Most Likely To Shine

When you look back at your years in high school, do you remember who won the senior superlatives in your class?  Most outgoing, best personality, most likely to succeed, most school spirit.

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In my class, one of the ‘superlative’ winners was my good friend Jake Ozanne, named Most Outgoing.  He could have also been coined ‘Most Popular’, ‘Most Inclusive’, ‘Most Welcoming’, or just “Mr. All American Monarch.”  Jake was a starting varsity football player, who also has a sensational voice and was one of the star’s of PLHS’s sold-out presentation of Grease.  He did it all and was friends with EVERYONE along the way, no matter what clique, group, or friendship circle you were part of.  PAPIO LOVED JAKE, and we still do.

Lincoln Southwest High arguably has SEVERAL contenders for the title.. THREE Silver Hawks will be competing this summer for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  One of these young ladies is the Queen of Superlatives.. because after my reporter research, I question if there is anything this beauty CAN’T do.

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MISS GERING’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 EMMA KEIFER

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Emma is an actress, a singer, a competitive speaker, and a dancer.  She not only takes part in all of these activities at Lincoln Southwest High, she’s an award winner in many of them..

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The sophomore is a member of the top ranked Ambience competitive show choir, of which Emma posted on Facebook: “What a year with so many amazing people including these inspiring girls that I am blessed to call my best friends.”

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Emma is also an active member of Lincoln Southwest High’s theater program, named Freshman of the Year and cast in this year’s production of White Christmas, chosen to be part of the 2015 International Thespian Festival Showcase.

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Emma’s also a national speech qualifier and a member of the Lincoln Southwest Emeralds Dance team.

In case you had any doubts, I looked up ‘does it all’ with Merriam Webster and Emma’s picture accompanies the definition.  HOLY COW!  Still, she added to her resume this year, competing for and winning the title of Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen.

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Emma, alongside Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Allison Baird.  Emma posted on Facebook: “What a great way to start fall break!  A big congratulations to every girl who competed in teen and miss for achieving so much by getting on the stage and sharing God’s talents to the judges.”

Emma was crowned in early October, and despite her incredibly demanding activity schedule at school, Emma gave of her time as Miss Gering’s OT at least once every month, often times more.

In October..

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“Trick or Treat so Kids Can Eat! Had a great time collecting food cans with my school theatre troupe as Cruella De Vil! We collected over 2,100 pounds of food for the Lincoln Food Bank!”

In November..

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“I was able to meet with the president of the Lincoln Animal Ambassadors to donate to their Pet Food Bank.  I am so thankful to all my friends who helped me collect over 50 bags of cat and dog food during our Post Halloween Movie Night!”

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“I spent time with other volunteers wrapping over 600 presents for the non-profit Boxes of Love.  These presents have been presented to many different organizations and families throughout the holiday season and I was very happy to help!”

In December..

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“I was able to meet with over 50 girls at Scott Middle School in Lincoln to promote my platform, Girl Talk.  Each girl showed interest in growing in the three pillars of the organization, building self-esteem, learning leadership skills and the importance of community involvement!  Every Thursday I get to talk and mentor a group of the most talented, sweetest, inspiring and beautiful girls I have ever met at Girl Talk!  Everyone knows how hard Middle School can be so I am so happy to be the Girl Talk girls guide through life and their shoulder to lean on! Not only am I teaching them leadership skills, community involvement, and to be drama free, but they are teaching me and making me a better person!”

On to January..

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“Spent my night volunteering at the Alzheirmer’s Association Gala! I even got to model a prom dress for the Black Swan during the live auction.  I had such a fun time for such a great cause.”

Ending February..

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“I bet you can guess who is ecstatic for June!”

And just recently, in April..

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“I judged a prelim for the Cinderella Pageant. (I have never seen so many talented and adorable girls! It was so tough being on the other side.)  I packaged/prepared meals for Kids Against Hunger with Youth Leadership Lincoln.  I met with the wonderful Teresa Scanlan and discussed the future and importance of my platform.”

And in May, Emma turned 17.  Yea, Emma Keifer IS A SOPHOMORE; SHE JUST TURNED 17 YEARS OLD.

I am exhausted just reading all of this!  I’m also checking to see if Lincoln Southwest is sharing their secrets to success in teaching and training such outstanding young women. Each of the groups Emma belongs to, whether they be drama, choir, speech, or dance, may have a different superlative for Emma.  Who knows what title she could end up with in her senior yearbook.

