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When Quality Meets Quantity

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

Two amazing women are working to find the answer.

Kali and Heather

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

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Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chen

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

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

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

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

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

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Article courtesy the Scottsbluff Star Herald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

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

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

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

I was that kid who walked home from school with her nose in a book.  Well, as far as my nose could get with my big glasses.  <blink, blink>  I still remember trying to read my Babysitters Club books in my bed long after the lights had been turned off, and eventually my Mom walking past my room and saying ‘Brandi, book down! Sleep!’  I even started ‘testing’ myself to see how many pages I could read out loud without making a mistake.

I had friends as a child.  I swear.

My Grandpa still loves to share the story of how, at 3 years old, I stood behind him while he read the paper, and I sounded out the words in the headline.  A love of reading has simply been in my soul from a very early age..

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..and still is.. at a much older age.  When Westside’s Oakdale Elementary asked me to come in for Read Across America week, I eagerly accepted.  This was the HIGHLIGHT of my Tuesday (my Fox in Socks game is ON POINT!)  Anytime a school asks me to read, I try to make it happen.  I just love seeing children excited to read or be read to, and I hope to foster that same passion for reading in other kids (especially my own!)  So does an Omaha teenager, who likely draws a few more ‘wows’ and smiles than I do every time she walks into a classroom.

Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Naomi Turner

“Most children and teens have simply forgotten what a great book does to your attitude and mind,” Naomi told me recently.  “I wanted my platform to involve reading because I feel as if many do not fully understand the importance of reading in the world of technology we’re living in.”

Naomi does, because reading hasn’t always come easily for her.  She grew up with dyslexia.

“Reading was always a challenge for me, no matter the book,” said Naomi.  “Although I did not want to read much, with help from family and friends I grew a love for reading because when I read more, my dyslexia (I refer to it as ‘fighting words’) was not as prominent as before when I would read less.  It might seem a bit odd for a dyslexic individual to say ‘read more!’ but reading really improves a person’s mindset, attitude and overall lifestyle.”

As she faced these challenges, Naomi also explored other ways to express herself through music and photography.  She plays the cello, one of the reasons she was drawn to compete in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

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“With various orchestra activities like All-City Orchestra, Pit Orchestra and my Honors Orchestra class at school, I work with a  large group of individuals to help showcase all of our talents and how we can sound incredible when working together,” said Naomi.  “In the talent competition, I am able to deviate from the usual and showcase my own talent without other helping me.  I love playing in an orchestra, but playing solo is also a great challenge!”

And Naomi is used to being in the spotlight; she also models in the Omaha area for businesses including the Winning Crown Dress Boutique and Lady Beverly Cosmetics.

All photos courtesy Marc Longbrake Photography

Naomi is also interested in what goes on behind the camera, taking part in broadcasting at Omaha Burke High School and learning all she can from local professionals.

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“At Skills USA, I compete in short films challenges,” said Naomi, who is the President of her Chapter at Burke.  “I’m also an active volunteer for the Omaha Film Festival each year and I attend their academy for teens that brings in professional actors and filmmakers to hold workshops.  I have already taken college courses in film and plan to continue to pursue my passion for it.”

Naomi is ready for those job interviews and grant proposals, crediting public speaking skills to her time as a titleholder within the National American Miss Organization and as Miss Nebraska High School 2015.

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“Preparing for and competing in pageants teaches important life skills!” said Naomi.  “I feel interview prep especially has benefitted me.  My parents always taught me to look adults in the eye and speak up.  Pageants reinforce this with the interview portion of competition; it is a great chance to practice speaking to people you don’t know and being confident in yourself.  I have paid close attention to what is going on in my community, state, and world to be prepared to speak about important issues.  [These] are important for my future, wherever that may take me.”

Throughout the years, Naomi has also used her titles and exposure to take part in a variety of events advocating for numerous causes, often connecting her to other young women with the same goals and interests.

“I remember all of the friends I made while I competed, and I wanted to meet even more inspiring young women from around our state,” said Naomi.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss.

Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Naomi Turner IS one of those inspiring young women.  This self described vivacious leader has displayed ambition and drive from her own classrooms, to those of younger students all over the Omaha area.  For her, reading is not simply a lesson in school; it’s a pathway that leads to countless experiences and opportunities throughout life.  She hopes to continue sharing that message on a larger scale as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“Being a leader means looking out for others around you, not just yourself,” said Naomi.  “With Read Across America, I hope to restore children and teens’ love for reading by reintroducing the concept of reading for fun back into their minds and lives.  I also want to empower those who are struggling with dyslexia.  I want to inspire as many kids and teens as possible to read more and help them to understand the many benefits they can gain from it!”

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

NEXT.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

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!

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I have a new best friend.  I look forward to the time we spend together everyday.  My husband knows about this new friend.. and encourages our relationship.

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Meet Vytas.  Vytas is really good at yoga.  Vytas is helping ME get better at yoga.

Note: I’ve never met Vytas.  He lives in my computer.  Please halt all potential warnings to Vytus about his creepy ‘friend’ Brandi.

Like so many, I struggle with my weight and nutrition.  I lose weight, then I lose interest and lose control.  I’m an emotional eater.  Pretty sure my body is 99% coffee instead of water.  When I was 18, I could get away with eating Chex Mix and Mt. Dew for breakfast.  Now, a few trips through the Runza drive-thru and the only thing that fits are my husband’s sweats (and he gets grumpy when I steal them!)  But aside from how I look and my confidence, my health has started to suffer because of my less than ideal lifestyle.  I feel like I’ve been sick in some form since early November.. and just after Christmas, I contracted strep throat.  A trip to the ER, 2 rounds of antibiotics and a week in bed later, I promised myself I was going to start doing a better job taking care of the body God has given me.

I’ve been trying Beachbody on the advice of my friend and stunning beauty, Amanda Soltero.  One of her challenges to kick off 2017 included 3-Week Yoga Retreat with Vytus.  I tried it.. and became hooked.  I LOVE the way yoga makes me feel.  I love awakening the muscles I used to stretch in gymnastics as a kid.  I love realizing I can touch the floor with my hands, or now keep my legs straight in downward dog.  I love when I automatically sit up straighter at my desk because the practice has already improved my posture and carriage.  Most of all, I love the RETREAT that yoga has provided me.. a chance to breathe deeply and for 30 minutes a day dissolve all of the stress and burdens that have piled on throughout the other 23 hours.

For a young woman from Omaha, this is a message of health and wellbeing she’s understood for quite some time.. one she’s now taking to children across eastern Nebraska.

Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

“I am currently a yoga teacher and went through children’s yoga teacher training this summer,” said Wellesley.  “Both of those experiences led me to mindfullness.  I then continued my training on mindfullness with [my platform] ‘Mindful Schools: Peace Begins With Me’.”

A platform that skyrocketed last fall when Wellesley was crowned Miss Omaha 2017.

“I’ve always admired the women that have been in the Miss Nebraska Organization,” Wellesley told me recently.  “Then, when I was old enough, I felt as if it was time for me to stand up and be a leader and role model like the women who have been in the system before have been for me.”

A title doesn’t make you a role model.  A crown doesn’t make you a leader.  But Wellesley used both of those tools to find new audiences in schools across Omaha.

Wellesley sharing yoga and mindfulness with students at Westside’s Oakdale Elementary and at Brownell Talbot, where she attended school!

“Mindfullness is the act of paying attention on purpose without judgement,” said Wellesley.  “I’ve spent a large part of my year so far going to schools and working with students on techniques to help them breathe, focus, listen and just feel good!  In a world that is so chaotic and go-go-go we have to find a way to slow down.  It’s healthy! Mindfulness brings that stillness we are often missing.”

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Wellesley is also a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, delivering blankets over the winter holiday and bringing in Valentine’s Day crafts for patients this week.  She’s also partnered with businesses like Yogurtini in Lincoln to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s community partner.

