Tag Archive | Special Olympics

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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 Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Girls Rule The World

This week at Westside, I got to do one of the things I love most at work.

We put these incredible Westside High School students on TV, to recognize them for their achievements and talents. Ramya Iyer, Victoria Chin, Raeanne Sando and Emma Carlson have all been honored with NCWIT Awards in the field of computer science. As each of them talked to KMTV’s Emily Szink, they shared how they want to pursue coding and STEM in their careers… and how one teacher mentored and inspired all of them to explore this field and stick with it.

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Kristeen Shabram is a Business and Technology Teacher at Westside Middle School. She’s also the leader of the Computer Programmer’s Club, organizes Family Code Nights across the district, participates in CodeCrush at UNO and Nebraska GenCyber Camp. Her students were Nebraska’s winner in the 2017 Verizon App Challenge, scoring free technology and $5000. Mrs. Shabram was named the 2016 Tech Educator of the Year by AIM, and takes part in conferences across Nebraska, working with other STEM teachers.

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Through Mrs. Shabram, students learn the value of learning this complex and valuable field. Employment of health information technicians alone, which is what Emma Carlson wants to do, is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all other occupations. And at a time when the number of girls interested in STEM plummets as they grow older, Mrs. Shabram is a much needed female expert in this field. She inspires everyone around her, especially Westside’s female students, to learn MORE. (Click here to see for yourself, by following Mrs. Shabram on Twitter!)

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We can spread a message through our words. We can tell lecture kids and young people to do something or say something.. but how often do those same kids grow up wanting to be something because of what a role model DID. You never know who is watching you, thinking ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up.’

Morgan Baird is proof of that.

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“My sister has gone through the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen] and [Miss Nebraska] programs and I’ve seen the positive impact it has had on her and other girls,” Morgan told me recently. “I wanted to have the opportunity to develop the life skills and confidence she had and also have the chance to serve my community.”

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This year, Morgan was crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2018. After admiring her mom Krista and her sister Allison for nearly all of her life, it’s now her turn to inspire.

Morgan has helped with fundraisers to support Special Olympics and Children’s Miracle Network. She also visits schools, talking to younger students about her personal platform, ‘Be Here Now’.

 

 

“It’s about putting away the distractions and experiencing life to the fullest with the people around you,” said Morgan. “I am promoting it by being the example. I try my best to not be on my phone excessively in public or when I’m with family and friends.”

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Many of those friends are fellow titleholders from across Nebraska who are sharing their passions through service and performance, just like Morgan. They will compete against one another in April, for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, but this year more than ever, these young women use phrases like ‘competing with’, instead focusing on the benefits of organizations that bring together women of all ages to support and inspire each other.

“That’s what the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization is all about: The sisterhood,” said Morgan. “Besides my mom, my female role model is Emma Watson. Her advocacy for feminism is what I love to see. She believes that all women have a voice and should be sharing their opinions and beliefs. I strive to be like her.”

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Girls rule the world.  We can dance and be still, speak and listen, be beautiful and be bold.

SHABRAM W: STUDENTS

Women are pioneers and mentors. Teachers and computer scientists. Nurturers and bad-ass experts in coding and technology. We can do ANYTHING we want to do, and we inspire others when our passion shines through our own actions.

 I would argue that neither of the kids in the above photo went to Nebraska GenCyber Camp because they felt like they HAD to – they wanted to because they enjoy it, and especially for the girls who took part, Mrs. Shabram has showed them THEY CAN. Morgan Baird is competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because she WANTS to, and has seen through the women around her that we can choose any path that brings us joy.

Meryl Streep once said, “I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.”

Thank you, Mrs. Shabram, for being a lighthouse for girls everywhere. Morgan Baird hopes someday, she can say the same.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

 “My favorite part about being a titleholder is getting to meet all the little girls who tell me they want to be just like me when they grow up,” said Morgan. “I know it’s because of the sparkly crown on my head, and who doesn’t want to be a princess when they get older?, but it makes my heart feel so full when I hear those words come out of their sweet, little mouths. I am there to help in whatever way I can.”

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To follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird on Facebook, click here.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

 

Bo Knows Inspiration

Once in awhile, you meet someone that makes you want to jump higher and run faster. You meet a Bo Jackson.

