Tag Archive | Nebraska

Just Like Fire

Aleah Peters woke up this morning as Miss Nebraska for the last time.

This is the 36th blog post I’ve written this spring about the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants. Out loud, that’s been my excuse for why it’s taken me so long to write an article about Aleah, her final send-off in blog form. Subconsciously, I think I’ve been avoiding writing this.. because I want her to stay Miss Nebraska forever.

Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

As volunteers, we work so hard to make Miss Nebraska relevant, memorable, a woman with substance in our state. From Day 1, Aleah GOT IT. She used every single moment of her year to make a difference, to market herself, to positively represent the Miss Nebraska brand and to take our organization to the next level. She is kind, she is passionate, she is hardworking, she is dedicated, she is down-to-earth, she is smart, she is talented, she is powerful. And with tears in my eyes as I write this, I’m not ready to see her go.

She hugged every child who approached her, and signed every autograph. She accepted every media interview I threw at her, and nailed it with charisma, articulation and humor. She thanked, acknowledged and was truly grateful for every supporter and loved one who stood by her throughout her journey to Miss Nebraska three times and to Miss America. She crisscrossed the state, visiting 2-3 schools every week in addition to fundraisers, galas, and volunteer events. She awed students with her innate talent to twirl, but many remember her long after for the powerful, personal message about bullying she brought to thousands. We want a Miss Nebraska who makes a difference. Aleah Peters changed our part of the world, one visit at a time.

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“I can’t believe that my year is already over and pretty soon it will be someone else’s turn,” Aleah told me recently. “This year has been a huge blessing and an amazing opportunity. Truly a transformational year. Although I feel like I blinked and it was over, there were some weekends and days that felt like a long year of work. A few drives that seemed to take forever or weeks jam-packed with events and appearances I thought would never end. But I wouldn’t trade the long weeks or long drives for anything. Being Miss Nebraska is work. It is a full-time job, but luckily, it’s a fun job.”

When Aleah was crowned Miss Nebraska 2016, she had just graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She was a mature young woman who truly understood that this moment of sheer excitement was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that she embraced and ran with from day one.

“I had a very clear idea of the job that I was applying for and what I was getting myself into,” said Aleah. “I knew what I wanted to accomplish as Miss Nebraska and I knew I wanted to share my message in schools. However, I didn’t realize what a voice I had or what an impact I could make until I did. I never knew how many kids needed to hear my message. I never knew how many eyes would light up when I walked into a room. I never knew I had the power to make every child in the room silent by telling my story. That is how this job became so much more than a job.”

Throughout her years just competing for the title of Miss Nebraska, Aleah spoke to thousands of students about Cyberbullying Awareness. As she told me throughout that journey (click here to read more!) her passion was based on her own experiences being bullied as a teenager by a group of girls from school. Her mission to #MakeKindnessViral is increasingly important in today’s climate of technology and anonymous assault; even Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has made Cyber Safety a key platform based on ongoing problems affecting children, adults and businesses across our state and beyond. Schools across Nebraska asked Aleah to come in and talk to their students, and in October, DeMoine Adams and Teammates brought Aleah on board to visit even more.

Several principals within Westside Community Schools invited Aleah in after she was crowned Miss Nebraska, asking her to share her platform. Over and over, she told hundreds of students about those dark days when she was afraid to answer the phone, when she was afraid to leave her house, when ‘mean girls’ simply made her life hell. In every presentation, she found ways to connect with the students she spoke with, helping them understand her story and hopefully, sending them back out into the world more equipped to deal with bullies, and less likely to become one themselves. One of Westside’s Teacher Leaders told me months later, “our students still talk about her and what she said.” This same scenario played out at schools over and over again throughout this past year.

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“One little girl in a wheelchair asked her teacher if I would meet with her after the school assembly to help her with her project,” said Aleah. “She explained to me that she experienced bullying because she is different from the other students. Another powerful moment was when I spoke in a town that recently experienced a suicide. Many of the students raised their hands to ask what I thought of suicide. It was very clear that there were still some open wounds and a lot of healing for the town but the students were trying to learn more and understand why this happened. Any time a student approaches me and lets me know that they appreciated hearing my story, it makes it all worth it.”

