Tag Archive | Emma Kate Brown

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 ūüôā

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.

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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!

ROAR

Well, HELLO!!!!! Long time no post! As always, THANK YOU for reading the blog!

I have been ‘off the grid’ for most of the month of June.  Vacation, time with family, heaven at home.

IT HAS BEEN FABULOUS!

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, step back, close your eyes and BE.  I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded of who I am.  GO OFF THE GRID! IT’S GREAT!  Even if just for a few days.

Before my amazing time at home with the three men in my life (four, if you count our dog, Mack), my hiatus began with a long awaited trip to North Platte, Nebraska.

MISS NEBRASKA 2015.

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Photo courtesy of Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph; click here to read the NPT’s wonderful article on Alyssa by reporter Kamie Stephen!

After seven days of rehearsals and events, four days of nerve-wracking competition, a lot of laughs and some tears, too.. Miss Douglas County Alyssa Howell was crowned Miss Nebraska 2015.  What an INCREDIBLE moment to cap off a wonderful week for this caring, young woman.  Alyssa has dedicated so much of her time to others.  She is sweet, kind, hard working and focused.  For five years, she also watched her big sister compete at both the Miss Iowa and Miss Nebraska pageant, finishing as a finalist multiple times.

THIS MOMENT WAS ALL ALYSSA.  SHE WILL NOW FOREVER BE MISS NEBRASKA.

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So many cool moments; the kids who just LOVED Alyssa, including her Little Sisters who took part in all of the Miss Nebraska events at her side, and the little boy who not only wanted one kiss, he circled around for a second.  Alyssa’s real boyfriend, Grady, and his excitement and sheer pride every moment leading up to his girl’s crowning moment.  Shrieks of joy between Alyssa and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien; the two have been Miss Douglas County sisters for months, now they are going to Miss America together.  And the heartwarming friendship and bond between Alyssa and her sister queen Miss Omaha Megan Gould, supporting each other from Omaha to North Platte and still to this day.

But.. I’m going to throw this out there.. was Alyssa ‘the best’?

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How do you choose which flower is ‘the best’ in the garden?  Which city is ‘the best’ in our state?  Which art, whether it be singing or dancing or playing piano, is ‘the best’?  Alyssa will be a FANTASTIC Miss Nebraska and I cannot WAIT to see how far she’ll go at Miss America.  This is Alyssa’s time; this is the result of her hard work; this recognizes an exceptional young woman, helping her to inspire so many more; and five smart, talented, and critical judges determined Alyssa Howell was the best candidate for this job as Miss Nebraska 2015.

The best of the best, you might say.. because HOLY CRAP, did this event showcase some absolutely incredible women in our state.

4th Runner Up, Miss Northwest LaRissa McKean

JOYFUL.  LaRissa McKean radiated happiness, and made everyone in the Miss Nebraska audience feel it.  She also shared that positivity with her fellow contestants, voted Miss Congeniality by the majority of the other titleholders.  LaRissa CAPTIVATED the audience Thursday night, winning the Preliminary Talent Award with an energetic and dazzling dance (another Kitty Lee Dance graduate!)  As I told one of my friends during finals night, she JUST MAKES ME SMILE.  What a better role model than that?

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3rd Runner Up, Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux

BREATHTAKING.  I love watching dance, but don’t know much about it (and hurt myself trying.) I know even less about ballet, but I LOVE the costumes, the makeup, the SHOW.  And boy, oh boy, did Steffani Jiroux deliver.

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Just stop and look at this picture for a second.. (and thanks to Kamie Stephen and the North Platte Telegraph for sharing it!)

It was like watching a scene from a movie. Steffani also seemed to enjoy herself every moment; smiling nonstop, walking across that stage like she OWNED it, twirling around her Little Sisters like they were just dancing in the living room and not competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.  What’s next for Steffani? Continuing LAW SCHOOL at Creighton University.

