Tag Archive | megan swanson

Finding Balance

It’s a vicious cycle.

I desperately want the candy. Just one taste turns into a handful, then some crackers, then FORGET MY DIET, I’LL START OVER TOMORROW. Then I see those photos.. of others looking fabulous, and of myself… not so much. Maybe it’s karma. I was barely 110 my senior year of high school – couldn’t even donate blood because I didn’t weigh enough – and that was visiting McD’s every day after school for a shake and fries. Calories had no effect on me.

The changes came gradually… crazy work schedules, shifts in metabolism, two babies, and career changes… and all of the sudden I weigh more than I did after my first maternity leave, and I can’t say no to the candy.

I’m trying to focus on LIFESTYLE changes and not short-term diets. Healthier choices. Now when my sweet tooth takes hold and won’t loosen its grip, I reach for the Halo Top instead of my kids’ Drumsticks.

This is one of the things I love about the Miss Nebraska program. (‘Woah, Petersen, that was a leap! Where you going with this?’) No, really, hear me out – the young women who compete in our program are learning BALANCE. Yes, they have a set date and goal, fast approaching in less than 2 weeks, but so many of these girls are learning the science behind health and nutrition. They are NOT starving themselves to get skinny – they are fueling their bodies to become STRONG. The lessons they take from this year or several help shape how many of them balance their choices for years after.

Case in point: the current Miss Omaha, a former collegiate athlete who owns her own personal training business.

Untitled copy 3

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Yup. A beauty who could beat you up. (Not that she ever would.)

“I have been an athlete my whole life, and I am a competitor at heart,” Allie Swanson told me recently. “I love pushing myself to the limit in all areas of my life.”

In Allie’s case, that balance I referred to all equates to being extremely well-rounded; she’s also a Cum Laude graduate and All-American scholar, a talented vocalist chosen to sing at this year’s College World Series, and a driven public servant with clear missions she hopes to achieve as the next Miss Nebraska.

“I decided to try the Miss Nebraska pageant because I new it could be a great vessel to enact the type of change I want to see in the state of Nebraska,” said Allie. “I have seen so much growth in my personal life even just preparing for Miss Omaha and now preparing for Miss Nebraska. I am combining all of my favorite things – promoting digital literacy, service, music, public speaking, style, and confidence, among other things.”

Oh, where to begin?

Untitled copy 8

How about October, when Allie was crowned Miss Omaha 2018. In the audience, cheering on her every move was her big sister, Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson. Allie, too, was a constant supporter for her sister when she competed, but she draws her inspiration from powerful women like US Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Nebraska Governor Kay Orr, and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. Allie is a woman who knows her leaders, noting 13 of Nebraska’s State Senators are women.

 

 

“My goal is to impact 20,000 lives this year, and I understand that this is no small feat,” said Allie. “I have gotten to speak to students, sports teams, educators, parents and government officials about my platform, and that alone makes this job so worth it. Being a titleholder has gotten me in the door to places that normal ‘Allie’ wouldn’t have, and because of this I have been able to spread my message of CyberSmartz to people of all ages and backgrounds.”

That’s how Allie Swanson hopes to make her mark, by helping as many people as possible protect themselves in a digital world. She visits school assemblies and other groups with some scary statistics:

  • 97% of American children under the age of four use mobile devices, regardless of family income.
  • The average teenager spends 72 hours PER WEEK using media, but only 38.5 MINUTES per week participating in face-to-face, meaningful conversation with their parents.
  • The average US parent says they do not fully understand today’s most popular ‘apps’ or the extent of content their children are using on digital media platforms.

Untitled copy 18

“As Program Coordinator for Smart Girl Society, a non-profit based in Omaha, I have seen firsthand the need in Nebraska and across the country for this message,” said Allie. “The biggest issue facing all generations, all states, and beyond is the technology crisis. People are addicted to technology, losing the ability to have face-to-face conversations with people, unaware of the effects of their digital footprints, and oversharing online. We can start by raising awareness and educating people on proper privacy and safety settings, as well as techniques to take back control.”

As Allie noted, she may be attracting more and bigger audiences because of her ‘Miss Omaha’ status.. but her run at Miss Nebraska could also directly benefit her mission with CyberSmartz, through scholarships financing her higher education and career plans. At this year’s Miss Nebraska competition, we are offering $70,000 in cash scholarships, gifts and services, and an additional $1.4 million, MILLION, in in-kind college scholarships. Miss Nebraska 2018 will receive at least $10,000 in cash to pay for her college education.

Untitled copy 16

“This Miss America program will allow me to obtain a Masters of Media Communication and Psychology, in the hopes of one day studying at the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab,” said Allie. “I plan to continue working at Smart Girl Society, but move up in position, and I hope to eventually take over as CEO to continue to spread the message of digital literacy and safety.”

Here’s a young woman who could do, and IS doing, EVERYTHING. Speaking, singing, and scoring points with fans everywhere she goes…

Final Allie

…literally and figuratively. I look to women like Allie, MANY years my junior, and am inspired by all they are, all they hope to be, and the BALANCE they have discovered and are honing at such young ages.

Start somewhere. Find your October. Tonight, I said no to the candy and reached for the Halo Top.

Allie Swanson is reaching, too… for the VERY top, and no less.