Emma Keifer may capture a title long before that.  She’ll take the stage in North Platte in just two weeks, ready to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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(Photo courtesy Julie Carter Photography)

Follow Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Keifer and contact her for appearances and events on the Miss Western Nebraska/Miss Gering Pageant on Facebook.

Click here to follow Emma’s platform, Girl Talk!, on Facebook.

Click here for a special profile on Emma posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

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

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

COMING SOON.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Chelsea Arnold

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

Cap And (Evening) Gown

We are deep into graduation season!! My dayplanner is jam-packed with party invites, cards for graduates, and gift cards. Every spare spot on my calendar is covered in scribbles with names, dates and places.  I’m really not that popular.. just have lots of awesome cousins and my husband is blessed to coach some great graduating seniors. (Go Mustangs!)

High school came easy to me.  I kept my head down, got good grades, and stayed CRAZY busy. (Emphasis on the crazy.)  College was a completely different ball game.  I flatter myself to think I’m pretty smart; doesn’t matter at that next level.  You WORK for what you want.  At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I experienced my first all-nighter (several of them) studying and completing projects.  I spent lots of quality alone time in the basement of UNL’s Pound Hall cramming for finals all day.  To this day, I still have nightmares about getting notices from university officials that there was an error and I’m short a few science credits.  In reality, the day came when I donned a cap and gown and walked across the stage, feeling TRULY accomplished and proud of what I’d achieved, a college degree.

Imagine the pride you’d feel, and that of your parents, if you were the FIRST in your family to experience all of this; that is what fuels this young woman.

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MISS CHADRON 2015 TOSHA SKINNER

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“In August, I will be the first college graduate in my family,” said Tosha, a senior Management major, minoring in Marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  “I could not have done [this] without the support of my parents and the Miss America System!”

I first met Tosha last year when she was competing for Miss Nebraska as Miss Sugar Valley.  (Click here to see her 2014 profile!)  She was EXTREMELY busy then, and still is today as a member of Delta Delta Delta (previously serving as Vice-President of Public Relations), President of Students for St. Jude, a family representative for Dance Marathon (raising money for Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center), and a member of Phi Beta Lambda.

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Still, Tosha made time between classes, studying, volunteering and activities to be part of our KETV Chronicle special showcasing the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014.  She was down-to-earth, conversational and well spoken. (CLICK HERE to see for yourself!)  While arguably all of those contestants and the women competing this year want to show their inner beauty, Tosha also wants to affect change on outer beauty, or at least how we all define it.

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“I am very fortunate to be able to promote my platform, ‘BEAUTY: Redefining the Ideal’, which focuses on the importance of a healthy body image,” said Tosha.  “My goal is to never have someone struggle the way I have struggled all my life.”

Reading this caught me off guard for a moment, to think there was such sadness hiding behind this gorgeous smile. Little did I know, Tosha says her battle with depression began around the same time we met last Spring, leading to the first stages of an eating disorder.

“At the time I was preparing for Miss Nebraska, which is a terrible combination,” Tosha told me recently.  “Lucky for me, my platform gave me an outlet to learn more about body image disorder and it helped with the recovery process.”

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Tosha with Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen and Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg & Tosha with Allison and Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen Merrilee Prill

Tosha, a vocal supporter of the Miss America Organization, has also been active in all facets of the program, including raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network and earning her Duke of Edinburg Award by trading her crown for camping gear and a fishing pole.

“I can truly say I am a better person today because of competing in the Miss America system,” said Tosha.  “I feel that as young women especially, it is hard to find your voice, and the Miss America system has given me mine.  It gives all of us opportunities to work towards things we are passionate about and tell our stories to others.”

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Tosha on Facebook:  “These are the moments that make it all worth it. I remember being that little girl and wanting one day to be exactly like the “princesses”. I hope I can inspire at least one little girl, the way they inspired me.#misschadron #mao

Tosha’s story: role model, fighter, trail blazer.

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We all take different paths in life. Every now and then, those roads converge at places like graduation.  In just months, Tosha Skinner will stand side by side with thousands of other UNL students receiving their diplomas, but no story is quite like hers.  Similarly, when this beauty walks across the Miss Nebraska stage, she may be next to 12 other incredible young women, yet they’ll all be independent and unique.

