Tag Archive | Creighton University

Picture Perfect

A few years ago, I was playing with my boys at Oakview Mall. I looked up from the play area chaos, and walking by was Creighton Basketball (now NBA star) Doug McDermott. My station had interviewed Doug countless times, and my husband was at that time the Production Director for most of Creighton’s games at the CenturyLink Center. Trying to be friendly, I reached my hand out and said ‘hey, Doug! I’m Brandi Petersen. Nice to meet you in person!’

In my mind, I looked like my TV-ready self..

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Photo courtesy KETV by Deyo’s Photography

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the escalator reflection. In reality, I was a working mom-of-two, no make-up, running-on-a-few-hours-of-sleep, hot mess.

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No cigarette, though. That’s gross.

I’m sure Doug and his pals walked away that day thinking ‘yowsa. Whoever does her hair/makeup for the news deserves a RAISE!’

I’d argue we all have perceptions about perfection. Models on Project Runway never a hair out of place or a zit on a face. Moms on Pinterest have clean houses with mind-blowing crafts their kids are endlessly interested in. We each have loved ones on Facebook or Instagram that are just PERFECT – showing off their perfect activities with their perfect families in their perfect clothes living perfect lives.

It’s a false assumption that Kelsie Therkildsen, at just 15 years old, is trying to set straight.

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“You don’t have to be perfect,” said Kelsie. “The biggest issue today is kids being detached from the real world because of too much phone time. Practice less time behind the screen and focus on living in the present and communicating live.”

REVOLUTIONARY. And an impressive understanding from a young teenager. Kelsie is a student at Bennington High School, a dancer and volunteer in her community. She’s also been surrounded by an elite group of girls and women for many years; her mom owns Kim Therkildsen Photography, often working with clientele including Mrs. Nebraska and America’s National Teenager contestants. Kelsie sees what the lens doesn’t always show, including her inspiration behind the camera.

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“My female role model is my mom because she is a good person and many people look up to her,” said Kelsie. “She knows how to make people feel good about themselves and make sure everyone is included and never left out. My mom gives good advice and teaches my sisters and I many important things. I love how she is outgoing and can start a conversation with anyone.”

 

Kelsie wants to make sure her peers are forming the same connections; REAL connections, and not just those through a Snap or Insta post. Crowned Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen, she’s sharing her personal platform of service she calls ‘Come Out From Behind The Screen.’

 

 

“Not only have I worked on spending less time behind the screen myself, I have talked to numerous schools and ages about my challenge,” said Kelsie. “I offered checklists and posters as reminders, and challenges that allow kids to be involved in making good choices regarding their smartphones. Teachers have even offered extra recess, no homework days, or parties if goals are attained.”

Service like this is a key reason Kelsie wanted to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“It’s important to give back to others around you,” said Kelsie. “My favorite part so far has been visiting the schools and talking about my platform. The innocence of the kids and the questions they asked made me smile. I loved seeing how happy and involved they were. The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is important because it rewards young girls for being positive role models who set examples for others.”

Kelsie

Photo courtesy Kim Therkildsen Photography

Positive.. without being perfect. Kelsie is a beautiful young woman, inside and out. She’s talented, caring, smart – she wants to be a trauma plastic surgeon when she gets older. She loves her family.. and chocolate ice cream, enjoying it every chance she gets.

We aren’t always polished and TV ready. More often than not, especially when our focus shifts to life swirling around us nonstop, we realize those Pinterest women are just that – they live in our computers and don’t really exist. It’s great to get all gussied up and feel STUNNING from head to toe; it’s also great to strut your stuff in yoga pants and a ball cap, my fashion of choice at home or at the mall.

One week from today, Kelsie and 18 other outstanding young women will compete to represent our state. They are already showing through their words and actions they realize people won’t remember if they were dressed perfectly, or had every hair and accessory perfectly in place. They know they will be remembered by their actions, what they are doing with their time, and how they made others feel.

That alone is picture perfect.