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He won the Heisman… AND played baseball for Auburn. He was a #1 NFL Draft pick AND a 4th round draft pick for the Kansas City Royals. To this day, he remains the only person to be named an All-Star in both the MLB and the NFL. Bo Knows Awesome.

(Sorry, guys – Spring Training is here. Get ready for lots of baseball references!)

We are surrounded by Bo Jacksons, right here in Nebraska. I know one.. he goes by the alias Tyler Hottovy.

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Tyler is a musician. He’s a church leader. He’s a proud husband and father. And as of last summer, he has been the principal of one of the largest schools in Westside, Westbrook Elementary.

Westbrook is a Title I school; a relatively high number of the students enrolled here receive free or reduced lunch. For many of them, their biggest worry every day is not homework or getting enough screen time.. it’s thinking of when they’ll eat next, or wondering how they’ll stay warm when the temperatures drop. Mr. Hottovy has made it his career mission to make school consistent, comforting, and a source of hope and opportunity for every, single child who passes through his doors.

“If they are hungry, we will feed them. If they are cold, we will make sure that they are warm,” Mr. Hottovy told me recently. “We don’t turn anyone away. We learn to support and serve the students that show up at our door and give them as many opportunities as we can.”

On the first day of school, he literally rolled out a red carpet for Westbrook students and invited Westside cheerleaders to root on kids as they walked into the building. He and Teacher Leader Amy Falcone don goofy glasses and deliver snacks by wagon, endearing themselves to their students as friends and trusted adults. Mr. Hottovy goes above and beyond to bring experiences and inspiration to his students, like the Nebraska Brass Band (of which he’s a proud member of!) His goal: to make both his students and teachers LOVE coming to school everyday. Click here to follow Mr. Hottovy on Twitter!

“My beautiful moments are when I hear adults supporting each other, recognizing the positive in kids, building meaningful relationships with students, and when I hear staff stop talking about what our kids have done and instead talk about what they will do,” said Mr. Hottovy.

It’s one thing to accept a role and fulfill your responsibilities. It takes a Bo Jackson to keep pushing, to test the limits and to do more.

Cue Nikki-Catrina.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

People think beauty queens brawl for tiaras to wave their hands and ride in convertibles. Nikki-Catrina Anderson has put her crowns and sashes through more than 1,300 hours of community service… and counting.

“One reason I love serving is the people I have met and the stories I have heard,” Nikki-Catrina recently told me. “It’s a two-way street; I’m helping people, but it is rare that I don’t leave a service opportunity enlightened and uplifted from the people I have met. Serving in my community is something I will do for the rest of my life.”

 

 

The current Miss Kool-Aid Days has jumped into ice-cold lakes to raise money for Special Olympics. She’s flipped pancakes and handed out ice cream for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. She’s spoken to schools from Scottsbluff to Kearney, walked in charity fashion shows, served food to families in need.. the list goes on and on. But Nikki-Catrina’s prime focus and favorite contribution is through an ages-old hobby and essential skill: reading.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“My platform is ‘Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader’,” said Nikki-Catrina. “It is about promoting family reading and children’s literacy, sharing the importance and relevance of reading, and the bond it can create.”

From business to personal health to civic empathy.. there are endless pieces of evidence as to the positive benefits of simply reading. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, C.S. Lewis, Maya Angelou, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis… they all agree(d) reading is the key to success. Nikki-Catrina shares their messages and puts in the time on the ground, getting books to as many children across Nebraska as possible.

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“Last May, I did a book drive in which I collected more than 4,800 books to give to students,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I’m also privileged to partner with the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library, which has allowed me to vastly promote literacy in the community. With them, I was able to visit every elementary and preschool in the Scottsbluff Public School District to encourage 1,800 students to sign up for the summer reading program!”

Two years ago, Nikki-Catrina amplified her message and mission as a titleholder within the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Program. She soon realized that crown and sash also netted her some personal rewards for her hard work.

“This has been a life-changing organization,” said Nikki-Catrina. “Even before I was old enough to compete, I was inspired by the titleholders in my community who became role models and the women I aspired to emulate. Since becoming a titleholder, I have found countless friendships with women who’s strength, determination, and stories inspire me to be better. I have developed a greater confidence and a deeper sense of who I am. I have been given opportunities to serve my community in a way I would not have been able to do without the prestige reputation of this organization. I have created large projects from beginning to end, and because of those experiences, I am now confident in my ability to continue to make great change even after I am no longer a titleholder.”