2nd Runner Up, Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann

SENSATIONAL.  Miss Nebraska and Miss America challenge a woman to become the best version of herself in all areas, and Brooke Ludemann pushed herself to the max in every. single. test.  Her gown made me gasp (in a good way!); her answers showed evidence of a woman with a business plan as Miss Nebraska; her physical self was a demonstration of what our bodies can become with hard work and discipline, and her talent.. I have no words.  On the final night of competition, with everything on the line, Brooke’s performance singing ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables game me CHILLS.  Brooke won 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, and she will be Nebraska’s representative at the National Sweetheart Pageant this summer.

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1st Runner Up, Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen

JAW DROPPING.  Every time Allison Tietjen walked on stage, my eyes were just DRAWN to her.  (In a completely uncreepy way, regardless of how that sounds…) She is the model of poise, grace, and beauty.  Allison could’ve walked right off the Miss Nebraska stage onto Hollywood’s red carpet and fit right in. BUT, what I love is that Allison knows, and SHOWS, this program’s power and purpose extends long beyond Miss Nebraska week.  Allison’s work promoting awareness of our veterans earned her the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award and the Miss America Community Service Award; she also earned the Miracle Maker Award for raising more than $1300 for the Children’s Miracle Network, helping hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Oh yea, and Allison JUST TURNED 19 in April.  Truly exceptional.

I would argue not one of these women is ‘better’ than the other; each is SENSATIONAL.  They each prepared, volunteered, practiced.. hoping THIS was their year, and their time.  It was only destiny for one–and Alyssa is FABULOUS.  But this is why you see so many girls try again for the crown.. and thank the Lord for that, because they are all deserving, INCREDIBLE women, and bringing them together to recognize them and their accomplishments is uplifting and inspiring to everyone who can be part of it.  WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR!!!!

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Now to the moment I know you all have been waiting for…

The 2nd Annual Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards!

( ahem… I’ll wait for your laughter to die down before I proceed..)

The ‘My Life Goal Is To Look Like Carrie Underwood’ Awards…

Again.. the work and service that take place the other 364 days of the year are arguably the most important part of the Miss America Organization.. but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the gowns!!  C’mon.. from dreaming of your wedding gown, to picking out prom dresses, to playing dress up as a little girl, who DOESN’T love beautiful dresses?!? 2015 was simply a RAINBOW of color on the Miss Nebraska stage, and THAT alone made it awesome.  So much diversity; different colors, styles, fits.. and so much elegance!

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Remember how I said Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann’s gown made me gasp?  GASP!!!  OHHH.. this dress.. this moment.. absolutely INCREDIBLE. (Details: Tarik Ediz gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln)

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen.. ANOTHER gown that stole my breath.  Just STUNNING.  (Details: custom Sherri Hill gown from the Winning Crown Boutique in Omaha)

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And boy, those Kearney Crane Festival Directors KNOW THEIR STYLE.. because Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen was possibly MY FAVORITE gown of the weekend!  There was just something so very special about Merrilee Prill when she walked on stage in this dress.  The color, the style, HOW she wore it.  I LOVED IT. ( Details: Jovani Fashions gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln–thanks to owner Joe Bohac for the photo!)

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Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Cherokee Purviance.. what a GORGEOUS choice for her gown!  On stage, this color and the sparkle were just RADIANT.  (Details: a Mac Duggal gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe in North Platte–thanks to them for the photo!)

The ‘Holy Crap, Petersen, Put Down That Blizzard’ Awards..

I’d like to show you my reaction to this year’s Miss contestants competing in swimsuit.

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My thanks to Taylor Swift for the assist.

ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL.  This year EXEMPLIFIED that Lifestyle and Fitness is just that–this competition is intended to encourage women to treat their bodies like temples and reach their full physical potential.  AND THESE WOMEN DID.  Abs, biceps, quads for days. This wasn’t about starving, or being the skinniest.  You could SEE their work; the time they spent in the gym and the time they DIDN’T spend at their local fast food spot.

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Miss Omaha Megan Gould was my winner for swimsuit.  I know this girl puts in countless hours of dance and practice as a Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleader, and WOW-did that hard work show!!  Plus Megan was just SOO confident, not conceited in the least, just wonderfully comfortable in her own skin.  You go, Megan!

