Tag Archive | Chelsey Jungck

Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.

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Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.

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“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”

Africa

For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.

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Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.

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Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

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!

Takin’ Care Of Business

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

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

Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

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

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

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

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

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

Jenni reading

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

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

Jenni The Word day

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

Jenni princess

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

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

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

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

Jenni Alpha Sigma Alpha

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

Jenni veterans

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

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

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

Jenni final

Photo courtesy Rachel Evans

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JENNI?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * #MonarchsForLife

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

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

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

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

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

 

True Colors

This blog comes you to from 36,000 feet up in the air.

Photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I left Omaha Wednesday on a bleary-eyed 5:30am flight bound for La Paz, Mexico!  Through the months of May and June, we’ll show you the mission that’s been weeks in the making for us and months, if not YEARS in the making for an Omaha team.

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CLICK HERE to see a preview of Operation: Open Hearts on KETV!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ashley and me to tell incredible stories.  Truly, THAT is why we both got into this business in the first place.  I think to some extent there’s an assumption about people in TV News, that we do this because we want to see ourselves on television.  I admit, the first time I reported on camera.. the first time I sat in the anchor chair for a broadcast.. those moments were exhilarating.  BUT.. that sheen wears off in time, and for MANY years now, my adrenaline rushes have come from knowing we are sharing powerful stories of things going on in our city, state, and in our world, and seeing the difference that can come from that.

I have a feeling my friend Payton Merritt is reading this, thinking ‘Preach!!’  She’s not a journalist, but she is a young woman trying to prove that her mission isn’t about big hair and glitter, it’s about making a difference with a powerful tool she’s been given.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“The world is filled with need—I want to use the gifts that God has blessed me with to positively impact my small window of the world,” Payton told me recently.  “It was within the Miss Nebraska Organization that I found this window, and my desire to be a leader and role model for my state brought my greatest dream full circle.”

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Payton will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska this June, currently Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016.  Complete disclosure… I kinda love her.  I first met Payton when serving as a judge and then volunteer for the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant—Payton was our teen titleholder, then years later, crowned Miss Omaha.  She’s this teeny, petite, blonde, but when she sings, her voice is anything BUT petite; it’s soulful, deep.. it makes you utter ‘dang!’ from your seat in the audience.  Singing was Payton’s initial tie to the Miss America Organization, an added element to what was already a magnetic draw for a child watching on TV from home.

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming Miss America,” said Payton.  “I would stand on the coffee table at our house and pretend to be on stage, waving at the audience, and singing ‘Little Red Wagon’ at the top of my lungs. (My mom says I wasn’t quite as in tune as I am today.)  Initially, it was about me and the pursuit of my dream.”

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Payton also focused on her studies, graduating from high school a semester early and earning a nearly full-ride academic scholarship to Creighton University.  On the Miss Nebraska stage, Payton showed hundreds intelligence and confidence.  That became part of her goal this year.. to show pageant critics the depth of character and abilities so many of these titleholders represent.  (It’s worth noting the Miss America Organization has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in cash scholarships to young women focusing on STEM; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

“I would tell them to look and listen far beyond the two hours of national television coverage.  We are a force of young women devoted and determined to make an impact within our communities,” said Payton.  “The phases of competition are representative of things beyond the surface—ultimately our poise, discipline, intellect and depth show that we can walk the walk, talk the talk, and then put it all to music!”

Payton also notes that she and the rest of the Miss Nebraska Class of 2016 are constantly seeking out ways to be visible, positive role models.  Payton and several other local titleholders recently joined Miss Nebraska Alyssa Howell to make Alyssa’s signature Miracle Bags for patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center; the girls then hand delivered them to those kids.

Payton, a devoted big sister to several admirers at home, has also connected to children in classrooms during school presentations, talking about her personal platform, ‘The Political Workout: Exercising Your Right To Vote.’

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“I am passionate about empowering people to utilize our most sacred right,” said Payton.  “Because of the sacrifices of many, we have been given a life of opportunity and choice.  I see other countries, and their battles and oppression, and know countless people would risk life and limb to live in a country in which they have the power to choose.  We Americans who do maintain that right, don’t exercise our greatest freedom in choosing who represents us, those who ultimately speak for us.”:

Payton often shares messages and quotes on her Miss Nebraska State Fair Facebook page, encouraging people of the power and importance behind the vote.  For Payton, it’s an issue she plans to pursue long after this often divisive 2016 Presidential Election; she’s pursuing Political Science and Economics degrees at Creighton with plans to attend law school.

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“I think in part [voter apathy] can be traced back to a lack of understanding and education about our political process,” said Payton.  “I want to do my part to show others how important exercising your right to vote is within a democracy.”

UNDERSTANDING AND EDUCATION.  We at KETV have a motto—more complete coverage.  It’s not just our catch phrase, it’s something I remind myself of when I’m tired and want to wrap up a story and move on.. is there more I could or SHOULD include?  Is there another angle to this?  At the end of the newscast, as complimentary (and sometimes not..) as it is to hear about my hair or my dress or the color of my lipstick, I want people to remember MY STORIES.. YOUR stories.  I want our viewers and readers to learn something new about a disease or a law or a PERSON.  Every time Payton Merritt performs the national anthem for the Creighton basketball or baseball games (click here to listen!), every time she dons her sparkling crown to visit a child or speak to a group, she wants to open new eyes to everything she stands for.

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Photo courtesy Brown Harano Photography

“I see the role of Miss Nebraska as one of service,” Payton said.  “Ultimately, I have a cause that I am dedicated to speaking to, one that is not only timely now, but maintains longevity for the democracy of our country.  I aim to serve God, my state, and hopefully my nation through my ability to relate to others, and through a commitment to impacting those who I encounter.  I am humbled by the opportunities I am blessed with, and though I am seeking a very public role, I am not seeking a personal place in the spotlight, but an opportunity to make an impact.”

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Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.  You can also contact Payton for appearances and events by emailing paytonmerritt@hotmail.com.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PAYTON?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Omaha! Omaha!

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

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

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!

The “It” Factor

Ever meet a person who you just KNOW is going be something big?  They have that IT factor.. how they present themselves, what they give to others, how they make you feel.

I found out about the Miss Nebraska Pageant through a letter I got in the mail.  I went to one of the first Miss Omaha rehearsals just to see what it was all about, and Brook Matthews was one of the first people I saw.  She was so dang fantastic I just about turned around and walked out–I was NOT going to even try to compete against her!  Brook was A STUNNING blonde, perfect body, well spoken, she had the confidence of a CEO and just radiated grace and sophistication.  In a crazy turn of events, I become her pageant sister a few weeks later; Brook became Miss Omaha and I became Miss Douglas County.

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Brook was later crowned Miss Nebraska 2004, then went on to  earn her Masters degree in Business from Creighton while founding and developing Omaha Fashion Week.  The event has become the 5th largest fashion event in the country, and last week, Brook Matthews-Hudson and her husband, Nick, opened the Omaha Design Center, welcoming sold-out crowds of thousands.

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Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

Brook is a REALLY. BIG. DEAL.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the new home for Omaha Fashion Week, from KETV’s Chinh Doan!

A few years ago, I met a young woman who stood out to me in a group of OUTSTANDING young women.  I invited all of the 2014 Miss Nebraska contestants to the KETV studios to record a special edition of Chronicle to spread awareness about the program and the incredible things these titleholders were doing in their communities.   (Click here to watch the 2014 Miss Nebraska Chronicle special!)  Tosha Skinner made the long drive to Omaha to take part when several of the other western titleholders understandably did not; she was articulate, confident, and I went back to my desk that evening thinking, ‘Dang!! Who is that girl?!?’

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Tosha Skinner is a 3-time local titleholder with the Miss Nebraska Organization and the current Miss Heartland.  She’s a UNL graduate and proud Delta Delta Delta alumnae.  She’s a Logistics expert, a volunteer, a Christian, and a woman proudly comfortable in her own skin.

“The most important part of my life is that I live out my platform every day,” Tosha told me recently.  “Because my platform focuses on self-love and living a healthy lifestyle, I think that it is essential I live my life with the values I teach.”

Tosha calls that personal mission ‘Perfectly, Imperfect: Learning to love the true you.’

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“After years of struggling with low self-confidence, which turned into an eating disorder and depression, I decided to start making changes to my life, which started with the way I viewed myself,” said Tosha.  “I became healthier in the way I thought, spoke, ate and lived.  I watched how each of these things helped me learn to love myself.  I soon realized that if I shared my own story, I could help others come to the same realization I did.  I want to live in a world where my little sister doesn’t have to struggle through the same things I did!”

Tosha has embarked on something of a social media crusade to pump positivity into the world, and to remind women everywhere of their beauty.  She posts inspirational memes, shares terrific photos to make you smile and think, and frequently updates her blog with op-ed like posts focused on image and self-improvement (CLICK HERE to read more!)

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Tosha on Facebook: ‘Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you helped create that smile #missheartland

Tosha says being a Miss America titleholder has not only given her an opportunity to share this message, but it’s part of the reason she found that message in the first place.

“I learned about eating right, working out, and how to better understand my own body, and I learned all of that because of preparing for Swimsuit (competition)!” said Tosha.  “The Miss Nebraska system has been an active part of my life.  I learned life skills like public speaking, stage presence, professionalism and living a healthy lifestyle.  It helped me find my passion for volunteering and taught me to step out of my comfort zone every day.  I am a better person because of the Miss Nebraska system.”

 And despite having a full-time job at Talent Plus in Lincoln, Tosha is an active proponent for that same organization, taking part in philanthropic events across the state on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Tosha’s raised awareness for Alzheimers, for Team Jack and pediatric cancer research (CLICK HERE to learn more!), for Junior Achievement, for Children’s Miracle Network, and for the American Heart Association. She says her dream is to turn her platform into a non-profit to reach even more people.  This is the work of a determined, selfless young woman.. a far cry from the self-described shy, unsure little girl she once was.

“Because of the Miss America Organization, that little girl grew into a woman that learned how to pick herself up every time she fell and how she learned how important hard work was,” said Tosha.  “Without the Miss Nebraska system, that little girl may never have finished college or landed her dream job.  But because she was involved in an organization that taught her how to be the best version of herself, that little girl can be anything.”

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Tosha Skinner is a Husker, a working woman, a friend, a mentor.  She’s a volunteer at People’s City Mission and a superhero at the Lincoln Children’s Museum.  She’s Miss Sugar Valley 2014, Miss Chadron 2015, Miss Heartland 2016.. and she’s ready to be Miss Nebraska.

“Being Miss Nebraska is more than just a pretty crown and sash,” said Tosha.  “It is about being a role model to both children and adults, presenting the best version of yourself every day, and most importantly, being the best possible representative for Nebraska.  It’s waking up every day with a smile, being prepared for anything the day may bring.  And it’s about utilizing the moments that you can touch someone’s life, with a smile or conversation.  This is the year I am prepared for.”

CHRISTIANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo courtesy Christiansen Photography

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram and via her blog: Perfectly, Imperfect.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TOSHA?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Cap And (Evening) Gown

CLICK HERE * 2014 * A Spoonful Of Sugar

For more information about the Miss Heartland/Miss Nebraska State Fair Pageant, visit their WEBSITE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org, or contact Director Shelly Penner at 308-520-0416 or by email at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2016 Brooklyn Stack!

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!

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.

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.

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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 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.