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I do not want to get wrapped up in the idea that this is a competition, I see this more as an experience,” said Nikki-Catrina. “A chance to get to know amazing and wonderful girls. I do not want to be the shy person I typically am in large groups; I want to get to know the girls and build relationships with them. I am surrounded by uplifting, inspiring, and friendly women. I want to make this the best experience it can be, because I am blessed to be able to have it.”

At one recent appearance, Nikki-Catrina warmly greeted a deaf family who approached her… and she communicated with them in sign language. Yup, she does that, too. THAT is the beauty this young woman has defined in the phrase ‘beauty queen’. Look at the faces of the children in these photos. Just like Tyler Hottovy’s pictures, I not only see a caring, person to devoted to making the world better, but I see sheer happiness in the children she is impacting.

People like Tyler and Nikki-Catrina are talented. They are hard working. They do it all.

They are our Bo Jacksons.

The sports legend once said, “Set your goals high and don’t stop ’til you get there.”

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Tyler Hottovy has started his doctorate. He thinks about expanding his work with Title I schools, but for now: “I’m focused on making Westbrook a great place for kids.”

Nikki-Catrina hopes to work in an elementary school, too; she is studying to become a teacher, and may someday be telling her students the story of her time as Miss Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I never believed in myself enough to give it a try,” said Nikki-Catrina. “[Now] I love it. This gives me the chance to grow, to be who I am, and feel I have a place.”

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To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki-Catrina Anderson on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NIKKI-CATRINA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Leading Through Reading

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

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The Miss Nebraska 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 Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes

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

Center Stage

Last week, I had one of those life experiences that reminds you of everything all at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, you’re so happy, you’re so utterly grateful.

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Meet Ellie, the cute little brunette with the pixie cut on the left, and Kaleb, the strong, blonde gentleman in the middle. They are both elementary school students at Westside’s Sunset Hills, and when their principal, Michelle Patterson, found out they were competing in the Special Olympics for gymnastics, she scheduled a field trip so their entire 3rd and 5th grade classes could attend to cheer them on.

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They made signs. They wore Team Sunset Hills t-shirts. They exploded with cheers and rally chants every time Ellie or Kaleb stood up to compete, and they applauded just as loudly when one of the other athletes did well. Ellie stopped mid-floor routine, turned and grinned at her cheering section. I bawled behind my I-phone. CLICK HERE to watch Ellie & Kaleb’s story on KETV by Sarah Fili and Adam Ennis!

I remember another moment several months ago when tears welled up in my eyes.. watching Kindergartners in my son’s class run up to him to say hi and give him a hug. He has friends; he’s happy; he feels loved and wanted at school. It made my heart burst with pride and happiness for my sweet boy.

It’s all so much the same; we as parents have a universal wish for our children, perhaps more than anything else. We want them to be happy.

Kogan Murphy isn’t a parent, but she wants the same thing for every child she comes in contact with… so those children don’t go through what she did as a teenager.

Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

“I was bullied for years in middle and high school,” Kogan told me recently. “I struggled alone for nearly five years before anyone stepped in to help – they just didn’t know or couldn’t see what was happening to me. There were days I feared for my life and days I couldn’t leave the house, let alone feel safe enough to go to school.  Although I triumphed by working with people who supported and cared about me, not everyone is so lucky.”

It seems like these stories are everywhere these days, happening to people you would never predict as the target. Kogan is a gifted ballet dancer, a gorgeous blonde, a confident and mature young woman. Why would anyone bully her? It’s a question Kogan has asked for years, and one she intends to find answers to and solutions for.

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“I have spent over seven years now researching, living, visiting, speaking and gathering information on bullying,” said Kogan. “I was a victim of both harassment and physical violence. Unfortunately, as is often the case with technology, the harassment didn’t end when I got home at night. A large portion of my bully’s attacks came through online channels and social media. I have spoken to many different age groups and types of people about bullying and it continues to become a more and more important issue that is still so relevant today.”

Kogan found a powerful weapon against her bully when she was 17.. in the form of a crown. That was the first time she competed for the title of Miss Illinois.

“I still felt very lost after being bullied, “said Kogan. “What most people don’t realize is that even after the bullying stops and the problem is ‘resolved’, there is still a lot of work to be done. It took me years of trying to get my school grades up and figure out who I was again. Each time I competed, I felt like I was a little bit closer to finding myself again.”