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Photo courtesy Kim Therkildsen Photography

“My goal at MNEOT is to walk into the weekend knowing I have already made a difference in my community, meet new friends, and walk away knowing I did my personal best,” said Kelsie. “Crown or no crown, I have already learned so much about myself through this experience.”

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To follow Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen Kelsie Therkildsen, 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.

PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen Jadyn Wetherington

NEXT.. Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen Rachel Greufe

Courage With a Smile

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

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

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

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

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Emma Wilkinson will turn 18 years old tomorrow.

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

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

Emma class

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma with girl

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMMA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Sister Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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“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.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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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.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALYSSA?

2015 * ROAR

2015 * Miracle Worker

2014 * The Kid Whisperer

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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.

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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!

Evolution

They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.

I, like many (I hope I’m not alone!), have periods of my life that I look back at and just SHUDDER. Times where my immaturity and weaknesses shined brighter than the good I hope I project, times I hope others have forgotten even though I simply cannot.  And maybe that’s a good thing; how can you climb out of valleys if you DON’T have those low points in the first place?  How can you grow if you don’t recognize those mistakes and learn from them?

Life is a journey.  There are lots of bumps along the way.  It’s not how often you trip, it’s how many times you catch yourself, and even learn how to avoid those trouble spots.  Let’s call it personal evolution.

Marie Allison is a Creighton University graduate who has never been afraid to try something, and more importantly, never been afraid to keep going or move on.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

From communication, to patriotism.  From classic to country.  From rodeo pageants.. to Miss Nebraska.  This young lady is no stranger to experiences or to changes, and her life is a colorful piece of artwork reflecting that.

“I am a music and art aficionada, an accomplished equestrienne, adventuries foodie/student of healthful lifestyle, fitness and outdoors enthusiast, passionate academic, and aspiring salsera (I love all latine dance!),” Marie told me recently.  She is also Miss Western Nebraska 2016.

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“I became involved with the Miss America system three years ago after deciding that rodeo pageants involved horses, sure, but they just were not for me,” said Marie, who went on to compete for Miss Colorado in 2014.  “I love how the Miss America Pageant system is a platform for feminine empowerment and service.  I became aware of the idea that holding a title is the ultimate responsibility and a job, not just decorative wording.  I liked that idea and related to it on paper, but was unsure how to be passionate and employ it in my own life.”

So Marie competed again in a new state while attending Creighton, qualifying to compete for Miss Nebraska 2015.  Marie chose a song highlighting her classical training (she now has a Music degree from Creighton), and as she told me last year, she focused on Communciation: Proactive Prevention as her personal message and platform (click here to read more!)  This year.. everything is different.

“If asked before why I want this job, I would have had an answer, but I do not think I believed in my own ability to hold the title of Miss Nebraska before this year,” said Marie.  “I have discovered more about who I am every time I compete because I am put in a unique position to think about how I relate to the world and why I do what I do (not just in pageants); my ideals, my goals, my aspirations, my values, my morals, and so on.”

Here’s a sample of what Marie’s discovered about herself in the last year alone..

She loves to model, featured here in photos by Anthony Gaines Photography, and walking the runway for designer Sabrina Jones at Omaha Fashion Week.

She loves to create art, through something as simple as a selfie, or as complex as a sketch.

She loves to serve, and gets to do it through both volunteering and through her full time jobs.

“I currently work full-time for Omaha Housing Authority as an Executive Assistant and also with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network as a Marketing Specialist,” said Marie.  “I am humbled to have secure employment that keeps me engaged in a constant learning experience, but luckily I find time to fit in working on developing the OHA Foundation’s donor base, fundraising events and childhood literacy programs, as well as fundraising for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and other organizations dedicated to pediatric cancer research.  I strongly advocate both philanthropy and service in daily life an am always looking for new volunteer opportunities.”

And as she started planning to compete for the Miss Nebraska title, Marie did a 180.. changing her talent genre and her personal platform.

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Marie attending President Obama’s speech in Omaha in January.