Untitled copy 12

“I am thankful that my family encouraged me to pursue a variety of interests, extracurricular activities, and to get out of my comfort zone to learn about the world and myself,” said Allie. “With core values of hard work, integrity, responsibility and truth, I aspire to be a woman of great influence, and my background gives me the support to be the change I want to see in this world. I was and still m the girl who wants to do it all.”

***

To follow Miss Omaha Allie Swanson, click here.

***

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 Sandhills Regan Kolbo

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory

It’s A Small World After All

There are 7.4 billion people in the world.  319 million of those live in the United States, and about 1.8 million live in Nebraska.  Any given day, you could come across any number of strangers… or you could bump into familiar faces in the strangest of places.  Last year as my husband and I were traveling to Cancun, we randomly bumped into his cousin at the airport.. a cousin who lives in California.  Then while we were at the resort, 2700 miles away, we literally ran into our good friend, Megan.  Of all the hotels in all the vacation destinations around the world, we chose the exact same spot at the exact same time.  There is some truth to the saying ‘it’s a small world after all.’  So perhaps I shouldn’t have been as surprised to hear, the first time I met the new Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen, “I think you know one of my teachers..”

Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

Alex Nervig is a proud Millard North Mustang, the high school where my husband has been an assistant baseball coach for 11 years.  Turns out, head coach Dave Cork is one of her teachers this year. Of all the schools and all the teachers in the Omaha metro…

but Millard is getting accustomed to having ‘pageant girls’ walk their halls.  Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson and Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters are both Millard Public Schools grads.  Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean and Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend are Millard South alums, and Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich studied at Millard West as she prepared for state competition.

“I decided to compete for my local title because I know a lot of people who have competed in this system and have absolutely loved it!” Alex told me.  “This is also my last eligible year to compete in the teen pageant so I decided even if I don’t win, it will still be a really fun experience.”

Alex crowning

But she did win, and hit the ground running through every door that opened up for her.  Alex has since been spotted volunteering for the Salvation Army, taking part in fundraisers for Children’s Miracle Network and spreading some Irish goodwill in Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“My goal is to enjoy the journey and make the most of it,” said Alex.  “I have met so many new friends and I have gained multiple opportunities that I never thought I would have.  I am so excited to see what the rest of the year holds for me!”

A year that was already jam-packed with performances and competitions; Alex is a member of the World Champion Stepperettes Baton Team, and she’s part of the state-finalist Mustang Varsity Cheer Squad.

Through cheer, Alex became part of the Sparkles program, partnering cheerleaders at several Omaha area high schools with students who have special needs.  The Sparkles held their first annual showcase this winter, and they volunteered at the Annual Rock and Roll for Disabilities in Omaha.  Friendships have always been integral to Alex, and she’s dedicated her year of service to the special relationships she’s formed through Sparkles.

Click here to read more about the Sparkles 1st Annual Showcase in the Omaha World Herald!

“My platform is called ‘We Are One’ and it promotes the equal treatment of people with special needs,” said Alex. “I chose this as my platform because throughout my years of school I have seen students with special needs get bullied and I want to see it come to an end.”

Flashback to October.. and telling Coach Cork that once again, a Millard girl was our newest titleholder in the Miss Nebraska system.  I heard then how kind Alex Nervig was to everyone around her, and how involved she was in the community. She didn’t transform into an outstanding teenager when she put on a crown; those qualities were already there.  That crown, and the 17 others worn by teens across Nebraska, simply highlight the extraordinary things they would be doing with or without their titles.

Alex and girls

“So far, my favorite part has been meeting the other local titleholders and becoming friends with them,” said Alex.  “I would really like people to know that pageants are not all about wearing pretty dresses and wearing a crown.  The crown gives us an opportunity to spread the message of our platform and make a positive change in society.”

Our connections to each other around the world are simply incredible.  It’s the Kevin Bacon effect.. someone knows someone who knows someone.  When those stories are exchanged, when we connect the dots as to how we all relate to each other, how will everyone describe you?  Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Alex Nervig hopes to stand out as a funny, talking, outgoing young lady who made a difference in this world.

Alex C&G

“I want people to know that your success is determined by your definition of success, not someone else’s,” said Alex.  ” As long as you accomplish your goals, you can call yourself a winner.”

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig or to get more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant! You can also email Director Kelsey Ellis at omahadouglascountyot@gmail.com.

***

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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

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!

We Are Nebraska

Who is Miss Nebraska?

I’m not just asking who is the current Miss Nebraska, but who is this person who travels the state wearing a crown and sash?  Who is the woman who goes on TV every year and represents all of us at Miss America?  Is there even one all encompassing definition of this person we call Miss Nebraska?

Click here and see the incredible compilation of Miss Nebraskas through the years.

11115604_1653412431557344_4936109219168280380_n

Miss Nebraska 1962 Mary Lee Jepsen was the first to crack the Top 10 at Miss America, twirling three fire batons; she went on to earn four college degrees, two of them Masters’ and one of them a Post-Masters, focusing on psychology and family counseling.

11181839_1653413228223931_5902289115002516787_n

Miss Nebraska 2002 Krista Knicely survived a horrific attack and assault before she was crowned; she used her time as Miss Douglas County and then Miss Nebraska to bravely share her story and inspire other victims of sexual assault attempts or attacks across the country.

11188307_1653413321557255_8927655937791408451_n

Miss Nebraska 2006 Molly McGrath traveled 30,000 across the state talking about financial literacy and economic education, has worked with both the Federal Reserve and in the private sector on multi-million dollar projects.

Such different stories during and after their time as Miss Nebraska, yet they all share a common bond, along with this young woman.