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“One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dr. Mark Adler,” said Aleah. “[Dr. Adler is] the Superintendent of Ralston Public Schools who lost his son to suicide because of cyberbullying. Dr. Adler thanked me for the work I was doing, and that meant a lot to me.”

Aleah’s stories from each visit are varied and often, hilarious. To countless children, especially our youngest Nebraskans, Aleah was a princess personified.

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“I will never get over walking into an elementary school assembly and seeing their eyes light up,” said Aleah. “At one school, the principal was trying to get the students to quiet down and she said ‘obviously we have a very special guest with us here today’ and they all started applauding. Elementary school kids are so much fun and they asked the silliest questions. ‘Did you take a limo to get here?’ ‘Do you live in a castle?’ It was always fun to explain what Miss Nebraska is to them. In one 3rd grade class we lined up to take a picture and the teacher told a student to stop being goofy. With a grin from ear to ear he said ‘I’m so happy right now.’

Among Aleah’s favorite moments as Miss Nebraska was representing our state at the 2017 Miss America Pageant.

“Miss America was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aleah. “I am so happy for Savvy Shields, our Miss America 2016. She is an incredible Miss America and is doing a GREAT job. Regardless of how the competition went, I still won. I won 51 new friends. I won with the relationships I made. I walked away from the competition so fulfilled. I put my very best on the floor and that is exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what place I earned. Some of my favorite Miss America moments include: catching my somersault trick on stage and going crazy! I ran off stage with pure joy and excitement and jumped into Chris the security guard’s arms. I love twirling for an audience and that was one of the most adrenaline rushing performances I have ever done. Another Miss America moment that I look back on and appreciate now is filming our introductions in a hurricane warning. The wind was insane! We went from an amusement park to go out on a boat. I remember curling up in a ball because I was freezing, more than ready to get off, when the camera crew said ‘let’s do that again!'”

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“After we all got done with our swimsuit prelim competitions we crushed about 10 pizzas between 8 girls at our meeting that night,” said Aleah. “I also loved seeing my cheering section in the audience. I was able to spot them right away the second I walked out because there were huge N’s and pictures of my face.”

“Through all the dinners, rehearsals, and late night meetings, I just remember laughing for two weeks straight,” said Aleah. “I won so much more out of the Miss America competition than a crown and scholarship money. I made memories and friendships to last me a lifetime.”

In one of Aleah’s last school visits, she talked to a group of Kindergartners about success. She shared how she competed for Miss Nebraska three times.. winning 3rd place, and then 2nd place before winning our state title. She explained to these children that to her, success was more than just winning Miss Nebraska… it was about working hard, having a great attitude, and being the best version of herself she could be.

To Aleah Peters, this year has been so much more than a pretty crown. She has maintained an INCREDIBLE physique because she learned how to be healthier as part of this journey, and stuck with it. She continued to visit schools and schedule appearances even after her time at Miss America was done, because she wanted to make a difference with the time she had. She opened her heart to this year’s 16 Miss Nebraska contestants, constantly offering guidance and support. She talked about the $26,585 in cash scholarships she has won, and encouraged other young women to sign up for the same journey she’s had.

“I wanted people to know Miss Nebraska,” said Aleah. “I wanted people to relate to her, to be able to talk to her, to try on her crown, learn how to twirl baton, and to be inspired by her.”

As this journey ends, Aleah, true to form, is ready to begin another. She is getting married in September and moving to Florida, where she plans to work in communications.

“The Miss America Organization has given me so much,” said Aleah. “Not only scholarship money and best friends but it has helped me become the best version of myself. It has helped me find a passion in service. This organization has transformed me into the type of woman I want to be. It has given me confidence, shown me what commitment and dedication look like, and pushed me to accomplish more than I thought was possible. I am excited for the big changes ahead! Only God knows what is in store for me and I am so excited for him to show me.”

