Tag Archive | miss omaha

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.

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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“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…

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…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.

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“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.”

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To follow Miss Omaha Allie Swanson, click here.

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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 Sandhills Regan Kolbo

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory

Dreaming Big

I still remember being a little girl with HUGE glasses, taking field trips to The Rose or to Papillion-La Vista High School to watch theater. I was IN AWE. I idolized the actors and singers and wanted, so badly, to be on that stage just like them.

When I got to high school, Drama classes were a must, and I tried out for PLHS’s production of Oklahoma! I was one of the youngest students cast – I couldn’t even drive home from rehearsals everyday! I was ‘adopted’ by one of the stars of the show, Alyssa Passey.

Alyssa was a senior (guys, A SENIOR!!) who, for whatever amazing reason, befriended me during those months I really didn’t know anyone else. She drove me home everyday in her amazing pink Dodge Neon (which was AWESOME), and just made me feel COOL. I wanted to be JUST. LIKE. HER.

A 13-year old Millard North Middle School student has a very similar story.. except her Alyssa’s literally sparkled before her eyes.

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Her name is Marissa Messick. When this photo was taken, she was just 6 years old and IN HEAVEN.

“Everything started when I was a Little Sister for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant in 2010,” said Marissa. “My Big Sister, Mindy Schreiber, won Miss Douglas County that night and it was so great to be able to go through that experience with her.”

And Marissa met more Queens over the next several years, as a World Champion baton twirler with The Stepperette’s, a team that has included Miss Nebraska 2001 Tina Foehlinger, Miss Nebraska runners up Tami and Rachel Foehlinger, and Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters. Marissa learned more and more about the sash and crown she’d seen so many times as a little girl.

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“Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska are great programs,” said Marissa. “They teach you how to find yourself and they help you become more confident. It helps with paying for school. More importantly, it defies a common fear of public speaking. Being able to speak in public is an amazing life skill and this program helps majorly with being more comfortable doing that.”

 

 

So this year, Marissa decided to try this whole pageant thing for herself, and was crowned Miss Millard’s Outstanding Teen.

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“My favorite part of being a titleholder is being able to meet so many people and have younger kids look up to me,” said Marissa. “It’s amazing to be able to walk into a room and see their faces just light up with a huge smile and say ‘Mom, look, a princess’. Then you can tell them about your platform and they listen with everything they have because they’re talking to a princess. You can light up their day and impact their lives all in one.”

Marissa has used that attention to promote kindness and respect for others, a mission she calls ‘Believe In The Golden Rule.’

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“Treat others how you like to be treated,” said Marissa. “So many people judge and bully others on what they look like, what they do, how smart they are, and how much money their families make. I’ve talked to Alternate Curriculum Program students at my school about this; they shouldn’t be treated any differently then we get treated. Also, I wrote a book on the Golden Rule in English class and read it to 2nd graders at Cather Elementary.”

Those speaking opportunities are also benefitting Marissa. She’ll begin classes at Millard North High School next fall, and hopes to someday become a lawyer.

“This is definitely helping me because I have to be able to form opinions on topics. I will have to be ok and comfortable with public speaking,” said Marissa. “Also, I will have to know how to balance my time, and being an 8th grader while getting ready for high school, spending time with friends, doing appearances, twirling and preparing for State definitely teaches me how to healthily balance my time.”

‘State’ is the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition, the next step in Marissa’s journey. The same moments she watched as a little girl with a smile on her face and starts in her eyes are now in her path.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“My goal isn’t to win, which sounds strange, but my goal is to meet friends and have a good experience,” said Marissa. “It doesn’t matter if you win at state or if you had the best dress, but the changes you made. I think, not just with Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but with everything you do in life, what you leave behind is most important.”

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To follow Miss Millard’s Outstanding Teen Marissa Messick, click here.

