Tag Archive | Kamie Stephen Photography

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

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Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

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“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

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Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

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To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

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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 Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Yellow

Yellow is the perceived color of sunshine. It is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Have you guys ever seen the Lego Batman movie? That part when Alfred tells him he has to go to Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party, and Batman just doesn’t want to?

Yeah. Click that. Because that’s how I feel about saying goodbye to our Yellow, our sunshine, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long.

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When you are around a person like this, do you just KNOW they are destined to be something amazing? Carsyn Long is a young woman who isn’t just good at everything she does, SHE IS OUTSTANDING.

Carsyn has won state championships and other honors in DECA, competitive speech, and theater. She is a gifted singer, performing for the Harlem Globetrotters and winning the Overall Talent Award at last year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition. She is confident and well-spoken, nailing live TV interviews repeatedly in the last two years. She is a woman of faith, a strong advocate for her church youth group in her hometown of Gering. She is SMART, winning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama, in part because of her Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen resume. And she is kind, voted Homecoming Queen by her peers, a woman with a proven servant’s heart at just 18 years old.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program was created for women like Carsyn Long. She’ll pass on that title tonight, crowning a new state titleholder in Omaha.

“As I’m preparing to give up my MNEOTeen title, it’s pretty bittersweet,” Carsyn told me. “This has been such an emotional, humbling, and gratifying year that I am dreading to see come to an end. Honestly, I wish I could be MNEOTeen forever! Of course, I am so read for the college experience (Roll Tide) and to start my adult life, but it’s still so hard to say goodbye to something that has consumed my life (in all the best ways) for an entire year.”

When Carsyn was crowned one year ago, she was closing out her junior year of high school. Immediately, still focusing on finals and state championships, she also turned her attention to preparing to represent our state at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition in Orlando, Florida.

I’m gonna be completely blunt here for a second. I was CONVINCED Carsyn was going to be Nebraska’s first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. I remember texting her director, Heather Edwards, absolutely sure Carsyn was going to win.

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Photo courtesy PG Photography

“One thing I remember so vividly (and I pray I never forget this moment), was the very first night of prelims,” said Carsyn. “We marched through the auditorium aisles with our state flags. The music was blaring and the screams of the audience were just deafening. I got to my spot on stage and I saw the big Husker N’s in the audience and could hear my family cheering for me. It took everything I had to not start bawling. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is real life. This is happening. I’m the girl from Nebraska who gets to experience this.’ It was very surreal and so emotional. I was so in awe and so grateful that I was the girl that got to stand on this stage. I felt so humbled, because I knew how many people would have loved to be in my shoes that at moment.”

Carsyn did not take the national crown, but she did take away several incredible friendships.

“I literally talk to Autumn Arsenault from Tennessee everyday, she’s one of my best friends,” said Carsyn. “Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen, Holly Brand, is my college roomie. I love her to death; we really hit it off in Orlando and we’re now forever best friends.”

Carsyn also came home with a resolve to make the absolute most out of the title she had already earned, our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. She threw out the ceremonial first picture for the Omaha Storm Chasers. She was a featured performer for WOWT-Omaha’s live fundraising telethon, and at the annual Crowns & Gowns weekend in North Platte. She’s emceed local pageants across the state throughout the year, and volunteered her time at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. Carsyn will also be part of the Annual Cattleman’s Ball in June. She has also distributed her Blessing Bags to children across the state, reminding them they are loved and valued.

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“I have done a TON of traveling this year,” said Carsyn. “A lot of my events were somewhere like North Platte or Omaha, which can be quite a drive since I am from western Nebraska, basically Wyoming! Most of my appearances, I drove by myself. It hasn’t been easy juggling everything this year, especially my senior year. I have had to sacrifice a lot in order to make it work, but it has all paid off. It was really imperative that I knew which things were most important.”

“I had been feeling really stuck when thinking about life after handing down my title,” said Carsyn. “Obviously, I’d go to college and what not, but I had been wondering, ‘how am I going to continue making my mark?’ But I’ve realized because of this program, being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and my drive to succeed, I am so capable and equipped with everything I need to continue moving mountains.”

