Over the last few months, I’ve tried to take a different approach with what I share on Facebook. I still try to tell our viewers what they should tune in for that night at 10.. and share links to the developing story online that could impact them.. but more and more, I’m trying to share things that just MAKE ME SMILE. Memes that make me laugh, links that have me giggling at my desk, and photos that warm my heart. Hopefully they make someone else’s day a little brighter, too.
A few weeks ago, I shared this beauty.
This is Macy. I used to work with her momma, who is also the incredible photographer who styled and shot this photo. Macy is sassy, smart, talented and SWEET.. she is also one of the national representatives for down syndrome awareness and support, featured on billboards in Times Square, and a frequent visitor to Washington DC for new legislation.
Macy is showing the world that people with special needs bring love, joy, laughter and so many other things into the world and into our lives. They deserve our respect, our time and OUR love.
It’s a message Ashly Helfrich has known and advocated for since she was younger than Macy.
Ashly, a junior at Millard West High School in Omaha, is also Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016. She’ll compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this June. The program is a preliminary competition to the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, described by many as the ‘little sister’ pageant to the Miss America Organization. Just like their ‘miss’ sisters, these teenagers spend a year promoting a cause they are passionate about; Ashly calls hers ‘The Positive Power of Inclusion.’
“Two of my cousins have down syndrome, so I have witnessed how inclusion has affected them while growing up,” Ashly told me recently. “[My platform] is focusing on creating inclusive environments in both schools and the community for people of all ability levels.”
Ashly is a student leader for Millard West’s West Friends club, an organization that twice a month brings together students with and without disabilities.
“I love spending my time with these kids, as they are some of the most genuinely kind people I know,” said Ashly. “They almost always have a smile on their face, and they always greet me like they are so happy to see me. For me, inclusion goes so far beyond just putting students of all ability levels in the same room. The objective of West Friends is to create long-lasting friendships between these students by making a safe, fun environment for all.”
Ashly and West Friends organizers are also creating a model for other programs across the state, as one of the first schools to participate in NSAA-sanctioned unified sports. CLICK HERE TO WATCH Andrew Ozaki’s story on KETV, featuring Ashly, about this new opportunity for special needs students to compete in sports.
Ashly also knows a little something about competition; she trained in tumbling and competitive gymnastics for 11 years and is currently a Millard West varsity cheerleader.
She’s also copy editor for her school’s yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and Student Ambassador for Millard West. Ashly has lettered in Academics, Cheerleading and Pole Vault.
WHAT?!? How could this girl squeeze one more activity into her schedule.. and why?!?!
Ashly answers by noting her role model is former Miss Nebraska local titleholder Chrissy Townsend. (Click here to learn more about Chrissy!)
“My grandparents were Chrissy’s host family during her pageant week in North Platte and for several summers I stayed there with her during that week,” said Ashly. “She really showed me how cool it was to be on stage, I always enjoyed getting to watch her do her favorite thing. She truly paved the way for my own pageants because she gave me a great example of how to be happy with whatever the outcome may be. I always admired the girls in that spotlight; I admired their grace, pose and confidence in front of all of those people, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that myself.”
Despite multiple surgeries on her Achilles tendon, Ashly decided this, her last eligible year to compete, she would try to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. She revisited the piano, an instrument she played for years as a little girl, and won a local title last fall.
“I would tell someone who criticizes pageants that the girls who compete in them are not just focused on their appearance,” said Ashly. “Pageant girls are driven and compassionate, and they are more than ready to help anyone else out before themselves. They all have goals set for themselves and they are ready to do all the work that goes into reaching that goal.”
And THEN some, like in Ashly’s case. Since earning that crown in late October, Ashly has volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army, helped blind and visually impaired shoppers over the holidays, and just this weekend, took a VERY chilly plunge into Cunningham Lake for the Special Olympics.
At work (Omaha’s Vintage Financial Group), Ashly has earned the nickname ‘Miss America’ from firm President and Millard School Board member Pat Ricketts. Easy to see why with the sheer amount of self-lessness, talent and ambition this young lady has.
What’s even cooler to me is WHY Ashly wants all of this.. for her cousins, her West friends, and kids she’s never met, like Macy.
“I want to be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to spread my message of my platform all around the state. I am so excited to be part of a team with some of my favorite people,” said Ashly. “I want to be someone that is a good role model for all teens, and someone who can be trusted with anything. I am very dedicated to the things that I commit to, and competing in this pageant is another step for me to get closer to reaching my goal of being confident in any situation.”
CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich
For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE,FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at email@example.com or Director Kali Tripp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!