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Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux.  This is her profile picture now on Facebook (taken by Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph), and to me, that’s using restraint.  If I looked like this, I’d make a cardboard cutout of myself to greet people at my front door.  THIS is what happens with 20 years of ballet training and several more as a member of the Creighton University dance team!

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen was the Overall Swimsuit Winner at Miss Nebraska this year, and here’s why!  Another absolutely radiant moment in red for the UNL sophomore, and in case you’re wondering, she’s a piano player.. so what you see is the result of sheer hours in the gym and dedication to nutrition!

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And Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann.  Just.. WOW.  MUSCLE ON MUSCLE WITH MUSCLE.  When I messaged Brooke about using this photo, she responded ‘I’m darn proud of those photos!’  AS SHE SHOULD BE!! AH-MAZ-ING!!

STRENGTH, POWER, HEALTH. Are you listening, America? I just read this morning there are more clinically obese people in our country than simply overweight Americans.  Heart disease remains a leading killer.  These women exercised and ate healthy with consistency and self discipline for months, and likely formed a foundation to continue to do so to some extent.  Long after that 10 second walk across stage in a swimsuit, their health is improved, their confidence is boosted, and they’ve empowered and inspired many others. (I’M AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST!) Ladies, you should be so very proud of yourselves.

The Nebraska’s Got Talent Awards..

MY WINNERS FOR TALENT: THIS YEAR’S MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS.

BLOWN AWAY.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the other young woman who wrapped up this weekend in North Platte with a state title..

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Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Steffany Lien is now Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015!  (A 3-peat for Omaha titleholders!)  While Steffany shined all night at the competition, SHE OWNED talent.  America, watch out; when this girl competes for the national title in Orlando this July, she will STUN YOU!

CLICK HERE to see a preview, showing Steffany competing at the World Championships in Italy in April, winning her SIXTH world title.

Steffany does things with a baton that challenge the Laws of Gravity and Physics.  Not only have I never seen her drop a baton in competition, I’ve never seen the girl even ‘almost’ drop one in rehearsal.  She is SENSATIONAL!

Nebraska’s 10th Outstanding Teen was one of several incredibly talented young teenagers who competed in North Platte this year.  Piano players, singers, dancers.. these girls are so young they can’t vote, but they knocked the socks off everyone in the audience Friday night.

Among my favorites (along with Steffany, of course!)..

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..singer Emma Kate Brown, Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen.  There’s a reason why little girls love her.. because someday she will be the voice of a princess in a Disney movie.  That’s how I described her voice to my husband.  Emma Kate sang ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story and her innate vocal talent is just BEAUTIFUL.  I’m calling it now.. the next animated blockbuster you take your kids to, you will likely hear Emma Kate in the soundtrack! (And a huge CONGRATULATIONS to this beauty as well!  Less than two weeks after being named 2nd Runner Up at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, the Elkhorn South student was also named Nebraska’s Best High School Actress, winning an all-expenses paid trip to New York to compete for the National Award!!)

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Grace Heggem, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen, was dazzling from start to finish.  She played Tarantella on the piano, her fingers dancing across the keys at the speed of light, and she NAILED it.  Much like ballet, I know nothing about piano, but I can hear a bad note… and I didn’t hear one off-key when Grace performed.  Incredible!

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Emma Keifer, Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen, was just a joy to watch.  I felt like I was watching an act from So You Think You Can Dance (and you all know what a freak I am about that show!!) Emma tapped.. up and down STAIRS.  Her energy was just OFF THE CHARTS.  Emma, you would’ve made Nigel proud!

And finally, though she wasn’t competing for a title, this performance was MY FAVORITE TALENT PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK..

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THE WATER CUPS DANCE.  Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen, performing the same dance her mother Jodi did as Miss Nebraska 1988 at the Miss America pageant that year.  Balancing three cups of water on her hands and forehead, Morgan bent backward, forward, down into splits, up from splits… all without spilling a drop.  You could’ve heard a PIN drop in the auditorium, as hundreds of us collectively held our breath through this performance.  ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE..  just like Morgan.  Many of us shed tears as she took her final walk as our state titleholder.. mine started to fall as her proud daddy, Brad, handed her a bouquet of flowers at the bottom of the Miss Nebraska stage.  The sky is the limit for this young woman–you WILL see her again.