GIRLS WITH ME

I’m having a hard time perfectly explaining why this woman is such an incredible role model not just to countless children, but to ALL (myself included!) I am in complete awe of how she takes care of herself, eating healthy and getting to the gym everyday despite her crazy schedule. I am so impressed with her strategic business skills marketing herself to make the most out of every moment of this year. I am humbled and inspired by her sheer kindness and goodness, even towards the ‘mean girls’ who inspired the life changing messages she’s taken to so many.

“I think everyone should be proud of all they have accomplished, including those mean girls,” said Aleah. “So instead I say thank you for giving me a story to share. Thank you for allowing me to relate to so many children who have been bullied. To freshman year Aleah, [I would say] you will get through it and you still be stronger because of it. Appreciate the obstacles you’ve had to overcome because they shape who you are.”

We all wake up every morning with a choice.. to get through the day, or to use every day to our full advantage. The Miss Nebraska Class of 2017 has already accomplished so much in their communities, on their campuses and for so many others around them. They each have a spark; so did Aleah at this time last year. And look what she did with it… a young woman who became Miss Nebraska and simply put, was just like fire.

Just like fire, burning out the way
If I can light the world up for just one day
Watch this madness, colorful charade
No one can be just like me any way
Just like magic, I’ll be flying free
I’mma disappear when they come for me
I kick that ceiling, what you gonna say?
No one can be just like me any way..

No one will EVER be like Aleah Peters. Thank you for your smile. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for being YOU, our forever Miss Nebraska.

“Appreciate the little things, word hard and dream BIG! Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Realize that you can always find a commonality with someone and you can always learn from someone. Be a friend and make kindness viral. Appreciate the journey every step of the way.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * The Year of the Phoenix

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Fighting For Hope

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

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

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

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!

It’s A Small World After All

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

Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex and girls

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

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

Alex C&G

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

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

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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 Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

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

When Quality Meets Quantity

Every year as a little girl, I watched the Miss America Pageant.  I loved seeing these sensational women on that big stage on TV, showcasing their talents and exuding sheer joy when their names were called.  I also remember my disappointment when it seemed Nebraska was ‘never’ called. Not exactly true.. our incredible titleholders won a slew of awards in the 80’s and 90’s, but we faced a 17-year semi-finals drought.  We have had phenomenal titleholders in our state, but we are also going up against states like Texas who have 50+ contestants every year in comparison to our 16 or so.  How do we encourage more local girls to try our program?

Two amazing women are working to find the answer.

Kali and Heather

Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards are the Co-Executive Directors of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program, Miss America’s companion organization for girls ages 13-17.  This year, they’ve helped recruit 18 young women to compete for our state’s teen title, the most EVER in Nebraska.  These busy women have been on a mission to not just ‘sign her up!’; they’ve scouted and invited in the best of the best across our state.  As a result, Nebraska has become a force to be reckoned with on the national stage and across communities everywhere.

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Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

Heather and Kali ‘discovered’ Jamie Chen a few months ago, a striking young woman who seemingly checks off every quality Nebraska’s Dream Team looks for regarding talent, intelligence and service.  Jamie got her first taste of the program at just 8 years old, when she was asked to perform at the 2012 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.

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“It felt so right to be on that stage,” Jamie told me recently.  “So I promised myself that I’d be back one day, not just as a guest performer, but as one of those ‘queens’.”

Even then, Jamie knew there was a great deal more to this world, and ultimately, her reasons off stage are what compelled her to compete.

“One of the key reasons that I am participating in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is that it is not the stereotypical beauty contest,” said Jamie.  “Instead, it goes far beyond that image to helping young women empower others.  [This organization] gives us an opportunity to make a true difference in our community, to imprint ourselves and our message on the hearts of children not only in our own community, but all across the state.”

Disproving stereotypes is a mission Jamie seems to have been born with, shunning the rules of boys and girls for as far back as she can remember.