And by being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Carsyn was eligible for a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama. She found out over Christmas break that the she was accepted, and that every dollar of her higher education, an estimated $115,000, would be paid for.

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“In August, I’ll be heading to Alabama to pursue a degree in news media,” said Carsyn. “I’m planning on rushing a sorority to be really involved on campus and meet so many new girls. I’d like to get involved in theatre and performance down south a well. But there’s a lot of things I’m just kind of going with the flow with and knowing that God will provide. I couldn’t be more excited to start this new adventure.”

Will that adventure bring her back to Nebraska someday, to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska?

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I guess people will just have to wait and see… :),” said Carsyn. “Haha, yes, I plan on competing for Miss Nebraska… or Alabama? Most likely Nebraska because I’ll always be a Husker, even if I do come back with a Southern accent.”

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To the 19 young women competing to follow in Carsyn’s footsteps, and to everyone learning more about the program that has been such an important part of her life, Carsyn has a message.

“I wish you could meet 14-year old Carsyn, compared to Carsyn now,” she said. “I not NOT exaggerating when I say that this program has completely transformed me into a different young woman – in the best ways possible. I can no excel in interview for a job or scholarship without hesitation. I take the health and wellness of my body very seriously and have more knowledge of how to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. I know that God has provided me with a voice that I have no problem in utilizing and performing with. I can be proof of the idea that even though you are young, you can accomplish amazing things.”

“My year has been all about small moments,” said Carsyn. “You make the biggest impact in the smallest moments. People aren’t going to remember what songs I sang at Crowns and Gowns or what I wore at Miss Nebraska week, but they remember how I presented myself and how I made them feel included in my journey. That is something that has been really important to me this year and I plan on continuing that legacy no matter where I go.”

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“I knew this was something that God made me for and boy, did He use me this year,” said Carsyn. “This may feel like the end, but it really is the beginning of the rest of my life. I will never take for granted the year I had as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. I have been so inspired and motivated by Nebraska communities and I couldn’t be more appreciative. I can’t believe this is it. I can’t believe I was the girl that got to experience this amazing year. I am forever thankful to be Nebraska’s girl.”

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Carsyn, you are our Yellow. You are joy, happiness, intellect, and energy personified.

You will forever be our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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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.

To learn more about all of the 2018 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, click here.

Persistence

I’m biased, but my son is BRILLIANT. OK, I’m exaggerating, but actually, not by much.. at just 7 years old, he’s already reading at a grade level several higher than his own, he LOVES math and science, and I’m convinced he has a photographic memory. Many aspects of learning come easy to him… so he gets frustrated when something presents a challenge he can’t master on his first attempt. It’s a lesson my husband is always helping him learn, that sometimes, we have to try a little harder and it makes success that much sweeter.

We saw proof of that the other night.. playing a video game at home. Easton FINALLY beat a ‘boss’ that he’d been working on for days, persistently working through the same level over and over again. ‘YEEESSSSSSS!’ he shouted, a huge smile on his tiny face, and he quickly turned around to make sure Brian was watching. We were 🙂

Flashback 16 years to an auditorium in Kearney. Tina Foehlinger stood on that stage, and FINALLY heard her name called as the winner of the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant. In the months leading up to that moment, she had competed in SIX locals, finishing first runner up SIX DIFFERENT TIMES. She never quit.

Neither did Courtney Pelland.

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Courtney has traveled Nebraska since last summer, hoping to win a local title and advance to the Miss Nebraska Pageant this summer. Time after time, she was named a finalist, leading to one last attempt in February.

“I was competing in my hometown, North Platte,” Courtney told me. “When my name was called, the crowd went wild. Being crowned in my hometown was an honor, and to have so many supporters there made my crowning 10 times more special.”