11159507_1644695909095663_5164437041644671565_n

MISS NEBRASKA 2014 MEGAN SWANSON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I’m a tall girl with an even bigger heart,” Megan told me recently.  “The job of Miss Nebraska is so much more than what you look like, but rather is about the utterance of your heart by the words you speak and the message you believe in.”

THIS Miss Nebraska isn’t kidding about being tall, she’s 6 feet without heels.  That kind of altitude is common place in the Swanson household, but just short of legendary everywhere else.

 11014636_10153266518059468_7131116927797224665_n 11391535_10153421980444468_3722877979526782617_n

Megan eye to eye with her family.. and *slightly* taller than her pageant sister, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

Megan wants people to remember more than that; she wants to be seen as the best possible candidate for serving her state.  That has been her intention from the beginning; click here to read my first interview with Megan during her time as Miss Douglas County.

“Nebraska is my home, my love, and my heart,” said Megan.  “It’s land, it’s people, it’s message, it’s feel.  While passionate about the nation, I believe this year I was supposed to make a visible impact on the state of Nebraska, and I believe I did so.  This year as Miss Nebraska, I put over 25,000 miles on my Miss Nebraska car, spoke to over 10,000 students alone, and really believe our residents would associate my name and platform in about 2 seconds.  THAT was what my goal was: for people to think Megan Swanson, Miss Nebraska 2014, and think: ‘Oh, yeah!  She’s genuine, she cares about people in a real way (not for show, not because she has to), and she’s a fitness/health/wellness buff.  Total Body Wellness: Spirit, Soul, and Body is her platform, AND she’s really tall!”

10168193_10153094107904468_680921234954336385_n 10689464_10153124864339468_40053077047091900_n 10848059_10152943520774468_479980850715953351_n 10858567_10153131156909468_220100922903025732_n 11009148_10153361904044468_6411302643565379186_n 11069309_10153207790909468_1885116788171405205_n

“I’ve spent many a surprising time with tears slowly falling down my face at the testimonies from this year,” said Megan.  “You see, to me.. it was never about ‘my message’, despite being 328479384% passionate about it.  It’s about the people, your audience.  Why go into a school, auditorium, arena, business luncheon, or conference and speak about the same topic over and over that has no way of relating to people?  I made it my mission to write the framework and research the heck out of all facets of my program, and then make sure I became an expert in each area.”

22118_10153328402234468_8760675442668947047_n 1891337_10152693674884468_276458343932498042_o 1962787_10153142539794468_5375324056765049606_n 10336594_10153076008474468_3124466399431429584_n 10978614_10153140677609468_554554451475662624_n 11009927_10153297863244468_9064757604388017788_n

Megan has also shared each facet of her program on social media.  Using Miss Nebraska 2014 Facebook page (now nearing 1,350 followers), and Instagram (with more than 4,500 followers) Megan posts scripture, diet and workout tips and simply inspiring thoughts, along with a steady stream of photos showcasing her ‘days in the life’ of Miss Nebraska.

10522554_10153073391484468_4883159991723314573_n

‘{BE ENCOURAGED!} I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (Ephesians 1:16-23 NLT)’

 11054363_10153221727939468_4350742033901549155_n

‘Mar 7, 2014 | {4 hours of sleep} + [5 games (hours) of reffereeing 5th grade boys bball at 8:30am] + {1 small nap} + [my amazing cousins engagement party] = In Bed By 10:45pm and Miss Night Owl is now Miss Sleepy Nebraska 2014.’

10409119_10153016963129468_4481863591711821937_n

‘Day 9 is all about Abs, Abs, Abs!!! And are made in the kitchen folks! Your hormones and adrenal glands also have a lot to do with storage of fat around your middle section- here are a few quick bullet points to help! As always, if you have questions feel free to DM me!’

Megan has also secured sponsorships during her year as Miss Nebraska with private companies including Deep South Pout clothing, Envy Tans By Tammy, Max Muscle, Meal Solutions, and Smart Girl Style.  More so, she’s expanded and further solidified Miss Nebraska’s reach; in politics, visiting the state legislature, meeting Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, and singing the national anthem before a major Republican party event this spring.

10997504_10153142546394468_5593862298241894729_n 11149540_10153306142439468_9147173514706619014_n 11182325_10153306364004468_5610980715642278777_n

Megan has also appeared on television news across the state, participated in radio interviews, and has taken part in numerous fundraisers and events across the state, often with hundreds or thousands in attendance.  She’ll perform for one of her biggest crowds yet in just weeks, singing the national anthem for 30,000+ at the College World Series.  Click here to listen to her audition!

   11014996_851137444924504_7048003457490581841_n

CLICK HERE TO SEE KETV’S STORY WITH MEGAN, SEPTEMBER 2014

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FEATURE ON MEGAN & MISS IOWA ALY OLSON BEFORE MISS AMERICA

CLICK HERE TO READ ONE OF MEGAN’S FIRST INTERVIEWS, WITH KETV, AFTER WINNING MISS NEBRASKA

Still, Megan wanted more.  She told me several times leading up to Miss America she intended to win; her experience was no doubt memorable, but not all positive. An unflattering camera angle of Megan, seated behind ABC’s Miss America host, made national headlines.  Megan’s post on Facebook shortly after, ‘liked’ more than 400 times, spoke VOLUMES about her character and confidence.

