Tag Archive | columbus

Finding Our Purpose

Westside Superintendent Dr. Blane McCann delivered a BRILLIANT speech at our District’s commencement ceremony last weekend. His theme: purpose. In front of thousands of graduates, parents, family members and educators, he said in part..

Purpose is the little flame that keeps you going. Your challenge after today is to find that flame: your purpose. It is something that your parents can’t find for you; you have to look for it. It’s not always easy to find. Every, single one of you has a unique purpose to fulfill.

Every single one of us is here for a reason.

Think about that.

My friend Lisa recently told me something that I have thought about off and on ever since. Her husband is Brian Duensing, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Brian and Lisa

Brian was one of the best pitchers the University of Nebraska – Lincoln has ever produced. He’s an Olympian, representing the United States on the 2008 US Baseball team in Beijing. He was a starter for the Minnesota Twins for years, and now plays for the World Champions in Chicago. He and Lisa could do anything, enjoying his success and living a life few only dream of. Instead, these happily married parents of three devote every, waking hour to their passions: family and doing everything in their power to ensure happiness for other families.

As Brian’s fame grew, he and Lisa started receiving T-shirts in the mail, asking him to share support for pediatric cancer patients across his popular social media accounts. The Duensings embraced the challenge; every day of every September, Brian sports a new shirt and shares information about that child and their cause. He and Lisa started the Brian Duensing Foundation, a non-profit organization taking these fundraising efforts to an even higher level. Every game, as players wives sit in the stands, Lisa sits in the family lounge and works for hours on Foundation plans and ideas, like their now annual fundraiser bringing baseball’s biggest names to Omaha to raise money for pediatric cancer-related causes.

baseball

The Brian Duensing Foundation Event in 2015 at Ralston Arena. I was honored to emcee the fundraiser and VIP Q&A session with World Series Champion Alex Gordon, Duensing, future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer and the MLB’s first ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte.

The Duensings have raised HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for Nebraska based causes that help families battling cancer. That text I mentioned that Lisa sent me?

“These are the reasons God made Brian a baseball player. I know it.”

This year, Brian and Lisa Duensing will focus their purpose on a little boy named Sammy.

Sammy

At four years old, Sammy Nahorny was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that begins on immature nerve cells, and is very difficult to treat. Many cases of Neuroblastoma begin in the abdomen, and commonly affect the adrenal glands. Within days of his diagnosis, Sammy had surgery; doctors told his parents his cancer was Stage 4 and high risk. His mom, Erin and dad, Chris, immediately started researching options.. and found few. Their quest for hope was far-reaching and relentless, not just for Sammy, but for every other child facing this terrible disease. Their community in Columbus rallied, drawing the support of not only the Duensings, but of Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero, Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz, music superstar Jason Derulo and more. They all united to become Sammy’s Superheroes… and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and counting for research, assistance and more. Just as importantly, they have become a voice, loud and clear, for all children and families regarding legislation, funding and awareness.

This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.

Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

“This is a great organization that started in my hometown!” Alayna told me recently. “Sammy’s Superheroes raises awareness to pediatric cancer and has helped many families who are affected by this. I’ve had many family members fight this hard battle and I’m happy that I am able to help this cause.”

Alayna Wilson is a recent graduate of Scotus Central Catholic, a cheerleader for both her school and her entire hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. A girl with a constant smile and self-described ‘bubbly and happy’ personality, she was looking for a way to make a bigger difference advocating for causes like Sammy’s Superheroes.

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She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.

“I love the stage and helping others,” Alayna said. “I wanted to spread my platform and this was the best way possible. I perfected my paperwork, platform and talent and drove to North Platte for one of the best weekends of my life.”

And a BUSY one at that, much like every other weekend in Alayna’s jam-packed senior year. She’s a competitive dancer, and a member of the All-American team by the National Cheer Association. The same day she met her fellow titleholders at Miss Nebraska Orientation, she immediately left to head back to Columbus for a major competition.