“My platform is called ‘Justice For All’.  We have the power to love each other and stand together; it is time we use that power, ” said Marie.  “The greatest challenge I see facing my generation is the rifts being formed by racial and socioeconomic disparity.  It is my goal to start an educated dialogue surrounding these issues to invite people to begin making changes in their individual daily lives and their communities, which will translate to our country and our world.  Acknowledging bias and prejudice and how each of us is acculturated is a first step twoards lasting change.  I aspire to this challenge because of the very real challenges my family faced when I was growing up.”

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“After much deliberation, I decided to sing ‘Where Were You’ written by Alan Jackson in honor of 9/11,” said Marie.  “This song wasn’t exactly in my wheel house, to say the least.  It is not traditionally flashy and showy like most pageant pieces, but I knew it was the right song because it was the one that gave me shivers I still have every time I hear it, and a song I am honored to sing.  In Talent, it is my goal to connect with my audience in the short 90 seconds allotted.  The message that there is nothing greater than love that keeps us interconnected is profound and is at the heart of my platform.”

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To those who follow the Miss Nebraska pageant.. Marie Allison is coming back this year as a different contestant, with a changed outlook.  To those who think negatively of pageants in general, Marie wants you to know Miss America has also evolved over the years.

“People who dismiss pageantry as an antiquated tradition where women degrade themselves by focusing only on appearance are often doing just that: focusing on what pageantry appears to be, rather than what it means to the individuals involved and seeing them as upstanding women who are future leaders,” said Marie.  “Miss America has changed since 1921 to promote women’s interests.  The women in the Miss Ameirica program are some of the most intelligent and wonderful people who are ready to take action to make a difference.  The actual pageant, what you see on stage, is the tip of the iceberg of what we do and who we are: we have the beauty, the brains, the talent, and the wherewithal to make great things happen.  There is a reason this has remained a great sisterhood and tradition for almost 100 years.  Miss America showcases the great power of the feminine.  I can say for myself, and for each contestant involved, that we mature as people because of the pageant experience, professionally and personally.”

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Personal evolution.  With the family and friends Marie calls ‘a core component’ of who she is, this young woman is ready to showcase her authentic self on one of our state’s biggest stages.

“This year, I know I have the goals and the wherewithal to make lasting connections that matter and implement a plan of action to promote the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Marie.  “I have a platform I am excited to promote, a plan, and conviction to see it through regardless of the outcome of the pageant in June.  I know how I want to shape my year of service and what it will take to treat this title both as a humbling, awesome experience as a representative of this wonderful state and as a job to be done.”

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Photo courtesy Anthony Gaines Photography

“I would be honored to have the opportunity of shaping this role with a perspective that comes from hard work, dedication to learning and morals, and a desire to lift others up and include them in the conversations about pageants, scholarship and uniting together to greet the future,” said Marie.  “I endeavor to be congruent in what I think and what I pursue in life and simply allow myself to be me when I compete in spite of the pressure to appear and act in a certain way.  Knowing I can be myself and rely on who I am what I think in any given situation and that I am loved by people who are important to me is one of the most humbling, gratifying experiences.  Winning is always nice, but the most uplifiting experiences for me come from accepting all the good and the bad that come with being who I am.”

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARIE?

2015 * Home Of The Brave

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes by phone at 307-340-0601, or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

***

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 Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Young!

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little!

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!

True Colors

This blog comes you to from 36,000 feet up in the air.

Photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I left Omaha Wednesday on a bleary-eyed 5:30am flight bound for La Paz, Mexico!  Through the months of May and June, we’ll show you the mission that’s been weeks in the making for us and months, if not YEARS in the making for an Omaha team.

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CLICK HERE to see a preview of Operation: Open Hearts on KETV!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ashley and me to tell incredible stories.  Truly, THAT is why we both got into this business in the first place.  I think to some extent there’s an assumption about people in TV News, that we do this because we want to see ourselves on television.  I admit, the first time I reported on camera.. the first time I sat in the anchor chair for a broadcast.. those moments were exhilarating.  BUT.. that sheen wears off in time, and for MANY years now, my adrenaline rushes have come from knowing we are sharing powerful stories of things going on in our city, state, and in our world, and seeing the difference that can come from that.

