Tag Archive | military

Edge Of Glory

Every time I begin writing an article featuring a Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen titleholder, I scroll through our conversation and their photos. I look not only at their words and pictures, but their faces and body language within those images. Are they engaged? What did they say about their experiences? How often are they serving as their community’s local titleholder?

When it comes to Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, I simply don’t think WordPress has enough space online to share everything she’s doing.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

She is a patriot. She is a community servant. She is a natural performer. She is a proud Nebraskan. She is wise. SHE IS 13. 

When I was crowned Miss Douglas County in October of 2000, former Miss Omaha and Miss Nebraska Jodi Miller-Holen told me, “you do what you want with this title. You can do nothing, and we won’t be happy but that’s your choice, or you can do everything.”

Here’s what Phoenix told me after being crowned Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen: “Most teens are not interested in giving up their time and energy for a greater cause. I want to change that. We are the future of America. We will inherit the social issues affecting our parents now. I’m only 13 years old, a freshman in high school. I want to lead by example because if we can motivate teenagers now to be the change, just imagine the great things they will accomplish as civically engaged adults.”

Guys. When I was 13, I sat in my brother’s room for hours playing Nintendo and read Babysitter’s Club books walking home from school.

 

This young lady isn’t just talk, either. Phoenix Stanford is proving herself through action, a tireless civil servant advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, school safety and security, sexual assault awareness and women’s rights, world health causes, Autism awareness.. and for several years now, support for military families.

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“I have been a military brat my entire life and to me civilians don’t completely understand the sacrifices made by military families,” said Phoenix. “It’s not easy being a military child. Deployments and relocations not only affect their academic success, but their social and mental well-being are affected. These kids are at risk for depression and anxiety. I get involved with Offutt Air Force Base’s events that are designed to boost family morale. I help raise scholarship money for military dependents, I’ve testified for a military bill, I’ve collected food for veterans, visited sick veterans at the VA Hospital, talked to schools about the hardships of being a military child, collected books for a free, little library at base housing, helped with Gold Star family events, etc.”

 

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Many of Phoenix’s efforts coincide with the work of the current Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen, who has spent her year of service advocating for our nation’s past and present military heroes. Much like Allie, Phoenix says she’s deeply impacted by the stories she hears from the very people she’s helping.

“Volunteer work is important to me,” said Phoenix. “While being a titleholder, not only have I found out so much about the world around me but I have found out so much about myself. My title has given me the opportunities to meet and connect with amazing people and hear their uplifting stories. Coming across these people has helped me expand my platform to places I didn’t know it would go. I have come across many different non-profit organizations that I didn’t even know existed. These organizations inspire me to do more.”

Being a titleholder has also provided Phoenix with a way to explore two of her passions: education and singing.

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“So far, I have won five scholarships as a local titleholder,” said Phoenix. “My career goal is to become a professional singer. I am working on getting to my dream college, Juilliard. I not only want to break into the music industry but I want to know exactly what I’m doing, and I want something to fall back on in case things don’t go as planned. Nebraska should care about the Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen Pageant because it helps shape the future leaders of America. Providing scholarships to well-rounded young women is worth investing in.”

“I have dreamed of performing the most amazing shows for the biggest audiences since I was a little girl,” said Phoenix. “All I have wanted to do is sing and perform my heart out and that is what I intend on doing. Performing gives me a sense of freedom and a power I look for in life. This program has been a blessing and a huge stepping stone for me.”

No surprise then that Phoenix’s female role model comes from the world of music: Lady Gaga.

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“We have one life, so live it regardless of what anyone else says. That is what Lady Gaga has taught me,” said Phoenix. “I also look up to her untouchable music career. She writes the majority of her own music and performs at high profile events. Even if you are not a Gaga fan, you will certainly be entertained by one of her cinematic shows. I praise her amazing work ethic; she is a rolling stone showing no sign of stopping any time soon. It is people like her I admire and dream of being.”

I would argue Lady Gaga has shifted her status from sensation to legacy by ensuring there is substance and meaning behind every song and every performance. Phoenix is already emulating that.. certainly thinking of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen crown she’ll compete for in 2 weeks, but also using her microphone to make sure people hear and understand things happening in our world. Proof… a message the Miss Nebraska Organization received from Phoenix on March 14, just a few short months after we lost a beloved member of our pageant family, Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson.

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“Just wanted to let you know that Kaelia won’t be forgotten and people are still fighting for her even on this day,” wrote Phoenix. “Attended the Nebraska State Advocacy day held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.”