Neither journey is easy, and in the end, neither marks the end of the road.  They call graduation ceremonies ‘commencement’ for a reason.. these moments mark the beginning of new paths, and new journeys out into the world.  Tosha Skinner is keeping her eyes open for two signs, hopefully marking her one new journey; the college graduate embarking on her new adventure as Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

and contact her for appearances and events on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 

on her blog: ‘BEAUTY: Redefining The Ideal’.

For more information about the Miss Chadron pageant, click here to visit their Facebook page.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Marleta Hastings at 308-432-3847 or Director Renae Noble at 308-432-5129.  You can also email misscnwdirectors@gmail.com.

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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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Keifer

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

Home Of The Brave

Our national anthem is arguably, one of the toughest songs for an artist to perform.  So much range, pressure to make it your own without offending traditionalists, and most of the time, acapella.  Easy to veer off the rails, tough to swerve back on.

Lately, Miss America veterans have been REPRESENTING the stars and stripes.

Both Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson and Miss South Dakota 2008 Alex Hoffman (now KETV’s morning anchor) were selected as finalists to audition to sing at the College World Series.

CLICK HERE to listen to Megan, who will perform before the 7pm game on June 15.

CLICK HERE to listen to Alex, chosen as an alternate (the same night she’ll be performing the anthem at the Miss South Dakota pageant!)

And if you’re bored (GULP!) CLICK HERE to hear MY rendition before the Nebraska & Creighton baseball game back in April… if there’s an alternate game Saturday June 20th at the CWS, I get to sing, too!

The list continues.. Miss Nebraska 2011 Kayla Batt-Jacox sang in front of thousands at Werner Park this spring before the Nebraska & UNO baseball game.  Miss Omaha 2014 Payton Merritt will sing at TD Ameritrade Park this weekend during the Big East baseball tournament.  Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev sang before the Washington Nationals & Miami Marlins game on May 7th.  We’re everywhere!

And this last weekend, a huge honor for one of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, chosen to sing the anthem in front of thousands at her own college graduation from Creighton University.

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MISS NEBRASKA STATE FAIR 2015 MARIE ALLISON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“Blessed to have been fortunate enough to graduate from Creighton with degrees in Philosophy and Music, summa cum laude, and to have sung the national anthem for the graduating classes of 2015,” Marie posted on Facebook.  “It is humbling to realize the massive investment of time, the support of my wonderful family and friends, and the connections with faculty and fellow scholars that I have made throughout my Creighton experience. I may not be certain of what I desire to be in my future, but I know I am well primed to realize that truth as a process that will happen. Thank you to the people who always believe in me.”

These thoughts, showing appreciation and reflection, mirror the messages Marie sent me recently regarding the Miss America program.

“I never, EVER thought I would be a girl who competed in pageants,” Marie told me recently.  “This decision changed the trajectory of my life dramatically because I learned how pageants challenge you to grow.”

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Marie’s first pageant exposure came through her love of horses; she was a rodeo queen.  She is also a passionate equestrienne, behind the training of two national caliber show horses, and a volunteer at the Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy.  Those roles, however, didn’t always put Marie in the spotlight.

“As I am an introvert, appearances were very challenging to me,” said Marie.  “I was pushed outside my comfort zone to become equal to the take of being a good representative of my program.”

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Marie herself had what she calls personal stigmas about pageantry, something she confronted directly when she competed for Miss Colorado last summer.

“I became involved in the Miss America program when I realized I could be impacting real change in my community and earning scholarships to fund my education,” said Marie.  “This program has made me consider what I value deeply, and the issues I feel need to be adequately addressed by our society as a whole.  I have come to profoundly respect my fellow contestants as outstanding individuals and community servants.  They are authentic leaders with humble confidence that lights up the world around them, providing examples that empower all youth and particularly young women.”

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Marie is a true example of that.  She spends time doing crafts with patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, she’s active with Omaha’s Urban Abbey Methodist Church and Coffee Shop, and she’s a volunteer with the Stephens Center for the homeless.  Marie does all of this not because she has to, but driven by her own background.

“I chose my platform (‘Communication: Proactive Prevention’) because I would not have attended college, nor would I be the person I am today if I did not have a strong social network and people believing in me,” said Marie.  “Given my personal experience with socioeconomic stress and homelessness, and how difficult these experiences were, I now that I would not have survived or thrived without the help of the communities I was involved in.  It is my goal to help build meaningful relationships and communities to help others the same way people have helped me to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances.”