Still, to Alayna, this new title meant responsibility; to serve others. She’s volunteered for fundraisers in Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha, even using her Senior Skip Day to travel to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to deliver care packages for the Miss Nebraska Serves project.

“My favorite part of this organization is the volunteer work!” said Alayna. “I love how each contestant has multiple hours of volunteer work under their belt. It’s so humbling to be among the amazing Miss Nebraska Class of 2017! There’s nothing that makes me happier than helping others.”

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And meeting others is part of what has made this journey so memorable for Alayna.

“It is an honor to be part of this organization. I love every minute of it,” said Alayna. “I have 15 new sisters, a sister queen and a little sister. This is a family. We are a family that supports and encourages each other. This gives me motivation when I need that extra push.”

I’m guessing the Nahorny’s would say the same thing about their network of superheroes. The strangers and neighbors, the celebrities and friends, the Duensings and Alayna Wilson… they are all part of a supportive and encouraging squad of strength who love Sammy like family.

AWI with Sammy

Sammy IS a superhero. This fall, just months after passing the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll join us own personal Justice League to fight the evil that threatens so many innocent children just like him. We will find a way to beat cancer, allowing Sammy to find his purpose, just like his Superheroes Brian and Lisa Duensing have.

Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.

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“Each day is a new day for laughter and spreading happiness,” said Alayna. “I obviously hope to be Miss Nebraska whether that time is this year, or the next, or the next. I know that that is somewhere along my path. Overall, I hope to do my best and meet and influence people along the journey. My mission is to spread the name of Sammy’s Superheroes and spread love, happiness and encouragement as well.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sammy’s Superheroes

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Brian Duensing Foundation

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Click here to follow Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson on Facebook!

Alayna was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! You can also email Director of the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, Heather Hayes, by emailing Heather.Hayes@charter.com.

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

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

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!

Special Feature, Miss Nebraska USA 2014

“Who is Amanda Soltero.. and how do I meet her??”

Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is Amanda Soltero, Miss Nebraska USA 2014

Georgina Vaughan Photography 2

..and NOW you know why my friend asked to meet her.

Jaw. Dropping. GORGEOUS.  If ever there was a time for me to write a blog using only photos, this would be it.

 Fadil Berisha Photography   Fawn Photo   1512677_10151810633546035_1505839912_n

STUNNING: adj. To astonish; astound; amaze: Her beauty stunned the audience.

(Photos courtesy of Rachel Imdieke, Fadil Berisha and Georgina Vaughan)

Believe it or not, Amanda seems to be just as beautiful, if not more so, on the INSIDE.  The same weekend young women from across the state will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska, Amanda will be competing in Baton Rouge for the title of Miss USA.  Today in a special feature, get to know Miss Nebraska USA, and find out why she wants your support representing our state.

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First things first.. what’s the difference between Miss America and Miss USA?  I think my fellow KETV anchor and pageant-graduate
Alex Hoffman put it best in saying these two organizations are the most prestigious, well known and respected in the pageant world.  They are televised, have history on their side, and have thousands of participants nationwide.  While many of the same young women compete for both, they are two different systems.

The Miss America Organization is a not-for-profit organization; The Miss USA/Miss Universe organization is a joint venture partnership between NBC and Donald Trump.

Women who compete for Miss America must be 17-24 years old; women who compete for Miss USA must be between 17-27 years old.

Finally, Miss America contestants compete in swimsuit, evening gown, interview and talent; Miss USA contestants do not compete in talent.

miss usa nina

Miss USA Erin Brady and Miss America Nina Davuluri

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Enough with the facts and figures… meet Amanda!

at Miss Nebraska USA

“I am determined to use my year to make a difference in people’s lives, especially children with cancer,” Amanda told me in a recent interview.  “You get one year to be Miss Nebraska USA and even though I come from a small town (Columbus, Neb.), I know I can still make a big difference by using my title to do so!  I want to show my state that I can make them proud by representing them in the best way and by truly making the most of my time with the crown, not just for all the glitz and glam.”

Just as each of the Miss Nebraska contestants have a personal platform of service, Amanda is focusing her year on spreading awareness of childhood cancer.

“Pediatric cancer research and awareness is very near and dear to my heart,” said Amanda.  “6-year old Sammy Nahorny is a family friend of mine and when they started Sammy’s Superheroes, I knew I wanted to get involved.”

with sammy

Sammy was diagnosed at 4-years old with Neuroblastoma, cancer that commonly affects the abdomen and adrenal glands and is very difficult to treat.  Loved ones formed Sammy’s Superheroes to show their support and raise money for research; more than 10,000 people now support the cause, including Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz.  Check out Sammy’s Superheroes online or on Facebook to learn more!

“When you see directly the effects childhood cancer can have on someone you care about, it really hits you hard and makes you want to help in any way that you can,” said Amanda.  “I knew that if I won Miss Nebraska USA, I would be able to give a larger platform for Sammy’s Superheroes and really get the word out how desperately funds are needed for research to find a cure.”

Sammys superheroes

Amanda recruiting Miss Arkansas USA, Miss Kansas USA and Miss Oklahoma USA to become Sammy’s Superheroes!

Amanda has also offered her support and time to Team Jack, the organization raising money to fight pediatric brain cancer in honor of Jack Hoffman.  Jack and his dad, Andy, are good friends to KETV, sharing their story of Jack’s long battle with a brain tumor, his friendship with Nebraska football player Rex Burkhead, and the now legendary Spring Game touchdown run viewed more than 8.4 million times on YouTube.

I, too, have had the privilege of sharing Jack’s story, and the fight he represents.  Team Jack has now raised more than 1.1 million dollars for pediatric brain cancer research, and has the support of tens of thousands across the country.

Click here to watch my story following up with the Hoffmans in the middle of Jack’s fight, as two other families lost little boys to brain cancer

Click here to watch my story about the ‘Year of Jack’ following the touchdown that touched America.

Click here to learn more about Team Jack online and on Facebook

Team Jack Gala

Amanda and Jack at the first annual Team Jack Gala

“I know that the more people that hear and see where their money is going, the quicker we can find a cure!” said Amanda.

It is THIS, not the fancy photo shoots or glamorous trips around the country, that Amanda enjoys the most about being Miss Nebraska USA.

“The appearances I have gotten to do WITH Sammy have had the most impact on me and have been the most meaningful,” said Amanda.

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While many state titleholders take a year off from school and full time work to focus on service and appearances, Amanda has not; she remains a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and will graduate this weekend with a degree in Broadcasting.

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Amanda reporting at a Nebraska women’s soccer game for the B1G Network

But make no mistake; Amanda says she is ready to represent Nebraska at Miss USA.

“I want to make the people of my home state proud and go out knowing that I did everything I possibly could to prepare and leave no stone unturned,” said Amanda.  “I want to be a platform for the organizations that mean the most to me, and get others on board as well.  I want to represent myself, my family and my state in the best light possible.”

with family

Amanda and her family

Amanda will fly to Louisiana on May 25th, but she’s hoping to take Nebraska with her.  You can watch the Miss USA pageant live on NBC June 8th at 8/7 Central, hopefully cheering loud enough that Amanda will be able to hear you 1,000 miles away.

“My hopes for the pageant are to show the world what Nebraskans are made of and to let people know there is more to Nebraska than cornfields and flat land,” said Amanda.

And there’s more to Amanda than a pretty face.  This young woman is reshaping how children, families and Nebraskans think of ‘beauty queens’.  Beauty INSIDE and out.

miss nebraska usa

GO. BIG. RED.  Represent, Miss Nebraska USA!

Georgina Vaughan Photography

Connect with Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero on

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

on the Miss Nebraska USA website

and on Amanda’s blog

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PREVIOUS POST..  Miss Alliance Staci Craighead

NEXT POST.. Miss Northwest, Alex O’Connor!