“I have always been drawn to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics.)  Throughout my journey, I have been consistently supported by my parents and family, along with many of my teachers and peers,” said Jamie. “My story, however, is unfortunately not the norm: it is the exception.  While the battle against misogyny may be a well-known movement today, its influence within the STEM fields has often been passed over.  Girls grow up with toys and movies that value girls because of their appearances and ‘damsel in distress’ status.  The daughters of our nation grow up believing that their true, inherent value lies in how other people, particularly boys, look at them.  Too often, they go into fields that suit societal perceptions, rather than what interests them.  This stigma, put together with workforce bias and the message that boys are receiving from society, ‘go out and conquer, even if that means being sexist and otherwise biased,’ makes for a deadly combination in the numbers of women in STEM.”

Chen

What you just read came from a 12-year old.  A powerful mission statement from a young woman who is dual enrolled at both Scottsbluff High School and Stanford University’s Online High School.  She’s Class President, a Student Ambassador, Captain of the Math Bowl Team, a national qualifier the national MathCounts competition in Washington DC,  and oh, and by the way, she’s already scored a perfect 36 on her ACT and has been offered a full ride to UNL.. at 12 years old.

“I’d describe myself as a leader, confident and humble,” said Jamie.  “Leaders inspire greatness in others and bring out the best around them.  I hope to empower others to reach their full potential.  Confidence is contagious.  By believing in my own inner strength and finding my inner hero, I aspire to influence everyone around me to do incredible things in life.”

Any variety of incredible things.. like music.  Jamie is not only a brilliant young woman (AGAIN, 36 ON HER ACT…), she’s a gifted musician, playing piano since the age of 5 and the french horn since the age of 9.

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“I pride myself on being a well-rounded person who enjoys both academics, extracurriculars and sports,” said Jamie.  “I am always willing to try new things, and I believe that this contributes to a large part of who I am today.”

A young woman who has visited schools all over her hometown of Scottsbluff, hoping to encourage her fellow students and provide them resources to achieve their goals.  She created the Scottsbluff Giving Club for language and math tutoring, she cofounded the Scottsbluff High Science Olympiad program, and she cofounded Erudit, an education start-up offering educational resources for students across the US. Jamie has reached out to national organizations including the National Girls Collaborative Project and the American Association of University Women for ideas.  Locally, she’s also worked with the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library to host STEM Clubs, providing her fellow students hands on activities and discussions to pique their interest in the same fields.

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Article courtesy the Scottsbluff Star Herald

“As a contestant in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, I have grown all too aware that I am now no longer living for myself, but as a role model to children everywhere,” said Jamie.  “It has been a journey that I have willingly embraced; the organization has truly pushed me to become the best version of myself, to remember that in every action lies an example for everyone out there.  I wake up in the morning thinking ‘how I live and what I do today might influence the way that another young girl looks at the world’.”

Now every year when I watch Miss America on TV, I keep my fingers crossed that ABC will do more to highlight what is outstanding about these women and how this organization rewards those gifts and hard work to develop them.  That the new Miss America will receive $50,000+ to pay for her college education, and three state contestants pursuing STEM careers will each receive $5,000 every year.  I still get nervous and uber excited about hearing ‘Nebraska!’ but now I am as confident in our chances as ever, knowing teens like Jamie Chen are representing our state. Thanks to Kali and Heather, our numbers are certainly growing.. and the quality of character is simply outstanding.

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“It has always been my dream to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, not because of the crown or sash, but because it lends credibility to my work concerning my platform,” said Jamie.  “The Outstanding Teen program focuses on making a difference in our world, and that is exactly what I aim to do.  I hope to cultivate a message of ‘we can and we will’ in girls across the state.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen on Facebook.

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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 Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

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!