I have a feeling my friend Payton Merritt is reading this, thinking ‘Preach!!’  She’s not a journalist, but she is a young woman trying to prove that her mission isn’t about big hair and glitter, it’s about making a difference with a powerful tool she’s been given.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The world is filled with need—I want to use the gifts that God has blessed me with to positively impact my small window of the world,” Payton told me recently.  “It was within the Miss Nebraska Organization that I found this window, and my desire to be a leader and role model for my state brought my greatest dream full circle.”

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Payton will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska this June, currently Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016.  Complete disclosure… I kinda love her.  I first met Payton when serving as a judge and then volunteer for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant—Payton was our teen titleholder, then years later, crowned Miss Omaha.  She’s this teeny, petite, blonde, but when she sings, her voice is anything BUT petite; it’s soulful, deep.. it makes you utter ‘dang!’ from your seat in the audience.  Singing was Payton’s initial tie to the Miss America Organization, an added element to what was already a magnetic draw for a child watching on TV from home.

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming Miss America,” said Payton.  “I would stand on the coffee table at our house and pretend to be on stage, waving at the audience, and singing ‘Little Red Wagon’ at the top of my lungs. (My mom says I wasn’t quite as in tune as I am today.)  Initially, it was about me and the pursuit of my dream.”

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Payton also focused on her studies, graduating from high school a semester early and earning a nearly full-ride academic scholarship to Creighton University.  On the Miss Nebraska stage, Payton showed hundreds intelligence and confidence.  That became part of her goal this year.. to show pageant critics the depth of character and abilities so many of these titleholders represent.  (It’s worth noting the Miss America Organization has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in cash scholarships to young women focusing on STEM; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

“I would tell them to look and listen far beyond the two hours of national television coverage.  We are a force of young women devoted and determined to make an impact within our communities,” said Payton.  “The phases of competition are representative of things beyond the surface—ultimately our poise, discipline, intellect and depth show that we can walk the walk, talk the talk, and then put it all to music!”

Payton also notes that she and the rest of the Miss Nebraska Class of 2016 are constantly seeking out ways to be visible, positive role models.  Payton and several other local titleholders recently joined Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell to make Alyssa’s signature Miracle Bags for patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; the girls then hand delivered them to those kids.

Payton, a devoted big sister to several admirers at home, has also connected to children in classrooms during school presentations, talking about her personal platform, ‘The Political Workout: Exercising Your Right To Vote.’

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“I am passionate about empowering people to utilize our most sacred right,” said Payton.  “Because of the sacrifices of many, we have been given a life of opportunity and choice.  I see other countries, and their battles and oppression, and know countless people would risk life and limb to live in a country in which they have the power to choose.  We Americans who do maintain that right, don’t exercise our greatest freedom in choosing who represents us, those who ultimately speak for us.”:

Payton often shares messages and quotes on her Miss Nebraska State Fair Facebook page, encouraging people of the power and importance behind the vote.  For Payton, it’s an issue she plans to pursue long after this often divisive 2016 Presidential Election; she’s pursuing Political Science and Economics degrees at Creighton with plans to attend law school.

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“I think in part [voter apathy] can be traced back to a lack of understanding and education about our political process,” said Payton.  “I want to do my part to show others how important exercising your right to vote is within a democracy.”

UNDERSTANDING AND EDUCATION.  We at KETV have a motto—more complete coverage.  It’s not just our catch phrase, it’s something I remind myself of when I’m tired and want to wrap up a story and move on.. is there more I could or SHOULD include?  Is there another angle to this?  At the end of the newscast, as complimentary (and sometimes not..) as it is to hear about my hair or my dress or the color of my lipstick, I want people to remember MY STORIES.. YOUR stories.  I want our viewers and readers to learn something new about a disease or a law or a PERSON.  Every time Payton Merritt performs the national anthem for the Creighton basketball or baseball games (click here to listen!), every time she dons her sparkling crown to visit a child or speak to a group, she wants to open new eyes to everything she stands for.

