Tag Archive | down syndrome

What Is Your Gift?

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

“GREAT.” I responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus

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

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

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

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

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

That’s What Friends Are For

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to take a different approach with what I share on Facebook.  I still try to tell our viewers what they should tune in for that night at 10.. and share links to the developing story online that could impact them.. but more and more, I’m trying to share things that just MAKE ME SMILE.  Memes that make me laugh, links that have me giggling at my desk, and photos that warm my heart.  Hopefully they make someone else’s day a little brighter, too.

A few weeks ago, I shared this beauty.

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Photo courtesy Sherri Harnisch – Picture Taker

This is Macy.  I used to work with her momma, who is also the incredible photographer who styled and shot this photo.  Macy is sassy, smart, talented and SWEET.. she is also one of the national representatives for down syndrome awareness and support, featured on billboards in Times Square, and a frequent visitor to Washington DC for new legislation.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to watch Alex Hoffman’s story on KETV with Sherri Harnisch, about her family’s work to pass the ABLE Act.

Macy is showing the world that people with special needs bring love, joy, laughter and so many other things into the world and into our lives.  They deserve our respect, our time and OUR love.

It’s a message Ashly Helfrich has known and advocated for since she was younger than Macy.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Ashly, a junior at Millard West High School in Omaha, is also Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016.  She’ll compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this June.  The program is a preliminary competition to the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, described by many as the ‘little sister’ pageant to the Miss America Organization.  Just like their ‘miss’ sisters, these teenagers spend a year promoting a cause they are passionate about; Ashly calls hers ‘The Positive Power of Inclusion.’

“Two of my cousins have down syndrome, so I have witnessed how inclusion has affected them while growing up,” Ashly told me recently.  “[My platform] is focusing on creating inclusive environments in both schools and the community for people of all ability levels.”

Ashly is a student leader for Millard West’s West Friends club, an organization that twice a month brings together students with and without disabilities.

“I love spending my time with these kids, as they are some of the most genuinely kind people I know,” said Ashly.  “They almost always have a smile on their face, and they always greet me like they are so happy to see me.  For me, inclusion goes so far beyond just putting students of all ability levels in the same room.  The objective of West Friends is to create long-lasting friendships between these students by making a safe, fun environment for all.”

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Ashly and West Friends organizers are also creating a model for other programs across the state, as one of the first schools to participate in NSAA-sanctioned unified sports.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH Andrew Ozaki’s story on KETV, featuring Ashly, about this new opportunity for special needs students to compete in sports.

Ashly also knows a little something about competition; she trained in tumbling and competitive gymnastics for 11 years and is currently a Millard West varsity cheerleader.

She’s also copy editor for her school’s yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and Student Ambassador for Millard West.  Ashly has lettered in Academics, Cheerleading and Pole Vault.

WHAT?!? How could this girl squeeze one more activity into her schedule.. and why?!?!

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Ashly answers by noting her role model is former Miss Nebraska local titleholder Chrissy Townsend. (Click here to learn more about Chrissy!)

“My grandparents were Chrissy’s host family during her pageant week in North Platte and for several summers I stayed there with her during that week,” said Ashly.  “She really showed me how cool it was to be on stage, I always enjoyed getting to watch her do her favorite thing.  She truly paved the way for my own pageants because she gave me a great example of how to be happy with whatever the outcome may be.  I always admired the girls in that spotlight; I admired their grace, pose and confidence in front of all of those people, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that myself.”

Despite multiple surgeries on her Achilles tendon, Ashly decided this, her last eligible year to compete, she would try to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She revisited the piano, an instrument she played for years as a little girl, and won a local title last fall.

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“I would tell someone who criticizes pageants that the girls who compete in them are not just focused on their appearance,” said Ashly.  “Pageant girls are driven and compassionate, and they are more than ready to help anyone else out before themselves.  They all have goals set for themselves and they are ready to do all the work that goes into reaching that goal.”

And THEN some, like in Ashly’s case.  Since earning that crown in late October, Ashly has volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army, helped blind and visually impaired shoppers over the holidays, and just this weekend, took a VERY chilly plunge into Cunningham Lake for the Special Olympics.

At work (Omaha’s Vintage Financial Group), Ashly has earned the nickname ‘Miss America’ from firm President and Millard School Board member Pat Ricketts.  Easy to see why with the sheer amount of self-lessness, talent and ambition this young lady has.

HOCKEY

What’s even cooler to me is WHY Ashly wants all of this.. for her cousins, her West friends, and kids she’s never met, like Macy.

“I want to be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to spread my message of my platform all around the state.  I am so excited to be part of a team with some of my favorite people,” said Ashly.  “I want to be someone that is a good role model for all teens, and someone who can be trusted with anything.  I am very dedicated to the things that I commit to, and competing in this pageant is another step for me to get closer to reaching my goal of being confident in any situation.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE,FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters!

NEXT.. Special Feature, Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins!

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!