‘Despite all the explosion of media recently- there are apparently pictures of me in a swimsuit even I didn’t even know existed! Hilariously, these show clearly more than the one accidental second caught on national television! Haha. To everyone- I have laughed about this and moved on! I am a strong woman of character, and confident in who I truly am and where I am going! I guess I am also quite definitely a true basketball player at heart and forgot for a second that I wasn’t on the bench ready for coach to tell me to get in the game! (Lesson learned…) obviously- this In no way means I am anything less than a person of extremely high moral standards. If you know me, you know that. Here’s to the future aiming to be the best Miss Nebraska yet! God can turn any situation for good, and hey- I’m excited to see how even this ends up being an outlet for my TRUE message: helping people to love, accept, grow, and transform themselves through the eyes of wellness education from the inside out! Spirit, Soul, and Body! I have even MORE of a reason now to advocate for my cause! #missnebraska#missnebraska14 #lifestyleandfitness #fitness #laugh#teammegan #tbw #wellness #missne

“I choose to BE overcome by a circumstance, or take it by the horns and OWN it, overcome IT myself,” Megan told me.  She remains focused on her positive take-aways from Miss America.

1924376_10152764813524468_5164696875358766084_n 10612886_10152752615909468_3759116529886017118_n 10614354_10152737015074468_407930206667969520_n

“It was so amazing to get to sing on the Miss America stage, and it’s a time I’ll never forget,” said Megan.  “I am so blessed to have a network of 52 sisters that I bonded with at Miss America and still talk to literally every, single day.  We’re go-getters, we don’t take no for an answer, and we work for every dream in our hearts.  Watch out, world!  In ten years, we will have conquered wherever we land.  The CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, beautiful, intelligent, confident women broadcasting on television or ESPN, future famous musicians, teachers, educators, Super-Moms, and leaders alike, will be women who competed.”

1528457_10153330598784468_4001957353938301047_n

How do you measure a year? How do you define Miss Nebraska?

“This job has abundantly transformed my life for the better this year, and most importantly, grown ME as a young woman,” said Megan.  “I’m honored that every, single day, I woke up with the responsibility of being a role model for people of every age, gender, background, status, and walk of life and I don’t take it lightly.  It’s exactly that: a responsibility.  It’s my duty and my job.”

 63776_10152943635809468_1248827805601911314_n 10694266_10204114873605992_1941805769550149608_o 10868185_10152964288239468_6218682129646963070_n 10931331_1609262552638484_6425752149751886489_n 11129894_10153286625699468_4248919279103529109_n GIRLS STATE OGALALLA FUN FEST

Megan Swanson’s chapter in the History of Miss Nebraska will end this Saturday night, as she passes her crown on to a woman who was in her place one year ago.  She will return to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue her Commercial Voice Major.  Megan will continue to write and produce music, and pursue her family ministry through their church and via their new website (click here to check out We Are Swanson).

“Knowing who we are is the foundation of everything we become,” said Megan.  “I believe any role model must first know who they are and where they’re going, or they can’t lead!  I think that’s what makes me different.  My laser focus in on not just speaking for 30 minutes or an hour, but leaving a lasting impact, creating new leaders, helping people change their path and start walking towards the person they were created to be; first recognizing what makes them special, and then operating in those gifts.”

522066_1575363746028365_6856259686010735442_n

(Photo courtesy Midwest Photo Pro)

  “When I go to schools, I get to look students in the eyes and genuinely convince them that all things are possible.  All future hopes and wishes are possible,” said Megan.  “Through hard work, trust, a stubborn perseverance and faith, God blossomed this caterpillar into a beautiful, young lady butterfly.  Confident. Strong. Firm in her goals and identity and ready to take on the world.  What’s holding you back?  What excuse are you taking as truth?  Run. Run towards your dream every day.  Because even if you’re at 0, and your goal is at 100, 1 + 1+ 1 eventually = 100.”

Follow Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram

Click here to read a special profile on Megan and ‘predictions’ for the Class of 2015 from the nationally popular Pageant Junkies!

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

THANK YOU, SINCERELY, FOR FOLLOWING THIS YEAR’S SERIES ON THE 2015 MISS NEBRASKA AND MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS!

GOOD LUCK, LADIES!!!

Click here for my recap of the 2015 Miss Nebraska & Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Defining Outstanding

Once in awhile, you meet someone who you just KNOW is going to be a star.  There’s just something dazzling that radiates from them.  They are THAT stunning, THAT talented, THAT well spoken, THAT inspiring.  They are simply OUTSTANDING.

11091153_672392769550768_4917311399535791731_n

MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2014 MORGAN HOLEN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

This is my 4th blog post I’ve written about Morgan.  I’m not a creeper (at least in this case), she’s just that incredible.  Beauty inspiring nationally renowned photographer Jenn Cady to invite Morgan to South Carolina for a premiere fashion show and photo shoot.  Talent and a gift for dance that earned Morgan a state championship this year with Elkhorn South High, the dance award at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and acceptance and scholarship into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Dance Program.

11262421_652302041538464_97481922763747403_o 10989163_615950385173630_4679334663978890349_n 

Sheer kindness and love for life.. rooted deeply within her family and now woven across our entire state.

10600459_554670584656321_1923140605329021296_n 10013951_576920489076620_1906258155576603388_n  11101118_637747612993907_1355927244_n

What an outstanding young lady.  Like so many in the Miss Nebraska Organization, I first met Morgan through her mom, Jodi, who was Miss Nebraska 1988.

10341645_554196884703691_993928423765093737_n

Jodi, also a former Miss Omaha, was hands down one of the most welcoming, kindest people I met the night I was crowned Miss Douglas County and unknowingly entered this new and overwhelming world.  At her side, and then at MY side asking for pictures, were two sweet, little girls.

10446707_503817126386957_3144312199019551103_n

Me and the Holen girls, shortly after the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant, Fall 2001

Morgan has been attending the Miss Nebraska pageant with her mom for as long as she can remember.  She decided to compete in this new version of Miss America for teenagers, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, her freshman year of high school.  (Click here to read about Morgan’s time as Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen!) One year later, just weeks (if not days!) after completing her sophomore year at Elkhorn South, Morgan was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014.

10641034_550067555095247_4873491274742460356_n 10712761_550067511761918_1804145257910282653_n

Morgan’s crowning moment one year ago.  CLICK HERE to read more.

Immediately, Morgan began preparations for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, knowing Nebraska had never cracked the Top 12 at the national level.  Morgan did.

10440822_581603501963029_2352181719418877754_n

“I am extremely honored and humbled!” said Morgan.  “Then my competition mode just kicked in and I didn’t realize really what happened until it was over.  I competed in the first area, fitness, and made the cut to the Top 10 where I was able to perform my talent one more time.”

11169135_637747606327241_1494757362_n

As Morgan told me last summer, (click here to read more!), her talent was a self-choreographed tribute to her longtime dance instructor ‘Miss Kitty’ Dahlberg.  Dahlberg passed away the summer before Morgan won Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen.  Among those in the crowd was Dahlberg’s daughter and another of Morgan’s instructors, Diane Hansen.  This dance, dedicated to Morgan’s friend and mentor, was nothing short of breathtaking.  Watching the webcast from home, I was in tears.  Someone in the audience tweeted ‘Morgan Holen just set a new standard for talent.’

10641189_550578521710817_463205399684104331_n

“Then, after the evening gown competition, I was thrilled (and stunned) to be called out in the Top 5,” said Morgan.  “Outside of Teresa Scanlan, who has been a role model, no other Miss Nebraska or Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen had ever placed that high, so to be standing there representing my state was in incredible honor and an indescribable experience.”

11156755_637747609660574_793368647_n

KETV: Omaha Teen Crowned Among Best In Country

Morgan finished 4th runner up, surrounded by a huge fan club who traveled to Orlando to support her, and the new friends she made while there.

“The friendships last long after the pageant,” said Morgan.  “My roommate Page Mackenzie (Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen) and I have visited each other in our home states.  We bonded over the fact that by the time we left our hotel room, our feet could stick to the bathroom floor due to hairspray (pageant girl problems.)  We remain very good friends today and talk at least once a week.”

10678806_574179102705469_7118499079385830305_n 11101164_637747602993908_1208116836_n

“I also was very blessed to have the third or fourth largest crowd of supporters,” said Morgan.  “My parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, dance teacher, local and state directors, and Megan were all there to support me and of course, they were easy to spot since they help up big red Husker N’s.  There really is no way to represent Nebraska without the Huskers!  Other contestants even commented about it and were a little jealous.”

 11178677_637747639660571_279005199_n 10609450_555016137955099_6548719312555128995_n

As for the last 10 months.. Morgan has simply been on the go NONSTOP.  She’s on Elkhorn South’s state champion dance team, in addition to dancing competitively for Omaha’s Kitty Lee Dance; she’s also on the award-winning Elkhorn South competitive show choir squad.

10917321_598162303619105_4633410586734892640_n 10985816_438977702932324_1575145114105689555_n

Still, she’s been out across the state as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, not only taking part in EVERY local pageant this year, but volunteering and making appearances for various events.  Morgan cares deeply about her platform Random Acts of Kindness, promoting good deeds and service to others, big and small.  Last January, Morgan even created a ‘kindness calendar’ and shared it across social media, suggesting something different every day of the month you could do to pass on a random act of kindness.

1504124_624153831041329_1950496494726237689_n 10882164_589199951182007_1024807370408877115_n 10406971_624153787708000_6608245044756568087_n

Morgan volunteering with her big sister and best friend, Brittany Holen

“My one regret is that there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week!” said Morgan.  “As a teen, you are obviously still in high school and the girls who compete for and win these state titles are involved in many activities inside and outside of school.  I only wish I had been able to do more as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because there are many opportunities the title affords you, however, you still have to go to school and honor your other commitments.”

That’s part of the advice Morgan has for whoever she’ll crown in just five short days, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015.

“To the next MNOT I would say do everything you can, but understand that some days there are just not enough hours in the day and that is okay,” said Morgan.  “I would also tell her to enjoy every minute because the year flies by and you will never have these moments back.  It will be an awesome experience!”

And still, Morgan shows me even now how exceptional she truly is.  As part of that message to her future MNOT sister, a reminder, and a sign of this young woman’s maturity, sense of self, and state of mind.

10603577_548782935223709_1642520659467979959_n

(Photo courtesy of The Mullers)

“Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen did not make me who I am,” said Morgan.  “Lots of people have invested in me over my 17 years: parents, sister, family, friends, teachers, coaches, over the years shaped me into the person I am and for that I am grateful.”

Morgan asked me to note her gratitude to her local director Kelsey Joseph and her state directors Rachel Daly and Kayla Jacox, not only for what they have done for her, but for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program.

Morgan, I thank YOU.  Thank you for being KIND.  For sharing your incredible gift of dance.  For filling me with hope thinking of the young people that will soon be the adults in our world.  For showcasing our state and this program to people everywhere, and making them do double takes.  You are simply outstanding.

And I think Morgan’s own words confirm that:

“I hope that I have represented all of you in a way that made you proud.”

11156922_637747616327240_528470498_n

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Click here for a special feature on Morgan on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

Click here for a special interview with Morgan by the nationally popular Pageant Junkies team!

***

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Merrilee Prill

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Home Of The Brave

Our national anthem is arguably, one of the toughest songs for an artist to perform.  So much range, pressure to make it your own without offending traditionalists, and most of the time, acapella.  Easy to veer off the rails, tough to swerve back on.

Lately, Miss America veterans have been REPRESENTING the stars and stripes.

Both Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson and Miss South Dakota 2008 Alex Hoffman (now KETV’s morning anchor) were selected as finalists to audition to sing at the College World Series.

CLICK HERE to listen to Megan, who will perform before the 7pm game on June 15.

CLICK HERE to listen to Alex, chosen as an alternate (the same night she’ll be performing the anthem at the Miss South Dakota pageant!)

And if you’re bored (GULP!) CLICK HERE to hear MY rendition before the Nebraska & Creighton baseball game back in April… if there’s an alternate game Saturday June 20th at the CWS, I get to sing, too!

The list continues.. Miss Nebraska 2011 Kayla Batt-Jacox sang in front of thousands at Werner Park this spring before the Nebraska & UNO baseball game.  Miss Omaha 2014 Payton Merritt will sing at TD Ameritrade Park this weekend during the Big East baseball tournament.  Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev sang before the Washington Nationals & Miami Marlins game on May 7th.  We’re everywhere!

And this last weekend, a huge honor for one of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, chosen to sing the anthem in front of thousands at her own college graduation from Creighton University.

10407866_10205819622919417_8348536873210760676_n

MISS NEBRASKA STATE FAIR 2015 MARIE ALLISON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“Blessed to have been fortunate enough to graduate from Creighton with degrees in Philosophy and Music, summa cum laude, and to have sung the national anthem for the graduating classes of 2015,” Marie posted on Facebook.  “It is humbling to realize the massive investment of time, the support of my wonderful family and friends, and the connections with faculty and fellow scholars that I have made throughout my Creighton experience. I may not be certain of what I desire to be in my future, but I know I am well primed to realize that truth as a process that will happen. Thank you to the people who always believe in me.”

These thoughts, showing appreciation and reflection, mirror the messages Marie sent me recently regarding the Miss America program.

“I never, EVER thought I would be a girl who competed in pageants,” Marie told me recently.  “This decision changed the trajectory of my life dramatically because I learned how pageants challenge you to grow.”

11194444_10206484869110156_6623476987630311449_o 10580071_10205721231259687_58426832201999056_n 1467229_10202586803300947_1974205568_n

Marie’s first pageant exposure came through her love of horses; she was a rodeo queen.  She is also a passionate equestrienne, behind the training of two national caliber show horses, and a volunteer at the Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy.  Those roles, however, didn’t always put Marie in the spotlight.

“As I am an introvert, appearances were very challenging to me,” said Marie.  “I was pushed outside my comfort zone to become equal to the take of being a good representative of my program.”

10494391_10204104638405876_2818029728657172735_o

Marie herself had what she calls personal stigmas about pageantry, something she confronted directly when she competed for Miss Colorado last summer.

“I became involved in the Miss America program when I realized I could be impacting real change in my community and earning scholarships to fund my education,” said Marie.  “This program has made me consider what I value deeply, and the issues I feel need to be adequately addressed by our society as a whole.  I have come to profoundly respect my fellow contestants as outstanding individuals and community servants.  They are authentic leaders with humble confidence that lights up the world around them, providing examples that empower all youth and particularly young women.”

10362371_10206205460085105_2600182052566807589_n 11061721_10206095639939670_293343998856847904_n 11203151_10206482225284062_7964180661076838076_n

Marie is a true example of that.  She spends time doing crafts with patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, she’s active with Omaha’s Urban Abbey Methodist Church and Coffee Shop, and she’s a volunteer with the Stephens Center for the homeless.  Marie does all of this not because she has to, but driven by her own background.

“I chose my platform (‘Communication: Proactive Prevention’) because I would not have attended college, nor would I be the person I am today if I did not have a strong social network and people believing in me,” said Marie.  “Given my personal experience with socioeconomic stress and homelessness, and how difficult these experiences were, I now that I would not have survived or thrived without the help of the communities I was involved in.  It is my goal to help build meaningful relationships and communities to help others the same way people have helped me to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances.”

11156137_10206422716556381_4684683027335833731_n

Homeless.  To college.  To singing at her own graduation from Creighton University.

The words of the Star Spangled Banner are etched into every American’s heart and soul.

What so proudly we hailed..

Through the perilous fight..

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Courage when things are tough.  Standing tall and persevering.  Being a beacon for those who may come after you.

11150425_10206550580632903_4594386478476206340_n

May 18, 2015, standing in front of her fellow Creighton University graduates, singing those words.  What a special moment for a young woman who has lived her own version of the Star Spangled Banner.  And the journey for Marie Allison isn’t over yet; next stop, Miss Nebraska.

1912535_10203107531798834_1052275303_n

Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Marie Allison and contact her for appearances and events on Facebook.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org.

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Miracle Worker

You advocate for something because you believe in it.  You put your face and name behind a cause to share a compelling argument for why you are so passionate about that effort.  It takes courage to speak out (especially from a personal place); it takes time and dedication; it takes a leader who can command attention and compel others to make a difference.

This is one of the reasons I advocate for the Miss America Organization.. because no matter what you think of beauty pageants, or women competing for crowns, when that ONE DAY of competition is over, they are out in their communities and states 364 OTHER days of the year trying to do all of the things I just mentioned, in most cases, serving others.

This young woman will continue to promote her platform after her pageant days are over; she wants her cause to become her career.

10957743_10203463792942170_1940858854368483438_n

MISS DOUGLAS COUNTY 2015 ALYSSA HOWELL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I will be a junior at Creighton University, studying Elementary Education, with the career ambition of becoming a child life specialist in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” Alyssa told me recently.  “Truly, Children’s Miracle Network is my passion, and my platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’, stands to improve the lives of children in hospitals all over Nebraska.”

11208783_10203960011467323_1446381029_n

Several of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, including Alyssa and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson, delivered gift bags to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Rainbow House pediatric patients and their families for Miss America Serves day.

Children’s Miracle Network is also Miss America’s community partner, the organization which titleholders all over the country must raise money for in order to compete at the local and state level.  Money raised benefits hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Many of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants have spent time volunteering at Children’s; Alyssa visits on a consistent basis, inspired by her cousin and former CMN patient, Shayna.

11216432_10203960029667778_681610265_n

“Eight years ago my family (after a streak of 12 boy cousins) was finally blessed with a girl!  However, Shayna was sick with a frightening virus that left her sick and in the hospital for days after her birth,” said Alyssa.  “18 months later, she tested positive for profound hearing loss.  My family was devastated, however, with the help of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (a CMN facility), Shayna was able to receive cochlear implants that allow her to hear as a normal child.”

11081255_964382736918789_5944796563564189072_n

Alyssa witnessed part of that journey in person, staying with Shayna and her family for two months while Shayna attended the Central Institute for the Deaf.  Alyssa had already been involved with CMN fundraisers as a young girl, at her sister Devin Howell’s side during her time as Miss River City 2008, Miss Douglas County 2009 and Miss Omaha 2010.

11216354_10203960025107664_378500280_n

When Alyssa was crowned Miss Eastern Nebraska 2014, (click here to see read my interview with her last Spring!) she wanted to take her passion for CMN hospitals and the children they serve to another level.  Alyssa designed and implemented something she calls the Miracle Bags Program.

11185497_10203960011507324_138676031_n (1) 10502351_964810056876057_7371813551895995582_n 11186409_10203960023387621_976303312_n

“I go to sororities [including her own, Pi Beta Phi], business groups, girl scouts and schools and collect donation items.  Each bag [I create] contains a blanket, coloring book, crayons, Play-Doh, and a handwritten card,” said Alyssa.  “I then deliver these bags to the patients at Omaha Children’s, and let me tell you, nothing makes a sick child light up like a princess with a bag of goodies!”

11208899_10203960011547325_388184089_n 11198777_10203960023427622_1560101287_n 11195398_10203960011627327_266263781_n

To Alyssa, the Miss America Organization presented opportunities for both volunteering and for her own personal growth.  It’s a stage for this pianist (and piano teacher) to play for a crowd; it’s a path to scholarships for this college student; it’s a platform for her to share Shayna’s story and encourage others to help pediatric hospital patients.

11198731_10203960023307619_534993391_n (1)

“I truly believe that EVERY woman can gain so many incredible things from this organization, and Miss Nebraska stands to represent every woman in the state regardless of career, beliefs, appearance or education,” said Alyssa.  “As the All-American daughter of a former Marine and the 1981 Miss Iowa Dairy Princess, my upbringing led me to big dreams, big accomplishments and making big differences in the lives of everyone I meet.”

Alyssa Howell isn’t just an advocate for Miss America or for Children’s Miracle Network, she shows what strong, smart, talented women can accomplish when inspired by something as powerful as a little girl’s smile.  Just a guess, but I’m betting the feeling is mutual, and that Shayna’s grin will light up the entire North Platte High Auditorium in just three weeks.. as her princess, Miss Douglas County, competes to become the next Miss Nebraska.

10271614_10203398591872184_3513119059757068441_n

(Photo courtesy Studio FBJ)

To find out more about Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Miracle Bags Program, and to contact her for appearances and events, email alyssahowellva@gmail.com or click here to visit her Facebook page.

For more information on the Miss Omaha/Douglas County Pageant, click here to visit their website, here to visit them on Facebook, and here to follow on Twitter.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at 402-330-8033 or by email at missomahapageant@yahoo.com.

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

NEXT.. Miss State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

May Day

SPRING!!! When flowers bloom, when you can finally breathe deeply without wintry Nebraska air making your face hurt, when you can go on a walk and feel the sun’s warmth shining bright.  I. LOVE. SPRING.

IMG_3540

May might be one of my favorite months, especially now that I have little boys running free in the backyard. The giggles, the smiles, the JOY I see after they’ve been cooped up inside all winter is just AWESOME.

The young woman you’re about to meet also looks ahead to May every year, but for a very different reason.  To her, this month is about work, awareness, and in many cases, answering cries for help.