The Brittany Jeffers Awards for Super Awesomeness

We all have someone we just ADMIRE.. their style, their confidence, just because THEY ARE AWESOME.  Some of mine: one of my best friends Jenni Rohacik who always looks so good she could host E!, my neighbor Brittni Madden who can take a picture off Pinterest and make a project look like it cost thousands of dollars.. and my fellow anchor/reporter/forever Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers-Hannema, who I swear is fabulous, in every way possible, 24/7.  (And now that I’ve declared my obsession with these ladies.. they may all be working on protection orders..) THESE GIRLS ARE JUST AWESOME!  Brittany gets the award named after her because she had to work rather than attend the Miss Nebraska pageant this year.. she may have been on air in Oklahoma, but her heart was in North Platte!

Two young ladies made a huge impression on me this year.. two teens who I didn’t know prior to this year’s pageant.

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Shelby Blundell, Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, was the youngest and tiniest of ALL of this year’s contestants, Miss and Teen.  She was also Contestant #1 in the competition, a tough draw; you set the bar for the judges, you are the first contestant both that panel and the audience will see.  Shelby rose to the challenge, nailing her song in talent, and impressing the hell out of me during her on stage question.  Shelby was asked a very tough question, whether LGBTQ issues should be discussed at school in the classroom or in group/activity settings, or if those topics are best left for family and group discussion outside of school.  Without hesitation, tiny Shelby answered confidently and quickly, sharing her opinions without pause.  That’s a tough issue for politicians and public leaders to address, and often we see adults avoiding giving a clear answer.  This young woman tackled the issue head on, and agree with her or not, it was refreshing to see such a young person stand tall and share her opinion.

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I was also SO very impressed with Allison Baird, Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  For the second year in a row, Allison was named 1st Runner Up in the teen competition.  I’ve touched on this before.. as exhilarating as it is to hear your name called as a new titleholder.. it is incredibly disappointing when all of that work does not result in that win.  Allison’s now been through that twice.. coming ever so close both times.  BUT.. the moment that curtain closed after Steffany was crowned, when the spotlights were off and no one was watching her (except me, the nosy emcee/reporter backstage), Allison was the first one to smile and hug Steffany.  She was also the first to hug Morgan last year–and not just the cordial ‘arm around her, pat pat pat’ hug.. but a genuine embrace, wishing a friend well.  It’s the moments you think no one is looking when your true character is revealed.  Allison Baird is an exceptional young lady.  A gorgeous voice.  Mature and smart.  Beautiful.  And in those moments, when I can only imagine how her heart was breaking, she showed class and selflessness, to celebrate Steffany’s moment.  That’s something you don’t often see in adults, let alone a young woman just entering her senior year of high school.  Again, these competitions are not about choosing ‘who is the best’, but who is right for the position at that exact moment in time.  YOU ARE A WINNER, ALLISON.. your future is so very bright.

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So did you pick up on that ’emcee/reporter’ note?  I had the GREAT honor of co-emceeing this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant with this beauty, my final Awesomeness Award Winner, Jessica States!  A) She can sing REALLY well  B) She’s a born leader, holding a respected position with Junior Achievement of Lincoln  C) She was THE FIRST Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2005!

AND, she was SUCH A GREAT co-host!!!  We had such a terrific time, and I hope the audience did, too!  (And thank you to Joe Bohac and the Black Swan Dress Boutique for providing our gorgeous gowns for the evening!)

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#MNOT2015.  Trending.

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What a terrific, empowering week of incredible women and the people who support them.

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I enjoyed every single moment, and CAN’T WAIT until next year to do it all over again!  AND, I NEED to mention what these girls took away from Miss Nebraska (in addition to their own memories..)

MORE THAN $42,800 IN CASH AWARDS

AND MORE THAN $400,455 IN OFFERED COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS.

But hey, it’s just a silly scholarship pageant, right?

***

One final message to wrap up this post, and this year’s 2015 Miss Nebraska series..

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I was SO very honored and humbled to receive this year’s Miss Nebraska Volunteer of the Year Award.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of you who have read these blogs and offered your congratulations.  I’m still mystified and elated that so many people check in to read my work, and to receive such an incredible honor for it is just a thrill.  THANK YOU.

To all 24 of the young ladies who competed in North Platte, YOU EMPOWER ME. You are the future of our state, and our country, and that makes me so very proud.  CONGRATULATIONS Alyssa, Steffany, and every young woman taking a chance to set an example, be a role model, and to just SPARKLE.

No matter what you do next, crown or not, go out into the world and continue to ROAR.

***

 Click here to learn more about the Miss Nebraska Organization, and the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.  You can also visit Miss Nebraska on Facebook, follow the pageant on Twitter, and follow the pageant on Instagram.

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

May Day

SPRING!!! When flowers bloom, when you can finally breathe deeply without wintry Nebraska air making your face hurt, when you can go on a walk and feel the sun’s warmth shining bright. ¬†I. LOVE. SPRING.

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May might be one of my favorite months, especially now that I have little boys running free¬†in the backyard. The giggles, the smiles, the JOY I see after they’ve been cooped up inside all winter is just AWESOME.

The young woman you’re about to meet also looks ahead to May every year, but for a very different reason. ¬†To her, this month is about work, awareness, and in many cases, answering cries for help.

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MISS GERING 2015 KAYLEE CARLBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“My platform has been ‘changing minds’ by educating and promoting awareness about mental illness in a positive light,” Kaylee told me recently. ¬†“May is Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Like many of this year’s Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, Kaylee’s fight is personal.

“During my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder,” said Kaylee. ¬†“I unknowingly dealt with this for a couple of years prior to receiving any professional help. ¬†The impact the illness had on me and my family is what inspired me to speak out about this issue, because we don’t have enough people sharing their stories.”

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Kaylee’s been sharing her story for several years now, holding local titles twice before in the Miss Nebraska system. ¬†Her Facebook page is FULL of images like the three you see above, promoting awareness and understanding of mental health disorders, as well as resources for those affected and their families. ¬†Kaylee is also involved with The Kim Foundation, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), Bring Change 2 Mind,and Don’t Be Sidelined (in association with the University of Nebraska’s Husker Sports Marketing Department).

“The number of families who are affected by mental, emotional and behavioral health disorders in America is staggering,” said Kaylee. ¬†“Statistics show that mental illness affects one in four adults and that nine out of ten people who experience a mental health problem will also experience social stigma and discrimination. ¬†These ever-growing reactions and behavior of others towards mental health patients can be more damaging than the diagnosis itself. ¬†I wholeheartedly believe this is a very serious issue in America, and the timing of my platform is crucial.”

From this journalist’s perspective, current events certainly seem to back Kaylee’s assertion. ¬†From mass shootings, to prison overcrowding, to health care, mental health is an issue that is constantly surfacing and part of national policy debate.

Kaylee wants to take that debate to as many people as possible.

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“I have been able to present my program at schools and educational events as well as being featured in local press, television interviews, and as a guest on a radio podcast,” said Kaylee. ¬†“I was also blessed to be the keynote speaker at an event for the Central Nebraska’s National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

To explain such a complex issue to children, Kaylee has developed a presentation geared towards kids, describing the brain using colors in a way children can understand.

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“What’s so touching is I have had kids (as young as 2nd grade) tell ¬†me they take medicine and see a therapist, too,” said Kaylee. ¬†“They are excited to see someone else who deals with the same thing as them. ¬†It’s wonderful being able to give them hope!”

For Kaylee, the Miss America Organization provided an outlet for her to share her story, while offering opportunities to sing and earn money for school.

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The night Kaylee was crowned Miss Gering 2015 by Miss Western Nebraska 2014 Morgan Yost and Miss Gering 2014 Alexis Smith

“Not being a vocal major I never get the opportunity to sing outside of pageants!” said Kaylee. ¬†“How many programs offer young women the chance to speak out on a personal issue near to their heart, receive scholarships for college, gain valuable interview and marketing experience, perform a talent, travel the state, dress up in beautiful gowns, make children smile because you’re a ‘princess’ and bring awareness to important causes in the community ALL in one year!?”

That has now become part of Kaylee’s mission as well, to spread word of the¬†Miss Nebraska pageant and to change minds about Miss America.

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Kaylee and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

“When a gentleman tells people he is an Eagle Scout he receives respect for his perseverance and discipline ¬†Society knows how much work goes [that] but all too often, people don’t know how much work goes into becoming Miss Nebraska,” said Kaylee. ¬†“I have been told on many occasions that the Miss America program is outdated, and being Miss Nebraska does nothing but reinforce society’s idea of ‘physical beauty’. ¬†That is FAR from the truth. ¬†This is a scholarship program that builds impactful leaders in their community. ¬†Miss Nebraska is a philanthropist, she has strong interpersonal communication skills, knows how to market herself and the charitable organizations she represents, she is committed to physical fitness, she utitlizes her life experiences to help inspire and change other lives, she knows how to entertain and pull an audience in with her talent, she has countless hours of community service, and she is resilient and convicted in her beliefs.”

Kaylee¬†Carlberg is a college student at Southeast Community College. ¬†She works at Region V Services, helping people with developmental disabilities. ¬†She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and huge Star Wars fan (I just teared up a little with pride about that..) ¬†She’s volunteered countless hours for animals, for children, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, and more.

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Most importantly, this young woman is not only advocating for those with mental illness, she’s setting an inspiring example by bravely talking about her own challenges and successes.

“Today, I manage my illness with proper medication and by living a healthy lifestyle,” said Kaylee. ¬†“We need role models in our communities to help shed light on this issue so people won’t be afraid to ask for help.”

And when they do, when those struggling across Nebraska and beyond issue that May Day now or any other time, Kaylee Carlberg will answer.. as someone who understands, as a community leader, and possibly in a few weeks, as Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

on Twitter and on the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

To contact Kaylee for appearances and events, email kayleecarlberg@gmail.com.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness (#ChangingMinds), click on any of the following resources:

Don’t Be Sidelined ** Bring Change 2 Mind ** The Kim Foundation ** NAMI Nebraska

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes at 307-340-0601 or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Kate Brown

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Shaniah Freeseman

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.

When I See You Smile

There are some people in the world who can literally light up a room with their smile.  Take one of my best friends, Melissa.. no matter where we are or what time we are at in our lives, her smile makes everyone around her smile.  She is PURE JOY, pure sheer goodness, and that positivity just radiates out of her.

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My best friends and I at Omaha Fashion Week.  Melissa is the hottie second from the right.  Thanks to Herb Thompson for the photo!

I first saw the young lady you’re about to meet when she competed in the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen pageant last fall, where she finished 1st Runner Up. ¬†From that night on, I continued to follow her over social media through the pageant where she would win her own title, and I don’t think this teen HAS EVER STOPPED SMILING.

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MISS PLATTE VALLEY’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 EMMA KATE BROWN

(Photo courtesy J Allen Photography)

Now, as I read¬†my interview with Emma Kate and see what’s behind that smile, her attitude not only inspires me.. she’s kinda knocking my socks off. ¬†Emma Kate is fighting two chronic illnesses, Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.

“I¬†was diagnosed with Celiac Disease when I was three years old, so we’ve been doing gluten free at our house before it was trendy,” joked Emma Kate. ¬†“I cannot eat wheat, barley, oats, malt or flour.” ¬†(For more on what Celiac Disease is, click here to read my interview with Miss Crane Festival 2014 & Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012 Lianna Prill.)

Emma Kate has also been an ambassador for Diabetes awareness and research long before her pageant days, appearing on KETV First News for an interview with John Oakey several years ago.

“Something else unique about me is my love for public speaking! ¬†I had a great time talking with John Oakey and showing him my dance moves,” said Emma Kate. ¬†“I wasn’t nervous a bit, but I do think my interview skills have improved.”

She’s getting plenty of practice; Emma Kate is also a youth ambassador for the JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

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Emma Kate: ‘Had a great time this morning volunteering for my favorite group, the JDRF. Met this little girl who was diagnosed with diabetes two months ago. She inspires me by how strong she is facing such a life changing disease. Loved getting to talk about my story and hearing hers.’

“My platform is turning Type 1 into Type None and it is about raising awareness and funding for a cure to Type 1 Diabetes,”
said Emma Kate. ¬†“[It] allows me to tell my story to businesses in the area. ¬†I also volunteer at JDRF events throughout the year.”

(For more about Diabetes and fundraising efforts in the Omaha area, click here to read my interview with former Husker Jay Foreman regarding his work with the Foreman Foundation, as well as Diabetes services through Nebraska Medicine.)

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Until I heard about all of this from Emma Kate during our interview, I had NO IDEA she faced challenges like this.  The 16-year old junior at Elkhorn South High School is on the go NONSTOP, participating on the dance team, in show choir, concert choir, in speech and in National Honor Society.  This year alone, Emma Kate starred in Shrek the Musical as Princess Fiona, and took part in a grueling competition schedule with Elkhorn South Blackout (the varsity show choir), including trips to regionals and then nationals in Chicago.

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And off stage, when she’s not volunteering, there’s yet ANOTHER side to this¬†girl.

“Even thought I am super focused and goal-driven, I love to get lost in a great book,” said Emma Kate. ¬†“I love the ‘Matched’ series, the ‘Selection’ series and the ‘Red Queen’ series. ¬†One of my proudest moments would be when I recently got a group of my friends to start reading as much as I do. ¬†Now we talk about books at our lunch table and it’s so much fun.”

One of those friends is Emma Kate’s fellow dance team member and Blackout star, Morgan Holen, the current Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“Morgan encouraged me to compete in an upcoming pageant. ¬†I was hooked after my first pageant experience in November. ¬†I was so impressed by the whole organization that I knew I wanted to take part in it,” said Emma Kate. ¬†“I enjoy meeting like-minded, successful girls my age and learning about their platforms and experiences. ¬†All the girls are so kind and I have made lifelong friends.”

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That is Emma Kate’s message to other teens who may read this; she wants to encourage them just as Morgan encouraged her.

“This program is relevant because there are more girls like me and other contestants who can benefit from the scholarships, volunteer opportunities and sisterhood of the pageants.”

I agree with Emma Kate on the positives that come from the Miss America Organization. ¬†I DISAGREE with her that there are other girls like her. ¬†That smile is simply one of a kind; welcoming, full of life, excited about what every day could bring. ¬†She’s got ‘Outstanding’ on that sash for a reason.. and Emma Kate Brown is ready¬†to prove it in North Platte.

Emma Kate Dance Team Pic (original)

(Photo courtesy Deyo’s Photography)

Follow Miss¬†Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen Emma Kate Brown, and contact Emma Kate for appearances or events¬†via¬†Facebook, Instagram¬†and on Twitter.

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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean

NEXT.. Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg

To read more about the Miss Nebraska‚Äôs Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.

Sleepless Beauty

As a young professional, I counted down minutes until the weekend. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and did back then, too, but reporting is a stressful, non-stop business! Aaaah, the anticipation of sleeping in, lounging around doing nothing, taking naps, and then meeting up with friends at night. ¬†My mid 20’s weekends were just LAZY.. and it was great. ¬†The moment you have a child, that all changes. ¬†Your weekends are still great, but being lazy is NEVER an option. ¬†You are up when your kiddos are, you are lucky to get a bathroom break alone, and¬†despite what feels like around-the-clock cleaning, your house often looks like a burglar ransacked the place and split.

I remember one moment in our newsroom after my first son was born and one of my in-his-20’s coworkers said “I just can’t WAIT for my weekend–I’m SOOOOO tired!” ¬†Truly, I think my head slowly rotated on my neck exorcist-style and I said, “dude. ¬†You don’t KNOW tired.” ¬†I don’t envy my former self–I would NEVER trade this time with my little boys–but I kinda want to shake that pre-2011-Brandi and say ‘get off the couch!! Look how much free time you have! ¬†Go for a run! ¬†Volunteer! ¬†You could have redecorated your entire house, woman!’

All of this makes me that much more impressed with young ladies like the Miss Nebraska contestant you’re about to meet.

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MISS NORTHWEST 2015 LARISSA MCKEAN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I am a full time student and I currently have three jobs,” LaRissa told me recently. “For a woman who loves to sleep, I don’t get much of it! ¬†I am up most mornings at 6:30 and go to bed around 2 every night.”

And LaRissa’s college major is a tough one; she’ll graduate in just weeks from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting, specializing in Public Relations. ¬†She’s already put those studies to use, involved in the Finance Club and serving as the VP of Finance for the Theta Omega chapter of Delta Delta Delta, in addition to work on the Standards Committee, as Recruitment Chair, and as a Rock Chalk Revue Director.

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LaRissa is also extremely active in dance, both for work and pleasure. ¬†She’s part of the pre-professional dance company Art in Motion (AIM), teaches at a dance studio in Lawrence, Kansas, and is a dance instructor for Universal Dance Association. ¬†All of this no doubt requires talent, dedication, and TIME, by my count, practice or instruction nearly every day of LaRissa’s week. ¬†She notes she usually travels once a month for dance competitions, including a trip to New York City to chaperone 17 high school seniors performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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“I have been dancing since the age of three and started competing at four,” said LaRissa. ¬†“Performing on stage is second nature to me. ¬†The thrill of throwing every trick you wan to showcase in 90 seconds while smiling and being a source of entertainment is amazing! ¬†I love being able to share my passion with others and putting all my hard work into an adrenaline filled routine!”

LaRissa says the Miss Nebraska pageant was a natural step for her to take to combine everything she cared about: talent, communication and education.

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Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean with Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Cherokee Purviance, and LaRissa with Miss Chadron Tosha Skinner and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

“I have known many contestants throughout the years and supported many at events, but I didn’t decide to compete until I saw what an impact pageants [could] have on my life,” said LaRissa. ¬†“Every woman I’ve known in the Miss America Organization system has been driven to succeed and a huge role model to me. ¬†Contestants have the opportunity to grow intellectually while being a leader in their community! ¬†I love being able to impact others and make a difference in my state like the role models did when I was a little girl.”

Being Miss Northwest has also given LaRissa another opportunity to promote a cause she’s already connected to, support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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“St. Jude provides care and treatment for children at no cost to their families,” said LaRissa, who visited the hospital in March. ¬†“They also have top researchers [working to find] cures for cancer every day!”

St. Jude is also LaRissa’s chapter sorority’s philanthropy; she’s volunteered around the KU campus raising funds for St. Jude. ¬†Now, on a more personal level, LaRissa sends letters to friends and family asking for St. Jude donations, she encourages dance teams to write support letters to St. Jude families, and she speaks to groups about¬†St. Jude’s mission.

“I was asked to emcee the Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen pageant and was able to share my platform with the audience,” said LaRissa. ¬†“It as a pleasure to share what I have been doing and how MAO has helped me pursue my passion in saving children who are suffering from cancer or diseases.”

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Could LaRissa McKean be any busier?!? And she’s not getting a break anytime soon. ¬†Next on her list: Jayhawk graduation, moving back¬†to Omaha (where this proud Millard South graduate was born and raised!), and making final preparations to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.

Robert Frost once wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” ¬†LaRissa McKean is dancing her way through this journey, and never, it seems, taking a break to rest.

“I am happy to say I do what I love and it never feels like a day of work,” said LaRissa. ¬†“All of these jobs and commitments makes sleep at the bottom of my to-do list.”

¬†THAT is marathon mentality, and the finish line, the Miss Nebraska pageant, is in Miss Northwest’s sights.

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(Photo courtesy Mindy Armstrong Photography)

Follow Miss Northwest 2015 LaRissa McKean

on Facebook and on Instagram.

To contact LaRissa for appearances and events email larissamckean@gmail.com.

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

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

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

***

PREVIOUS.. **SPECIAL FEATURE** Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson

NEXT.. Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Kate Brown

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.