Tag Archive | crowns and gowns

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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

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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.

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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 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!

Follow The Rainbow

One of my favorite events I got to take part in during my time at KETV was Omaha Fashion Week. I know NOTHING about fashion (I’ve got a solid 5-outfit rotation and that’s it..) but I LOVE seeing it. OFW offers anything and everything you could envision, from swimwear, to children’s wear, to the most beautiful gowns to the craziest avant garde designs. CLICK HERE to read more about my adventures hosting Fashion Week while pregnant.. or about the time I became Fashion Roadkill in front of hundreds of people.

This is an event where the people are art as much as the garments. Every designer chooses different models based on that collection or their aesthetic. You will see rail-thin and plus-size women, translucent skin tones to the darkest ebony.  This showcase is a spectacular rainbow of color and life, a display of the array of beauty God created in so many different types of people.

This year, you’ll see the same thing at the 2017 Miss Nebraska Pageant.

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The Class of 2017 spans from barely 5-feet to almost 6-feet tall (without heels!). We have dancers and singers, a SLAM poet and a violinist, pianists and a sign language artist.  They are young women with various backgrounds and ambitions, as different on the inside as they appear outside. It’s something one of these contestants is not just proud of, she’s made the message of diversity her mission during her time as a Miss Nebraska titleholder.

Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

“My platform ‘Representation Matters: The Importance in Being Present’, focuses on the importance of diverse role models/leaders/representatives in media, film, systems of government, our communities and beyond,” Devin told me recently. “With race, gender/sexuality, and religious issues being at the forefront of many of the national conversations/debates that we are having, it’s important to ensure that all are accurately, fairly and equally represented in various spaces.”

This is Devin’s first year as a Miss Nebraska titleholder, though she previously represented Nebraska in the Miss Black USA Ambassador pageant. Devin attracted media attention multiple times in that roll through her work to empower girls across the Omaha area.

“In the summer of 2015 I hosted the first ‘Queens For A Day’, which gave 20 young women from across the state the opportunity to feel like the queens they truly are,” said Devin. “Our day began at Memorial Park where we had a photo shoot with a professional photographer, and rode off to the spa in a VIP limousine. Once we arrived at the spa, each girl was able to get either a pedicure or manicure, we loaded back on the limo, and we went to decorate crowns.”

Queens for a Day 2015

CLICK HERE to read the Omaha World Herald’s story on Devin, or CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story on her event!

This was the continuation of work Devin began in 2014 when she founded Project Poise, a leadership initiative for young women in need, focusing primarily on low income/needs based areas.

“Operating out of existing nonprofits, elementary and middle schools and after-school programs, I bring tailored programming to each site and work with young ladies on developing their core strengths,” said Devin. “Everyone has leadership potential, and my goal is to help these young ladies discover, embrace and grow within in their leadership potential.  I’ve had the privilege of working with over 250 young women in the last three years, and I am looking to impact even more as we delve into 2017.”

Solomon Girls Center

Devin has studied at both the University of Nebraska Lincoln and Omaha campuses, she’s worked at 10/11 News and now at the Peter Kiewit Foundation. So why add to an already busy schedule by competing for Miss Nebraska?

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“Overall I was once again ready to utilize the platform to serve and lead that the Miss Nebraska Organization offered and pageantry at large offered,” said Devin. “Upon winning the title of Miss Western Nebraska, I am really eager to learn more about the western portion of Nebraska that I haven’t been able to see as much residing in Omaha and Lincoln most of my life.”

Devin hit the ground running, lining up school visits to speak to students from all areas and backgrounds. She’s also extremely active on social media, stressing not only the work she is doing, but spreading the word about Miss Nebraska Organization sponsors and opportunities.

“I want those who are skeptical to know that we work hard, really hard, and are all passionate about the communities we serve and the platforms we advocate for,” said Devin. “For many of us, we wear multiple hats; whether that’s as students, employees, entreprenuers and more. I personally balance a full time job, being a student while paying my way through school, my own nonprofit organization and pageantry, not even considering personal or social obligations. While the many roles often leave little time for a personal life, I wouldn’t have it any other way. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Example is leadership’, and therefore I recognize the grave importance of my presence and activism in my community and state.”

Elementary School Visit

And while Devin’s main objective has been to empower others, she says she herself has been empowered by the experience, and the women she’ll compete with in just over a month.

“I am overwhelmed by the immense amount of opportunities to learn and serve my state,” said Devin. “One of the most important things to me when being a participant in a pageant is being able to walk away a better person than when you started the journey.  Having the opportunity to compete in three very different pageant systems, I must admit my favorite thing about the Miss Nebraska Organization is the sense of family I get from my sister queens, volunteers and state directors. I was nervous to enter another pageant system so ‘late in the game’ as I am 22 years old, but never once did I feel alone or isolated in my journey. It’s been a blessing to be surrounded by such amazing women from across the state.”

Our goal as volunteers who recruit women to compete for Miss Nebraska is to find the best representatives of our state and reward them for their hard work, talents and service. We don’t consider race, how much money a girl has, where she’s coming from or where she’s going. We are blind to who a young woman is when she reaches out to us saying ‘I’d like to learn more’, and we are willing to help anyone and everyone to become the best versions of themselves.

Devin and girl

Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t warm my heart this year to see a rainbow of little girls look up to our titleholders, maybe thinking ‘she’s just like me… and I can be just like her when I grow up.’

Devin in class

“When I close my eyes and dream of being Miss Nebraska, it’s an opportunity that I’d be so blessed and humbled to have,” said Devin. “I think about the potential lives I could impact, and bringing awareness to my platform on a large scale, it’s kind of scary, but an opportunity of a lifetime. Each member of this Miss Nebraska class brings something so unique to the forefront when considering who will represent our state next, so in any circumstance, the outcome will be great!”

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Click here to follow Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens on Facebook, click here to follow her blog, ‘DJ Writing Out Loud’, click here to follow her on Twitter, and click here to follow Devin on Instagram.

Devin 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.

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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 Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Hannah Miller

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

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!

Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year? In daylights. In sunsets. In midnights. In cups of coffee.  In inches. In miles. In laughter and strife.

How do you measure a year in the life… when you’re Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen?

Less than 11 months ago, Hannah Miller was named Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016.  Tomorrow, after trips to Orlando and Atlantic City, performances all over Nebraska, appearances at dozens of events, and connections with countless children, Hannah will pass on her crown.

“I’m not sad that I’m passing on the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. I had my year, and I made the most of it,” Hannah told me recently. “Now it’s time for another lucky young lady to have the same opportunities I had.”

hannah crowning

Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph

Hannah rose to the top of an epic Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen class jam-packed with talent, intelligence, civic leadership and grace.  She was articulate, magnetic and energetic from start to finish.  Immediately after she won the crown, Hannah devoted herself in preparation to compete for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

Hannah MAO Teen intro

“I had the shortest amount of time to get ready for nationals than any other Outstanding Teen in Nebraska’s history. So that consumed the majority of the first part of my reign,” said Hannah. “I went into nationals wanting to give it my all and not have any regrets on my performance or my experience and I can honestly say that I did exactly that. I gave everything I had in every part of the national competition and I walked away knowing that I represented Nebraska to the best of my ability. I had the experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For the third year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen was among the top award winners at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Hannah won a preliminary Evening Gown/On Stage Question award, and won a Top 5 Interview Award, her proudest moment in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Hannah came home and accepted the job that was only just beginning at the conclusion of competing at nationals.  Her new mission: find time for commitments as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding teen and for the activities and wishes of an American teenager.  Hannah is also a student at Elkhorn High School and a competitive swimmer.

“Since I’m extremely active with swim and my other school activities, it was hard to find the perfect balance between being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and being a student athlete,” said Hannah. “The first few months were rough. But with the help of my manager (aka my mom) I was able to find the perfect balance between my two vastly different worlds.”

Whereas Miss Nebraska attends most events and appearances across the state on her own throughout her year of service, Hannah was often accompanied by her incredibly supportive parents, Jim and Barb Miller.  During one of our program’s biggest weekends, Crowns and Gowns, Jim Miller drove Hannah to North Platte for a photo shoot, back to Omaha for a major swim meet, back to North Platte for a fashion show and autograph signing, and back to Omaha for school (and work!) on Monday.

I’m exhausted just typing that.

Hannah has often focused her speeches and messages on her personal platform, Safe Splashes, promoting water safety. (Click here to learn more!)

“Looking back, I will never forget going to the Olympic Trials, and having the opportunity to talk to children about the importance of water safety,” said Hannah. “I plan on continuing my work with ‘Josh the Otter’ and spreading water safety awareness. As Dory puts it, I’ll ‘Just keep swimming!'”

Hannah’s focus now is con continuing her education, using the thousands in scholarship money she collected through the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

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“Right now I’m in the process of college planning,” said Hannah. “I plan on swimming in college and studying Elementary Education. To answer the burning question of if I’ll compete for Miss Nebraska someday, right now I’m not sure. I’m focused on college so I won’t be competing anytime soon!”

And this weekend, Hannah is focused not on herself and what she’s accomplished, but the 18 young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

Hannah at local

“I want this year contestants to know that they have already made a huge impact on their communities and they are doing a terrific job promoting the Outstanding Teen program,” said Hannah. “Only one lucky girl will walk away as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but you all have the opportunity to continue the great work you are already doing! You don’t need to wear a crown to make an impact!”

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year?

In smiles. In dancing. In thank you’s. In high school swim meets.

Hannah Final 3

In appearances. DEFINITELY in miles. In friendships and impacting lives.

525,600 minutes.  Thank you, Hannah Miller Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016, for giving us this year of your life.

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2016 HANNAH MILLER?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Just Keep Swimming

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Whitney Miller

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

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

Courage With a Smile

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

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

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

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

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Emma Wilkinson will turn 18 years old tomorrow.

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

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

Emma class

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma with girl

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMMA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Sister Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

She Thinks She Can

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

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

It’s a challenge Sheridan Blanco has eagerly accepted.

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

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

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

Sheridan crowning

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

Sheridan balloon

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

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

Sheridan National Night Out

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

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

Sheridan and girls

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

Sheridan final

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

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

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

Sheridan christmas

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

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

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHERIDAN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Let’s Dance

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

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

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

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

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

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

All-Around Champion

I opened up my paper Saturday morning to an awesome surprise…

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High School Speech.  FRONT PAGE of the Omaha World Herald.

This is absolutely fantastic!!! So often the first thing we see on the front page, or leading the news, is the negative or controversial.  I get it; I understand the process that goes into those decisions and often these subjects are extremely important and affect a large amount of people.  Our media members are also serving our communities; what is the state talking about? The Huskers often steal the spotlight during football season, and once in awhile, fantastic moments of celebration and joy.  Seeing speech kids, on the front page?  THAT. IS. AWESOME.

A few years ago (ok.. long ago in a galaxy far, far away..) I was one of those kids.  I am a proud 2-time Nebraska State Champion in Original Oratory.  Just last week, a new generation of students joined our exclusive club.

Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

She’s just a junior, but Carsyn Long is also now a 2-time state speech champion.

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She was named Champion in Serious Prose just one day after she turned 17.  And this moment atop the podium at UNK was just one highlight for a teen so extraordinary, she’s competing to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization empowers young girls of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, etc. to achieve their dreams and do things that are so much greater than themselves,” Carsyn told me recently.  “From my time being an Outstanding Teen, I have gained so much confidence and have grown so much as a young woman.  My dreams and goals have become more of a reality to me and the work I have done throughout the state has made my heart strong and completely full.”

You name it, Carsyn’s involved in it at Gering High School.  She’s involved in theater, cast in a leading role for Gering’s competitive One Acts earlier this year.  She’s  a State DECA qualifier.  She’s a consistent member of Honor Roll and an Honor Society inductee.  She’s an active advocate for her faith, even appearing on NBC Nebraska Scottsbluff in October to promote one of the biggest events in her diocese (CLICK HERE to watch!) And this year, she was selected for the prestigious Doane Honor Choir.  Still, Carsyn told me last year (click here to read more!) she has long dreamed of pursuing another goal since meeting Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan as a little girl.

“Looking back on it now, Teresa has represented everything I have ever wanted to be as a young woman,” said Carsyn.  “I had seen all of the amazing things she was accomplishing and all of the service she was doing during her time as Miss America.  I wanted to be that girl, too.  I wanted to be the girl who changed the world.  I wanted to be that girl who served her community, state, nation and world.  And I wanted to be that girl who would possibly touch an 11-year old girl on the shoulder and she would have the same feeling and attitude towards me as I did with Teresa.”

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Last fall, Carsyn was crowned Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen, punching her ticket to the state competition.  Almost immediately, in addition to her studies and activities in high school, she lined up a slew of appearances and volunteer events.

[Miss America 2015] Kira Kazantsev said something that really struck me at Crowns and Gowns,” said Carsyn.  “[She said]: ‘You want to get something done? A pageant contestant is the best person to go to.’  We are always working on things greater than ourselves.  We are self starters.  It isn’t beauty or just a time for a girl to walk around on stage aimlessly.  [Pageants] are a time to show all the hard work and effort these girls have put in to better themselves and their state.”

Proof: Carsyn has been implementing her personal platform of service in every facet of her life, from home to school to Facebook.  She calls it ‘Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns’.

“A few months ago there was a girl in Kearney who chose to end her life because of other girls’ hurtful actions,” said Carsyn.  “She had become a target for mean comments, cyberbullying, etc.  After reading about her story, I had realized that I am her.  I am the girl that had become the brunt of other girls’ snide and just plain mean , rumors, dirty looks, etc.  I felt so hurt and so alone and wondered what I did to make these girls dislike me so much.  I had a decision to make each morning: I could either let these girls have power over me and make me feel small, or I could remind myself that this won’t matter in 5 years.  I chose [the latter].  I can’t stop thinking about that girl in Kearney and ‘what if I had been her friend?  What if I had been that one girl who was actually kind to her?'”

So Carsyn spreads that kindness everywhere she can, for example, posting surprise well wishes for strangers when she competed for that state speech title.  She posted on Facebook: “Not only was it a perfect day to bring my A game, but it was a perfect day to spread some love! I know all too well the importance of saying kind and uplifting words to others. With left over sticky notes I had in my bag, I gathered some of my sister Queens to team up with me to spread empowerment and brighten someone’s day. Speech days can be really tough for some kids and so we thought we’d offer up some encouragement for some beautiful girls competing yesterday. #realqueensfixeachotherscrowns #mneoteen #misskearneysot 👑”

“I am here to let girls know that they are not alone in their hurting – even someone competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen goes through this,” said Carsyn.  “It is my job to show girls how to stop looking at each other as competition and as threats, but rather as a sister or a friend.  We all bring something so unique and special to the table, so why can’t we just encourage each other to use these gifts rather than tear each other down?  Strong and confident women choose to fix each other’s crowns instead of breaking them.”

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A phenomenal message for women everywhere, especially for little girls who may look at Carsyn just as she looks at her Miss America idols.

Last Fall, as Nebraska speech season kicked off for high school teams across the state, the NSAA used a state champion to serve as the face of their #MyReasonWhy campaign… Carsyn Long.  They posted her photo on Facebook, with the caption: “Whether it’s preparing for the big debate or practicing for the big solo, setting goals for tomorrow helps you set goals for life.”

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From one speech kid to another, I wish this outstanding teen good luck no matter what the stage.

“If I don’t win the state pageant, I’ll be busy preparing for senior year and pursuing my dreams of performing,” said Carsyn.  “I love to say that ‘I may be small, but I have giant plans’.  And I know that whatever God has in store for me will exhibit that.”

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Click here to follow Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CARSYN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Little Big Shots

For more information about the Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Megan Goeke at jenna@hellobeautifulbridal.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

NEXT.. Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

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!

Meet The Fosters

When I was a green, giggly young reporter at KETV, I was blessed with an incredible opportunity to fill in anchor for our weekday morning show.  I was so nervous.. anchoring for 2 hours straight everyday?  Would people like me?  Would I screw up the energy and chemistry that was already in place?  Little did I know, I would get to work 3am – Noon everyday with some phenomenal people.

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I guess when you work completely whackadoodle hours your form a deeper bond than most.  And those concerns I had?  They all evaporated on an early morning reading a story about the Beatles, when I accidentally said ‘Sir Rob McCartney’ instead of Paul.. and my co-anchor John Oakey stepped INTO camera view to say ‘um, excuse me.. he makes you call him SIR Rob McCartney?!?! I usually just call him Rob..’

John is one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met.  He’s HILARIOUS, talented, and incredibly devoted to his family, church and community.  I will always remember seeing the interaction between John and his wife, Kristi, and how in love they still are after 25+ years of marriage.  That love expanded 4-fold a few years ago.

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John and Kristi were the proud parents of two teenagers, but had been told many years ago they were unable to have anymore children.  For years, they considered adoption but from where? How? They began the long process of background checks and referrals from family and friends, and one day, received a phone call: a 9-month old baby girl needed a home.  They welcomed Trinity with open arms.  A few months later.. another call.. Trinity’s biological mom was pregnant again.  Hoping to keep the sisters together, the Oakeys welcomed Alivia, and began caring for two children 16 months or younger.  This happened twice more.. and each time the Oakeys welcomed another child, first Kaleb and then Kinley.  Here’s what John wrote about getting that call (again!) that Baby Kinley needed a home, too.

“Here’s the thing. How do you say No? There were countless reasons not to take her. Life was already crazy and hectic. Adding a fourth? Wow. But I was struck with the image of this girl, 18 years later, finding me and asking why I took her three siblings and not her. I did not have an answer. Except the overwhelming confirmation that we have been blessed. We are able to provide for our family. The Lord has looked after us. Now it was our time to look after this baby girl.”

This process was agonizing for the Oakey family; the fight to formally adopt was long and hard, and at one point, they were forced to return their children to their biological mother’s custody.  All four are now officially OAKEYS, enrolled in school and THRIVING thanks to the incredible parents who opened their hearts and homes to them.  (I encourage you to read more of the Oakey’s story on John’s fantastic blog Young Dad, Old Dad. CLICK HERE!)

Right now in Nebraska, several hundred children are waiting to be adopted.  Countless more are in need of foster homes.  A young woman from Gering, Nebraska is already planning her future foster family.. and encouraging others in her community to learn more.

Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

“I have grown up around little kids; I LOVE kids,” Haylee told me recently.  “My aunts and uncles used to have foster kids in their homes.  I remember most of them very vividly.  They are part of the family.”

Hayley attended Community Christian School and enrolled at Gering High School last fall. As she mentally prepared for both high school and the public school setting, she wanted to find a way to become active in her community and meet the friends she would go to class with everyday.  She found those opportunities in a local pageant that also qualified her to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“I love getting out in my community,” said Haylee.  “I had never really volunteered in my community much until I got my title, and I am quite sad I didn’t start earlier, yet very glad I am realizing now what an influence I can have.  The girls and strong women involved in the pageant, whether they are competing, mentoring or organizing are and will always be a blessing.  Getting to know them has been amazing!”

“I’ve never been shy, but I’ve never really thought that I could do very much in our community at a young age,” said Haylee.  “The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant has shown me otherwise.  I have the power of making an impact on kids, which are the future of our community.  Being a good influence goes farther than I ever could have imagined.”

From schools to events to superhero fundraisers, Haylee has been all over Scotts Bluff County making the most of her title, hoping to show everyone she meets they are represented by a thoughtful, charismatic and fun-loving young woman who wants to build others up and help them succeed.

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“I love people,” said Haylee.  “I always strive to see the best in them and then bring it out so others can see it, too.  Pageants are a way for girl to build confidence in who they are and what they are capable of.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant is very focused on giving out as many scholarships as they can, which helps us girls have a better opportunity at a great college education and therefore a great future in which we can contribute to the world.”

Haylee is also channelling that impact into the family atmosphere that helped shape the young woman she is today.

“My platform is Fostering The Future,” said Haylee.  “It focuses on the need to support our local foster care families, foster care children, and the great people who work with these families and children at our Department of Health and Human Services.  I want kids in foster care to be part of a family, too.  I want my community to support our foster care families so the families can focus on loving the foster children in their homes.”

Families like the Oakeys, who are now raising three, little princesses who I hope grow up watching Miss America and maybe someday, walk across the Miss Nebraska stage with their proud parents in the crowd.

Oakey girls

John, if your little girls need a royal role model, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble is your gal.

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“My main goal at the pageant is not necessarily to win, but to do my very best,” said Haylee.  “I want to build lasting friendships with all the girls as well.  In the future, I wish to impact children as a teacher.  I want to make the lasting statement on them that they matter, are special and are loved.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant or how you can become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook!  You can also email Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by emailing cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

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!