Tag Archive | special education

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

Jesus

When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

Takin’ Care Of Business

To all of the readers who have followed my blog for awhile now, THANK YOU.  And perhaps you have noticed something different here at Anchor’s Away… sponsors!  I’m not in the blogging business to strike it rich, but now topping 328,000 views and counting (what?!?!), ad revenue is something I’ve aimed to explore for quite some time now.  This is a new venture for me… and I’ve learned a) it’s really hard to ask someone for money and b) it’s really easy to say NO.  I am so very grateful to my friends and Omaha area business owners supporting me through advertising on my blog, and I ask you to take a few moments to check out their amazing services and products on the righthand side of your screen!

This world is certainly an art to be mastered.  Fiscal support is often imperative to our goals and objectives in business, life… and even in the quest to become Miss Nebraska.  Every dollar invested in our program through scholarships, cash sponsorships and donations directly benefits the young women taking part across our state.  It’s a message a Papillion woman is delivering directly to as many people as she can.

Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

“My goal as a titleholder in this organization is to meet as many people as I can and to help change the stigma that comes with ‘pageantry’,” Jenni told me recently.  “I strive to be kind, intelligent and passionate about serving.  I hope the people I meet are left feeling that the Miss America Organization is much more than just women in swimsuits.  It is also my goal to use the credibility of my crown to help in every way I am able – whether this is educating, giving my time, or just putting a smile on someone’s face.”

For this young woman, pageants are not just something that take place every few months to win a tiara for the trophy case.  This is Jenni’s second Miss Nebraska local title, meaning for 13 months and counting, she’s been on-the-go nonstop speaking, serving and advocating for the causes important to her.

She spent her Valentine’s Day delivering surprises to veterans.  She’s delivered food to those in need on the holidays.  She’s helped Shriners raise money.  When I interviewed Jenni last year (click here to read more!) she told me she’d volunteered for more than 40 organizations in about four years time.  Jenni did all of this while attending the University of Central Missouri with a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

“The Miss America Organization has been an excellent networking tool for me but I think the biggest thing I have gained is a sense of purpose,” said Jenni.  “I have a better understanding of how my words and actions influence others, which makes me more deliberate in what I say and do.  I have always participated in service work, and viewed myself as a leader in my community.  However, being a titleholder gives me more credibility and I feel I am able to make more of an impact.”

From the beginning, Jenni has connected with and focused on two groups in particular.. children and people with special needs.

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Jenni reading at Autism Action Partnership’s night at the Omaha Children’s Museum.  Click here to learn more!

“My platform, ‘Celebrating Abilities in the Differently Abled’ is a product of my experiences working with the special needs community for the past 10 years,” said Jenni.  “I began helping the special education classroom in 8th grade as a way of getting out of PE.  That class ended up being my favorite part of the day.  I loved how I could escape my own worries and focus all my attention and love on someone else.  Whether I’ve been a teacher, a camp counselor or working at a group home, I’ve noticed there is an emphasis on what a person with a disability can’t do.  Instead, I’ve found it to be more productive to focus on their strengths.  Everyone has abilities and everyone has disabilities.  It makes more sense to simply appreciate a person for who they are.”

Jenni The Word day

And when it comes to kids, Jenni adores every little nugget she comes in contact with, often as her alter ego, Cinderella.

Jenni princess

“I feel that I have a unique outlook on what it really means to wear a crown because of my experience as a princess character at the Omaha Children’s Museum,” said Jenni.  “When I am in a ball gown and tiara, children hang on to every word I say.  One day, a mother of one of my regular visitors at the museum pulled me aside to thank me for complimenting her child’s glasses.  She said at first her daughter hated the glasses, but after hearing me compliment them a few times, she thought they were great.  That is when I realized how much power I had to influence a child’s life.  An opportunity like this should never be wasted.  I she a responsibility to use this power to teach children and make them feel special.”

Jenni will combine those passions in her chosen career; she graduated top of her class in December with a degree in Special Education.  That field has also inspired her talent for the Miss Nebraska stage, a slam poetry performance summarizing her passion for teaching.

“I am a teacher because I made a choice to be and I have a high GPA because I’m passionate about that choice so I work hard,” said Jenni.  “When I present my talent, it never fails that someone comes up to me after to let me know hat my words resonated with them.  People will tell me that they are a teacher too, or that their mom was a teacher for 40 years and would have loved to hear it.  Performing a talent with meaning is empowering and I love how it feels to make a difference.”

It’s all about connection.. and that is where Miss Nebraska State Fair Jenni Wahonick truly shines.