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Photo courtesy Brown Harano Photography

“I see the role of Miss Nebraska as one of service,” Payton said.  “Ultimately, I have a cause that I am dedicated to speaking to, one that is not only timely now, but maintains longevity for the democracy of our country.  I aim to serve God, my state, and hopefully my nation through my ability to relate to others, and through a commitment to impacting those who I encounter.  I am humbled by the opportunities I am blessed with, and though I am seeking a very public role, I am not seeking a personal place in the spotlight, but an opportunity to make an impact.”

***

Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.  You can also contact Payton for appearances and events by emailing paytonmerritt@hotmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PAYTON?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Omaha! Omaha!

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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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 Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun!

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!

The “It” Factor

Ever meet a person who you just KNOW is going be something big?  They have that IT factor.. how they present themselves, what they give to others, how they make you feel.

I found out about the Miss Nebraska Pageant through a letter I got in the mail.  I went to one of the first Miss Omaha rehearsals just to see what it was all about, and Brook Matthews was one of the first people I saw.  She was so dang fantastic I just about turned around and walked out–I was NOT going to even try to compete against her!  Brook was A STUNNING blonde, perfect body, well spoken, she had the confidence of a CEO and just radiated grace and sophistication.  In a crazy turn of events, I become her pageant sister a few weeks later; Brook became Miss Omaha and I became Miss Douglas County.

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Brook was later crowned Miss Nebraska 2004, then went on to  earn her Masters degree in Business from Creighton while founding and developing Omaha Fashion Week.  The event has become the 5th largest fashion event in the country, and last week, Brook Matthews-Hudson and her husband, Nick, opened the Omaha Design Center, welcoming sold-out crowds of thousands.

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Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

Brook is a REALLY. BIG. DEAL.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the new home for Omaha Fashion Week, from KETV’s Chinh Doan!

A few years ago, I met a young woman who stood out to me in a group of OUTSTANDING young women.  I invited all of the 2014 Miss Nebraska contestants to the KETV studios to record a special edition of Chronicle to spread awareness about the program and the incredible things these titleholders were doing in their communities.   (Click here to watch the 2014 Miss Nebraska Chronicle special!)  Tosha Skinner made the long drive to Omaha to take part when several of the other western titleholders understandably did not; she was articulate, confident, and I went back to my desk that evening thinking, ‘Dang!! Who is that girl?!?’

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Tosha Skinner is a 3-time local titleholder with the Miss Nebraska Organization and the current Miss Heartland.  She’s a UNL graduate and proud Delta Delta Delta alumnae.  She’s a Logistics expert, a volunteer, a Christian, and a woman proudly comfortable in her own skin.

“The most important part of my life is that I live out my platform every day,” Tosha told me recently.  “Because my platform focuses on self-love and living a healthy lifestyle, I think that it is essential I live my life with the values I teach.”

Tosha calls that personal mission ‘Perfectly, Imperfect: Learning to love the true you.’

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“After years of struggling with low self-confidence, which turned into an eating disorder and depression, I decided to start making changes to my life, which started with the way I viewed myself,” said Tosha.  “I became healthier in the way I thought, spoke, ate and lived.  I watched how each of these things helped me learn to love myself.  I soon realized that if I shared my own story, I could help others come to the same realization I did.  I want to live in a world where my little sister doesn’t have to struggle through the same things I did!”

Tosha has embarked on something of a social media crusade to pump positivity into the world, and to remind women everywhere of their beauty.  She posts inspirational memes, shares terrific photos to make you smile and think, and frequently updates her blog with op-ed like posts focused on image and self-improvement (CLICK HERE to read more!)

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Tosha on Facebook: ‘Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you helped create that smile #missheartland

Tosha says being a Miss America titleholder has not only given her an opportunity to share this message, but it’s part of the reason she found that message in the first place.

“I learned about eating right, working out, and how to better understand my own body, and I learned all of that because of preparing for Swimsuit (competition)!” said Tosha.  “The Miss Nebraska system has been an active part of my life.  I learned life skills like public speaking, stage presence, professionalism and living a healthy lifestyle.  It helped me find my passion for volunteering and taught me to step out of my comfort zone every day.  I am a better person because of the Miss Nebraska system.”

 And despite having a full-time job at Talent Plus in Lincoln, Tosha is an active proponent for that same organization, taking part in philanthropic events across the state on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Tosha’s raised awareness for Alzheimers, for Team Jack and pediatric cancer research (CLICK HERE to learn more!), for Junior Achievement, for Children’s Miracle Network, and for the American Heart Association. She says her dream is to turn her platform into a non-profit to reach even more people.  This is the work of a determined, selfless young woman.. a far cry from the self-described shy, unsure little girl she once was.

“Because of the Miss America Organization, that little girl grew into a woman that learned how to pick herself up every time she fell and how she learned how important hard work was,” said Tosha.  “Without the Miss Nebraska system, that little girl may never have finished college or landed her dream job.  But because she was involved in an organization that taught her how to be the best version of herself, that little girl can be anything.”

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Tosha Skinner is a Husker, a working woman, a friend, a mentor.  She’s a volunteer at People’s City Mission and a superhero at the Lincoln Children’s Museum.  She’s Miss Sugar Valley 2014, Miss Chadron 2015, Miss Heartland 2016.. and she’s ready to be Miss Nebraska.

“Being Miss Nebraska is more than just a pretty crown and sash,” said Tosha.  “It is about being a role model to both children and adults, presenting the best version of yourself every day, and most importantly, being the best possible representative for Nebraska.  It’s waking up every day with a smile, being prepared for anything the day may bring.  And it’s about utilizing the moments that you can touch someone’s life, with a smile or conversation.  This is the year I am prepared for.”

CHRISTIANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo courtesy Christiansen Photography

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram and via her blog: Perfectly, Imperfect.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TOSHA?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Cap And (Evening) Gown

CLICK HERE * 2014 * A Spoonful Of Sugar

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

***

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 Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2016 Brooklyn Stack!

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!

Special Feature: Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins

THIS.

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First, can I get a ‘heck ya!’ for my fellow Shania Twain fans out there?!?!

A few weeks ago, I heard ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’ on the radio, and I proceeded to have a full-out car concert on my drive in to work.  It’s probably been years since I heard it, and I still remember ever word, I still sing it with sass and attitude, I still LOVE it.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons I love Miss Nebraska week so much.. for a few blissful days in June, I’m surrounded by smart, funny, talented, powerful, BEAUTIFUL women.  We get glammed up, we laugh, we hug and take pictures, we enjoy the show and that history-making final moment.  Man, we feel like women!

THIS moment got me even more jazzed up for Miss Nebraska week..

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.. the crowning of Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins just a few weeks ago.

“Since winning Miss Nebraska Teen USA 2009, becoming Miss Nebraska has been the real dream.  I have thought about it at least once a day since taking off my crown,” Sarah told me recently.  “I stood on that stage as a Top 5 finalist but walked away without the crown twice.  It was rough.  I worked to the bone this year to become the person I knew I needed to be to win in what is now a very competitive state!  I was the lucky girl that walked away with the title.”

For pageant newbies reading this.. yes, there is a difference between Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska USA.  All of the local titleholders I’ve been profiling throughout this series go on to compete for Miss Nebraska to qualify for the Miss America Pageant; Sarah will compete for the title of Miss USA .

Laurel Austin

Photo courtesy Laurel Austin Photography

“Both are the best of the best when it comes to pageantry,” explained Sarah.  “I would say both America and USA systems are working for the same bottom line, creating leaders.  The Miss America Organization puts more of an emphasis on academics and a talent portion.  This is not to say that the Miss USA contestants aren’t some of the most talented and brilliant women I’ve met.  The USA system concentrates on modelling and being a brand ambassador.  We are like-minded organizations creating and cultivating strong women who are future doctors, political leaders, teachers and so much more.”

Sarah is an Omaha native and Burke High School graduate.  She also attended Creighton University and the New York Film Academy before earning her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism (though she is quick to note: ” I never switched to the dark side.. GO BIG RED.”)

In addition to preparing for the Miss USA Pageant, Sarah will spend her year advocating for fitness and self-worth, a cause she is passionate about, drawing from her own personal experiences.

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Sarah posted this photo to Facebook the day after she was crowned Miss Nebraska USA.  “Lights out, back in the gym! I didn’t bring home a title belt.. but I did bring home a shiny crown and banner!!”

“I am working with organizations like FitGirls Inc to spread a message of self love to our young generations,” said Sarah.  “7 out of 10 girls are not satisfied with their bodies and would change something about themselves.  I used to be one of these girls.”

UMMM, WHAT?!?! I see these pictures of Sarah, on stage and in the gym, and have a hard time believing this woman could EVER find a flaw in her body!  So what’s her secret!?! How did she reach this point, and more importantly, how did she find confidence in herself?  Sarah’s answers are also the same response she would give to anyone who criticizes the swimsuit portion of both the Miss USA and Miss America competition.

“To be as candid as possible, I have gone through periods of hating my body.  Because of pageantry, I grew a love for fitness and pushing myself to my physical limits.  It’s changed my life,” said Sarah (describing these photos as ‘strong is the new skinny’).  “There is something about a woman confident enough to put on a swimsuit and say ‘look at the work I’ve done,’ that is incredibly powerful.  To feel strong is to feel beautiful and to feel beautiful comes with great power.  The motivation and drive I cultivated in the gym transcends all areas of my life.  Life really is mind over matter and anything is possible.”

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No matter what she wears, Sarah is preparing to step into the national spotlight.. again.  Many in the pageant world may recognize Sarah’s name and face from the reality television series Obsessed With The Dress, centered on Omaha’s Winning Crown Boutique.

“So many people take what they see on television and think they know exactly who you are,” said Sarah.  “You can’t control how editing works and let’s face it, none of us would watch reality television without a little spice.  Were there moments I watched myself and cringed? OH YES.  But I was so proud to be a part of something so big for our city, a reality show based in Omaha and about pageants, two things I love.  I thought it would give me and the cast an opportunity to show people how progressive and wonderful Nebraska is and shatter the many stereotypes about pageantry.  I hope those who may not have liked a comment I made or something I did will let go of whatever they saw and get a chance to really know me.”

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Who is Sarah Hollins?  She is a fierce competitor who spent much of her first social media post as Miss Nebraska USA thanking her fellow contestants, including 2nd Runner Up Sarah Summers, also a former Miss Nebraska Teen USA. “She is the definition of graceful.  She is godly, beautiful, and I have no doubt in my mind she will be Miss USA someday.”

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Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography

 She is a businesswoman, landing a gig hosting a soon-to-be-released game show, while securing numerous corporate sponsors during her reign as Miss Nebraska USA.. including her now former ‘boss’ at the Winning Crown, Michele Strom.

“They are an absolute stand up business and I wouldn’t be here without their coaching, impeccable taste in design and selfless persistence,” said Sarah.  “My mentor and friend Michele always tells me ‘you ARE Miss USA until someone tells you otherwise.'”

She is a volunteer, just as eager to cook tacos at the Ronald McDonald House as she is to model thousand dollar gowns.  And she is a confident woman, proudly posting selfies without makeup to show her 4:30am wakeup calls, the non-stop travel without stops or sleep, and sweaty gym sessions she’s putting on her calendar to represent our state.

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From an airport bathroom in Chicago.. “You have to always remember to be thankful and grateful for what you have while working for what you want.”

Sarah Hollins wants to be YOUR Miss Nebraska USA, because man, she feels like a woman and is darn proud to show EVERYTHING that represents.

“I can’t take this wonderful gift lightly.  I am so proud of our state and the people,” said Sarah.  “I want to connect with them, tell my story, and encourage people to never give up on themselves.  If you have something going on, an event, a cause you care so much about, a dream, or just need an ear, I want to hear it!  I am here to serve the state and that’s what I hope to do.  But most importantly, if you learn anything from me it should be NEVER give up on yourself.  You could be so close to your dreams.”

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Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Nebraska USA Sarah Hollins

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich!

NEXT.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016 Chelsea Arnold!

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!