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

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

PREVIOUS.. Miss Elkhorn’s Outstading Teen Rachel Greufe

NEXT.. Special 3-Part Post! Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Sofia Drelicharz, Miss Heartland’s Outstanding Teen Aubrie Charter, and Miss North Platte’s Outstanding Teen Aspen Golter

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

Persistence

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

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

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

Neither did Courtney Pelland.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Ben Fogletto for Press of Atlantic City

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

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

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * College Ready

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak

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

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becky Smith

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

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

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

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

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

NEXT.. Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis

Stethoscopes & Tiaras

This week, I celebrated my 36th birthday the best way possible… with Influenza A.  I’ve written about this before, this has NOT been my season of health.  In baseball terms, I’m trying to hit for the cycle of ailments, I suppose.

Sunday, I texted my friend Natalie for her over-the-phone diagnosis.. poor girl is my only physician BFF, and therefore, I bother her on the weekend when I can’t reach a doctor.  Thanks to her help and advice, I (hopefully) turned onto the road to recovery sooner than waiting a few extra days.

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Photo courtesy CHI Health

My friend Natalie may look familiar.. because she’s Dr. Natalie Stuntz, a highly respected and admired pediatrician on all of the CHI Health commercials in eastern Nebraska. She’s also a former Miss Omaha contestant and 2-time 1st runner up to Miss Nebraska USA.  She’s a busy mother of two, wife, and yet she still she donates her time across Omaha and to communities around the world.  She’s beautiful, brilliant, and kind.

Maybe it’s a doctor thing.. the same dedication, intelligence and drive required to get through medical school and residency is also exemplified in other facets of life.  An Elkhorn teenager hoping to pursue medicine herself is already following in Dr. Stuntz’s footsteps in more ways than one.

Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

“I plan on attending UNL as a pre-med student, dancing on the Scarlet Dance Team and moving on to medical school,” Emily told me recently.  “My dream is to be a pediatric surgeon.”

Big goals for a young woman who can’t yet drive a car.  Emily credits her focus to her participation in pageants, including her preparation for this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Omaha.

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“I love competing in pageants and have been doing so since first grade,” said Emily.  “Sometimes even my friends had a negative view of pageants.  I have really talked to them about pageants and all that is involved with pageantry.  I focused on telling them about interview skills which will help me in my future, speaking in front of an audience, confidence and grace on stage, and the wonderful opportunities to serve my community.”

Emily has been a titleholder within the National American Miss system and continues to mentor younger participants.  She’s a student at Elkhorn South High School, where she’s active with the Storm Dance Team.  Emily also finds time to do what she loves most, to joke around and to’shop, shop, shop!’

 “As a busy teen, it’s very important to stay organized with my schoolwork, activities, dance team and competitive dance,” said Emily.  “[Being organized] is the only way I can do so much!”

Those are the kinds of things Emily is excited to share with not only a panel of judges, but to any group who will listen as she advocates for pageant girls everywhere.

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“My platform is ‘Don’t Judge The Sparkle: Changing Pageant Perception’,” said Emily.  “There are so many people who do not understand the world of pageantry.  I am making this my mission and want to change the negative stereotypes that some people have of pageants.  The general public does not understand all of the wonderful opportunities that take place through pageants.  College scholarships, interview skills, public speaking skills, poise, grace, resume skills just to name a few.”

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I’ve done the name dropping, giving you proof of the incredible women who’ve been part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.  Brook Matthews-Hudson, co-founder and producer of Omaha Fashion Week.  Brittany Jeffers, Emmy Award winning broadcast news journalist.  Dr. Natalie Stuntz, role model for young women dreaming of being a doctor.. and Miss America.

“My goal/dream is to become as involved as I can in the state pageant,” said Emily.  “Of course I want to win and along the way I hope to make new friends, promote the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization, serve my community and continue to do well academically.  [There are] so many wonderful opportunities available to serve others.  It really makes a person feel good.  I hope to continue promoting serving others.”

***

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 Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

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!

NamaSLAY

I have a new best friend.  I look forward to the time we spend together everyday.  My husband knows about this new friend.. and encourages our relationship.

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Meet Vytas.  Vytas is really good at yoga.  Vytas is helping ME get better at yoga.