The Meaning Of Life

Guys, I’m pooped.  Not enough coffee in my house and not enough creativity in my head.  I’ve been sitting here, grasping for inspiration, and a moment outside caught my attention.. a little boy doing backflips on his trampoline.  Do you remember that?  Boundless energy.  No fear.  The adrenaline rush of trying something like a flip and boom–just doing it.  That little guy isn’t thinking about everything on his to-do list, or how nice a nap sounds right now.. he is enjoying every second of springing backward without a care in the world.

As adults, we take every moment for granted.  We don’t just jump.. we dwell on all of the reasons why we can’t; we don’t have time, we should be working, we could get hurt. But then I see things like this:

At 10:10 am on March 3, 2017, in his mamma’s arms, Trucker took his last breath here and went home to be with Jesus.💔💔💔  We prayed that his passing (and I say passing because we have hope of seeing him again in Heaven) would be peaceful, not painful and with ohana there.

This brave child, just 3 years old, died Friday after a valiant battle with cancer.  This morning, I just stared at my boys for a few seconds.  How do I ever take for granted each precious second God has given me with them? How do I think of anything but how blessed we are that we have two happy, healthy boys?

The simple answer is.. because we subconsciously have an ‘invincible’ mentality.  ‘This is so sad.. but it could never happen to me.’  We get busy with work and drama and what we think is so important, and we forget the everyday beauty that life truly is all about.  Even after 15 years of covering terrible things that DID happen to us, right here in Nebraska.. it takes moments like this to wake me up. To remind me to celebrate everything special we have and to never, ever assume the next day will happen.

“Life is too short to go one second without a smile,” I heard recently. “Whether I am having the most stressful day of my life or I am having one of the most exciting days of my life I always remember to stay positive and smile through it all.”

Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

Krista is a brand new titleholder in the Miss Nebraska Organization, showcasing her own ‘live for the moment’ mantra when she signed up to compete for Miss Kool-Aid Days last summer.

“Before 2016 I don’t think I could ever picture myself gliding across a stage in a formal gown or speaking in front of hundreds people,” said Krista.  “One of my close friends, Chelsea Arnold (Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016, click here to read more) asked me if I would be interested in participating.  I always followed her journey and I thought it looked like an amazing experience.  I told myself to just go for it and see what would happen.  I was overjoyed to hear my name called as the new titleholder and it is a moment I will never forget.”

And since that night, Krista has graciously accepted and embraced every life experience that crown and sash have offered her.

“In the past few months I have had the opportunity to go to parades and perform, speak to schools about my platform and participate in so many fun events that I will cherish forever,” said Krista.  “I have been able to volunteer throughout my community and help others in need and find out more about how others live around me.  I have learned so much about communicating with others and being able to stand up in front of others and express what is important to me.  The Miss Nebraska [program] has given me more confidence than I knew I was capable of.”

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Krista’s Miss Kool-Aid Days winter newsletter

Krista also knows the impact she can have on children who view her as nothing less than royalty every time she enters a classroom.  She’s used that exposure to teach kids a lesson that will be important now and long after her pageant days are done.

“My platform is Distracted Driving,” said Krista.  “[This] affects all ages and everyone has a voice when it comes to protecting the ones we love.  It is important for older ages to be informed on the dangers they have on others if they are driving while distracted.  It is also important for younger ages to understand that even though they are not driving they can always remind their parents or older siblings that they love them and they want everyone to arrive at the destination safely.”

Krista does all of this; speaking at schools, volunteering at events and advocating for important causes, while studying at Midland University, where she’s majoring in Psychology and Art Management and performing for the school’s award winning dance squad.

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“I always remember to set goals for myself and push myself to achieve my goals one step at a time,” said Krista.  “Whether its working towards a first place award at a dance competition, achieving a high GPA or going for Miss Nebraska, everything comes in steps and each step will bring me closer to achieving my dreams.  While balancing school, dance team, family, friends and pageant events I have learned to make the balance equal between all of these activities so I can be the best I can be in each area.”

This young woman is making the most of every day, filling her life with meaningful moments while appreciating every person and experience.  Much of that she credits to self determination, compassion for others and positivity.. traits she hopes to impress upon others throughout this special year.

“I love taking any opportunity I can get to be a role model for others,” said Krista.  “This organization has allowed me to serve in a way where younger girls can look up to me and I can offer them words of encouragement and allow them to believe in themselves.”

Krista’s goals: she wants to take the feedback she receives competing and use that to improve as a person, while also supporting her fellow contestants in anyway she can. She wants to raise as much money as possible for the Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals, money that goes straight to our local hospitals and doctors finding ways to save little boys like Trucker.  (To date, she’s raised $1857) To everyone who meets Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs, whether it be a little girl at a parade or a someone simply looking for inspiration, she offers a reminder to live in the now and to be grateful for every minute.

“I would be honored and thrilled if I was crowned the next Miss Nebraska,” said Krista.  “I also hope to always continue to be a role model to others throughout my life and be there for others whenever they may need me.  My final goal is to always be happy and positive and enjoy every moment of this amazing experience.”

My sincere condolences to those who loved Trucker Dukes, especially his mom and dad.  My heart is broken for you, and your sweet boy is in my prayers.

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To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

For more information about the Miss Kool-Aid Days Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also emails Directors Angie Trausch at angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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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 Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Naomi Turner

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

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!

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!

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

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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!

Weathering The Storm

SOOOO earlier this month at work, we were on air, LIVE, as a tornado dropped out of the sky and touched down near Nehawka, Nebraska.

YEAH.  THAT HAPPENED.  CLICK HERE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF!

Bill Randby has been a meteorologist at KETV for 24 years.  I asked him after we ended our coverage.. he’s NEVER had that happen on live TV before.  Pretty astounding, considering the sheer number of storms Bill, and all Nebraska meteorologists and journalists will inevitably cover over the course of our careers.

SUMMER 2004.  HALLAM, NEBRASKA

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Photo courtesy HarkPhoto.com

This photo is so powerful.. yet doesn’t even scratch the surface of the devastation an EF-4 tornado caused this community. KETV photojournalist Bob Gillum and I drove towards the town and all we saw was a line of piles.. piles of wood pieces where a row of houses stood just one day before.  We drove as close to the town as first responders would allow, and someone had spray painted ‘Built Hallam Tough’ on a Ford truck, flipped onto its roof by the twister.  In the nearby town of Clatonia, Nebraska, Bob and I came upon another pile.. someone’s home.. where a couple and their loved ones were going through the pieces to salvage what they could.  When we asked them if we could talk to them on camera, they stood side by side, the husband draping his arm around his wife’s shoulders, to answer our questions.  After a few moments, we heard a whimpering coming from their destroyed home.. and suddenly they both bolted.

“Percy!”

Their dog was still alive, buried under the wreckage of the home.  As the man frantically pulled back boards, his friends and loved ones ran over to help.  Within moments, he scooped up a bloody and battered dog in his arms, and rushed him up a hill to someone’s car.

My guess is that Percy heard his owners’ voices, talking to us just a few feet away from where he had been buried.  I found out later the dog died just days after.  I still remember his name, and still see that row of piles in my mind when I think of Hallam, Nebraska.

The night the twister hit, Hallam native Stacy Pospisil was on stage at a dance recital.  She and her family stayed in a hotel in Crete, unable to get to their home through the flooding that followed the storm.

“It was super scary because my Dad was going to go there that night to have dinner with friends, but ended up deciding to go to my recital instead!”

This was just one of several storms Stacy and her father have faced together, inspiring this young woman to pursue a goal many only dream of.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The most important thing to me is the relationships I have with my family and friends and I truly do want to help people achieve their own personal goals,” said Stacy, crowned Miss Kearney 2016 last fall.  “With [the Miss Nebraska Pageant], I have learned so much about myself through this journey already.”

When I contacted Stacy this Spring, she told me becoming Miss Nebraska was something she decided to pursue upon graduating from Doane College last May.  Before she even became a local titleholder, she knew what her message would be.

“I am very passionate about my platform, ‘Kiss Cancer Goodbye with Education and Research Funding’, and it is very personal to me because I know how cancer can affect one person so greatly and the ripple effect it can have on the community,” said Stacy.  “My own father had half of his kidney removed due to a cancer scare when I was 14.  Ever since that major surgery, he hasn’t been the same.”

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“I’ve seen how that surgery led to a long road of recovery that also resulted in additional health problems, endless medical bills, and without being able to work has put my family in a financial crisis,” said Stacy.  “I have also seen his self esteem and emotional health also come to near depletion.  This was so hard for me to see because my father has always been my number one fan and most positive and supportive person I [have] ever known.”

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Photo courtesy Russtana Photography

Stacy has shared her campaign and message across social media, with her Doane family, and with her friends.  She tells everyone who will listen about her dad and how badly she wants to kiss-off cancer for good.

“To think that his life might be cut short terrifies me, and that is why I want to spread awareness about how to eliminate cancer by donating to research centers and teach prevention tips to everyone I can in order to lead them to healthy and long lives,” said Stacy.  “I know we can kiss cancer goodbye in every shade of lipstick!”

Sharing her platform, and doing research to make it stronger, has also helped Stacy prepare for her next challenge.. competing to become Miss Nebraska.

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“Wearing a swimsuit (which, by the way, has terrified me for a very long time), has now become my favorite part of the competition,” said Stacy.  “I have learend so much about how to take care of the body that was a gift from God in not only the way I stayed active but also how to give my body the right nutrients it needs with healthy and substantial, nutritious foods.  I have always been passionate about staying active because I have grown up dancing, which is what my talent is, but I never truly understood how much staying active was a part of who I am.”

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Stacy on Facebook: ‘California dreaming… if I ever go missing, follow the sound of the ocean and that’s where I will be dancing my life away…’

“There are so many ways to stay active and there are so many reasons emotionally, mentally and physically to why staying active can benefit everyone,” said Stacy.  “I truly do think I can help people find ways to stay active, appreciate their bodies, and learn to love themselves.  By doing this, it would lead to ways in which we can prevent cancer and I would absolutely love to help people feel more confident in this way.”

Stacy makes appearances every month as Miss Kearney, taking part in the Team Jack Foundation Gala to fight pediatric brain cancer, raising money for Special Olympics, and meeting her fellow titleholders to help the American Heart Association.  Through these events and more, Stacy has confirmed she was destined to be a teacher, but perhaps not in the way this Early Childhood Education major thought.

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“By doing research for my platform I discovered my passion for truly helping people with their health and fitness goals,” said Stacy.  “I have recently started a new job this year at Physicians Weight Loss Center in Lincoln, a position where I can help my dad and also passionately help other people to achieve their goals in order to live their lives in a more happy and healthy way.”

That is the same success Stacy wants to inspire across the state, taking her message of wellness to as many people as possible as Miss Nebraska.

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“I’m here to wake this country up to what is really important,” said Stacy.  “I want to create a ripple effect of helping one another and the first step is to get everyone feeling less helpless in how they view themselves and to build confidence by leading a healthy life again.”

Hallam, Nebraska is back.  Nine years later, homes and businesses have been rebuilt.  They ARE ‘built Hallam tough’.  The same holds true for Stacy and her dad.  With his daughter’s guidance, he’s lost 30 pounds.. and counting.. taking back the health and happiness cancer tried to steal from him.  His biggest cheerleader will take the Miss Nebraska stage in a few short weeks, hoping to help countless others weather their own storms, whatever they may be.

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“People everywhere are looking for answers and something to believe in when diagnosed with major illnesses,” said Stacy.  I want to bring them hope and light in the darknesses that they may be facing. This is what I know I was put in this world to do and it has already been stamped on my heart.”

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Click each link to follow Miss Kearney 2016 Stacy Pospisil

on Facebook and on Instagram

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITEFACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Directors Megan Goeke or Jenna Lukasiewitz at hello@beautifulbridal.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 Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble!

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Cherokee Purviance!

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!