At just 13 years old, Phoenix is now also helping Stomp The Stigma against mental illness, the very personal cause that Kaelia fought so passionately for.

“The biggest issue my generation is facing is suicide,” said Phoenix. “It’s an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. More teens have been diagnosed with mental illness in this generation than ever before. We need to pass Nebraska’s LB998, a collaborative school behavioral and mental health program. We also need to eliminate the stigma of mental illness so teens can comfortably seek help and not feel ashamed of what they are going through.”

Lady Gaga once told a journalist she wrote ‘The Edge of Glory” in about 10 minutes, the same night her grandfather passed away. She told Lisa Capretto, “I started playing and I said to my dad, I said, ‘Don’t be sad. He’s on the edge of the most glorious moment in life, when you realize that you won. I said, ‘Look how much he won at life. He won at love with Grandma, and he’s on the edge of a glorious moment.’”

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Look at the women in these articles. Look at Phoenix Stanford. Look at how much they are winning at life. At 24, 17, even 13 years old, they are using every moment they are given, feeling the rush, and pushing themselves to the edge.

Who are you, and in this one, beautiful life you have.. where are you?

“I try to focus on performing at the best of my abilities,” said Phoenix. “If I know I did my best, then I will be content with whatever I leave with. That, to me, is still success.”

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To follow Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Just The Way You Are

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.

PREVIOUS.. Miss Sandhills’ Outstanding Teen Olivia Terwey

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen Jadyn Wetherington

Just The Way You Are

Last fall, I had the honor of emceeing the Lighthouse Leader and Hall of Fame Gala for Westside Community Schools. This biannual event recognizes alumni and supporters who have demonstrated exemplary leadership, success and dedication to their careers and communities. All ten of our inductees are extraordinary, but one in particular caught my attention as I prepared my remarks.

Dr. Suzanne Hutchinson Verma grew up in Omaha and attended Westside High School. She’s now one of the world’s leading experts in Anaplastology; she rebuilds FACES. Patients around the world, including children, come to Suzi to reconstruct their faces after cancer, birth defects and accidents. Multiple times in her career, she’s operated for free on patients who cannot afford help.

Dr. Verma and I are about the same age. I mean, we’re basically the same person… Faux Pelini RETWEETED me once. That’s a really big deal.

WHAT?!?!?! I shook my head in disbelief as I researched this incredible woman’s accomplishments. Once in awhile, we come across people in life that have just set the bar higher, their contributions to the world are exponentially greater. It may not be their intent, but they inspire the rest of us to DO MORE, to BE BETTER. Cue 12-year old Phoenix Stanford.

Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

She can’t get in to a rated R movie, yet this girl has already testified before the Nebraska Legislature, been a featured guest at several high profile events and spent countless hours volunteering across Sarpy County.

(Again.. we’re basically the same person. When I was 12, I set a new Tetris record on my Nintendo.)

“My parents have raised me since I was 5 years old to always be involved in giving back to the community,” Phoenix told me recently. “I believe helping out those who are less fortunate and donating your time to an event helps people to rise.”

Phoenix has touched communities around the world, literally, due to her military upbringing.

“I was raised in England and spent most of my childhood there. That was where I first started school,” said Phoenix. “All my friends were British and all the activities I was involved in were all done with the local nationals. Having to leave my childhood friends behind devastated me. It was a difficult transition when I moved. I missed my British food, I missed living in Europe and seeing medieval buildings around me. I was terrified to start school not knowing anyone around there. After having moving here, I met more military children. I’ve learned that the many who go through things like this soon give up the will to want to make new friends because they know that they are just going to move again.”

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Phoenix took her own experiences and set out to help others facing the same challenges. When she became Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017, she put a name on her mission: ‘Beyond The Yellow Ribbon: Support for Military Children.’

“Because this is something I can strongly touch base with and it is an issue that kids and teens have to go through, I wanted to make a difference,” said Phoenix. “The military has blessed my family and I with incredible opportunities that most people don’t get. I am forever grateful for it. This is why I want to give back to the men and women who serve and still continue to serve. ‘Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’ is about helping kids and teens go through these difficult moves, and also spread the word to civilians to let them know that not only do their parents serve, but us as the youth serve, too.”

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Phoenix is engaging her peers, her school and community members both in and outside the military. Her most recent pictures show a glimpse of all of her hard work; from the Remembering The Fallen exhibit on display at her school, to her volunteer efforts to raise money for military families.

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Got to help out at Offutt Air Force Base’s Thrift Store today! The revenue that is brought in goes toward many base organizations, off base community organizations, as well as scholarships for high-school seniors and military spouses.