Note: I’ve never met Vytas.  He lives in my computer.  Please halt all potential warnings to Vytus about his creepy ‘friend’ Brandi.

Like so many, I struggle with my weight and nutrition.  I lose weight, then I lose interest and lose control.  I’m an emotional eater.  Pretty sure my body is 99% coffee instead of water.  When I was 18, I could get away with eating Chex Mix and Mt. Dew for breakfast.  Now, a few trips through the Runza drive-thru and the only thing that fits are my husband’s sweats (and he gets grumpy when I steal them!)  But aside from how I look and my confidence, my health has started to suffer because of my less than ideal lifestyle.  I feel like I’ve been sick in some form since early November.. and just after Christmas, I contracted strep throat.  A trip to the ER, 2 rounds of antibiotics and a week in bed later, I promised myself I was going to start doing a better job taking care of the body God has given me.

I’ve been trying Beachbody on the advice of my friend and stunning beauty, Amanda Soltero.  One of her challenges to kick off 2017 included 3-Week Yoga Retreat with Vytus.  I tried it.. and became hooked.  I LOVE the way yoga makes me feel.  I love awakening the muscles I used to stretch in gymnastics as a kid.  I love realizing I can touch the floor with my hands, or now keep my legs straight in downward dog.  I love when I automatically sit up straighter at my desk because the practice has already improved my posture and carriage.  Most of all, I love the RETREAT that yoga has provided me.. a chance to breathe deeply and for 30 minutes a day dissolve all of the stress and burdens that have piled on throughout the other 23 hours.

For a young woman from Omaha, this is a message of health and wellbeing she’s understood for quite some time.. one she’s now taking to children across eastern Nebraska.

Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

“I am currently a yoga teacher and went through children’s yoga teacher training this summer,” said Wellesley.  “Both of those experiences led me to mindfullness.  I then continued my training on mindfullness with [my platform] ‘Mindful Schools: Peace Begins With Me’.”

A platform that skyrocketed last fall when Wellesley was crowned Miss Omaha 2017.

“I’ve always admired the women that have been in the Miss Nebraska Organization,” Wellesley told me recently.  “Then, when I was old enough, I felt as if it was time for me to stand up and be a leader and role model like the women who have been in the system before have been for me.”

A title doesn’t make you a role model.  A crown doesn’t make you a leader.  But Wellesley used both of those tools to find new audiences in schools across Omaha.

Wellesley sharing yoga and mindfulness with students at Westside’s Oakdale Elementary and at Brownell Talbot, where she attended school!

“Mindfullness is the act of paying attention on purpose without judgement,” said Wellesley.  “I’ve spent a large part of my year so far going to schools and working with students on techniques to help them breathe, focus, listen and just feel good!  In a world that is so chaotic and go-go-go we have to find a way to slow down.  It’s healthy! Mindfulness brings that stillness we are often missing.”

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Wellesley is also a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, delivering blankets over the winter holiday and bringing in Valentine’s Day crafts for patients this week.  She’s also partnered with businesses like Yogurtini in Lincoln to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s community partner.

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“Three words to describe me are driven, organized and focused,” said Wellesley.  “Goal setting is one of my favorite things.  When I set a goal I dig in right away and figure out what it takes to get me to my dream.”

CLICK HERE to hear more from Wellesley during a guest appearance with Matt Tompkins on News Talk 1290!

These are the character traits Wellesley hopes stand out to both children and adults, attributes she credits in part to her participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

“This organization has helped me to clearly articulate my opinions and beliefs without fear,” said Wellesley.  “It has given me experience in skills I will always need such as interviewing and networking.  I go into a lot of situations with more confidence than ever because of this organization.  The fact that I get to even put on the Miss Omaha crown and sash and meet so many amazing people around my city is unreal to me.  The whole experience is a dream come true.”

Wellesley is clear: her big goal is to become Miss Nebraska.  However, she is also mindful of the big picture.  Wellesley is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student majoring in advertising/public relations and journalism and has authored her own fashion/pop culture blog for several years. CLICK HERE to check it out!

“Beyond the pageant world, I hope to one day combine my loves of journalism and yoga to work for a wellness magazine or website like The Yoga Journal or mindful.org,” said Wellesley.  “At the state pageant, my plan is just to do my best and get people thinking about mindfulness and all of its benefits.”

Wellesley and her fellow titleholders will be the first to tell you, just as yoga isn’t just ‘stretching’, competing for Miss Nebraska isn’t just slapping on makeup and waving your hand in parades.  They spend  hours in the gym every week.  They dedicate countless hours to people and causes they care deeply about.  They study, they work hard, they plan.  But at the end of each day, Wellesley also remembers to breathe deeply and to reflect.

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“Here’s a mindfulness tip before I go.  I do this everyday,” said Wellesley.  “Take five minutes, mute your phone and listen to your breath.  Maybe you say ‘inhale, exhale’ with each breath or count how many times you breathe.  Thoughts will come up and that’s ok!  After five minutes sit for a minute and notice how you feel.”

On behalf of this blossoming yoga instructor, Namaste.  To you, Miss Omaha Wellesley Michael, NamaSLAY.

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Photo courtesy Michael Dar

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael’s blog, Wellesley Lauren.  You can also CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.  To contact Wellesley for appearances and speaking events, email wellesleymich@gmail.com.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, and CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter. You can also email missomahapageant@yahoo.com, or contact Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

NEXT.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

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!

Intervention

The emerging theme for many of my posts lately has been assumptions.  The descriptions and details we assume to be fact because of what we’ve heard, societal influence, whatever the case may be.  Often, part of the challenge in spreading awareness about a cause or topic is changing the misconceptions people may have about it.

For example: addiction.  What do you think of?  Someone dirty, desperate, homeless.. or an upper middle class housewife living a seemingly normal, if not perfect life?

For several years now, my former colleague and award-winning friend Julie Cornell has worked tirelessly to shed light on what many view as a prescription drug epidemic in Nebraska.  Her reports have led to public questions and changes in state law.  That work has also encouraged people to come forward and get help.. people like Claire Winkelbauer. The mother of four and minister’s wife became addicted to hydrocodone after she was prescribed the drug post-surgery.

“Without God, without my husband, without people that love you, I honestly believe in my heart that I wouldn’t be here today,” she told Julie.  CLICK HERE to see Julie’s full story as part of KETV’s year-long State Of Addiction series.

Stories like this are taking place all around us, whether we know it or not.  It’s the reason a Bellevue teenager has dedicated her year to what she calls a Message of Hope.

Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

“My platform is called ‘A Message of Hope: Raising Awareness to Drug and Substance Abuse.’  I chose this because I have seen what the effects of drug abuse can do to a person and the people around them,” Katie told me recently.  “Since this kind of topic has greatly affected my family, I wanted to teach young adolescents the dangers of drugs and alcohol so that they can make the right decisions on their path to their future.”

Katie is a role model to her peers at Bellevue West High School, and now to countless children across the Omaha metro area.

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Crowned Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen in October, Katie immediately used her crown and sash as an ‘in’ to speak to classes and groups.

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Katie speaking at Westside’s Loveland Elementary

She’s also spreading her message across social media and more, urging her followers to share posts and pictures advocating for drug abuse awareness.

I’ll be selling these Message of Hope shirts to raise money for my Miss Omahas Outstanding Teen platform called “A Message of Hope: Raising Awareness to Drug and Substance Abuse”. All proceeds with go to the Omaha Valley Hope Association. They are a non-profit organization for people who are in the process of recovering from addiction. They are $15!! Please message me if interested!!

When a young woman is crowned a Miss So&So, they are not required to take part in community service.  They aren’t forced to give countless hours of their time, their evenings and weekends, to promote a cause.  Katie does all of this in addition to her studies at Bellevue West High School, where she is a member of the Varsity Cheer Squad, and competitive baton twirling as a member of the World Champion Stepper-Ettes Baton and Dance.

Katie, and women like her, give their time to others because they are determined to make a difference.  It’s why Katie decided to compete in a pageant in the first place.

“I care about others!” said Katie.  “I love helping people and being involved in the lives of others, which explains why I want to pursue a career in the medical field!  [I am] hard working because you get out the amount of work you put in.  I truly believe that working hard now will pay off later in life.  And finally, [I am] kind because kindness is key! A simple compliment or ‘hello’ to someone could make their day.  Plus, who doesn’t love to see someone smile because of you?”

These are all of the qualities Katie hopes to show a panel of judges when she competes to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“[Pageants] give girls confidence!” said Katie.  “Not everyone can go on stage and answer a question in front of lots of people and get judged on it… literally!  I think there’s a message behind pageants, also, and it’s that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.  Never give up!”

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To pageant naysayers, Katie notes the three women with her in this photo, and countless others not pictured.

“My favorite part of this competition is meeting new people! I love making friends!” said Katie.  “I have met so many people and it has given me opportunities that I never imagined I would’ve had before.  It also boosted my self esteem/confidence because I worked so hard for this and I plan on working harder for the next step.”

Which path Katie Harris takes that next step could be determined in April.  Her end goal will stay the same, regardless if she’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen or Katie Harris, a truly outstanding teenager.

“Other than wanting to win, my goal is to spread the message of hope to more places in Nebraska,” said Katie.  “I want to further my platform and impact the lives of young adolescents and teens.  Most of all, I want to be the reason someone said no to drugs.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Katie Harris 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.

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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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway

NEXT.. Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

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!

Fire and Gold

June 4, 2015.

I had the humbling honor of hosting the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, and spent the day at North Platte High School in rehearsals.  During breaks, I tried to upload as many photos to the Miss Omaha Facebook page as I could, typing furiously to tag contestants and draw more viewers to our site.  I almost didn’t notice when a stunning blonde sat next to me and said ‘Hi, how’s it going?’

Her name was Alyssa Howell.

Funny how such a small gesture of kindness, just taking a moment to ask someone how they are doing, can make such a big impact on how you think of a person.  A panel of six judges thought VERY highly of Alyssa.. naming her Miss Nebraska 2015 just 24 hours later.

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Photo courtesy the North Platte Telegraph

“Miss Nebraska week was the most fun I have ever had!” Alyssa told me recently.  “I was surrounded by 12 amazing contestants that not only were great friends to me during the week, but who also supported me throughout my year.”

And so began a reign that represents everything this Miss Nebraska has stood for; friendship, kindness, genuineness.

As a longtime Miss America fan and a journalist who is always subconciously observing, I’ve noticed over the years the reaction of other contestants speaks volumes about the woman crowned.  Minutes after Alyssa was named Miss Nebraska, she was immediately embraced by  her ‘pageant sister’, Miss Omaha Megan Gould.  Just weeks later, Alyssa invited Megan, as well as other Miss Nebraska finalists Brooke Ludemann, LaRissa McKean and Allison Tietjen, to perform at her send-off party for Miss America.  These women, Alyssa’s competition at this time last year, seemed genuinely happy for her and showed up in full force to give her their support; Alyssa was eager to share her spotlight that night to showcase the titleholders who had become her friends.

For me.. it goes back to that day in the cafeteria.. Alyssa Howell is REAL.  She doesn’t pretend to care about people; she just DOES.  She’s taken that incredible quality across the country for the last year, focusing much of her time and energy on children.

“Not having grown up in Nebraska, this year took me to so many new places!” said Alyssa.  “Just being able to reach Nebraskans across the state was such a wonderful experience.  Whether it was a Pumpkin Chuckin’ in a cornfield in northeastern Nebraska, a small town elementary school with a total of 42 students, or a large scale fundraising Gala in downtown Omaha, I was able to reach out to the people of Nebraska on so many levels.  If anything, this year reminded me just how much I love being a part of the Cornhusker State.”

Alyssa visited dozens of schools across Nebraska, and four Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in several states.  THAT has been Alyssa’s passion for years now, connecting with sick children through her Miracle Bags program.

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Alyssa recruiting 2016 Miss Nebraska contestants to put together and deliver bags of goodies, ‘Miracle Bags’ to kids at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story about Alyssa & her Miracle Bags!

“As soon as I won Miss Nebraska, one of my priorities for the year was to impact as many children as I could with my Miracle Bags program,” said Alyssa.  “And with that goal in mind I was able to visit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in Omaha, Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, and deliver over 180 Miracle Bags!  Many people ask me how I am able to visit children who are in such dire situations, and not be completely depressed after the fact.  I always tell them that the feeling of seeing a child who is going through the most difficult time in their life light up at the sight of my crown and Miracle Bag is indescribable.  And I will never forget the parents who tell me that this is the first time they have seen their child smile in days.  Children’s Miracle Network will forever be a passion of mine.”

To countless families and children, Alyssa made a profound impact.  She also made a huge mark on the pageant world, when in September, she travelled to Atlantic City to represent Nebraska in the 2016 Miss America Pageant.

“I have watched the Miss America Pageant every year on TV since I can remember, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would one day be on that stage!” said Alyssa.  “Even after winning Miss Nebraska, my goal for Miss America was to have a blast, meet some amazing girls, and represent Nebraska well.”

Check, check, CHECK.  And when 7-million Americans tuned in to see who would make the Top 15..

Left photo courtesy Getty Images

..they heard Miss Nebraska, Alyssa Howell.  I screamed and jumped in my living room.. Alysa’s family and friends were EXUBERANT in the crowd in Atlantic City.  With the confidence women dream of and the swagger of Bruno Mars, Alyssa strutted her stuff on that stage in Lifestyle and Fitness.. and sauntered right into the Top 12.

Photos courtesy Getty Images

“Being called into the Top 15 was a complete and total shock,” said Alyssa.  “Standing on that stage with 51 other talented, beautiful, intelligent women, I never thought that I would hear NEBRASKA called! I still get goosebumps when I watch the video.  When I made the Top 12, I was just so excited and honored to move on!  I was surrounded by some of my best friends in the competition and it was such a surreal moment.”

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Photo courtesy Getty Images

That is where Alyssa’s journey ended, sadly, before she could play her INCREDIBLE piano solo for America.  But when I spoke to her just a few weeks later at the Miss Omaha Pageant, Alyssa didn’t have ONE negative thing to say about her experience;  no trash talk on her fellow contestants, no coulda woulda shoulda’s.. simply a completely EXCITED outlook on what she could accomplish next in her home state as Miss Nebraska.  And holy cow.. has that been a lot.  After Miss America, Alyssa was featured in US Weekly and Pageantry magazines.  She was a high profile model in Omaha Fashion Week.  She secured and strengthened partnerships and sponsor connections with Omaha’s world renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Sun Tan City, Kontempo. and nationally known stylist Kirby Keomysay among others.

Alyssa also became a frequent muse for photographers, taking part in numerous photo shoots with Deyo’s Photography in Nebraska and Jenn Cady Photography based in South Carolina.

Alyssa accepted every interview request that came her way, including the nationally recognized Pageant Junkies (CLICK HERE to listen!), Omaha’s KFAB and KETV (CLICK HERE to watch!)the North Platte Telegraph (CLICK HERE to read!), and ME!

“This year was definitely more challenging than I expected,” said Alyssa.  “Seeing all of the work Miss Nebraska does from Facebook and Instagram posts pales in comparison to the actual job.  What people don’t see is the full hair and makeup 4+ days a week, the early mornings, the days when I drive 8+ hours for an appearance, the days that I was sick, the days that I had three appearances and events.  Truly, this is a 24/7 job.  But what I also didn’t expect is how rewarding this whole experience would be! By going through everything this job requires, I have not only learned so many life skills, I have also learned so much about myself.  I know that if I can be Miss Nebraska, I can do anything.  This job has given me a strong sense of confidence about what I am capable of, as well as so many amazing memories and friendships!”

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June 4, 2016.

I have the humbling honor of writing this blog post, chronicling Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell and her year of service.  Initially, I wanted to title this article Humble and Kind, inspired by the Tim McGraw song that to me, so reflects who this incredible young woman is.  Despite her jaw-dropping beauty, smile and grace, she doesn’t radiate a shred of arrogance.  She is giving, real, and most of all KIND.

Alyssa Howell is fire and gold.  She has a huge heart that she has opened to countless children over the last year and more, with the aura of a woman who can only be called QUEEN.  As this journey ends, she’ll pick up where she left off one year ago.. pursuing her Elementary Education degree at Creighton University, intending to impact even more children through her career, now with a big boost from her life experiences and financial awards from being Miss Nebraska.

“I have won over $20,000 in cash scholarships for school,” said Alyssa.  “This has made all the difference in my future!  I started at Creighton University with a total of $27,000 in student loans over four years.  Graduating to become an elementary school teacher with that debt was going to be difficult to say the least.  This program is first and foremost a scholarship organization, and I cannot say enough about the impact that Miss Nebraska and Miss America makes on young women who are getting a college education.”

As I close out.. I must share a ‘shout out’ to part of  Alyssa’s dream team.. her boyfriend, Grady, and her directors, Kayla and Rachel.

These three are superstars in their own right; people who have been in Alyssa’s corner since the moment that crown was placed on her head.  They have also become near and dear to my heart with their humor, loyalty and dedication to helping Alyssa become the absolute best she could be.  Each of this year’s 36 women I’ve profiled have set out to make the world a better place, supported emotionally and otherwise by their own #TeamAlyssa’s.  To ALL of you, THANK YOU for helping these fires burn so brightly, for allowing these gems to sparkle.  They’re about to embark on one of the craziest, exhausting, yet exhilarating weeks of their lives.. and they’ll need you.

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“To this year’s contestants, whether you win or not, Miss Nebraska week is the most fun you will ever have!” said Alyssa.  “Don’t let the stress get to you, and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Just have fun and enjoy that time that you get with your Miss Nebraska sisters!  To Miss Nebraska 2016, I am so incredibly excited to see everything that this year has in store for you!  Remember to make this year your own, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and find those small moments that make every challenge worth it.  Most importantly, remember that this is a year of service.  Never underestimate what an impact a crown and a sash can make.”

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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CLICK HERE to watch Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Farewell Video

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell

on Facebook and on Instagram.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALYSSA?

2015 * ROAR

2015 * Miracle Worker

2014 * The Kid Whisperer

***

CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska Pageant 2016 Recap: The Year of the Phoenix

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!

True Colors

This blog comes you to from 36,000 feet up in the air.

Photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I left Omaha Wednesday on a bleary-eyed 5:30am flight bound for La Paz, Mexico!  Through the months of May and June, we’ll show you the mission that’s been weeks in the making for us and months, if not YEARS in the making for an Omaha team.

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CLICK HERE to see a preview of Operation: Open Hearts on KETV!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ashley and me to tell incredible stories.  Truly, THAT is why we both got into this business in the first place.  I think to some extent there’s an assumption about people in TV News, that we do this because we want to see ourselves on television.  I admit, the first time I reported on camera.. the first time I sat in the anchor chair for a broadcast.. those moments were exhilarating.  BUT.. that sheen wears off in time, and for MANY years now, my adrenaline rushes have come from knowing we are sharing powerful stories of things going on in our city, state, and in our world, and seeing the difference that can come from that.

I have a feeling my friend Payton Merritt is reading this, thinking ‘Preach!!’  She’s not a journalist, but she is a young woman trying to prove that her mission isn’t about big hair and glitter, it’s about making a difference with a powerful tool she’s been given.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The world is filled with need—I want to use the gifts that God has blessed me with to positively impact my small window of the world,” Payton told me recently.  “It was within the Miss Nebraska Organization that I found this window, and my desire to be a leader and role model for my state brought my greatest dream full circle.”