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“Three words to describe me are driven, organized and focused,” said Wellesley.  “Goal setting is one of my favorite things.  When I set a goal I dig in right away and figure out what it takes to get me to my dream.”

CLICK HERE to hear more from Wellesley during a guest appearance with Matt Tompkins on News Talk 1290!

These are the character traits Wellesley hopes stand out to both children and adults, attributes she credits in part to her participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

“This organization has helped me to clearly articulate my opinions and beliefs without fear,” said Wellesley.  “It has given me experience in skills I will always need such as interviewing and networking.  I go into a lot of situations with more confidence than ever because of this organization.  The fact that I get to even put on the Miss Omaha crown and sash and meet so many amazing people around my city is unreal to me.  The whole experience is a dream come true.”

Wellesley is clear: her big goal is to become Miss Nebraska.  However, she is also mindful of the big picture.  Wellesley is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student majoring in advertising/public relations and journalism and has authored her own fashion/pop culture blog for several years. CLICK HERE to check it out!

“Beyond the pageant world, I hope to one day combine my loves of journalism and yoga to work for a wellness magazine or website like The Yoga Journal or mindful.org,” said Wellesley.  “At the state pageant, my plan is just to do my best and get people thinking about mindfulness and all of its benefits.”

Wellesley and her fellow titleholders will be the first to tell you, just as yoga isn’t just ‘stretching’, competing for Miss Nebraska isn’t just slapping on makeup and waving your hand in parades.  They spend  hours in the gym every week.  They dedicate countless hours to people and causes they care deeply about.  They study, they work hard, they plan.  But at the end of each day, Wellesley also remembers to breathe deeply and to reflect.

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“Here’s a mindfulness tip before I go.  I do this everyday,” said Wellesley.  “Take five minutes, mute your phone and listen to your breath.  Maybe you say ‘inhale, exhale’ with each breath or count how many times you breathe.  Thoughts will come up and that’s ok!  After five minutes sit for a minute and notice how you feel.”

On behalf of this blossoming yoga instructor, Namaste.  To you, Miss Omaha Wellesley Michael, NamaSLAY.

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Photo courtesy Michael Dar

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael’s blog, Wellesley Lauren.  You can also CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.  To contact Wellesley for appearances and speaking events, email wellesleymich@gmail.com.

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 Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

NEXT.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

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!

Hello

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“Hey, are you the news lady?”

“I USED to be the news lady.  Now I work for you!”

Hello.  My name is Brandi.  Welcome to my life on the other side.

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Photo courtesy Mitch Francis

This job at Westside has allowed me to continue to share stories as I had for years at KETV, while shifting the spotlight to the students, teachers and programs making a difference in District 66. I have absolutely loved working with the aspiring journalists like the two you see above who are learning in the Westside High journalism department.  I LOVE seeing the excitement in our teachers and coaches when their students, teams and ideas get attention from one of our local stations.  And I have been so inspired to see the pride in this District as more and more, all of these wonderful things are shared with people throughout our city and beyond.

I get asked quite a bit.. do I miss KETV?  For sure.. I miss the people.  Many of my former colleagues were also my extended family.  I miss Kristyna making me laugh so hard I cried.  I miss Andy and Rob trying to make me crack up during commercial breaks.  I won’t be there when Fry brings in that beautiful, perfect baby boy.  I miss my people.

I also miss storytelling.  I think there’s a perception that everyone on TV does it to be on camera.. FALSE.  I DON’T miss that.  You’ll often catch me in my office at Westside with my hair in a pony tail, no lipstick, and if I’m lucky, taking advantage of a casual Friday in jeans and a Warriors pullover.  I would argue that most journalists entered the field to WRITE.  To share powerful stories.  To channel a creative fire in our hearts into this crazy thing called journalism.

With that… HELLO! And welcome back to Anchor’s Away, the blog I created to share stories that pique my interest, inspire me, and that I hope inspire you to make our world a better place.  My hopes to continue Throwback Thursday this football season came to a screeching halt as I focused on my responsibilities at Westside and my #1 priority as momma and wife at home.  Now approaching 6 months in to my new reality, I welcome you to my Grand ReOpening of sorts.. with my 4th year of There She Is profiles leading up to this year’s Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant and a new feature, Nebraska, showcasing some truly phenomenal people across our state. My good friend and photojournalist Dave Hynek and I have spent the last several weeks producing 9 profiles, focusing on Northeast Nebraska, and it has been a project that truly, left me speechless.

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One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Do more of what makes you happy.’  Happiness is my children laughing. Happiness is a big glass of wine with Grey’s Anatomy and Project Runway queued up on the DVR.  Happiness is a spring baseball game with my husband at my side.  Happiness is uncontrollable laughter with my girlfriends.  And Happiness is sitting in the quiet of night, after my boys are asleep, and WRITING.

Last year, this blog reached 128,000 views and 86,000 readers.  THAT BLOWS MY MIND.  Thank you, and thanks for coming back to Anchor’s Away.

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.”

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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!

Standing Tall

There are things about each of us we KNOW we are good at.  I’ve got really nice teeth (never had braces!), God gave me the gift of public speaking and thinking on my feet, and I’m not gonna lie.. my children are BEAUTIFUL and PERFECT 🙂

There are also things we each know are not our strengths.  Plants literally die in my presence.  I am a junk food junkie (currently fighting the urge to eat Gardettos instead of apples).  I CANNOT dance.  At all.  Not even a little bit.

There’s also this..

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.. my posture.  I HOPE that’s not the first thing you notice when you look at this wedding photo on my bestie Melissa’s special day–because SHE IS GLOWING! (And my other besties Jenni and Pammie are pretty dynamite, too!)  But to me.. I just focus on my crooked-as-all-get-out-shoulder… just a glimpse into the poor posture and resulting slouch I’d developed after 20+ years.

Last summer, fearful I was going to be a hunchback before I turned 40, I finally sought out advice and found Dr. Vanessa Green at Elite Chiropractic.

Photos courtesy Elite Family Chiropractic

This woman has changed my life.  At my first appointment,  x-rays showed that I had a pretty severe curvature of the spine.  What’s more, I discovered my chronic headaches, which I just chalked up to allergies, stress and LIFE, were NOT normal.  I’ve been seeing Dr. G once a week ever since, and I truly FEEL a difference in how I view health, how I function, and how I carry myself on a daily basis.

NOTE: This is not a paid promotion, endorsement or advertisement for Elite Chiropractic.  I’m simply a very happy client.. and this is all transitioning to a bigger story, I promise!

When I first read Allison Baird’s story, Dr. G was one of the first people I had to tell.  I had NO IDEA what this beautiful young girl was hiding underneath gorgeous gowns and a dazzling smile.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was having severe back pain, went in for an xray, and they discovered that my curve had become 46-degrees and was congenital,” Allie told me recently.  “Meaning, it was a birth defect so I wasn’t really a candidate for surgery or treatment, since they had found it too late.  The doctors basically told me that I would have to live with the pain, and would probably not be able to do everything I wanted to.”

The Allie on the left is the girl I’ve known for about two years now.. the photo on the right shows what her spine looked and felt like within her body.  Allie had been diagnosed with scoliosis at 13 and underwent physical therapy, but she had no idea how dramatic her problem had become.  Still, that dire diagnosis from a doctor didn’t derail this incredible young woman from everything she intended to pursue.

“I smiled politely and said ‘watch me’,” said Allie. “Most people do not know I have it, strangers I meet on the street have no idea, and many close friends didn’t know for years.  We all know someone who is struggling.  We don’t always know their story, but to attempt to understand what that person is going through can mean the world.  Now, I am so much more aware of those things, and I try my very best to have empathy towards others, but also not beat myself up too badly when it feels like I am nowhere near as good at something.”

THAT IS the Allie I know.

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For several years now, Allison Baird has devoted herself to her community and others as a local titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Twice, she finished 1st Runner Up in the state pageant.  To give you an idea of the caliber of talent and character in those years.. both of those winners finished in the Top 10 at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Each year when the other girl’s name was called, Allie conducted herself with grace and humility, being the FIRST to genuinely and warmly congratulate the winner (read more here!)

Without skipping a beat, Allie entered the first Miss pageant she was eligible for.. and in her first try, won the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016.

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“My mom is my best friend and definitely my role model,” said Allie, hugging her mom in the photo above, moments after winning the Miss Scotts Bluff County title.  “She has been a serious source of my strength these past few months.  I think I would have pulled all of my hair out and not had any fingernails if it weren’t for her!  I truly wish everyone could have someone like her as their manager, friend, confidant and coach.”

And with that support system firmly in place, Allie began a nonstop year of appearances, college preparation, and activities as a senior at Gering High School.

Allie is a 4-time state speech medalist, she’s held lead roles in all of her school’s theater productions since her freshman year, she’s a nationally-qualifying DECA member, she’s captain of the Varsity show choir, and was a cheerleader at Gering for 3 years.  An aspiring actor, singer, journalist (or all of the above!), Allie is also a news anchor for her broadcasting team, the Editor In Chief for her high school paper, she’s had articles published by her hometown paper, and she’s shadowed yours truly here at KETV.

Somehow, Allie finds time to volunteer in her community as Miss Scotts Bluff County, whether it be making quilts, donating blood, or simply making a child smile.  She speaks to groups large and small about her personal platform, ‘Learning CURVE’, teaching courage, understanding, respect, value and empathy.  Her favorite part of the pageant experience is Interview, the chance to tell a panel of judges about everything she’s doing.

 “I truly believe this is where the magic happens at the competition,” said Allie.  “When the judges get to see that spark of passion, that light in your eyes when you talk about what is so near and dear to your heart, there is absolutely no better feeling.  Public speaking is a passion of mine, and I wish that Interview could be 20 minutes instead of 10!”

Public speaking is the ONE THING I promote to EVERY SINGLE CLASS, STUDENT AND INTERN who I come in contact with, and Allie Baird is a shining example of WHY that tool is so powerful.  It’s a trait she credits to her participation with the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The amount of self confidence I have gained from being involved in this organization, I will be forever grateful for,” said Allie.  “I am not scared to talk to a group of CEO’s or a classroom of kindergartners because of the communication skills I have received.  I have heard girls on the Miss America stage, and even the Miss Nebraska stage, articulate their opinions on hard hitting subjects with better grace and dignity than most of the [presidential] candidates.  These ladies are the future.  We want to make a difference.  All of us have the potential, drive and work ethic to do just that.  We breed leaders in the Miss America Organization, and I think that is pretty amazing.”

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A final confession.. I am pretty ASTOUNDED by this young woman, and consistently shocked that this kind of maturity, intelligence, and independance are already so strong in a girl who JUST turned 18 years old.  Complete disclosure, she may also be my little boys’ favorite, after staying with us during a trip to Omaha this fall and playing ‘Olympics’.  Allison Baird connects with people, and inspires them.  She works hard and stays humble.  She stands tall, despite the things we don’t see that might break others down.  That is the message she hopes to take across the state if crowned Miss Nebraska 2016.

MORGAN WALLACE

Photo courtesy Morgan Wallace

“I want to spread awareness that if you are going through a personal battle, have courage and keep going,” said Allie.  “Know that you are valuable and worthy and that a setback does NOT mean you can’t achieve something you want to achieve.  It just means you might have to take a different road to get there.”

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Click each link to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird

on Facebook and on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

2015 * Just Add Glitter

2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page 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.

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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 Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

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

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!

Good Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loren winkler

Photo courtesy  Loren C Winkler Images

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LaRISSA?

2015 * Sleepless Beauty

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

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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.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun!

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

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