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Proud to be a young Filipina! Performing at this year’s Santo Niño Festival was an honor! I had the pleasure of meeting our Nebraska Governor, Pete Ricketts, and Bellevue city mayor, Rita Sanders. I truly enjoyed being a part of this religious and cultural celebration!

Just last week, Phoenix did something most adults never commit the time or dedication to; she went to Lincoln to testify before members of the Nebraska Legislature.

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This brave 12-year old advocated for LB88, a bill that would prompt the state to issue temporary professional licenses to military spouses during the procedural wait time it takes to secure a permanent license.   State Senator Carol Blood later posted on Facebook: “Thank you to Miss Sarpy County Outstanding Teen for her outstanding testimony on LB 88 this week. This military spouses bill is important to Nebraska, especially District 3 and 45.”

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“I want civilians to be aware of what goes on behind their freedom and how military families make it happen,” said Phoenix. “I also want people to know how amazing this pageant system is and how much young women can learn from an opportunity like this.”

That’s why Phoenix decided to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this spring, to share a message and grow as a person.

“I love how this pageant is scholarship based!” she said. “School and getting a good education is everything to me. [My goal] is to make it easier for my family to pay for my education. I love music and when I found out they have a talent portion in the pageant, I thought it would be a great way to express my love for performing and music. The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant system recognizes young women’s talent, promotes healthy living, emphasizes scholastic achievements and encourages community service.”

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Ironically, the friendships that are so often part of Phoenix’s message about military children have become of one of the clearest benefits of her participation in this year’s program.

“Not only have I met some amazing people, but I get to help out the community as well,” said Phoenix. “[This organization] has taught me some great skills and how to put myself out there. I have been so blessed with this opportunity and I’m so thankful.”

What’s next for Phoenix Stanford? Turning 13 in April. Graduating from middle school and starting high school.. something she could be doing as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. And continuing to advocate for the cause and people she believes in.

“Winning state would be a win for Sarpy County, including Offutt Air Force Base,” said Phoenix. “Winning national would be a win for Nebraska, the military community, the Filipino and German community. While it would be fantastic to win at any level, my goal is to make a difference in my community and for the people around me.”

Beyond the impressive resumes, what ultimately sticks with me about people like Suzi Verma and Phoenix Stanford are who they are beyond their titles. Those who nominated Dr. Verma for the Westside Hall of Fame didn’t focus on her extensive academia or doctoral accolades, they raved about her love for children, her kindness, and the depth of her heart. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, at just 12 years old, doesn’t brag about her service or eye-opening accomplishments, she stresses the qualities she hopes to be remembered by: compassionate, perseverant and unique.

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“I don’t like to give up. I believe we are all put here to help one another,” said Phoenix. “There will never, ever be a person like me and that’s what makes me special.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

NEXT.. Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser

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

All Hail The Queen

THERE SHE IS…

For the last month and a half, I’ve introduced you to all 19 young women competing for the title of Miss Nebraska in LESS THAN THREE WEEKS.

HUNDREDS of hours of service.  THOUSANDS of dollars raised for charity.

Most, if not all of these women, told me how much they’ve grown as people by participating in the Miss America Organization.  You can see it in their pictures; the smiles on their faces as little girls proudly wear their crowns.  Side by side with children and adults alike, who for a moment, felt extra special.  Performing on stage in front of hundreds, cheered on by the people who love them most.  THOSE are the moments that make all of this incomparable.

But behind the scenes, THIS IS WORK.  These women, especially in these final weeks leading up to Miss Nebraska, ARE WORKING THEIR TAILS OFF to be the absolute BEST they can be for this competition.  In the studio.  In the gym.  They are making sure they are as aware as possible of the world around them and fine tuning their public speaking skills.  IT’S GO TIME.

At the end of the day, is it all worth it?  The countless hours serving without a paycheck.  The scratchy throats, sore muscles and tired fingers with the risk of no crown at the end.  The stress of juggling school.. and jobs.. and duties as a local titleholder. Is it all worth it?

This young woman says ABSOLUTELY.

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Miss Nebraska 2013 JaCee Pilkington

One year ago, I compiled a slideshow for KETV.com showcasing the Miss Nebraska contestants.  I asked each woman to send me her favorite photos and things about herself she wanted our viewers and readers to know.  JaCee was among the first to respond to me.  Her answers were articulate, her goals clear.  She was DETERMINED to become Miss Nebraska.