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Payton will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska this June, currently Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016.  Complete disclosure… I kinda love her.  I first met Payton when serving as a judge and then volunteer for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant—Payton was our teen titleholder, then years later, crowned Miss Omaha.  She’s this teeny, petite, blonde, but when she sings, her voice is anything BUT petite; it’s soulful, deep.. it makes you utter ‘dang!’ from your seat in the audience.  Singing was Payton’s initial tie to the Miss America Organization, an added element to what was already a magnetic draw for a child watching on TV from home.

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming Miss America,” said Payton.  “I would stand on the coffee table at our house and pretend to be on stage, waving at the audience, and singing ‘Little Red Wagon’ at the top of my lungs. (My mom says I wasn’t quite as in tune as I am today.)  Initially, it was about me and the pursuit of my dream.”

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Payton also focused on her studies, graduating from high school a semester early and earning a nearly full-ride academic scholarship to Creighton University.  On the Miss Nebraska stage, Payton showed hundreds intelligence and confidence.  That became part of her goal this year.. to show pageant critics the depth of character and abilities so many of these titleholders represent.  (It’s worth noting the Miss America Organization has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in cash scholarships to young women focusing on STEM; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

“I would tell them to look and listen far beyond the two hours of national television coverage.  We are a force of young women devoted and determined to make an impact within our communities,” said Payton.  “The phases of competition are representative of things beyond the surface—ultimately our poise, discipline, intellect and depth show that we can walk the walk, talk the talk, and then put it all to music!”

Payton also notes that she and the rest of the Miss Nebraska Class of 2016 are constantly seeking out ways to be visible, positive role models.  Payton and several other local titleholders recently joined Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell to make Alyssa’s signature Miracle Bags for patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; the girls then hand delivered them to those kids.

Payton, a devoted big sister to several admirers at home, has also connected to children in classrooms during school presentations, talking about her personal platform, ‘The Political Workout: Exercising Your Right To Vote.’

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“I am passionate about empowering people to utilize our most sacred right,” said Payton.  “Because of the sacrifices of many, we have been given a life of opportunity and choice.  I see other countries, and their battles and oppression, and know countless people would risk life and limb to live in a country in which they have the power to choose.  We Americans who do maintain that right, don’t exercise our greatest freedom in choosing who represents us, those who ultimately speak for us.”:

Payton often shares messages and quotes on her Miss Nebraska State Fair Facebook page, encouraging people of the power and importance behind the vote.  For Payton, it’s an issue she plans to pursue long after this often divisive 2016 Presidential Election; she’s pursuing Political Science and Economics degrees at Creighton with plans to attend law school.

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“I think in part [voter apathy] can be traced back to a lack of understanding and education about our political process,” said Payton.  “I want to do my part to show others how important exercising your right to vote is within a democracy.”

UNDERSTANDING AND EDUCATION.  We at KETV have a motto—more complete coverage.  It’s not just our catch phrase, it’s something I remind myself of when I’m tired and want to wrap up a story and move on.. is there more I could or SHOULD include?  Is there another angle to this?  At the end of the newscast, as complimentary (and sometimes not..) as it is to hear about my hair or my dress or the color of my lipstick, I want people to remember MY STORIES.. YOUR stories.  I want our viewers and readers to learn something new about a disease or a law or a PERSON.  Every time Payton Merritt performs the national anthem for the Creighton basketball or baseball games (click here to listen!), every time she dons her sparkling crown to visit a child or speak to a group, she wants to open new eyes to everything she stands for.

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Photo courtesy Brown Harano Photography

“I see the role of Miss Nebraska as one of service,” Payton said.  “Ultimately, I have a cause that I am dedicated to speaking to, one that is not only timely now, but maintains longevity for the democracy of our country.  I aim to serve God, my state, and hopefully my nation through my ability to relate to others, and through a commitment to impacting those who I encounter.  I am humbled by the opportunities I am blessed with, and though I am seeking a very public role, I am not seeking a personal place in the spotlight, but an opportunity to make an impact.”

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Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.  You can also contact Payton for appearances and events by emailing paytonmerritt@hotmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PAYTON?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Omaha! Omaha!

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.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 Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

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

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!