Tag Archive | maya angelou

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

Me, Myself and I

Disclaimer – I am fully aware of how NERDY the following sentences will sound.

Guys, last night I did something I haven’t done in YEARS – AND IT WAS AWESOME.

After spending the last few seasons stepping up to the plate, awkwardly chucking the bat forward, and dinging a ball back to the pitcher, last night I gracefully swung, connected and propelled that beautiful neon softball over the heads of the outfielders, running to catch up.

It was glorious.

I used to be good. I used to connect. I used to be FAST. 30 pounds and 20 years later, I am slow. I second-guess myself. I don’t know what happened to my coordination. My self-esteem has plummeted along with my batting average.

WHY?!?! It’s slow-pitch, co-ed softball for crying out loud.

Because I DON’T FAIL. If I do something, I want to KICK ASS at it. I want to dominate. Last night, after two at bats and two line drive hits, I felt like I had re-discovered a long lost figment of my formerself.. and I felt like I could fly.

It was a high I really needed. I feel like I’m riding a never-ending roller coaster, battling with my weight, my age, what I want to be as a wife and mother, and all of my other self-imposed goals that seem so far out of reach. For one brief hour, I felt like: ‘I’M AWESOME’.

I think we, as women, constantly compete with ourselves and the inner voices that say ‘you SHOULD be THIS.’ It’s a battle that, at just 20-years old, a Doane University student is aware off, and tries to use to her advantage rather than detriment.

Allison Baird - Miss Star City

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Maya Angelou said that, ‘success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it’,” said Allison Baird. “I am in competition with no one but myself, and if at the end of the day I like who I am and what I do in all areas, whether it be scholarship, service or style, than I have been successful.”

A mature outlook from a woman just starting to discover her adult-self and what she’s capable of. She credits a passion for telling stories, embracing each person’s background and motivation. Often, she channels that through theatre, as a Doane University student on scholarship for the arts.

“I get to play characters all the time,” said Allison. “Some who are similar to me and some who are nothing like me, but still none of them are me. This experience allows me to fully and completely be Allison. In theatre, we call it character work when we research a character that we’re going to play. This allows us to play that character with the utmost amount of truth and integrity. Now, the Miss Nebraska program is helping me to do my ‘character work’ on myself.”

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Allison was crowned Miss Star City 2018 in January, a return to a program she’d competed in for several years as a teenager from Gering, finishing 1st Runner Up twice at the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant.

“I competed as a Miss, won my first local, and made Top 5 at state,” said Allison. “I was thrilled. I took a year off and decided to come back this year because I finally know my why. I became passionate about something, and knew and felt called to compete again.”

Allison found power and inspiration through children. I’ve seen it firsthand in her interactions with my own two boys; this girl instantly relates to kids through their innate creativity, curiosity and positivity.

“My platform is ‘Little But Fierce’, which not only advocates for fine arts education in schools, but also helps kiddos of all ages find their voices through fine arts curriculum,” said Allison. “I have had the opportunity to speak to our state’s representatives about funding and goals, but I have also had the pleasure of visiting surrounding schools and doing workshops with after school programs and classrooms. My goal is to encourage children to be the star of their show. To stand up for what they believe in and discover the voice within that might be little, but it is fierce. Confidence. Character. Compassion. The arts can teach kids those skills, and can translate to all areas of their education and beyond.”

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Allison is sharing that message not only through her words, but through her actions, as both a performer and a public servant, volunteering throughout her college community, her hometown, and abroad.

“You want to see change? I’ve seen girls with a crown do more for their communities in one year than many politicians do in their entire term,” said Allison. “We are dedicated, service-oriented, and committed to making the world around us a better place.”

 

 

And Allison considers many of her fellow titleholders, past and present, her closest allies and sources of inspiration.

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“My favorite moment was actually after crowning! I had decided pretty late int he game that I was going to compete for Miss Star City, so my family and friends weren’t able to come watch,” said Allison. “Seeing that I was a ‘loner’, former Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell, her roommate Megan, and current Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen crowded over me for a picture. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and it was a reminder of the sisterhood this organization instills. Some of the most inspiring, supportive, encouraging ladies are there to step in as your ‘family’ and share in your victories.”

Which reminds me of softball. When I ran into the dugout after my first and then second hit, I was greeted by high five after high five from my teammates who are also among my closest friends. They were genuinely thrilled, I felt, not for the fact that we got a run or two out of the deal, but that I had FINALLY remembered how to bat. How to succeed. How to smile and enjoy WHY we still play all these years later.

It’s just softball. But for a few shining moments, I felt like the BEST version of myself. When so often these days I question what I look like, what I say, how I act, what I do… it was nice to feel GREAT.

That is what this program does for so many young women – it helps them focus on the best parts of themselves, to empower others, to showcase what they love.. and to be rewarded for that with smiles, encouragement, and some really nice prizes and scholarships to boot. It’s not just a pageant.. it’s a way to provide these incredible people with countless opportunities for greatness.

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Allison Baird will tell you she wants to win this competition next month. But she’ll also tell you she sees and understands the bigger, more important contest… with herself. Winning the game isn’t about how far you hit the ball, it’s figuring out WHY it felt so damn good, and how to channel that every day off the field.

“I’m working to better myself everyday,” said Allison. “I’m always working toward growth, and if I like who I am, what I wear, and what I say on the Miss Nebraska stage, that’s a victory for me. I’m staying true to Allison this year. No need to be anyone but her.”

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To follow Miss Star City Allison Baird, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Standing Tall

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Just Add Glitter

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

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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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers Hayden Richardson

NEXT.. Miss Sandhills Regan Kolbo

Good Work

So I’ve mentioned I want to write a book..

So very many of the stories I’ve covered are inspiring, emotional and powerful… often because they reflect something incredibly positive, born out of something terrible and tragic.

January 5, 2011.  I was 8 months pregnant, sluggish and FOREVER late.  That day I was running behind as usual, hoping to stop at Subway on my way to work.  I was at the stoplight at 144th and Q and one, then two, then three Omaha Police cruisers flew past me with lights and sirens blaring.  I called the KETV assignment desk to let them know something was going on, and my managing editor, Jim Reding, responded, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a shooting at Millard South, we need you here right away.’

I immediately turned my car around and sped to KETV as quickly as I could.  Within minutes, I was on the anchor desk and on air, sharing what we knew with our viewers. A young man had walked into the front office and opened fire, shooting two principals.  One of them was dead, another was critically hurt.  The teenager drove a few miles away, then shot and killed himself.

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Millard South student Kyler Erickson heard and saw it all.  He hid in a bathroom, called 911, and waited.  No one should be witness to a nightmare like this; Kyler was as a teenager.  Still, he refused to let that horror take him down, despite the nightmares and grief that followed.  With therapy and sheer inner strength, Kyler healed emotionally and grew physically, attending the University of Nebraska Omaha to play Division 1 Basketball.  He began to share his story, meeting with everyone from veterans suffering from PTSD to other students.  This year, Kyler was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team, recognized at the 2016 Final Four tournament, one of only five student athletes nationwide.  This dude is simply AWESOME.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Kyler’s incredible journey from KETV’s Matt Lothrop.

Kyler’s loved ones are among those most proud of this young man, including his longtime friends from Millard South…

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..friends who were there in full force at Kyler’s final game with UNO.  The girl in the beige and black sweater is LaRissa McKean.

“He’s so inspiring,” LaRissa told me recently.  She too was at Millard South that day, in AP Economics class.  And much like her friend Kyler, she’s devoted much of her time and focus on simply trying to make the world a better place.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The best compliment I received was from a sorority sister.  She anonymously left me a note saying ‘you make people feel good about themselves,'” said LaRissa.  “That statement is what motivates me daily to make an impact on someone’s life.”

I first met LaRissa last summer at the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she left her mark on most, if not all of the audience and her fellow contestants.  This girl is SHEER JOY.. she lights up a room with her smile and personality, and radiates energy and glee the second she steps on stage. LaRissa was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.

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That beautiful smile shows LaRissa’s inner spirit… but so does THIS.

Hilarious.  Carefree.  So many women in pageants, business and LIFE are afraid to let their guard down, so afraid of what people will think about them.  LaRissa knows who she is and OWNS it.  You can just tell she LOVES life, and everyone around her smiles and lets THEIR guard down because of it.

LaRissa will compete at Miss Nebraska again this year as Miss Gering 2016.  Her personal platform of service is called ‘Feel The Difference: Empowerment Through Communication.’