Jenni Alpha Sigma Alpha

For every appearance she’s made, Jenni has taken the opportunity and extended that exposure tenfold through social media, spreading her messages about inclusion, education and the value of community service and encouraging others to do the same.

Jenni veterans

Those Valentines Jenni delivered to veterans?  They were supplied by a local business.. one of countless donations and sponsors Jenni has secured through marketing her title.  Asking for help is never easy, but this gal is a flesh and blood kickstarter campaign proving that when you support a Miss Nebraska contestant you’re not enabling a beauty queen, you’re investing in a young woman’s impact on the world.

“This organization makes me a better person.  Every aspect of competition makes me a more well-rounded, healthy individual,” said Jenni.  “I make healthier decisions and appreciate my body for what it can do.  I take time every day to educate myself about what is going on in the world around me.  I am more aware and confident of who I am, and I am better able to articulate that in a professional setting.  I am excited to wake up and make a difference every day.”

In 2016, Miss Nebraska contestants were awarded $39,700 in cash awards, more than $25,000 in college scholarships offered, and more than $25,000 in gifts and services.  That’s in addition to what is offered at the local level, and what Miss Nebraska is eligible for at Miss America.  All of that happens thanks to incredible businesses and donors across Nebraska, selfless volunteers who bring them into our world, and incredible women like Jenni Wahonick who give them something (and someone) to believe in.  She may not have an MBA (and darn proud of her Education major!) but this girl is taking care of business in her final push before taking the Miss Nebraska stage.

Jenni final

Photo courtesy Rachel Evans

“When asked which point of the Miss America Crown is my favorite, I have a really hard time deciding between service and scholarship,” Jenni wrote on Facebook last week.  “As a special education teacher, I have found the most value in my life helping others. I also think scholarship is so important though. Not just getting good grades, but loving the process of learning and growth. We are so blessed to live in a country where we are provided an education. We are able to explore ideas like philosophy, art and psychology. How incredible is that? I’m so grateful for my education and the opportunities I’ve had to help others.”

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To follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JENNI?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * #MonarchsForLife

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.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 Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

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!

 

#MonarchsForLife

A few posts ago.. I mentioned my letter jacket.  I know that you, my wonderful, loyal readers.. have been dying for another look ever since.

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BAM!! And this time, you get the added bonus of seeing KETV’s Rob McCartney in HIS letter jacket, too!  (Here’s a secret.. the embroidered name on his is ‘Robby’.  It’s pretty fabulous.)

WE ARE PROUD MONARCHS, FOLKS!  Rob and I both went to Papillion-La Vista High School, along with KETV alums Adrian Whitsett, John Campbell and Brittany Jones-Cooper.  For awhile, our News Director Rose Ann Shannon joked that if you weren’t from Papillion, you weren’t going to get hired at KETV!

My family moved to Papio when I was five years old.  I was a proud Carriage Hill Cougar all seven years of elementary school, went to Papillion Junior High during construction of the second story, and graduated from PLHS before there was a second high school.

#Old

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I love this town.  I love working in an area that includes the place I grew up.  I love that Rob and I can still take part in events, like the Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation Gala above, and reconnect with the same friends, teachers, and colleagues we’ve known for years.  (Want a big laugh?  CLICK HERE to watch our tribute to Rob on his 20th Anniversary at KETV, with the help from the people of Papillion!)

There’s no Miss Papillion or Miss Sarpy County (yet!), so one of our most impressive butterflies, Jenni Wahonick, recently flew west to represent our city and a powerful message at the 2016 Miss Nebraska pageant.

jenn cady

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Someone told me to surround myself with people who I aspire to be,” Jenni told me recently.  “The women I have gotten to know because of Miss Nebraska are so kind-hearted, intelligent, and passionate, and I am a better person for knowing each of them.”

Jenni says she inititally got involved with the pageant as a teenager because it sounded like fun.  The relationships she made, and scholarship money she brought home, kept her coming back for more.

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Jenni, presenting at the University of Central Missouri’s undergraduate scholars symposium

“It’s helped me pay for my college education,” said Jenni, a senior at the University of Central Missouri.  She’s majoring in Special Education for Severe Developmental Disabilities to help and empower people she’s been helping for nearly a decade.

“I have worked closely with the special needs population for the past nine years,” said Jenni.  ‘During my time at UCM I have worked at a group home for three years and spent a winter at a camp for people with disabilities.  I have also developed and taught dance class geared towards the special needs community at the community center.  I’ve been a regional recruit team member for Missouri Miss Amazing, and help organize and spread the word for End The Word campaigns on campus.”