Kogan held multiple titles within the Miss Illinois Organization, but took a year off when she moved to Omaha and joined Ballet Nebraska.

“I have been dancing for 21 years,” said Kogan, who has since performed professionally in productions including Swan Lake. “Dancing has always been a great way for me to express myself and I love getting the opportunity to perform. I also choreographed my solo for Miss Nebraska and it is very special to me.”

Kogan discovered the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant in her new home, and decided to refocus on the organization that had done so much to build back up her self-confidence.

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She was crowned Miss Douglas County last fall, and was immediately surrounded with a network of people offering constant friendship and encouragement no matter life’s circumstances.

“The people you meet during your year, the people who volunteer their time and money to make this organization all that it is, and then of course, the mentoring,” said Kogan. “Over the past 6-7 years being involved in this organization I have met countless young women that I have looked up to and admired and then been able to take on that ‘big sister’ role myself with many little girls and my ‘pageant families’!”

For Kogan, this has also been an opportunity to try prevent other kids from traveling the same rough road she had to. She visits classrooms, youth groups and dance classes all over Eastern Nebraska sharing her personal platform: ‘Respect: Changing the conversation about bullying.’

“I feel so lucky that I have been given the opportunity to have a voice and share my story,” said Kogan. “Having a dramatic personal experience gives me the credibility and relevance to connect with kids and adults alike; I’ve been there. I have been hurt, afraid for my life and embarrassed. No one should feel afraid to go to school, leave their house or feel as if their life does not matter. I am proof that there is a way out and a way back to having confidence in yourself. Let’s bring RESPECT back to the conversation. Everyone deserves the right to feel loved, appreciated and wanted in this world.”

AGREED. I think that’s why I was so touched by what happened in that gym last week. My hope is that not only did Ellie and Kaleb feel loved and supported, but that all of their friends saw the value in loving and supporting others. I was only a bystander that day, but I left that gym feeling like I could conquer the world.. and that our world was an accepting, beautiful place. Love multiplied again and again that day, and I hope the lasting memory every single one of those children will have is that smile on Ellie’s face. I hope they all realize they can do that throughout their whole lives; they can impact someone’s life by simply being KIND.

It’s a message Kogan Murphy will continue to spread through her words, through dance, and she hopes, as Miss Nebraska 2017.

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“This organization has not only shaped me into the woman I want to be but it continues to encourage me to be the best version of myself,” said Kogan. “I am very much at a place where I would love to dedicate a full year and serve the wonderful state of Nebraska through this organization. My goal and mindset is to always be the very best version of myself, enjoy every moment and know that timing is everything.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy on Facebook.

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS..Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

COMING SOON.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

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!

Bring It On

If you follow my blog (THANK YOU!!) you may have noticed I LOVE highlighting good people doing good things.  It reminds me our future is bright, that there are kids and young people willing to work hard, who put others first, who simply want to make the world a better place.  With that in mind.. last February, I pursued a story about the Millard West Varsity Cheer Squad, heading back to nationals after winning the title the previous EIGHT years. I wanted to give these girls some attention and publicity for their hard work, but I don’t know that I had a vision in my mind of what cheer would look like.. or how much it takes to win a national title.

One of the first things I saw was EVERY, SINGLE, GIRL do a standing back tuck.  At the same time.  Synchronized.  These girls tumbled.  They danced.  They had attitude and energy.  They took a break, and they did it all over again.  I think I pulled my hammy just watching them.

CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s story: Millard West Cheer Working Hard To Continue Tradition Of Excellence

This ain’t your momma’s cheerleading.  Brianna Little knows that.  452 miles west of Omaha, the Scottsbluff native is hard at work several hours a week as a member of one of the top cheer programs in the region.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The only All Star squad in Nebraska is about 6 hours away, so I attend Windsor All Stars in Windsor, Colorado,” Brianna told me recently.  “That means traveling a little over two hours, both ways, twice a week for a three hour practice!  I spend countless hours in the car studying and doing homework.”

Maybe it’s the cheerleader mentality.. anytime you feel tired you shake it off and yell ‘O-K!’  My apologies.  Terrible cheerleader joke.. especially considering what this young lady has accomplished over the last year.

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At just 15-years old, Brianna was crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016.  The sophomore at Scottsbluff High School  is also a nationals-qualifying member of HOSA (Future Health Professionals of America Club),  a peer to peer mentor with her school’s special education program, and she maintains a 4.043 GPA despite her advanced course schedule.  Still, when given a crown and sash that represents style, success, scholarship, and service, Brianna said ‘BRING IT ON.’

“To me, the most important thing in life is to not back down from it, but embrace it,” said Brianna.  “Don’t be afraid to make your own path because it just may lead to life’s greatest joys and secrets.  Everyday I thank God for blessing me with a determination to go after all life has to give, not only to myself but to others as well.”

Brianna devoted herself to BEING an outstanding teen in her community, volunteering at event after event, week after week.  She especially sought out anything to do with her platform, ‘Special Love for Special Needs,’ after forming a close friendship with a boy with Autism.

“Through my platform this year, I have helped with the Team Lydia Benefit, attended the Special Needs Prom for Meridian Schools, ran in the Torch Run for the Special Olympics, and participated in the Polar Plunge,” said Brianna.  “My dream is to one day partner with my role model, Tim Tebow, on his Tim Tebow Foundation.”

And just as her role model has raised millions of dollars for charity, Brianna too is already seeing tangible evidence of her hard work.  Just weeks ago, Brianna organized the Special Love For Special Needs 5K, securing corporate sponsors and drawing numerous participants.

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By the end of the event, Brianna had not only raised awareness for Camp Scott, a summer program for children with special needs, and for the Autism Society of Nebraska… she donated THOUSANDS of dollars to both causes.

AT the time she presented these checks, Brianna had NOT YET turned 16 years old.

“One of the most amazing experiences in my life has been receiving my title and helping those around me,” said Brianna.  “It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of service.  True joy is not found when you worry about yourself; it’s found when you impact others.  When you see the smiles and laughter of a child who is in need, the hope that is given to families, the sparkle in a girl’s eyes when she finally sees the beauty in herself, THAT is the purest, truest joy in life.”

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Brianna on Facebook: “I got to spend the evening with a pretty special little girl Saturday night.  Lydia has temporal lobe epilepsy and was given a service dog.  Training, however, is going to cost approximately $15,000.  Our community raised $6,200 Saturday to help with the costs.

Brianna and Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2016 Claire Holsinger have also done extensive work in their local schools, visiting classes and raising thousands MORE dollars for Miss America’s Community partner, Children’s Miracle Network.

Adding up those checks? That’s $4,200 IN DONATIONS, collected by Brianna in just a few months.  Yet, this young woman says she is the one who benefits.

“Through my participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization, I have really come out of my shell,” said Brianna.  “Before I became involved, I was really shy when meeting or being around a lot of people.  My communication skills have grown tremendously.  I am now confident expressing my opinion in all matters and have no problem talking to people I don’t know.  This has helped me achieve so many things in life, such as being a board member of the Team Lydia Foundation at just 15 years old, being successful as a salesperson, being able to express myself in any environment, and organizing an eent all of my own (which involves contacting many businesses and being able to project yourself as a professional partner in business agreements.)”

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Wanna take a dig at cheerleaders?

BRING IT.

If you weren’t convinced by the acrobatics and contagious work ethic from the Millard West Wildcats, just watch Brianna Little disprove EVERY stereotype you may have about cheerleaders.. and pageant girls for that matter.  A Scottsbluff camp now has an additional $1500 in their budget this summer.  The Autism Society of Nebraska can arrange family events and needed support activities with their donation.  Kids, who face so many challenges in life, felt extra-important on prom night.. because someone took a little extra time just for them.

This, all thanks to ONE YOUNG WOMAN.  A cheerleader and outstanding teen with limitless energy and zeal for life, who is still hungry to do more.

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“I feel I should be the next Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen beause I strive to be a role model for and serve others,” said Brianna.  “I will show young girls to be confident in who they are and not let society define their beauty.  I will also be an example of scholarship and character for others to follow.  I will take every opportunity to serve in my community and my state, as well as be the best role model I can be through leading by example.”

***

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Old West Balloon Fest Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  You can also find more information via the Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant HERE on Facebook, and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.

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.

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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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison!

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Sheridan Blanco!

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!

Weathering The Storm

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

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

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

SUMMER 2004.  HALLAM, NEBRASKA

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Photo courtesy HarkPhoto.com

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

“Percy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Russtana Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

Click each link to follow Miss Kearney 2016 Stacy Pospisil

on Facebook and on Instagram

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble!

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

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?!?!

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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!