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Homeless.  To college.  To singing at her own graduation from Creighton University.

The words of the Star Spangled Banner are etched into every American’s heart and soul.

What so proudly we hailed..

Through the perilous fight..

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Courage when things are tough.  Standing tall and persevering.  Being a beacon for those who may come after you.

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May 18, 2015, standing in front of her fellow Creighton University graduates, singing those words.  What a special moment for a young woman who has lived her own version of the Star Spangled Banner.  And the journey for Marie Allison isn’t over yet; next stop, Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Marie Allison and contact her for appearances and events on Facebook.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org.

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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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

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

Miracle Worker

You advocate for something because you believe in it.  You put your face and name behind a cause to share a compelling argument for why you are so passionate about that effort.  It takes courage to speak out (especially from a personal place); it takes time and dedication; it takes a leader who can command attention and compel others to make a difference.

This is one of the reasons I advocate for the Miss America Organization.. because no matter what you think of beauty pageants, or women competing for crowns, when that ONE DAY of competition is over, they are out in their communities and states 364 OTHER days of the year trying to do all of the things I just mentioned, in most cases, serving others.

This young woman will continue to promote her platform after her pageant days are over; she wants her cause to become her career.

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MISS DOUGLAS COUNTY 2015 ALYSSA HOWELL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I will be a junior at Creighton University, studying Elementary Education, with the career ambition of becoming a child life specialist in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” Alyssa told me recently.  “Truly, Children’s Miracle Network is my passion, and my platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’, stands to improve the lives of children in hospitals all over Nebraska.”

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Several of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, including Alyssa and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson, delivered gift bags to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Rainbow House pediatric patients and their families for Miss America Serves day.

Children’s Miracle Network is also Miss America’s community partner, the organization which titleholders all over the country must raise money for in order to compete at the local and state level.  Money raised benefits hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Many of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants have spent time volunteering at Children’s; Alyssa visits on a consistent basis, inspired by her cousin and former CMN patient, Shayna.

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“Eight years ago my family (after a streak of 12 boy cousins) was finally blessed with a girl!  However, Shayna was sick with a frightening virus that left her sick and in the hospital for days after her birth,” said Alyssa.  “18 months later, she tested positive for profound hearing loss.  My family was devastated, however, with the help of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (a CMN facility), Shayna was able to receive cochlear implants that allow her to hear as a normal child.”

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Alyssa witnessed part of that journey in person, staying with Shayna and her family for two months while Shayna attended the Central Institute for the Deaf.  Alyssa had already been involved with CMN fundraisers as a young girl, at her sister Devin Howell’s side during her time as Miss River City 2008, Miss Douglas County 2009 and Miss Omaha 2010.

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When Alyssa was crowned Miss Eastern Nebraska 2014, (click here to see read my interview with her last Spring!) she wanted to take her passion for CMN hospitals and the children they serve to another level.  Alyssa designed and implemented something she calls the Miracle Bags Program.

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“I go to sororities [including her own, Pi Beta Phi], business groups, girl scouts and schools and collect donation items.  Each bag [I create] contains a blanket, coloring book, crayons, Play-Doh, and a handwritten card,” said Alyssa.  “I then deliver these bags to the patients at Omaha Children’s, and let me tell you, nothing makes a sick child light up like a princess with a bag of goodies!”

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To Alyssa, the Miss America Organization presented opportunities for both volunteering and for her own personal growth.  It’s a stage for this pianist (and piano teacher) to play for a crowd; it’s a path to scholarships for this college student; it’s a platform for her to share Shayna’s story and encourage others to help pediatric hospital patients.

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“I truly believe that EVERY woman can gain so many incredible things from this organization, and Miss Nebraska stands to represent every woman in the state regardless of career, beliefs, appearance or education,” said Alyssa.  “As the All-American daughter of a former Marine and the 1981 Miss Iowa Dairy Princess, my upbringing led me to big dreams, big accomplishments and making big differences in the lives of everyone I meet.”

Alyssa Howell isn’t just an advocate for Miss America or for Children’s Miracle Network, she shows what strong, smart, talented women can accomplish when inspired by something as powerful as a little girl’s smile.  Just a guess, but I’m betting the feeling is mutual, and that Shayna’s grin will light up the entire North Platte High Auditorium in just three weeks.. as her princess, Miss Douglas County, competes to become the next Miss Nebraska.

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(Photo courtesy Studio FBJ)

To find out more about Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Miracle Bags Program, and to contact her for appearances and events, email alyssahowellva@gmail.com or click here to visit her Facebook page.

For more information on the Miss Omaha/Douglas County Pageant, click here to visit their website, here to visit them on Facebook, and here to follow on Twitter.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at 402-330-8033 or by email at missomahapageant@yahoo.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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

NEXT.. Miss State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

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

Dancing Queen

I have been a performer (coughcough a show off coughcough) since I could smile for photos.  In every old-school VHS home movie, I’m the loud one trying to get my Dad’s attention, singing, or making up a dance (and forcing my brothers to join in).  In junior high I LOVED choir and show choir.. a passion that continued into high school, along with theater and speech.  I did not, however, ever take dance.. and it shows.  I am NOT good.

That being said, for someone who knows nothing technically about it, I am MESMERIZED by dance.  Telling a story without words, transmitting emotions through movement, so many backgrounds and styles, all connected yet all so different.

For an Omaha woman, dancing isn’t just a hobby, it’s been part of her soul for as long as she can remember.

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MISS HEARTLAND 2015 STEFFANI JIROUX

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I started dancing since I was the ripe age of two and a half.  Basically, I went from getting comfortable with walking into learning how to point my toes in a short time,” Steffani told me recently.  “Ever since that first class, I fell in love with the art form of dance.  I realized that it stimulates my brain and body at the same time while capturing every emotion I could feel.  It is a beautiful way to express myself, and now it is a part of me.”

It’s a piece of her heart that Steffani shares every time she steps onto a stage.. which she does a lot.  She’s danced at the collegiate level, as backup for Weird Al, and as you see below, for classic ballet performances.

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Steffani competing at the Miss Nebraska Pageant in 2013 as Miss Lincoln & performing in a recent production

“Dance is my first love,” said Steffani, who in the last year alone has starred as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and the lead in Paquita.  “It is the thing I go to when I need a boost, and the stage is the place where I can say with the utmost truth, I feel alive.  I truly live for the moment I step out of the light, BOOM, and await my music.  It is those seconds where both nerves and enthrallment combine; it’s the moment you can hear a pin drop; it is the time I feel nothing but myself and God and where time seems to stop.  With that, I am confident in saying that being able to share my talent with others is my favorite thing to do.  It is sharing something that God has granted me, and in that I cannot ask for anything more.”

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Steffani danced throughout her undergrad years at Creighton University, cheering on the sidelines of all home basketball games at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center (including for now NBA basketball player Doug McDermott).  She’s still at Creighton, immediately pursuing her law degree after earning her BSBA in Management.  Steffani plans to become an entertainment attorney.

“I think versatility is an element of uniqueness and I strive to fulfill it,” said Steffani.  “Some can’t understand how the world of law intrigues me as a dancer and someone who likes to wear a lot of pink.  Now, my nickname is Legally Blonde (and fun fact, I had already owned a chihuahua, Shadow, since I was 2).  I am okay with that because it is a movie about embracing being yourself in a world that clings to conformity.  No matter what, purely being yourself will guide you to your ultimate goals.”

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That is a message Steffani is now bringing to young people as Miss Heartland, in addition to her personal platform ‘Arts For Academic Excellence; The Benefits of Fine Arts In The Education Of Our Youth’.

“I have been graced with the opportunity to partake in many forms of art, and I realize just how beneficial it has been throughout my life,” said Steffani.  “I have started a service project called Tutus N’ Dance Shoes, where I set up boxes in dance studios around Omaha in order to collect lightly used dance wear and shoes.  I organize them and bring them to dance programs where the children don’t necessarily have the means to buy a new pair of tap shoes because they grew out of their last one or just don’t have the means in general to afford the necessities dance requires.”

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Steffani says she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to compete for Miss Nebraska, nor did she realize, as she puts it, that her lifestyle and experiences were preparing her for this role and competition.  In a way, this adventure is simply another stage for Steffani to showcase her passions.

“The Miss America Organization provides brilliant young women with an opportunity to share their voices, touch others, and be the change they hope to see in the world,” said Steffani.  “As Miss Heartland, I know that I can truly be myself through every step of the way.  We are all ourselves, we are all so different and have so much to offer.  I can honestly say that I present myself and act with the utmost respect everyday; none of that changes when we affix the sparkle upon our head.  Competing to me means making a difference and making the days of all the new faces I see while on an appearance.”

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Now, this law student, volunteer and dancing queen wants to stay in the spotlight.. but on a MUCH bigger stage.

“Being Miss Nebraska would be absolutely fulfilling,” said Steffani.  “Because making everyone else’s day a bit brighter is my dream job.”

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(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Follow Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux and contact her for appearances and events

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org.

***

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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell

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

Unanswered Prayers

The thing about being a reporter is you never know what’s going to happen that day at work, what you’re going to cover.  On some of the biggest days in my career, I bounced from one story to another, from humorous to devastating, from trivial to unforgettable.  We also get to witness things firsthand that others only see through their TV’s or read about.

Last Thursday, I got to do this..

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Thanks to Mary Nelson from The Morning Blend for snapping the photo!

One on one, KETV photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I interviewed the most successful musician in history, Garth Brooks.  He has sold more albums than any other artist, more than 69-MILLION.  Songs alone, he’s sold more than 150-MILLION.  You’d think all of that success would go to a guy’s head.. not this guy.  He was gracious, genuine, down-to-earth and FUNNY.  He shook not only my hand, but went out of his way to shake every photographer’s hand as well, making sure to thank them for their work.  He truly seems to be completely fulfilled by his life in music, traveling the world with his wife Trisha Yearwood at his side.

Click here to watch my One-On-One interview with Garth Brooks!

Click here to see Garth Brooks’ news conference with Omaha media!

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When I asked Brooks about his advice to aspiring artists, he said PAY YOUR DUES.  The gigs you play for little (or no) pay, the criticism you take that’s just flat out MEAN, the grueling hours you spend devoted to your craft without an end in sight… he said it’s all for good reason, it helps you become BETTER.  Ironically, a few minutes later Brooks teared up a bit when he told me about hearing tens of thousands of fans singing his song, Unanswered Prayers.

It’s a song I’m guessing this young lady has played a time or two at home..

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MISS SCOTTS BLUFF COUNTY 2015 BRITTANY ECKERBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I competed 12 times before I won anything.  The 13th time is when I won Miss Scotts Bluff County,” Brittany told me recently.  “There are so many times when I would get discouraged and want to quit because I didn’t understand why I was never winning, but thankfully I kept going.”

Lucky #13 for a woman who has certainly proven herself worth of her crown.  Brittany, a freshman at York College majoring in Business Management and minoring in Accounting, thought she would only participate in choir when she started college.

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“Once I got on campus I became involved in speech, cheerleading, Theta Psi social club and Songfest.  Next year, I’m going to be a Resident Assistant, Treasurer-in-training and Fashionista of Theta Psi, and I am the Vice President of York’s new chapter of Phi Beta Lambda.”

Advocating for things she believes in is nothing new to Brittany; when York College announced plans last month to cut the school speech team, Brittany joined a vocal group of students pushing for a chance to appeal the decision.   Click here to learn more about #YCFreeSpeech.

Now as Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittany is also volunteering throughout her community.

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From Brittany:  “Spent my #MissAmericaServes day by helping with clean up at the East Hill Clothing Drive! I helped sort through all of the clothes that are going to be donated to different charities in Nebraska! And I also helped load clothes into multiple trailers! Today was a great day to serve! @missneorg #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #MissNebraska #MissAmerica #clothingdrive “

Brittany says some days, she can barely find time to eat. (Please note I took another bite of my Jimmy Johns as I read this.. Momma ALWAYS finds time to eat!)  And there’s more!  When she does get a break from classes, Brittany spends that time each summer, a full month, at church camp.

“My faith is very important to me,” said Brittany.  “I chose to attend a private Christian school because I wanted to have a Christ-centered education while still being equipped for my future career.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without my faith.”

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Brittany wants you, and the Miss Nebraska judges to know all of this, and it’s why Interview is a favorite moment for this pageant veteran.

“It’s nerve-racking yet fulfilling at the same time,” said Brittany.  “It really makes you be who you really are.  I love the fact that I have no idea what they are going to ask me, whether it be what my favorite move is or what my platform means to me.”

That platform is ‘No One Is Invincible: Underage Drinking Prevention’ a mission inspired by her father’s work as a Scottsbluff police officer.

“Growing up I was taught to never do drugs and alcohol,” said Brittany.  “I knew every, single police officer that my dad worked with and I knew that if I ever got caught, I would immediately have consequences.  I was scared to drink.  I have personally seen how your life can change in an instant because of drinking alcohol as a minor.”

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From Brittany:  “Enjoyed spending a little time today at the YMCA preschool. I got the chance to explain what the Miss America program is and I talked a little bit about citizenship and my platform! Preschoolers are such a joy to be around, and I’m so blessed that I got the opportunity to hang out with all of these kids today. Brings back good memories from when I went to this preschool! #MissNebraska #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #myjobrocks”

Family continues to inspire and support Brittany as she pursues this new goal of competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

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“I have an older sister, two younger sisters and a younger brother. I know for a fact that I would never trade my siblings for anything,” said Brittany.  “We are all different from each other which is the best thing to me.  We cover the pageant scene, the sports scene, the computer guru area, and the country music loving scene.”

And speaking of country music, Garth Brooks once wrote:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Perhaps, each of those 12 times Brittany prayed for a crown, to be recognized for her gifts, leadership and service, it wasn’t that no one listened, but that there was a different plan in place.  Maybe #13 was always meant to be her lucky number.  Maybe THIS gift is also a guide, keeping Brittany Eckerberg on the very path she’s now taking in 2015.. the road to Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

To contact Brittany for appearances and events email bneckerberg@york.edu.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt at 308-783-2940 or by email at cengelhaupt@fnbnp.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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

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

Work That Matters

As a journalist, you hope your work matters.  You want to make a difference in the world.  Often, the stories I write and share have the incredible KETV platform; they are seen by tens of thousands of people (sometimes more!) and I rely on several team members like photographers and producers to put them together.

This blog is a little different.. while it started as a connection to KETV viewers while I was on maternity leave, it’s evolved into more of an independent outlet for me.  Here, I can share stories that don’t always make the news, or the ‘behind the scenes’ parts of stories that didn’t make it to air.  This is just ME; my crazy brain and the words it kicks out.  Still, as much as my on-air stories, I want my posts to matter.  I hope they mean something to the people I write about.

Last year, after I’d written about each of the Miss Nebraska contestants leading up to the 2014 pageant, I wasn’t sure of the impact or the reach.  These young women were so busy and had spoken to any number of people about their journeys, why was I any different?

But one night, after preliminary competition, I felt truly special.  One of the titleholders, surrounded by her friends and family  members, spotted me, broke into a HUGE dazzling smile, and held out her arms to hug me as if we’d been friends for years.  She made ME feel appreciated, like I mattered.

She’ll be back at Miss Nebraska this year.

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MISS WESTERN NEBRASKA 2015 CHRISSY TOWNSEND

“I’m there for the job,” Chrissy told me recently.  “I’m there to be the role model that I always looked up to as a little girl.  I’m there to create and keep friendships and professional relationships for all of my later life adventures.  I’m there to create my own legacy whether I win or not.”

Chrissy has already made her mark on the Miss Nebraska program, holding ‘Miss’ titles for four years, and competing in pageants since the age of 12 (including for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.)

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“I’m not the same person I was then, nor am I the same person that I was two days ago, but that’s because I’ve grown and matured through pageantry,” said Chrissy.  “I want nothing more than to carry on the job of Miss Nebraska with the utmost class and honor.”

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Chrissy is already demonstrating that across the state, specifically for her platform, Make-A-Wish.

“I have been a part of Make-A-Wish for five years now, starting as a volunteer with my college sorority, Chi Omega,” said Chrissy.  “It become more personal when my best friend’s younger brother became a Wish child.  I am now a hotel room decorator for Wish children and their families (this is their first impression of how much fun Make-A-Wish wants them to have) and I am also an airport greeter (which gives you a really personal connection.)  It’s amazing to be able to sit down with [them] and just talk to them about what they are looking forward to most.  For children and their families to be able to escape from everything for even just a few days, it’s really extraordinary.”

Service is the most important part of being Miss America titleholders in my opinion, being leaders and role models.  However, Chrissy is arguably one of the most exciting representatives of another point in the crown: style.

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Chrissy is my ‘Academy Award’ nominee on this red carpet. I am always eager to see what she will wear!  YES, there is SO MUCH more to Miss Nebraska than strutting around in beautiful gowns.  NO, the winner shouldn’t be based on who can buy a pretty dress.  (A–Evening Wear only comprises 20% of a contestant’s score, and B–many of these ladies network to gather support from sponsors and/or donors to help pay for their wardrobes)  But the Miss America pageant, as well as Miss Nebraska, is also a SHOW–a presentation of the most incredible young women in our state–and it’s FUN to see these amazing women in these gorgeous gowns!!  Chrissy has also modeled in the past, and watching her on a stage is like seeing a pro walking the runway in New York.  At Miss Nebraska 2014, she was simply breathtaking (click here to read my ‘Best Dressed’ list from the 2014 pageant!)

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And then there’s this… talent.  Chrissy TRULY has a gift.  Click here: Chrissy told me last year as Miss Lake McConaughy about her love of dance, something she’s taken part in ‘since she was in the womb’, according to her mom.  Most recently, Chrissy competed on the nationally ranked dance team for three years at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“I’m always a very giggly, happy person and my talent is lyrical dance,” said Chrissy.  “It’s a very heartfelt, emotional style of dance because it’s based through the words in the song that you are performing to.  You melt and breathe through every move.  I want the judges and the audience to feel what I feel when I perform.  [My talent song] is the song I eventually want to dance to with my dad at my wedding.”

All of these components and the women who showcase them are why Chrissy says you should care about Miss Nebraska.15  23  25

Chrissy & Miss Omaha 2015 Megan Gould volunteering at an Omaha IHOP for National Pancake Day to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals ** Miss Panhandle 2014 Mindy Schreiber, Chrissy and Miss Crane Festival 2014 Lianna Prill after the 2014 Miss Nebraska pageant ** Chrissy and many of the other 2015 Miss Nebraska contestants volunteering at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital Rainbow House on Miss America Serves Day

“The women of the Miss America Organization are the most talented, giving, intellectual and beautiful women in the world,” said Chrissy.  “These women are going to be your future doctors, lawyers, state officials, news anchors, trainers; the list could go on.  They’re dedicated to making a difference in the world and in the lives of others.  They educate about current issues and they advocate for all of the causes that mean something to them.  It’s being a role model when society doesn’t leave you with much else to look up to.  A real woman with a real cause and a real message can change anything within this organization and that’s powerful enough to keep this organization relevant.”

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As Chrissy prepares for her final adventure at Miss Nebraska, she’s also reflecting back on her memories as a titleholder.. the garage sale she held in her driveway to raise money for pediatric hospital patients.. hugging her parents after a pageant was over.. dancing with the ‘little sisters’ who look up to her and want to be just like her.

“I won’t say that I’ve always been proud of all of my ‘losing’ moments but that’s because I let them be just that, ‘a losing moment’,” said Chrissy.  “I’ve learned that coming away from an experience having learned something about myself or having made a difference in someone’s life is more important than a crown and sash.”

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Maya Angelou once wrote, “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.”    Most of the girls who take part in the Miss Nebraska system spend their year or years devoting their time and energy to making people feel special.  That impact is far reaching–the causes they promote get more attention.  The organizations they raise money for get a financial boost to then support others.  The little girls in that photo with Chrissy will likely remember that neon dance party for years, maybe even be inspired to compete in Miss Nebraska someday and inspire MORE girls.  For one night last June, I had a few moments where I, too, got to sense how wonderful these young women make others feel.

Today at KETV, we are covering an Amber Alert, issued for a little boy the day after his 11-month old brother was found naked but alive in a dumpster, their mother found dead in an Omaha neighborhood.  Again, we hope the stories we write and share today make a difference; that they lead police to a suspect and find this little boy unharmed.  Too often, these are the stories we tell in news, not by choice, but because they exist.  Bad things happen in our world.

  Chrissy, and the girls who participate in these programs, inspire us to focus on the joy and light in the world rather than the bad.  They are reminders of LOVE, not hate.  Sometimes, when we desperately need to see there are GOOD people out there, people like Chrissy remind us.. sometimes, with just a smile and a hug.

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THAT work matters, and Chrissy Townsend isn’t finished yet.

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Follow Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

To contact Chrissy for appearances and events, click here to visit the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

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 Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Shaniah Freeseman

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

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