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Crowned Miss Twin Rivers 2016 in February, Jenni took her advocacy one step further, calling her personal platform of service ‘Celebrating Abilities in the Differently Abled.’

“Whether it was in a group home, as a classroom aide, or at a camp, I have found that there is an emphasis on what a person with a disability cannot do,” said Jenni.  “However, I’ve found it to be more productive to instead focus on their strengths.  Everyone has abilities and everyone has disabilities, but isn’t it just easier to appreciate a person for who they are?”

For Jenni, these efforts are all part of a natural desire to serve others.  Over the last four years, she’s volunteered for more than 40 different organizations.  Jenni is also the Philanthropy Chair in her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha, and was recently nominated for the Greek Leader of the Year award.

“I love to volunteer because of the poeple and opportunities it exposes me to,” said Jenni.  “Every time I volunteer for an organization, I learn something new and grow as a person.   I love going to visit my friend at the veteran’s home and delivering meals on wheels.”

Jenni does all of this in addition to her other activities; she holds numerous leadership positions in the Greek system at UCM, she’s a member of Rho Lambda and Order of Omega (Greek Honor’s fraternities), she’s in the Honor’s College, she’s modelled for Kansas City Fashion Week, and she works as a princess character at the Omaha Children’s Museum.

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“I especially love my princess job because I am able to make connections so quickly with the children who visit me at the museum,” said Jenni.  “It’s a great teaching tool because children generally want to listen to what you have to say when you’re wearing a poofy dress.”

Ironically, the same often holds true with a crown and sash.

 Jenni has networked across the UCM campus to draw support and raise money for her mission, for Children’s Miracle Network, and for the Miss Nebraska pageant.  She’s also drawing upon her own strengths, using her training as a Dance minor to choreograph UCM’s main stage dance concert and to earn her certification as an Autism Movement Therapy Instructor in Los Angeles.

“I truly value the relationships I make and the opportunities I am given,” said Jenni.  “I’m so blessed to have so many experiences, and I like to step out of my comfort zone so I can really grow as a person.  After two of my sorority sisters passed away in a car accident my sophomore year, I haven’t taken for granted the people in my life.  I think people are put in your life for a reason and everyone has something valuable they can teach you.”

In one month, Jenni Wahonick hopes to do just that, even using the talent competition not to showcase dance (which she’s trained in), but to educate the audience about teachers, the profession she plans to pursue.

“My talent is reading slam poetry,” said Jenni.  “The poem I read is ‘What Teachers Make’ by Taylor Mali.  I feel powerful performing it, and I love to see how the audience will react to it.  Most people are close to someone who is a teacher, so it is easy to relate to.”

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 Before you jump to any conclusions about Jenni’s talent, or the Miss American Organization in general, this young woman notes how her confidence for interviews and speaking in front of a crowd has grown because of her involvement in this system.

“Competing in a pageant like Miss Nebraska is not easy to do.  There is a lot of preparation that goes into each phase of competition,” said Jenni.  “Because of my interview preparation, not only am I more comfortable speaking under pressure, but I am also more educated and concerned about what is going on in the world.  Because of the swimsuit competition, I have learned to love my body and treat it like a temple.  I am constantly striving to be the best version of myself.  Each phase of competition makes me a better person, and my experience holding a title has made me view myself as a leader and role model in my community.”

OUR community, says this blog author and Jenni’s fellow Papio native.  I hope to see our hometown raise up and support ANY young person working hard and finding success, and especially so in this case. The symbol of our city is the Monarch, and we may soon have real royalty in Papillion.. Miss Nebraska 2016.

JKG Photography

Photo courtesy JKG Photography Omaha

“Miss Nebraska is my dream job becasue making connections with people is my very favorite thing to do,” said Jenni.  “Whether I win Miss Nebraska or not, I will continue to make philanthropy and service a huge part of my life and view myself as a role model in the community.  My platform is more than just a platform to me, it is what I have shaped my entire life around.  However, with the title of Miss Nebraska I will be given more credibility to really take these things to a new level.  As Miss Nebraska, I would continue to work every single day to share my message with anyone who would hear it.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Twin Rivers 2016 Jenni Wahonick on Facebook, where you can also message her about appearances and events.

For more information about the Miss Twin Rivers/Miss Sandhills Pageant, contact Directors Barb Smith or Becky Smith-Wagner by phone at 308-532-4720 or by email at wearhousedance@hotmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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

NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

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!