Crowning

“Being Miss Nebraska is by far the most challenging yet rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my life,” JaCee told me recently.  “Although many have a skewed view of what being Miss Nebraska is really like, it is first and foremost a job. I managed to put 50,000 miles on my car and traveled everywhere from Valentine to McCook, and Scottsbluff to Omaha.  I’ve made it my goal to touch as many individuals across this state as I possibly can.”

Did she accomplish that? See for yourself.

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JaCee invited me to check out her Facebook page and choose whichever photos I liked best.  WHAT YOU SEE DOES NOT EVEN SCRATCH THE SURFACE.  There are literally hundreds of pictures, snapshots of countless moments in schools, at events, with one child or 500, smiling, offering hugs, the list goes on and on and on.

“Whether it was through my platform [Operation Remember Me], the Children’s Miracle Network, or the Miss Nebraska Organization as a whole, I wanted to make this year about seeing Miss Nebraska as a real, tangible, down-to-Earth girl,” said JaCee.

JaCee says travel has been the best part of her job, learning what makes the state so special.  (“Wilber is Czech, Stromsburg is Swede, and O’Neill is Irish.  Just a little Nebraska trivia for you,” said JaCee.)  One of her most exciting trips came in September, when JaCee traveled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska at the Miss America pageant.

Click here to watch JaCee’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ Miss America video!

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“Miss America was such a surreal experience,” said JaCee.  “I gained 51 other sisters away from the experience and friendships that will last. My favorite moment in particular was singing my talent on the Miss America stage.  You hit that last note and look out and think, ‘Dang, this is so freaking cool.’  It was almost two weeks filled with excitement, anxiety, stress, and happiness all at the same time.  I’m also elated to know the Miss America Organization is evolving as we’ve now crowned our first Indian American Miss America.”

SO LET’S SUM UP… months preparing for Miss Nebraska, then winning Miss Nebraska.  Three short months preparing for Miss America, then competing at Miss America.  What next?!?!

EVERYTHING.

“Miss Nebraska is by far the hardest yet most rewarding job I’ve ever held,” said JaCee.  “You are driving a majority of the time, by yourself, to an appearance that you just learned the name of last night.  You are constantly adapting to the environment around you.  Heck, one week I had to [revise] one speech, six different ways, in one week to fit each appearance.  Although the job can be difficult at times, it is what you make it.  You can be doing an appearance literally every day of the week if you want to be.  However, it is your responsibility to put yourself out there, network your butt off, and make it happen.  Nobody will do that for you.”

security at Kimball schools with Warren Kearney's Park Elementary

It will truly be the end of an era on June 7, when JaCee crowns the next Miss Nebraska.  She’s not only served our state for the last year, she also served as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2009.

“I’m feeling very content at this point,” said JaCee.  “It is sad, don’t get me wrong.  Who wouldn’t want to say they’re Miss Nebraska?  I am excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life, though.  Right after I give up my crown I will be heading to Mexico to serve on a mission trip.  Later I will continue to finish my degree at Doane College with hopes to continue in public policy and the business consulting world.”

Could we see Senator Pilkington down the road?  (Prior to becoming Miss Nebraska, JaCee worked for Senator Mike Johanns and continues to stay active in local politics.)

“I view Nebraska in a completely different light now,” said JaCee.  “To be honest, when I graduated the first place I was headed was DC.  Now, I realize the opportunity Nebraska has to offer.  You can make an incredible impact within this state and I cannot see myself anywhere else at this point.”

little sister JaLee puppy

JaCee’s got good reason to stay close to home; her little sister, JaLee, just graduated high school, she’s got a sweet puppy at home to look after, and yes, gentlemen, she’s got a boyfriend.

She’s got one more big trip on her schedule; to hand off her crown to the next Miss Nebraska.

“I mainly want people to know how relevant and impactful the job of Miss Nebraska really is,” said JaCee.  “I understand that many already have preconceived notions about ‘beauty pageants’ but I can assure you that she’s more than a pretty face.  The women who compete in this organization are extremely driven, hard-working, intelligent, and compassionate individuals who are looking to make a difference in this world.  I pray that whoever is blessed with this opportunity this coming month will take full advantage of all it has to offer: the connections, opportunities, and lives that can be changed.”

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Connect with Miss Nebraska 2013, JaCee Pilkington

on Twitter, and on Instagram

JaCee hopes you’ll also check out the Miss Nebraska pageant on Facebook and online

The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH A SPECIAL KETV CHRONICLE FEATURING 10 OF THE 19 YOUNG WOMEN COMPETING FOR MISS NEBRASKA.

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PREVIOUS POST.. Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittli Sell