t be sad. He’s on the edge of the most glorious moment in life, when you realize that you won. I said, ‘Look how much he won at life. He won at love with Grandma, and he’s on the edge of a glorious moment.’”

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Look at the women in these articles. Look at Phoenix Stanford. Look at how much they are winning at life. At 24, 17, even 13 years old, they are using every moment they are given, feeling the rush, and pushing themselves to the edge.

Who are you, and in this one, beautiful life you have.. where are you?

“I try to focus on performing at the best of my abilities,” said Phoenix. “If I know I did my best, then I will be content with whatever I leave with. That, to me, is still success.”

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To follow Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Just The Way You Are

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.

PREVIOUS.. Miss Sandhills’ Outstanding Teen Olivia Terwey

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen Jadyn Wetherington

Little Girls With Big Dreams

You can tell a lot about a person by scrolling through their Facebook feed. Mine is filled with pics of my kids, a shout out for Autism Awareness, a screen grab about baseball, and a #ThrowbackThursday pic to my bff and fellow TV-retiree John Campbell. I’m a woman who loves her babies, promoting causes close to my heart, I am obsessed with baseball and I LOVE looking back at memories that still make me laugh.

Yes, I get that social media can be dangerous and scary.. but it can also be inspiring and encouraging. Like it or not, it’s something our current generation has grown up with and the question is not whether or not they’ll use it, it’s HOW can we ensure they use to wisely and positively.

Example: a teenager in Hastings is already painting a beautiful portrait of herself through snapshots and posts. No questionable images or shake-your-head moments.. but moments showcasing her achievements, service, and friends. She is a young woman who, for years, has been looking up to Nebraska’s best and brightest, who all happened to wear crowns.

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That’s Olivia Terwey on the left. When this photo was taken, she was in the 3rd grade, and Little Sister to Miss Northwest Megan Dimmitt at the 2013 Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“[Megan] is my role model,” Olivia told me recently. “She’s such a ray of sunshine no matter how stormy the weather. She’s genuine and hard working. She’s generous and kind. She’s successful and works so hard for what she wants. I want to be just like her.”

Megan may be the Queen of Olivia’s heart, but she’s got a full court.

Olivia’s Facebook albums are filled with photos of Miss Nebraska titleholders, all of whom have inspired her in different ways over the years, as a little girl who grew up following the program.

“I attended my first pageant at 5 months old and my mom says I was so in awe of Brittany Jeffers. (Still am!)!!” said Olivia. “When I was in 3rd grade, I was Megan’s Little Sister, and she is still the best Big! The year before that, my cousin was a Little Sister. Mariah Cook was my aunt’s ‘host daughter’, and my cousin was her Little Sister and she won! Lianna Prill was also my aunt’s ‘host daughter’. I’ve just been so inspired by such phenomenal women who I’ve wanted to emulate my entire life! I used to say to my mom, ‘when I’m big enough to wear a crown and a sash, I can’t wait to wear it to Applebee’s!'”

Now, it’s Olivia’s turn.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

In February, this first year she was eligible to compete, Olivia was crowned Miss Sandhills Outstanding Teen. (“I’m the baby of MNOT this year!”) No word if there was a trip to Applebee’s after, but there has been plenty of excitement – and service, just like the role models who came before her.

“Service is definitely the most important to me!” said Olivia. “It’s about giving. My mom always shares the quote, ‘for it is in giving we receive,’ and I believe that is so true. Be the change you wish to see in the world. I get so much more out of giving than the ones I’m helping. Serving others puts life in perspective, it keeps you thankful!”

 

 

“[My platform is] Get Up and Dance, providing free dance classes to under-privileged youth,” said Olivia. “My mom teaches at a school that’s 93% poverty. It made me so sad to know some of her kids could barely afford shoes, let alone extras like dance. Dance is my passion! It helps me not only stay in shape, but it’s my outlet. I doesn’t matter what I feel, I can dance it out and leave it all on the floor. I want all kids to have the opportunities I have been so fortunate enough to experience. Whether it’s teaching a class every Friday afternoon at Lincoln Elementary, library, or visiting a preschool, I love watching their faces light up when they begin to dance and the excitement we all feel as they improve. It’s incredible.”

dance

Olivia hopes to someday have a career in dance, and notes the poise, confidence, and public speaking skills she’s already improving by being a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen titleholder. She’ll compete for the state title in just two weeks, representing Hastings Middle School in Omaha. She’ll be partnered with a Princess, just like the Little Sister program she was once a part of.

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“The best part is seeing a little girl’s face light up when she sees you,” said Olivia. “I had a little cutie pie at an event hug me goodbye and say ‘have fun in your castle!’ It was so precious.”

Regardless of the outcome, Olivia’s goals are clear… she wants to have the same impact that all of her heroes had on her, creating a new generation of little girls who feel special and empowered to take on the world.

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“I want to be the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen that left a legacy of being warm and friendly,” said Olivia. “I want to inspire others to get involved in community service and spread kindness! These are women who are strong and successful, all working toward the greater good of our state and country.”

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To follow Miss Sandhills’ Outstanding Teen Olivia Terwey 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 Twin Rivers’ Outstanding Teen Rachel Young

NEXT.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford