Tag Archive | SALVATION ARMY

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

IMG_5260-1

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

IMG_4154

Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

IMG_5134-1

“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

IMG_5547

Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

Brianna

“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

Service Finalists.png

Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

Brianna 2

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

***

To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

***

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Heroes With Heart

I am WEAK… when it comes to blood, needles, shots.. BARF. When I was 19, I passed out in the doctor’s office while getting my blood drawn. While covering a story in pre-op before a patient’s surgery, I saw the needle and had to kneel on the ground before I dropped (which the doc thought was HILARIOUS.. click here for the story.) Even having my own babies in the hospital, getting IV’s put in made me lose my lunch.

Still, when I learned Westside High School was hosting a blood drive, I decided I was going to suck it up and DO IT. Every blood donation saves up to three lives; I could certainly withstand a little queasiness to do my part.

DP-VPQPUMAA0W-w

I was so proud of myself – ROCK STAR STATUS! I squeezed that little ball and laid back and relaxed… until they took the needle out. WHOOOOOSSSSH!! The tech immediately jumped to my side and called for help…

IMG_3878

… and Gabby Henderson came to my rescue. Gabby is a student at Westside High (featured in this photo on the far left), and she has a special talent for taking care of people. I met Gabby a few months ago, when the Nebraska Medical Center brought the Stop The Bleed program to Westside’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies. Westside High students interested in Nursing and Medicine learned how to triage patients and save lives after an accident or tragedy. Gabby was also one of the student volunteers helping run the blood drive that day at WHS.. she helped fan me off, talk me off my ‘pass out’ ledge, and then sent me on my way with a smile and without any judgement the the Director of Communications for her district almost lost her cookies over a little bit of blood. You can guess how delighted I was to hear last month that Gabby was part of the state championship HOSA team (Health Occupation Students of America) who will now compete at the International Conference in June!

People like Gabby truly have a gift; they see beyond blood or sickness, and only feel compassion and a compulsion to help others. About 4 hours west of Omaha, Jade Vak knows the same calling.

28827755_960049684154639_3039673047674286321_o

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have always wanted to go into the medical field,” Jade told me recently. “While volunteering, I have discovered my career ambition of becoming an Emergency Doctor.”

 

 

Jade is well on her way, excelling in her studies at North Platte High School, practicing hard work and dedication as a member of the dance team, and further improving her ‘bedside manner’ and people skills through volunteer work across her community.

That last trait is part of what compelled Jade to try something new this year; she’s competing for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

23722594_458437714551174_4613241393476925937_n

“I wanted to further my communication skills and gain more self-confidence,” said Jade. “It is my passion to help as many people as I possibly can within my life. One of the amazing things about the MNOT program is that it gives you such an opportunity to help those in need.”

Crowned Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen in November, Jade has embraced every service opportunity offered to her.

“My platform is Volun-Teen. It is about promoting teenagers to volunteer so when they get older, it is just a way of life,” said Jade. “I visit patient’s rooms to provide comfort services, I serve food for those in need, and I ring bells for the Salvation Army. You name it, I have done it! I also talk to volunteering organizations about my platform. At elementary schools, I read a story and then we talk about how we can help others, or volunteer, just like the main characters.”

To Jade, volunteering not only makes the world a better place, it is a potential cure for the ills impacting her peers and beyond.

“I believe the greatest issue for my generation would perhaps be technology,” said Jade. “We need to learn how to balance it with the real world. Technology is an amazing tool and has done great things for the world, but we struggle on the line of the technology world and reality. I suggest volunteering! It forces us (in a good way, of course) to look up and get out!”

And as Jade hits the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen stage in Omaha, hoping to win the chance to spread that message statewide, she’ll be cheered on by the woman who’s inspired her to help others throughout her life, crown or not.

12417547_10209286541786167_7741361105981810079_n

“My female role model is my incredible mom,” said Jade. “She supports me with everything and always tries to make my dreams come true, even if it means sacrifices. I think that is beautiful and I hope I can do that for someone else someday.”

Ironically, Gabby’s biggest cheerleader is also HER mom. Christine Henderson works with me here at Westside, and literally glows with pride every time her hero makes a difference in someone’s life.

27655428_1900734800224555_1969923456069936432_n

For both Gabby and Jade, that difference may very well be saving lives within a few years. Today, it’s simply making a child smile.. and sending out a smiling adult, grateful for the girl who helped her survive a weak moment.

28059209_944877562338518_9175275021451376339_n

***

To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak, 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.

***

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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland

 

Energizer Bunny

Happy Easter, everyone!  What an absolutely FANTASTIC weekend filled with family, sunshine and love.

Click here for a little glimpse into the adventures of our little egg hunters!

For our family, this was arguably a PERFECT day.. and it was nonstop!  My husband and I both spent our afternoons working on projects at home.  He cleaned our garage top to bottom, and I tackled all of the landscaping in our backyard.  Every, single muscle in my body hurt by the end of the day, but it didn’t feel like work.  I loved feeling the sun on my shoulders, hearing my sons singing along to the Sing soundtrack while they played in the yard, and the gratification of yanking out weeds threatening our hostas.  (I may or may not have muttered ‘resistance is futile!’ to the stubborn ones.. #StarWarsForever)

My Dad used to tell me, ‘find what you love to do.  Then, every day, it doesn’t seem like you’re going to work.’  A western Nebraska teenager has been ‘working’ nonstop since the start of October, and appears to be loving every step of her journey.

Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

Brianna Little is 16 years old, a junior at Scottsbluff High School.  She is a BUSY young woman, a competitive cheerleader who travels several hours twice a week for training in Colorado.  This is also her second year as a titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program, a responsibility she does not take lightly.

Brianna Feb 23

February 23, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘A huge thank you to Lincoln Heights Elementary for letting me come and share my platform yesterday!’

Scrolling through Brianna’s Facebook page, it’s difficult to find a stretch longer than a few days where she’s not serving her community as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen.  Often, her message focuses on her personal platform ‘Be Kind Be The Change’.

“It’s all about spreading kindness at schools and within daily life to make it go viral,” Brianna posted on Facebook.  “With all the conflicting politics and stereotypes, or even the way bullying still exists within schools, kindness has started to rapidly fade from our society and been replaced with negativity.  We need to stop this trend and start making kindness our first instinct again.”

Brianna is taking that message to schools all over western Nebraska, distributing bracelets and T-shirts reminding everyone of the power of kindness.  She’s also leading by example, volunteering at local events and leading her own efforts to help others.

Brianna Dec 10.jpg

December 10, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘Busy day today!! Started off with a coat drop off at The Truck Full of Love. With the help of our community, I was able to donate approximately 50 new and used coats!! Next stop was Volunteering for The Salvation Army ringing bells. Ended the afternoon at Mi Sinaloa Restaurant in the Monument Mall. They are taking donations to help a special family in need this Christmas!! I love this season of giving!’

It’s clear from her posts that children, especially those facing medical challenges, hold a special place in Brianna’s heart and in her mission of kindness.  She’s visited both the Colorado Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.

Brianna also advocates for and takes part in family fundraisers, even hosting a ‘Last Chemo’ party last weekend.  She posted on Facebook, “Come help us celebrate Ashlynn’s last chemo treatment! 7 bounce houses for the kids to enjoy. Cupcakes, cookies and refreshments will be provided. The bounce houses will be sanitized prior to the event. With that being said, please refrain from bringing anyone with an illness due to Ashlynn’s compromised immune system. We hope to see you there!”

Not yet a senior in high school, Brianna is ready to take her mission to the next level, partnering with The Kindness Revolution in Gering.

“We came up with tons of ideas to spread kindness through the community and schools,” Brianna posted.  “Be looking out, big change is coming😄”

Change that could start in less than a week.. Brianna competes for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen on Saturday.  It’s hard to imagine adding a statewide agenda, or national agenda, to the already busy schedule of a competitive athlete and dedicated student. Call her Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen or the Energizer Bunny… Brianna Little is ready for the job.

Brianna final

“It doesn’t have to be a difficult thing,” Brianna posted on Facebook.  “You can start by smiling while holding a door open for a stranger, sitting with the kid at lunch who is all alone, or providing someone with a meal.  Small things will lead to big change if we all remember how to work together. #BeKindBeTheChange.”

***

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little on Facebook!

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Amanda Vogel by emailing maoteenchadron@gmail.com or calling 308-665-5595.

***

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 Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland

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.”

Alex crowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex and girls

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

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

Alex C&G

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

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

Good Work

So I’ve mentioned I want to write a book..

So very many of the stories I’ve covered are inspiring, emotional and powerful… often because they reflect something incredibly positive, born out of something terrible and tragic.

January 5, 2011.  I was 8 months pregnant, sluggish and FOREVER late.  That day I was running behind as usual, hoping to stop at Subway on my way to work.  I was at the stoplight at 144th and Q and one, then two, then three Omaha Police cruisers flew past me with lights and sirens blaring.  I called the KETV assignment desk to let them know something was going on, and my managing editor, Jim Reding, responded, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a shooting at Millard South, we need you here right away.’

I immediately turned my car around and sped to KETV as quickly as I could.  Within minutes, I was on the anchor desk and on air, sharing what we knew with our viewers. A young man had walked into the front office and opened fire, shooting two principals.  One of them was dead, another was critically hurt.  The teenager drove a few miles away, then shot and killed himself.

12400723_10154467066807306_5715701494276042041_n

Millard South student Kyler Erickson heard and saw it all.  He hid in a bathroom, called 911, and waited.  No one should be witness to a nightmare like this; Kyler was as a teenager.  Still, he refused to let that horror take him down, despite the nightmares and grief that followed.  With therapy and sheer inner strength, Kyler healed emotionally and grew physically, attending the University of Nebraska Omaha to play Division 1 Basketball.  He began to share his story, meeting with everyone from veterans suffering from PTSD to other students.  This year, Kyler was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team, recognized at the 2016 Final Four tournament, one of only five student athletes nationwide.  This dude is simply AWESOME.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Kyler’s incredible journey from KETV’s Matt Lothrop.

Kyler’s loved ones are among those most proud of this young man, including his longtime friends from Millard South…

12768382_10154045725544954_1761044331874904110_o

..friends who were there in full force at Kyler’s final game with UNO.  The girl in the beige and black sweater is LaRissa McKean.

“He’s so inspiring,” LaRissa told me recently.  She too was at Millard South that day, in AP Economics class.  And much like her friend Kyler, she’s devoted much of her time and focus on simply trying to make the world a better place.

12711119_10154028535559954_2838773612485285297_o

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The best compliment I received was from a sorority sister.  She anonymously left me a note saying ‘you make people feel good about themselves,'” said LaRissa.  “That statement is what motivates me daily to make an impact on someone’s life.”

I first met LaRissa last summer at the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she left her mark on most, if not all of the audience and her fellow contestants.  This girl is SHEER JOY.. she lights up a room with her smile and personality, and radiates energy and glee the second she steps on stage. LaRissa was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.

12247880_10153828839024954_3407192905820610597_o

That beautiful smile shows LaRissa’s inner spirit… but so does THIS.

Hilarious.  Carefree.  So many women in pageants, business and LIFE are afraid to let their guard down, so afraid of what people will think about them.  LaRissa knows who she is and OWNS it.  You can just tell she LOVES life, and everyone around her smiles and lets THEIR guard down because of it.

LaRissa will compete at Miss Nebraska again this year as Miss Gering 2016.  Her personal platform of service is called ‘Feel The Difference: Empowerment Through Communication.’

“[It’s] based on Maya Angelou’s quote, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’  I will leave a legacy where I make people feel inspired and willing to take the act of listening through conversation to better the lives around them.”

LaRissa has all kinds of opportunities to communicate.. the girl is surrounded by people CONSTANTLY.  A University of Kansas graduate specialized in Accounting and Human Resources, LaRissa currently works three jobs; she’s a Head Instructor of summer high school/college dance camps with Universal Dance Association, she’s a full-time educator with Lululemon, and she’s a substitute paraprofessional in the district where she grew up, Millard Public Schools.  She volunteers every week with local 4th graders, helping them catch up on homework and answering questions.  LaRissa also takes part frequently at charity events, doing what she can to help as Miss Gering.

THEN.. there’s dance, a constant in LaRissa’s life for many years.

“I have judged the State Dance Competition for the last three years along with other local high school competitions and college regional competitions for the NAIA Nationals,” said LaRissa, who learned at and competed with Kitty Lee Dance, a place she still practices and volunteers.  “One of my biggest role models was Miss Kitty.  Not only did she instill my love for dance, she taught me to be stronger and never think you can’t improve.  She raised me in the studio and I can’t thank her enough for whacking my leg with a ruler to get my knees straight.  She was the first one to correct me in every dance class but also the first to congratulate me on a performance well done.  Even with her gone, I know she is watching every class and performance, smiling that her passion lives inside of me.”

11266503_10153467206839954_440277046882975953_n

Talent is LaRissa’s favorite part of the Miss Nebraska Pageant; she plans to combine her love of comedy and dance to present a musical theater piece with ‘an element of surprise’ this year.

“Not only does [talent] set our system apart from others, it is truly beautiful to see all the contestants show their art to the world,” said LaRissa.  “I love watching the contestants light up the floor with their interests and show a piece of themselves to everyone.  The emotion that can be portrayed in 90 seconds gives me goosebumps and really shows the uniqueness of every competitor.”

12096031_10153771687579954_7798997698585801305_n

That’s one of the things LaRissa hopes to share with pageant naysayers.. to learn more about the women who take part before forming an opinion.

“I remember going to pageants as a young girl and telling my mom I couldn’t wait to be as pretty or as talented as the women that compete for Miss Nebraska,” said LaRissa.  “The majority of people who compete are varsity athletes in their schools, Honor Roll recipients, and leaders in their community.  They are some of the most respected people and receive more credit for being mentors to people all across the nation.”

12235069_1003674453031830_1580178002627350191_n

LaRissa adds that every woman she knows who’s taken part in this system has made a difference in someone’s life.. and that she became a leader because of it.  She describes the title of Miss Nebraska as a job she’s applying for that could give her a year of memories she can only imagine.  BUT.. in the swirl of glamour and costumes and performances, LaRissa hasn’t lost focus of her values and priorities; her family, including grandparents Pampy and Nana who she spends several hours with every week.  Education, through both mentoring students and planning ahead to obtain a Masters Degree.  Love, and her love of people.. simply spending time with those who matter most, friends like Kyler Erickson.

No one would have faulted Kyler for never talking about that day again, for withdrawing from everything to process what happened, for moving thousands of miles away from Omaha to escape everything and start fresh.  Instead, this guy confronted his demons, defeated them, then stayed and shared his journey to help others still battling.  LaRissa McKean’s story doesn’t stem from tragedy and horror but is inspiring nonetheless.. a young woman using her gifts and positive attitude to simply do good work in our world.

Loren winkler

Photo courtesy  Loren C Winkler Images

“At the end of the day, I look in the mirror, washing off my makeup and think it would be amazing to be Miss Nebraska 2016, but I would rather be known as LaRissa who became Miss Nebraska because of the person I am,” said LaRissa.  “I’m an honest person, who gives my opinion respectively.  I won’t change my values or morals because of a title, I will continue to grow and live a life I treasure.  At the end of the day, I will still be LaRissa McKean forever.”

I think they call this perspective.  Maybe it’s what she saw Kyler go through.  Maybe it’s been the lesser challenges she, like the rest of us, go through.  No matter where the drive comes from.. imagine what life could be like if we all strived to do good work to help each other, and in turn, found peace and joy within ourselves.

Kyler Erickson is available to speak at events; CLICK HERE for details and to learn more about his story.

***

Click on each link below to follow Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean

on FACEBOOK and on INSTAGRAM.  You an also email LaRissa for appearances and events at larissamckean@gmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LaRISSA?

2015 * Sleepless Beauty

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes by phone at 307-340-0601, or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

***

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 Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun!

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shaniah Freeseman!

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!

Our Invisible Crowns

Let me tell you about my friend, Alex..

Alex wears MANY hats.  She is a momma to sweet baby Jackson.  She is a proud wife.  She is one of the stars of the #1 rated KETV First News, drawing nearly 9,000 followers on Facebook, thousands more on Twitter.  She is also a former Miss South Dakota, record-breaking swimmer, accomplished vocalist.. the list goes on.

Alex is also the former ringer 1st basewoman for Team Paparazzi.

Bt_92qmCUAAv45Z

Typically in slow-pitch, coed softball, when a girl gets up to bat you hear a cry from a guy somewhere on the field… ‘MOVE IN!! GIRL UP!!’

A word to the wise.. NEVER say that when you see THIS girl step into the box.  Alex grinds her hands on the bat and UNLEASHES fury.. usually catapulting the ball over the head of whichever dude yelled to move in.

Alex is STRONG. CONFIDENT. POWERFUL.  She is proof you CAN be all of those things AND be talented, beautiful and sophisticated.

Next up to bat.. Shelbe Stroh, a young lady on a mission to crush any steretypes you may have about pageant girls, and what they can or can’t do.

HEAD SHOT

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a pageant girl?” Shelbe asked me recently.  “Is it glitz and extravagant dresses? Or is it the dedication to scholarship, community service, leadership and integrity?  The Miss America Organization has shaped me to be the confident, independent and self-sufficient young woman I am today.”

Shelbe is a 17-year old who is as diverse and involved in her community as she is striking.  She’s smart, taking AP classes at Elkhorn South High School and making the Rotary Honor Roll, while also taking part in FCCLA, SADD and National Honor Society.  Shelbe earned recognition at the 2015 BBB Integrity Awards and as a Gregg Young Great Kids of Omaha award recipient.

AWARD

Outside of school, Shelbe is part of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council,  she volunteers at the Hope Center for Kids, and she models for Omaha Fashion Week.

kathy rae photography

Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

One more thing.. ever since she was a little girl in glasses, Shelbe has been kicking a soccer ball.

A few years ago, Shelbe found an organization that encompassed all of the qualities fine tuned by taking part in these activities… the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Shelbe is currently Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016.

12662002_783791775098528_1750552674871859190_n

This June, she’ll compete with more than a dozen of teenagers from across Nebraska who excel in any number of activities in and out of the classroom, on the stage or on the field, in front of a crowd or with one other person.

“I have made connections with people across the state and along the way I have learned a little bit about myself,” said Shelbe.  “With each community event I attend, I witness the sparkle in a bystander’s eye as I flash a smile or spark casual conversation.  I have come to realize that the small deeds I do have a major impact on lives of others.”

Shelbe and her sister queen, Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Ashly Helfrich

Just as she is trying to change stereotypes about pageant girls, Shelbe wants to alter how girls and women view themselves through her personal platform, ‘Fit and Fabulous: Shattering The Negative Body Image of Young Women.’

FITNESS

“Instead of focusing on that ‘perfect image’ by resorting to unhealthy habits, I want young girls to discover the long term effects of a healthy lifestyle and reap the benefits!’ said Shelbe.  “As a teen, I know it’s hard coming to terms with your body, but finding the satisfaction in exercise and smart eating will radiate positive vibes and inspire others.”

Part of Shelbe’s message is her own story of pain and disappointment.  In October 2014, Shelbe tore her ACL in a club soccer game, and spent the next 9 months building herself back up physically and emotionally.  When she couldn’t turn to soccer, she found yoga and other ways she could stay active.

HORSE

“I take pride in my athletic physique and want to empower young women to take pride in their own bodies as well.  Confidence is the key to success,” said Shelbe.  “Loving yourself along the way will make the journey that much more meaningful.”

MOM

Shelbe also credits her mom for supporting her throughout her recovery and during every activity she’s taken part of, pageants included.

“I want to make a special shout out to the one who taught me to always wear my invisible crown, my beautiful momma,” said Shelbe.  “Thank you for making me the strong young woman I am today.  You are such a blessing to me!”

And THAT is what Shelbe Stroh wants to bring to the table as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. the message that no matter what hat you wear, from soccer player to beauty queen, from student to star, WE ARE STRONG.

Women of the world, we can do ANYTHING we set our minds to.  Wear YOUR invisible crown.. and be darn proud of it.

12065689_740533269424379_240734294540346861_n

“Above all, I want to be remembered as the girl who put her heart and soul into everything she did,” said Shelbe.  “I’ve failed many times, but I am so full of life and have this dream to change other peope’s lives.”

***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh

on FACEBOOK, and on TWITTER

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBE?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

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 Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

***

The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Queen City of the Plains 2016 Lianna Prill!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt!

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!

Everyday America

Omaha, Nebraska.

This isn’t just where I work, it’s the area where I grew up. I’m officially a Papillion girl.. I rode my bike to Papio Pool, sled on the ‘big hill’ at 72nd and Hwy 370 before the apartments went up, and I graduated from PLHS back when there was only one high school.. #Old.  The first home I remember was near Central Park in La Vista. I played softball as a little girl in Glenwood.  I’ve spent countless family road trips heading west to Seward and east to Atlantic.  This area is all I know–it’s HOME. (And I think these were the original lyrics to Sugarland’s Everyday America.. #TheMoreYouKnow)

North Platte, Nebraska is synonymous with the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  For more than three decades, this city has crowned the women who have gone on to compete at Miss America.  So when North Platte is YOUR home, I suppose it’s destiny that someday YOU will be competing for the historic honor.

Courtney Pelland was been immersed in the Miss Nebraska Pageant for years, and one of the key descriptors of the accompanying Teen program, ‘Outstanding’, could be her middle name.  I think they call this fate.

12729135_957716974313221_3441998454845282809_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“My mom has taken me to every state pageant since I was 5,” Courtney told me recently.  “I’m involved in dancing at the Dance Factory with Becky Smith-Wagner, Miss Nebraska 1999. I was involved in the Little Sisters Program in 2008 to Brittany Jeffers, Miss Nebraska 2009.  We are Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner’s host family.  The girls in this program are welcoming and open to who any one girl is as a person.”

While it may have taken Courtney awhile to come out of her shell and compete on her own, there was never a question as to what her platform of service would be.. she wanted to share her personal story.

12507132_940065079411744_7075014241639584367_n

“My platform is called ‘Knowing Your Body, Taking A Step Back’.  I decided on this platform after being hospitalized in January 2015,” said Courtney.  “My hemoglobin was at 6.6 (normal is 12) and I had no iron or iron storage left in my body; I was ghost white.”

Courtney received two blood transfusions and iron that day, and had to visit North Platte’s cancer center once a week for the next two months.  In October, doctors diagnosed Courtney with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune condition preventing the body from absorbing needed nutrients (like iron).  In addition, she underwent a hip labrum repair in June, an injury that had caused Courtney pain for at least two years.

“This whole experience has taught me to pay attention to your body and know when something is wrong,” said Courtney.  “That’s the message I want to get out and tell kids about.”

12717152_952422481509337_3393650646794518222_n

So in November, when Courtney won her first title as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, she set out on a mission to spread that message to as many people as possible.

12764837_747634935336182_6470554738343634258_o

Multiple times every week, Courtney updates both her personal and Miss Western Nebraska Facebook pages with photos and recaps of schools she’s visiting, events she’s speaking at, and where she’s volunteering.  The North Platte High School newspaper, the Bulldogger, even featured Courtney in a recent article (click here to read more!)

“I have gone around volunteering for the Salvation Army this past Christmas, volunteering at my old elementary school, Osgood, at Fun Night, {in addition to Sutherland and Stapleton}, and served at the homeless shelter here in North Platte,” said Courtney.  “My favorite thing about holding a title this year has been going out to schools and talking to them about my platform.”

Courtney is also an All-State choir member, plays the tenor saxophone, is involved with National Honor Society and volunteers at her local hospital for the JV Ambassador’s Program.  Her home away from home is the Dance Factory, where she assists with pre-school and kindergarten classes at the Dance Factory, in addition to training in dance herself.

Pageant--2190-X3

Photo courtesy Irish Eye Photography

“My favorite part of the competition is talent because I get to show my skills, release and express my emotions and entertain the crowd,” said Courtney.  “Through this program I have become more confident in who I am as a person and more comfortable with my body.  I have learned to love myself for who I am.  I overcame my shyness and learned more about myself.  This organization is not based on beauty.  It is based on intelligence and builds confidence in girls and women.”

12390991_929313127153606_2234632626712226242_n

Now, with the support of her mother (who Courtney calls her role model and best friend), and the rest of her family (“I don’t know what I would do without them”), Courtney wants to become one of the women she learned from and admired all these years in North Platte, and continue the sisterhood of role models crowned in this great city and sent out across the state.

‘That’s how it goes in everyday America, A little town and a great big life.’ — Sugarland

“My parents always tease me about being the social one,” said Courtney.  “I enjoy being with people and talking to children.  I should be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I have a passion to share my experience with others.”

11693921_906134336138152_3447106300490813787_n

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Courtney Pelland

ON FACEBOOK and ON INSTAGRAM.  You can also follow Courtney on the Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley by phone at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

***

The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2016 Kara Kriha!

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

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!

Just Keep Swimming

There’s something special about swimmers..

These athletes are just wired differently than n0rmal human beings.  They’re up at 4am to put in hours at the pool.  They are SHEER musle and strength.  They don’t know failure, because when they’re not focused on the swimmer in the next lane, they are constantly racing their OWN clocks to top their personal bests.  All of these traits; dedication, health, perfection, also seem to translate to swimmers’ lives outside the pool.

Want proof? Meet Team KETV.

Before Melissa Fry was our 5pm anchor and one of our best reporters, she was the 2001 state champion in the 100m butterfly at Millard South High School (Melissa and her dad are the first father/daughter state champions in swimming!)  Melissa is still in the Patriot record books for several strokes, and went on to swim at Illinois State before transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Before Alex Hoffman was our First News anchor, she was nothing short of a legendary swimmer in her home state of South Dakota.  In high school alone, she won four individual state titles.  At South Dakota State, Alex’s list of school records and career wins is TWO FULL PAGES LONG.  I’M NOT KIDDING.  She broke 9 school records her first season, was team captain her senior year and chosen as an NCAA Woman of the Year nominee.  Alex was also Miss South Dakota 2008 and a Top 10 finalist at the 2009 Miss America pageant.

Before Alexandra Stone became our First News Weekend anchor (and one of our star reporters!) she was swimming year-round for both school and club events, starting when she was a toddler.  Alexandra made the varsity swim team as a freshman, excelling in the 100M backstroke.

And finally..

12494664_10207183025951613_8886429661591768084_n

This INCREDIBLE young lady, Jojo Randby!  Jojo’s mom is Emmy-Award winning journalist Julie Cornell, and her dad is our Chief Meteorologist Bill Randby.  Jojo is making a name for herself.. representing Nebraska in the midwest regional 5-state All Star meet, where she won the 50m and 100m breast, clocking personal record times in both!

NONE of this is easy.  ALL of these ladies say they swim or swam 6+ days a week, often twice a day.  This all comes in addition to school, volunteering and other activities.

Want more proof?  Meet Hannah Miller.

HMiller_color

Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

“I’ve had a crazy swim season that just concluded with the state meet,” Hannah told me last month, after qualifying for two events at state as a sophomore.  (CLICK HERE to watch Hannah set a new personal record in the 100m butterfly in January!)  Hannah’s also a dancer.  And she works part time.  And she’s a student at Elkhorn High School.  And she’s Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen.

10303443_10208526546788247_633932608910382686_n

Hannah spends almost three hours EVERY DAY swimming, in addition to everything else she’s got going on in her life.  How, and WHY add a crown and sash to the mix, and commit to competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in June?

“I got involved in the MNOT program because I love the values that it promotes: service, scholarship, style and success,” said Hannah.  “I have such respect for the titleholders who are volunteering in their communities and are role models for everyone around them.”

Hannah has also held the titles of Miss Nebraska Pre-Teen 2012 (ANTSO), America’s US Miss Nebraska Teen 2014, and as Miss Nebraska Junior Teen 2014 (ANTSO) she was named National Junior Teen 1st Runner-Up and National Spokesmodel winner for 2015.  Complete disclosure.. I know very little about the America’s National Teenager Scholarship Organization, but it seems Hannah knows what to prioritize as a new contestant in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen club.

For starters, her volunteer work ties right back to where she’s most at home.. in the pool.

12729051_745199188948839_6922489419426779630_n

“My platform is ‘Safe Splashes’, combining my love for the water with my passion for working with young children,” said Hannah.  “Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children between the ages of 1 and 4.  According to the CDC, in 10% of those drownings, the adult will actually be watching the child with no idea it is happening!  While complete ‘drown-proofing’ does not exist, parental water safety education and early childhood swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning.”

Hannah is hoping to make a difference both with with her words and action; she works part-time as a swim instructor, teaching kids and parents exactly what she promotes as Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen.  She’s also volunteered to read for local students, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, she’s been part of the Bid Buddy/Little Buddy mentoring program and helped as a math tutor.

Hannah has also lettered in Varsity Cheer, and she’ll dance at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

12552602_735181706617254_8020979725724580063_n

“I combine my two favorite dance styles (jazz and tap) into a fun, upbeat routine that I absolutely love to perform,” said Hannah.  Hannah also loves her family (just below, she’s emceeing part of Nebraska’s Miss Amazing pageant with her dad, Jim!) and friends, and says those relationships along with school are most important to her in her life.

11227609_10207946020837360_5863979914500331738_n

“From an early age, giving back to the community and volunteering have been important to me, so I look for role models who are reaching out and making a difference in real ways each and every day,” said Hannah.

Now, this 16-year old hopes to become a role model for someone else, and notes that her pageant-background has propelled her forward.

“I tell people about the community service I have become involved in through pageantry and the self confidence it takes to walk and talk on stage,” said Hannah.  “When I applied to be a swim instructor at the age of 15 I was interviewing with candidates that were as much as 6 years older than me.  I got the job because of the confidence and poise I had in the interview.  My ability to speak honestly and confidently to parents about their child’s progress earns me respect as an instructor.  The skills of communication and confidence are directly related to my involvement in pageantry and I am proud of that.”

And now, Hannah Miller wants to take her journey one step further as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  After all, she’s a self-described well-rounded over-achiever.  If you ask Melissa, Alex, or Alexandra… I’m pretty sure that’s synonymous with SWIMMER.

12294862_712455152223243_2011549582827033256_n

Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

“I have been preparing to represent our great state for some time now and I know I am ready to step up and be the best possible representative nationally for Nebraska,” said Hannah.  “I am a genuine person who connect with people easily and I have the ability to help make a difference.”

***

To follow Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Hannah Miller on FACEBOOK CLICK HERE.  To contact Hannah about appearances and events, email her at hl_miller@icloud.com or email Jim Miller at  jr_miller@cox.net.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE or THEIR WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kelsey Ellis by email at omahadouglascountyOT@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

***

The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance 2016 Kate Lynne Duncan!

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2016 Kara Kriha!

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!

That’s What Friends Are For

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to take a different approach with what I share on Facebook.  I still try to tell our viewers what they should tune in for that night at 10.. and share links to the developing story online that could impact them.. but more and more, I’m trying to share things that just MAKE ME SMILE.  Memes that make me laugh, links that have me giggling at my desk, and photos that warm my heart.  Hopefully they make someone else’s day a little brighter, too.

A few weeks ago, I shared this beauty.

12594041_10153480646648937_40123130404795406_o

Photo courtesy Sherri Harnisch – Picture Taker

This is Macy.  I used to work with her momma, who is also the incredible photographer who styled and shot this photo.  Macy is sassy, smart, talented and SWEET.. she is also one of the national representatives for down syndrome awareness and support, featured on billboards in Times Square, and a frequent visitor to Washington DC for new legislation.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to watch Alex Hoffman’s story on KETV with Sherri Harnisch, about her family’s work to pass the ABLE Act.

Macy is showing the world that people with special needs bring love, joy, laughter and so many other things into the world and into our lives.  They deserve our respect, our time and OUR love.

It’s a message Ashly Helfrich has known and advocated for since she was younger than Macy.

12729290_1007570629310470_740763438161541639_n

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Ashly, a junior at Millard West High School in Omaha, is also Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016.  She’ll compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this June.  The program is a preliminary competition to the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, described by many as the ‘little sister’ pageant to the Miss America Organization.  Just like their ‘miss’ sisters, these teenagers spend a year promoting a cause they are passionate about; Ashly calls hers ‘The Positive Power of Inclusion.’

“Two of my cousins have down syndrome, so I have witnessed how inclusion has affected them while growing up,” Ashly told me recently.  “[My platform] is focusing on creating inclusive environments in both schools and the community for people of all ability levels.”

Ashly is a student leader for Millard West’s West Friends club, an organization that twice a month brings together students with and without disabilities.

“I love spending my time with these kids, as they are some of the most genuinely kind people I know,” said Ashly.  “They almost always have a smile on their face, and they always greet me like they are so happy to see me.  For me, inclusion goes so far beyond just putting students of all ability levels in the same room.  The objective of West Friends is to create long-lasting friendships between these students by making a safe, fun environment for all.”

581918_1675489016026715_4251481701167264466_n

Ashly and West Friends organizers are also creating a model for other programs across the state, as one of the first schools to participate in NSAA-sanctioned unified sports.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH Andrew Ozaki’s story on KETV, featuring Ashly, about this new opportunity for special needs students to compete in sports.

Ashly also knows a little something about competition; she trained in tumbling and competitive gymnastics for 11 years and is currently a Millard West varsity cheerleader.

She’s also copy editor for her school’s yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and Student Ambassador for Millard West.  Ashly has lettered in Academics, Cheerleading and Pole Vault.

WHAT?!? How could this girl squeeze one more activity into her schedule.. and why?!?!

IMG_3244

Ashly answers by noting her role model is former Miss Nebraska local titleholder Chrissy Townsend. (Click here to learn more about Chrissy!)

“My grandparents were Chrissy’s host family during her pageant week in North Platte and for several summers I stayed there with her during that week,” said Ashly.  “She really showed me how cool it was to be on stage, I always enjoyed getting to watch her do her favorite thing.  She truly paved the way for my own pageants because she gave me a great example of how to be happy with whatever the outcome may be.  I always admired the girls in that spotlight; I admired their grace, pose and confidence in front of all of those people, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that myself.”

Despite multiple surgeries on her Achilles tendon, Ashly decided this, her last eligible year to compete, she would try to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She revisited the piano, an instrument she played for years as a little girl, and won a local title last fall.

IMG_2324

“I would tell someone who criticizes pageants that the girls who compete in them are not just focused on their appearance,” said Ashly.  “Pageant girls are driven and compassionate, and they are more than ready to help anyone else out before themselves.  They all have goals set for themselves and they are ready to do all the work that goes into reaching that goal.”

And THEN some, like in Ashly’s case.  Since earning that crown in late October, Ashly has volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army, helped blind and visually impaired shoppers over the holidays, and just this weekend, took a VERY chilly plunge into Cunningham Lake for the Special Olympics.

At work (Omaha’s Vintage Financial Group), Ashly has earned the nickname ‘Miss America’ from firm President and Millard School Board member Pat Ricketts.  Easy to see why with the sheer amount of self-lessness, talent and ambition this young lady has.

HOCKEY

What’s even cooler to me is WHY Ashly wants all of this.. for her cousins, her West friends, and kids she’s never met, like Macy.

“I want to be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to spread my message of my platform all around the state.  I am so excited to be part of a team with some of my favorite people,” said Ashly.  “I want to be someone that is a good role model for all teens, and someone who can be trusted with anything.  I am very dedicated to the things that I commit to, and competing in this pageant is another step for me to get closer to reaching my goal of being confident in any situation.”

581900_1674614012780882_5439488243228983855_n

 ***

CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE,FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

***

The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters!

NEXT.. Special Feature, Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins!

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!

May Day

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

IMG_3540

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

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

11108584_10152821748226526_3284399995996081158_n

MISS GERING 2015 KAYLEE CARLBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

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

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

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

11157975_10152819453076526_2018225941_n  11164148_10152819454871526_128030668_n  11173565_10152819454831526_1895971684_n

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

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

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

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

11093331_10152819517201526_1081926604_n  11173693_10152819454716526_1340449074_n 11158165_10152819453766526_2044855488_n

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

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

11160530_10152819453726526_327038625_n

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

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

65569_10152386640961526_9146661445921134448_n  10561743_10152386640871526_3970305783855255352_n

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

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

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

11121948_10152819453036526_1572417157_n

Kaylee and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

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

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

11117356_10152819454676526_2048530482_n  11173537_10152819453926526_270232306_n

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

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

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

10410123_10152386640816526_1232930966912478790_n

Follow Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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