11108584_10152821748226526_3284399995996081158_n

MISS GERING 2015 KAYLEE CARLBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“My platform has been ‘changing minds’ by educating and promoting awareness about mental illness in a positive light,” Kaylee told me recently.  “May is Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Like many of this year’s Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, Kaylee’s fight is personal.

“During my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder,” said Kaylee.  “I unknowingly dealt with this for a couple of years prior to receiving any professional help.  The impact the illness had on me and my family is what inspired me to speak out about this issue, because we don’t have enough people sharing their stories.”

11157975_10152819453076526_2018225941_n  11164148_10152819454871526_128030668_n  11173565_10152819454831526_1895971684_n

Kaylee’s been sharing her story for several years now, holding local titles twice before in the Miss Nebraska system.  Her Facebook page is FULL of images like the three you see above, promoting awareness and understanding of mental health disorders, as well as resources for those affected and their families.  Kaylee is also involved with The Kim Foundation, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), Bring Change 2 Mind,and Don’t Be Sidelined (in association with the University of Nebraska’s Husker Sports Marketing Department).

“The number of families who are affected by mental, emotional and behavioral health disorders in America is staggering,” said Kaylee.  “Statistics show that mental illness affects one in four adults and that nine out of ten people who experience a mental health problem will also experience social stigma and discrimination.  These ever-growing reactions and behavior of others towards mental health patients can be more damaging than the diagnosis itself.  I wholeheartedly believe this is a very serious issue in America, and the timing of my platform is crucial.”

From this journalist’s perspective, current events certainly seem to back Kaylee’s assertion.  From mass shootings, to prison overcrowding, to health care, mental health is an issue that is constantly surfacing and part of national policy debate.

Kaylee wants to take that debate to as many people as possible.

11093331_10152819517201526_1081926604_n  11173693_10152819454716526_1340449074_n 11158165_10152819453766526_2044855488_n

“I have been able to present my program at schools and educational events as well as being featured in local press, television interviews, and as a guest on a radio podcast,” said Kaylee.  “I was also blessed to be the keynote speaker at an event for the Central Nebraska’s National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

To explain such a complex issue to children, Kaylee has developed a presentation geared towards kids, describing the brain using colors in a way children can understand.

11160530_10152819453726526_327038625_n

“What’s so touching is I have had kids (as young as 2nd grade) tell  me they take medicine and see a therapist, too,” said Kaylee.  “They are excited to see someone else who deals with the same thing as them.  It’s wonderful being able to give them hope!”

For Kaylee, the Miss America Organization provided an outlet for her to share her story, while offering opportunities to sing and earn money for school.

65569_10152386640961526_9146661445921134448_n  10561743_10152386640871526_3970305783855255352_n

The night Kaylee was crowned Miss Gering 2015 by Miss Western Nebraska 2014 Morgan Yost and Miss Gering 2014 Alexis Smith

“Not being a vocal major I never get the opportunity to sing outside of pageants!” said Kaylee.  “How many programs offer young women the chance to speak out on a personal issue near to their heart, receive scholarships for college, gain valuable interview and marketing experience, perform a talent, travel the state, dress up in beautiful gowns, make children smile because you’re a ‘princess’ and bring awareness to important causes in the community ALL in one year!?”

That has now become part of Kaylee’s mission as well, to spread word of the Miss Nebraska pageant and to change minds about Miss America.

11121948_10152819453036526_1572417157_n

Kaylee and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

“When a gentleman tells people he is an Eagle Scout he receives respect for his perseverance and discipline  Society knows how much work goes [that] but all too often, people don’t know how much work goes into becoming Miss Nebraska,” said Kaylee.  “I have been told on many occasions that the Miss America program is outdated, and being Miss Nebraska does nothing but reinforce society’s idea of ‘physical beauty’.  That is FAR from the truth.  This is a scholarship program that builds impactful leaders in their community.  Miss Nebraska is a philanthropist, she has strong interpersonal communication skills, knows how to market herself and the charitable organizations she represents, she is committed to physical fitness, she utitlizes her life experiences to help inspire and change other lives, she knows how to entertain and pull an audience in with her talent, she has countless hours of community service, and she is resilient and convicted in her beliefs.”

Kaylee Carlberg is a college student at Southeast Community College.  She works at Region V Services, helping people with developmental disabilities.  She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and huge Star Wars fan (I just teared up a little with pride about that..)  She’s volunteered countless hours for animals, for children, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, and more.

11117356_10152819454676526_2048530482_n  11173537_10152819453926526_270232306_n

Most importantly, this young woman is not only advocating for those with mental illness, she’s setting an inspiring example by bravely talking about her own challenges and successes.

“Today, I manage my illness with proper medication and by living a healthy lifestyle,” said Kaylee.  “We need role models in our communities to help shed light on this issue so people won’t be afraid to ask for help.”

And when they do, when those struggling across Nebraska and beyond issue that May Day now or any other time, Kaylee Carlberg will answer.. as someone who understands, as a community leader, and possibly in a few weeks, as Miss Nebraska.

10410123_10152386640816526_1232930966912478790_n

Follow Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

on Twitter and on the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

To contact Kaylee for appearances and events, email kayleecarlberg@gmail.com.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness (#ChangingMinds), click on any of the following resources:

Don’t Be Sidelined ** Bring Change 2 Mind ** The Kim Foundation ** NAMI Nebraska

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes at 307-340-0601 or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Kate Brown

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Shaniah Freeseman

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.