“[It’s] based on Maya Angelou’s quote, ‘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.’  I will leave a legacy where I make people feel inspired and willing to take the act of listening through conversation to better the lives around them.”

LaRissa has all kinds of opportunities to communicate.. the girl is surrounded by people CONSTANTLY.  A University of Kansas graduate specialized in Accounting and Human Resources, LaRissa currently works three jobs; she’s a Head Instructor of summer high school/college dance camps with Universal Dance Association, she’s a full-time educator with Lululemon, and she’s a substitute paraprofessional in the district where she grew up, Millard Public Schools.  She volunteers every week with local 4th graders, helping them catch up on homework and answering questions.  LaRissa also takes part frequently at charity events, doing what she can to help as Miss Gering.

THEN.. there’s dance, a constant in LaRissa’s life for many years.

“I have judged the State Dance Competition for the last three years along with other local high school competitions and college regional competitions for the NAIA Nationals,” said LaRissa, who learned at and competed with Kitty Lee Dance, a place she still practices and volunteers.  “One of my biggest role models was Miss Kitty.  Not only did she instill my love for dance, she taught me to be stronger and never think you can’t improve.  She raised me in the studio and I can’t thank her enough for whacking my leg with a ruler to get my knees straight.  She was the first one to correct me in every dance class but also the first to congratulate me on a performance well done.  Even with her gone, I know she is watching every class and performance, smiling that her passion lives inside of me.”

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Talent is LaRissa’s favorite part of the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she plans to combine her love of comedy and dance to present a musical theater piece with ‘an element of surprise’ this year.

“Not only does [talent] set our system apart from others, it is truly beautiful to see all the contestants show their art to the world,” said LaRissa.  “I love watching the contestants light up the floor with their interests and show a piece of themselves to everyone.  The emotion that can be portrayed in 90 seconds gives me goosebumps and really shows the uniqueness of every competitor.”

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That’s one of the things LaRissa hopes to share with pageant naysayers.. to learn more about the women who take part before forming an opinion.

“I remember going to pageants as a young girl and telling my mom I couldn’t wait to be as pretty or as talented as the women that compete for Miss Nebraska,” said LaRissa.  “The majority of people who compete are varsity athletes in their schools, Honor Roll recipients, and leaders in their community.  They are some of the most respected people and receive more credit for being mentors to people all across the nation.”

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LaRissa adds that every woman she knows who’s taken part in this system has made a difference in someone’s life.. and that she became a leader because of it.  She describes the title of Miss Nebraska as a job she’s applying for that could give her a year of memories she can only imagine.  BUT.. in the swirl of glamour and costumes and performances, LaRissa hasn’t lost focus of her values and priorities; her family, including grandparents Pampy and Nana who she spends several hours with every week.  Education, through both mentoring students and planning ahead to obtain a Masters Degree.  Love, and her love of people.. simply spending time with those who matter most, friends like Kyler Erickson.

No one would have faulted Kyler for never talking about that day again, for withdrawing from everything to process what happened, for moving thousands of miles away from Omaha to escape everything and start fresh.  Instead, this guy confronted his demons, defeated them, then stayed and shared his journey to help others still battling.  LaRissa McKean’s story doesn’t stem from tragedy and horror but is inspiring nonetheless.. a young woman using her gifts and positive attitude to simply do good work in our world.

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Photo courtesy  Loren C Winkler Images

“At the end of the day, I look in the mirror, washing off my makeup and think it would be amazing to be Miss Nebraska 2016, but I would rather be known as LaRissa who became Miss Nebraska because of the person I am,” said LaRissa.  “I’m an honest person, who gives my opinion respectively.  I won’t change my values or morals because of a title, I will continue to grow and live a life I treasure.  At the end of the day, I will still be LaRissa McKean forever.”

I think they call this perspective.  Maybe it’s what she saw Kyler go through.  Maybe it’s been the lesser challenges she, like the rest of us, go through.  No matter where the drive comes from.. imagine what life could be like if we all strived to do good work to help each other, and in turn, found peace and joy within ourselves.

Kyler Erickson is available to speak at events; CLICK HERE for details and to learn more about his story.

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Click on each link below to follow Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean

on FACEBOOK and on INSTAGRAM.  You an also email LaRissa for appearances and events at larissamckean@gmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LaRISSA?

2015 * Sleepless Beauty

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

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shaniah Freeseman!

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!