 

 

Courtney has dreamed of becoming Miss Nebraska for nearly a decade now, when she was a Little Sister to then Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers. With Courtney at her side, Brittany went on to win Miss Nebraska and become our state’s first Top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant in 25 years. (Click here for photos!)

“I knew competing in pageants would help build my confidence, develop my interview skills, help pay for college, and build amazing friendships,” said Courtney. “I can proudly say I have friends across Nebraska and it is truly amazing how we inspire one another.”

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This is Courtney’s third year competing for a state title, first as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, then Miss Fur Trade Days, and now, as Miss Nebraska State Fair. She’s used each title to advocate for a cause very personal for her: blood donation. Courtney has Celiac Disease, the latest in a series of diagnoses her sophomore year of high school that sent her to the hospital and in dire need of blood.

“My favorite part of being a titleholder has been touching the lives of kids, teens and adults with my personal story, and by simply listening what they have to say,” said Courtney. “I love telling them about the importance of blood donation and how someone save my life because of their donations.”

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Courtney has also helped organize blood drives, spoken to media and spread awareness in both North Platte and Fremont, where she attends college. Her goal is to collect 200 pledges by June 1st, no small goal considering she is also a full-time Midland University student, education funded in part due to the $60,000 in scholarships she received from Midland at last year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“My career goal is to become a Labor and Delivery Nurse. I love children and babies!” said Courtney. “I may want to work in Children’s Hospital & Medical Center one day. Being a part of the Miss Nebraska Organization has inspired me; I’ve been raising money for them for four years, so why not continue giving back to them when I’m a nurse!”

That smile and passion for life are present everywhere this young woman goes, whether it to be a classroom, a donation site, or to a performance with the award-winning Midland Warriors Dance Team (yeah, Courtney dances, too.)

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“My role model is my dance coach, Katie Speicher,” said Courtney. “She came into a team that had just won the NAIA National Championships for 2017, moving from California to Nebraska just to coach a team like us. She has had her battles throughout the year but has overcome them. I am so proud of her for everything she has accomplished and she is someone I truly look up to.”

Now, Courtney is cementing that legacy for herself. She’s building a reputation as a strong woman who never gives up, just like Tina Foehlinger did 17 years ago.

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Photo courtesy Ben Fogletto for Press of Atlantic City

Just months after Tina FINALLY won a local title, she was crowned Miss Nebraska 2001 and then a Top 20 semi-finalist at the Miss America Pageant on national TV.

Colin Powell once said, ‘success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.’ Courtney Pelland is hoping to find the meaning of that message early this summer.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

“Success to me is when you achieve your personal dreams and goals,” said Courtney. “Of course, I would love to win, but in all I want to walk away with a whole new group of best friends through an amazing organization. I would love to make Top 8; I’ve been working really hard and I hope I can achieve that.”

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To follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * College Ready

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

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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 Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak

NEXT.. Miss Twin River’s Outstanding Teen Rachel Young

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Often times when I encourage a young woman to try the Miss Nebraska Organization, I get the same questions. “Do I need a coach?” “Do I have to spend a bunch of money for a new dress and clothes?” “But what if I’ve never done a pageant before?”

Maybe I should just attach this photo to my ‘auto-reply’.

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October 2000. I received a flyer in the mail with information about the Miss Omaha Pageant. I had grown up IN AWE of the Miss America Pageant on TV; I even staged my own pageant with my friends for my 13th birthday party. I loved to sing on stage and welcomed the opportunity to do that one more time since my high school performance days were done.

That was the end of my pageant knowledge or background. I went to Mall of the Bluffs with my friend Shawna a few days before to buy my talent outfit off a clearance rack, and my friend Suzanne came to my dorm room at UNL to slap together some choreography for a song. I wore the swimsuit I actually swam in. My evening gown was the prom dress I had worn two years earlier in high school. I did my own hair and makeup… with the little makeup and hairspray I had. THANK GOODNESS my Little Sister and now dear friend Kelsey was ADORABLE and clearly stole the show!

God, it turns out, has a plan for everything.. and for whatever reason told those six judges at Westside High School that I would be a good representative of Douglas County; I won a local title and a ticket to compete at the 2001 Miss Nebraska Pageant. I had NO CLUE what I was doing.

Thankfully, this program past and present is made up of incredible former titleholders who are happy to help guide the ‘newbies’ and share their insight into this wonderful, and at times, overwhelming world. Within a few weeks, I was introduced to Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith.

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Becky was an Omaha-area girl like me, crowned Miss Nebraska at just 20 years old. By the time I became Miss Douglas County in 2001, Becky had returned to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to pursue Fine Arts degree in Dance. Word must have spread that the newest member of the Miss Omaha family was a HOT MESS..

Miss Congeniality

.. because within a few weeks, I had an invitation to meet with Becky at Chi Omega, right next door to my dorm on UNL’s campus. She welcomed me to her sorority house with a warm smile and engaging personality, giggling with and not at me as she showed me how to walk in heels and not clomp around on stage like a hippo meandering through the savannah. (Really, guys, it was BAD.) She was just SO COOL, and made ME feel cool because I got to be around her.

Becky was a natural teacher, just one year later opening The Dance Factory in Miss Nebraska’s home base of North Platte. Her studio became a staple in town, so popular over the years, that Becky later opened a second location in Ogallala. I would argue one of the biggest reasons to enroll a child here, would be so they can work with Becky herself.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Yes, Becky looks EXACTLY THE SAME as she did 18 years ago. Same sparkle in her smile, same passion for dance, same energy for life and everyone around her. People turn to Becky because they want to BE like Becky.

Her daughter, Gabriella, is no different.. and she’s ready to follow in her mom’s footsteps.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have been watching pageants for years and always wanted to try,” Gabriella told me recently. “My goal is to feel successful after everything is over. I want to feel that I did a great job and made an impact.”

Gabriella, a 15-year old student at North Platte High School, was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen last fall.

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She, too, is a gifted dancer, practicing her craft at home and at The Dance Factory from a very early age. As her mom continued to volunteer with the Miss Nebraska Organization over the years, Gabriella saw an opportunity to both perform and to serve.

“Community service [is my favorite part]. I love visiting kids and helping others,” said Gabriella. “It makes me so happy to meet all of them and teach them about my platform, ‘Someone Is Your Type’. It’s all about blood donation so no matter your race, your blood type or your gender, you can donate blood that will save someone’s life. To promote my platform, I visit kids and educate them about blood donation and the importance of giving.”

 

 

Gabriella, who wants to someday be an anesthesiologist, notes her gratitude to be able to share a message she is passionate about. She’s also grateful for and aware of the connections she’s making, whether it be through dance, school, or with other teens from across the state who will compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“My favorite moment has been meeting all of the girls in the competition,” said Gabriella. “It’s so great to meet people who are just as motivated as you and who make you feel encouraged to persevere.”

Ultimately, those are the qualities that drive Gabriella Wagner. Even at 15, she is a young woman who values success and pushes for it in every aspect of her life. When asked about her female role models, she references Taylor Swift and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Morgan Holen, noting how they’ve inspired her by taking advantages of opportunities as young women with innovation, creativity and passion.

“You can do so many things, but if you don’t feel successful after completing them, you didn’t do it right,” said Gabriella. “Success to me means that you met your personal goals and you feel good about doing so.”

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This photo shows Gabriella with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith Wagner, and Morgan Holen with her mom, Miss Nebraska 1988 Jodi Miller Holen. Becky, Morgan and Jodi are all INCREDIBLY inspiring women to me. They are hard working. They are caring and kind. They are dynamic. They endlessly give of themselves. They are friends to everyone they meet.

Gabriella hopes to be just like them.. for reasons that extend far beyond a crown.

“I come from a pageant involved family and I really enjoy being a part of it,” said Gabriella. “However, I chose this path because I love it and I want to make a difference in the world.”

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

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To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner on Facebook, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird

NEXT.. Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis