Tag Archive | miss fur trade days

Alliance Native Hopes To Inspire Others At Miss Nebraska

Cherokee Purviance, a 19-year old native of Alliance, Nebraska, hopes to inspire children and adults alike when she competes this week at the 2019 Miss Nebraska competition. Cherokee, crowned Miss Fur Trade Days in November, suffers from dyslexia, and is on a mission to spread awareness about the disorder affecting an estimated 43.5 million Americans.

Cherokee Purviance

As Miss Fur Trade Days, Cherokee has visited schools and groups throughout Chadron for the last several months. She is also an accomplished pianist and performer, winning the Alliance Stars of Tomorrow competition and numerous awards as a contestant in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. If Cherokee is crowned Miss Nebraska 2019, she will take her personal platform of service across the state and beyond, and share her message at the 2020 Miss America competition broadcast live on NBC.

The Miss Nebraska Scholarship competition will be held June 2-8 in North Platte, Nebraska, where candidates are eligible for more than $70,000 in prize packages and an estimated $1.4 million in in-kind college scholarships. Tickets are available for the event, which will also be streamed live online, at http://www.MissNebraska.org.

Persistence

I’m biased, but my son is BRILLIANT. OK, I’m exaggerating, but actually, not by much.. at just 7 years old, he’s already reading at a grade level several higher than his own, he LOVES math and science, and I’m convinced he has a photographic memory. Many aspects of learning come easy to him… so he gets frustrated when something presents a challenge he can’t master on his first attempt. It’s a lesson my husband is always helping him learn, that sometimes, we have to try a little harder and it makes success that much sweeter.

We saw proof of that the other night.. playing a video game at home. Easton FINALLY beat a ‘boss’ that he’d been working on for days, persistently working through the same level over and over again. ‘YEEESSSSSSS!’ he shouted, a huge smile on his tiny face, and he quickly turned around to make sure Brian was watching. We were ūüôā

Flashback 16 years to an auditorium in Kearney. Tina Foehlinger stood on that stage, and FINALLY heard her name called as the winner of the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant. In the months leading up to that moment, she had competed in SIX locals, finishing first runner up SIX DIFFERENT TIMES. She never quit.

Neither did Courtney Pelland.

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Courtney has traveled Nebraska since last summer, hoping to win a local title and advance to the Miss Nebraska Pageant this summer. Time after time, she was named a finalist, leading to one last attempt in February.

“I was competing in my hometown, North Platte,” Courtney told me. “When my name was called, the crowd went wild. Being crowned in my hometown was an honor, and to have so many supporters there made my crowning 10 times more special.”

 

 

Courtney has dreamed of becoming Miss Nebraska for nearly a decade now, when she was a Little Sister to then Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers. With Courtney at her side, Brittany went on to win Miss Nebraska and become our state’s first Top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant in 25 years. (Click here for photos!)

“I knew competing in pageants would help build my confidence, develop my interview skills, help pay for college, and build amazing friendships,” said Courtney. “I can proudly say I have friends across Nebraska and it is truly amazing how we inspire one another.”

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This is Courtney’s third year competing for a state title, first as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, then Miss Fur Trade Days, and now, as Miss Nebraska State Fair. She’s used each title to advocate for a cause very personal for her: blood donation. Courtney has Celiac Disease, the latest in a series of diagnoses her sophomore year of high school that sent her to the hospital and in dire need of blood.

“My favorite part of being a titleholder has been touching the lives of kids, teens and adults with my personal story, and by simply listening what they have to say,” said Courtney. “I love telling them about the importance of blood donation and how someone save my life because of their donations.”

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Courtney has also helped organize blood drives, spoken to media and spread awareness in both North Platte and Fremont, where she attends college. Her goal is to collect 200 pledges by June 1st, no small goal considering she is also a full-time Midland University student, education funded in part due to the $60,000 in scholarships she received from Midland at last year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“My career goal is to become a Labor and Delivery Nurse. I love children and babies!” said Courtney. “I may want to work in Children’s Hospital & Medical Center one day. Being a part of the Miss Nebraska Organization has inspired me; I’ve been raising money for them for four years, so why not continue giving back to them when I’m a nurse!”

That smile and passion for life are present everywhere this young woman goes, whether it to be a classroom, a donation site, or to a performance with the award-winning Midland Warriors Dance Team (yeah, Courtney dances, too.)

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“My role model is my dance coach, Katie Speicher,” said Courtney. “She came into a team that had just won the NAIA National Championships for 2017, moving from California to Nebraska just to coach a team like us. She has had her battles throughout the year but has overcome them. I am so proud of her for everything she has accomplished and she is someone I truly look up to.”

Now, Courtney is cementing that legacy for herself. She’s building a reputation as a strong woman who never gives up, just like Tina Foehlinger did 17 years ago.

Tina

Photo courtesy Ben Fogletto for Press of Atlantic City

Just months after Tina FINALLY won a local title, she was crowned Miss Nebraska 2001 and then a Top 20 semi-finalist at the Miss America Pageant on national TV.

Colin Powell once said, ‘success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.’ Courtney Pelland is hoping to find the meaning of that message early this summer.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

“Success to me is when you achieve your personal dreams and goals,” said Courtney. “Of course, I would love to win, but in all I want to walk away with a whole new group of best friends through an amazing organization. I would love to make Top 8; I’ve been working really hard and I hope I can achieve that.”

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To follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * College Ready

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak

NEXT.. Miss Twin River’s Outstanding Teen Rachel Young

Power & Voice

I am a gymnastics nut. When I left KETV, my good friend Stacey presented me a group photo of the 2016 USA Men’s Gymnastics Team with their ‘personal’ messages wishing me luck. That’s friendship, folks.

I, like so many others, have been sickened, revolted, and angered by the stories that have come to light about Larry Nasser, the former US team doctor accused of molesting more than 100 elite gymnasts, including national, world and Olympic champions. MORE THAN A HUNDRED. How does this happen???? Why did no one listen??

Everyone is listening now; each victim has been allowed to publicly address Nasser in court during his sentencing hearings. In front of packed courtrooms, with cameras sharing their secrets to every corner of the country and beyond, these brave women spoke out. Some did it through tears; some kept their eyes down and read their accounts from prepared statements. Then, Aly Raisman stood up.

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Photo courtesy Brendan McDermid/Reuters

She’s won three Olympic gold medals and served as Captain on both the 2012 and 2016 USA Olympic teams. She has since shared that for years, she was sexually assaulted by Nasser under the guise of ‘massage and medical treatment’. When she stood up to confront her abuser in court, Raisman looked him straight in the eyes, HELD that stare, and boldly stated, “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women, you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force and you are nothing.”

Click here to watch Aly Raisman’s full victim-impact statement.

If you are a young woman, or a parent of a young woman, I strongly suggest you watch this. It is a powerful demonstration of bravery, grit, intelligence; a strong woman finding her voice when for so long, she was engulfed in a world of silence.

Cue Tristen.

Tristen TJP

Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

For nearly a decade, she kept her secret. In silence, she’d flashback to memories of strange things happening to her at just 5 years old. As a teenager, she found comfort and safe haven through her youth group pastor, finally revealing her past. Through counseling, Tristen also found the strength to share her story.

“I am currently an ambassador for DOVES, I’ve partnered with CAPWN and CAPSTONE, and I work closely with No More,” said Tristen. “I travel to area schools, elementary through college, and talk about how to be safe. I have three points that I really like to touch on when speaking to a group: how to identify if you are someone has been assaulted, what legalities survivors are entitled to, and how to be an effective bystander. These points are vital for both survivors and non-survivors to know.”

Tristen also uses social media to share alarming statistics about sexual assault, and ways we can all stay aware and step in to help.

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In 2016, Tristen started spreading her message through another program: the Miss Nebraska Organization. The Minatare, Nebraska native was crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017, then Miss Fur Trade Days 2018.

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“[This] gives us each a VOICE!” said Tristen. “Each girl has a personal platform they devote their service to. My platform, Speaking Out Against Sexual Assault, has been more influential than I could have ever hoped, all because of the continuous support I receive through this organization.”

Click here to learn more of Tristen’s story and mission, shared by Madison Elliott and KOTA-TV!

 

 

The Miss Nebraska program combined many of the elements Tristen is passionate about: as a talented vocalist, she was offered a stage to perform. As a student at Black Hills State University, she was provided thousands of dollars in cash scholarships. As a future elementary school teacher, she was given incomparable experience inside classrooms across western Nebraska, connecting with the children she hopes to someday nurture.

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“With the generous scholarships provided to every Miss Nebraska contestant, I will graduate college this December 100% debt free!” said Tristen. “My work has definitely been beneficial to my career goals. The biggest takeaway would be social skills and interactions. Public speaking is now one of my favorite things to do. Not only do we gain this valuable money to put towards our degrees, we also have countless doors open up for our careers.”

And as a woman fueled by a personal mission, Tristen has been empowered to share a powerful message, united with like-minded titleholders from across the state united to serve others.

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“Through Miss Nebraska, I have gained friendships I never would have had prior to competing,” said Tristen. “With those friendships came a huge support system full of women lifting each other up,” said Tristen. “My favorite memory at this year’s local [competition] was being backstage with the other contestants during rehearsals. During this time, I looked around and saw how each of us were working on something. Whether it was our talent, current events, or college homework, we were all involved. We are confident, talented, smart girls who dedicate ourselves to greatness. Each of as are all good at something. It’s amazing to watch us all in action, off stage as well as on stage.”

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When Aly Raisman gave her victim impact statement, she made something very clear: she is no victim. She’s a survivor.

“I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them,” she said. “All these brave women have power.”

My friend Stacey texted me that day and noted that Aly could go on to win 10 more Olympic gold medals.. and it wouldn’t be as impressive as she was in those moments of strength in court.

Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The same is true for Tristen. She is certainly a worthy candidate for the iconic title of Miss Nebraska… but crown or not, she is a model of courage, using her power and voice to inspire other survivors to come forward, while encouraging all of us to join their support system.

“Being a ‘Miss’ titleholder opens up so many doors. You get to show the world how amazing and powerful women are,” said Tristen. “My goal at Miss Nebraska is to share my platform with everyone who will listen. I want to create a domino effect of advocates. I strongly believe that even if you touch one person, they will go out and do the same.”

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To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Tristen Wecker on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TRISTEN?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Breaking The Silence

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also contact Director April Grant by calling (308) 430-0479.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes

College Ready

I have been so honored, as of February 3, to be Co-Marketing Director of the Miss Nebraska Organization.  From the get-go, our Board has had several clear goals for this year: to set a new record in scholarships for our contestants, to provide new opportunities for Miss Nebraska and all of our titleholders, and to host one heck of a pageant in just a few short weeks!  That said, we could barely hold back our excitement at Orientation as Executive Director Rachel Daly told all contestants, their directors and their families that this year, we were proud to offer an estimated $1.3 million dollars in cash and college scholarships.

$1.3 MILLION DOLLARS

Yeah, that is worth the jumbo font. ¬†One of our key contributors, Midland University, is offering every single contestant, regardless of how they finish, $15,000 annually. ¬†That’s a guaranteed $60,000 for every, single Miss Nebraska contestant if they are accepted into Midland University. ¬†One young woman’s mother approached us to confirm this was all true, and when we said yes, she said she almost cried. ¬†Her daughter, Courtney, is going to Midland next year.

Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland

“I want people to know the Miss America Organization is not based on how beautiful we are,” Courtney told me recently. ¬†“Overall, this organization provides scholarships for the girls who compete to help with college debt. ¬†That is a huge deal.”

Courtney, a senior at North Platte High School, has witnessed the positive attributes of the Miss Nebraska Program for most of her life. ¬†As she told me last year (click here to read more!)¬†she and her family have been involved with nearly every facet of the program including Host Family, Little Sister, Teen titleholder, and now a Miss titleholder. ¬†Courtney has also been mentored by several Miss Nebraska’s, including Miss Nebraska 2009 Brittany Jeffers and Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith.

“When I was 14, I wanted to start competing, but the only issue [I faced] was my shyness,” said Courtney. ¬†“Halfway through my freshman year of high school, my Nana (my dad’s mother) passed away, five days before my birthday. ¬†My Nana always loved pageantry and wanted me to one day compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.”

Now she will.  Courtney was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days last fall, in her first year eligible to compete for Miss Nebraska (click here to read an article about her win in the North Platte Telegraph!).  Volunteering has been a key element for Courtney in both her Teen and Miss roles, because she knows personally the impact one person can have.  In January of 2015, Courtney was admitted to the hospital, in dire need of blood.

“I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia; I was given two units of blood that day,” said Courtney. ¬†“Eventually I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, but I also realized how important it is to donate blood.”

And Courtney has been taking that message across her hometown and beyond. ¬†She’s spoken to students and groups, she’s organized blood drives in North Platte, she’s partnered with the American Red Cross to strengthen her impact, and she shares powerful statistics and stories on social media, hoping to compel others to donate. ¬†Click here to read the North Platte Telegraph’s story about Courtney!

“My favorite part of the organization doesn’t have anything to do with the actual competition,” said Courtney. ¬†“My favorite part is being able to give back to my community in a different way. ¬†A crown and sash don’t define someone, it’s about all of us girls making an impact on someone. ¬†I have a friend who says the reason he donates blood is because of what I had to go through. ¬†I am involved with this program because I want to make a difference in this world and help others out.”

¬†Courtney makes appearances and volunteers at events in addition to an incredibly active personal schedule. ¬†She works, takes part in musical, is a member of the Pacers Dance Team, trains with the Dance Factory in North Platte.. and she’s preparing for high school graduation next month! ¬†Courtney was named her high school’s Bulldog of the Month in December, click here to read more!

“I am a very busy girl and always on the go,” said Courtney. ¬†“Being this busy I have to be very organized with the things I have decided on. ¬†Once I put my mind to something, nothing can stop me. If I want it I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal or get to where I want to be.”

Courtney credits the Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organizations for helping her meet those challenges, and find support along the way.

“This organization has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into this bubbly, caring girl,” said Courtney. ¬†“I have learned that it is okay to state your opinion, ask questions and show the world who you truly are. ¬†I am now able to go up to random people and hold a conversation without even thinking about it.”

“On top of me finding my true self, I have formed some incredible friendships across the state,” said Courtney. ¬†“Miss Chadron Shaniah Freeseman and I are sister queens this year, and I have been blessed to have a girl like her by my side. ¬†She has become a sister to me. ¬†This type of friendship is the one I hope every girl is able to form.”

Making long-lasting friendships is one of Courtney’s ultimate goals for her experience this year leading up to and at the Miss Nebraska Pageant. ¬†She wants to network, make her hometown proud, and¬†use the life lessons she’s learned on this journey as she attends Midland University¬†to major in Fine Arts Management this fall. ¬†She’ll also have a little help every step of the way… some extra cash in her pocket thanks to the Miss Nebraska Organization, and some extra love in hand as she competes for her state title.

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“Every time I compete in a pageant, I have a buckeye to remind me of Nana, and I always carry it around before my interview,” said Courtney. ¬†“Knowing that she is by my side drives me to compete and to make a difference in this world.”

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Click here to follow Miss Fur Trade Days 2017 Courtney Pelland on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Sara Smith at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com or by calling (308) 430-2613.

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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 Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

NEXT.. Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alexandria Warneke

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!

Courage With a Smile

Each of us has a hidden story.. something we don’t openly share with others because it’s embarrassing, something we can’t change, something we wish would just GO AWAY.

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I’ve performed the national anthem DOZENS of times in the Omaha area for crowds of a few hundred to 15,000+. ¬†Last fall, I waited off-ice at UNO’s first hockey game of the season, ready to perform once more. ¬†I was running through the lyrics in my head, and about two minutes before I was up… I BLANKED. ¬†I got to a middle stanza in the anthem and could not come up with the words. ¬†In a panic, I googled the lyrics on my phone, just to have them ready in my pocket if my memory didn’t kick back into gear.

It didn’t. ¬†In front of 5,000 fans, I had to pull out my phone in the middle of our country’s anthem and look down for help. ¬†I LOVE MY COUNTRY. ¬†I KNOW THIS SONG. ¬†AND I WAS MORTIFIED.

I still shudder when I think about it… because to anyone who HADN’T heard me sing before, I will forever be the idiot who didn’t know the words to the national anthem. ¬†I’ve only performed the anthem once since then… terrified this could happen again.

Now, an example of COURAGE.  A woman who not only accepts mistakes, she shares them to empower others to shrug their shoulders, learn and move on.

Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

Though I had interviewed Emma last year during her time as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, I had never heard her perform. ¬†When she sang at the 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.. this was me in the audience.

Emma won 1st runner up, an honor in large part due to that extraordinary vocal performance. ¬†It’s something she’s quite accustomed to; a senior¬†at North Platte High School, Emma’s earned the lead role in school productions, she’s a member of the NPHS Pacers dance team, and and she’s competed in multiple vocal and dance competitions. ¬†CLICK HERE to read the North Platte Telegraph’s article on Emma when she was crowned in February.

Just this week, Emma shared a clip of her performance¬†as part of a high school music contest. ¬†(CLICK HERE TO WATCH!)¬† BUT… she also noted on the same post, ‘this was before I forgot the words.’ ¬†She wrote:¬†After working for a month, I let myself down when I forgot many of the lyrics due to nerves and poor confidence. I walked away extremely upset with my performance. ‚ÄĘ I have chosen to take this experience as a lesson. All I can do from here is work harder next time, show up with confidence, and hope that I prove my worth. ‚ÄĘ Always take each experience as an opportunity to become a better you, no matter the end result. #motivationmonday#missnebraska2017

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Emma Wilkinson will turn 18 years old tomorrow.

An amazing display of maturity, acceptance and understanding, the result of a personal journey that Emma bravely speaks about as Miss Twin Rivers 2017.

“My platform, ‘Rethink Your Drink’, is focused on informing children of alcoholic parents that they are not alone,” Emma told me recently, noting alcoholism has touched her family as well. ¬†“Once I reached the fifth grade, I made a best friend with similar experiences to my own. ¬†We shared our struggles and helped each other cope with the pain brought about by alcoholism. ¬†Addiction does not have to debilitate a child’s aptitude to achieve success and I want to spread those words like wildfire, especially to those who need to hear them most.”

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Emma has visited several schools throughout the North Platte area to share her story, her message carrying extra weight as a local girl who will compete right in her city at this summer’s Miss Nebraska Pageant. ¬†As she told me last year, it was those former Miss Nebraska’s (namely Brittany Jeffers and Becky Smith-Wagner) who greatly impacted her life as she grew up.

“I hope to reach every person when making appearances by sharing the negative effects that alcohol can leave on everyone,” said Emma. ¬†“Children are often informed about alcohol in elementary school, but I feel like they forget about the dangers of alcohol once they are surrounded by it in high school. ¬†This is about spreading awareness of alcoholism in order to make people realize that it is not a rare occurrence.”

Emma is also already taking her title statewide, including a 8-hour roundtrip trek to Omaha to take part in the Miss Nebraska Princess Party fundraiser last month.  Emma and Miss Fur Trade Days Courtney Pelland left North Platte early, met dozens of little girls at the event, and drove BACK to North Platte the same day to take part in a dance team gala the same night.

“The amazing thing about the Miss Nebraska Organization is that it brings together poised, confident and beautiful young women from all over the state to catalyze positive change,” said Emma. ¬†“Whenever I see one of our girls at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital visiting patients, I hold a huge smile on my face because this is what we’re about; making a positive impact within every life we can.”

And that includes their own lives.  Emma notes her own growth within the last year alone, crediting it to her time as both a teen and now miss titleholder.

“My social skills and confidence have improved the most through appearances and performances,” said Emma. ¬†“My main goal is to use my platform as a tool to serve as a mentor to those who are affected by alcoholism, but I also want to continue to grow as a person through this organization. ¬†I am one of the youngest in the pageant this year; I have so much more to learn and I trust this will help me become the best woman I can be.”

Emma with girl

A woman who aims to be warm and open to others.  A woman who is open-minded and remains positive, despite challenges and hurdles she has come across throughout her life.

“I do not judge someone based upon their values and beliefs,” said Emma. ¬†“Everyone has been raised in different ways and has gone through different struggles; it is incredibly important to me that we accept people as they are.”

Someday, I want to sing the anthem again just to prove to myself that I will not let one embarrassing moment define me. ¬†And if I feel those nerves, that fear, bubbling up again… I will remind myself of this amazing young woman, suck it up, smile, and rock every single lyric. ¬†Here’s hoping I make my hometown as proud of Emma Wilkinson is making hers.

“I sometimes get upset when people think that our pageant is all about beauty, but I’ve realized, maybe it is about beauty; the beauty found within,” said Emma. ¬†“Through any circumstance, I try to remain as positive as possible. ¬†Any challenge can be overcome and I like to live through those words within every aspect of my life.”

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Click here to follow Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EMMA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Sister Act

Emma¬†was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase. ¬†CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event!¬†For more information about the Miss Twin Rivers/Miss Sandhills Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.

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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 Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

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!

Open Hearts

‘And just like that.. we’re done until documentary time.’

That’s the text I sent to KETV photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard Monday night after watching the final chapter in our 3-part series Operation: Open Hearts. ¬†I gave you a little preview last month of our journey to La Paz, Mexico, where an Omaha medical team travels¬†twice a year to save children’s lives, and to build a future for countless others.

Three beautiful girls, all born with congenital heart defects in a part of the world that offered them little hope.  Three children, now forever connected through the hearts of people giving of their time and talents, at no charge, to give them the chance at life.

Since we returned to Omaha 3 weeks ago, Ashley and I have been working nonstop on these stories, hoping to bring YOU to La Paz to see and hear what we did firsthand.

CLICK HERE to learn WHY¬†Omaha’s Dr. Jim Hammel takes an entire team to La Paz twice a year.

CLICK HERE as the team begins their 7th mission, and meet the tiny patients they hope to save.

CLICK HERE to go inside the OR, and watch Omaha doctors TEACH as they SAVE children.

And CLICK HERE to watch as DOZENS of the children, saved over the years, return to tell their heroes THANK YOU.

We take so many things for granted in life.  In this particular case, that if our children are sick, they will be taken care of.  In larger terms, that you have a baby, take that baby home, and live happily ever after.

An estimated 1% of ALL babies are born with a congenital heart defect.

Alex O’Connor was one of them.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“When I was 5 months old I had a left Anomalous Coronary Artery repair,” Alex told me recently. ¬†“Everyone has three arteries in their heart and one of mine was connected wrong. ¬†Every time my heart would beat, I would have a mini heart attack.”

Alex also has a twin brother; Cam did not have heart problems. ¬†Doctors told the O’Connors that their baby girl had a 50% chance of making it through surgery.

“I have beat all the odds,” said Alex, now a 20-year old college student at the University of Wyoming. ¬†“I have no restrictions, I’m on no medications, I’m just as normal as can be. ¬†My message is to not only raise awareness about congenital heart defects, which is the number one birth defect in America, but to also teach people how to love their scars and to never be ashamed of them.”

Alex, a Keystone, Nebraska native, found a way to amplify her message.

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She was crowned Miss Fur Trade Days 2016, allowing her the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska. ¬†This will be Alex’s second trip to North Platte, first competing as Miss¬†Northwest in 2014.

“This program has made me grow in a lot of different ways,” said Alex. ¬†“It has allowed me to be the best version of myself that I can be.”

Alex O’Connor is¬†a young woman who loves dancing and dogs, she’s obsessed with flamingos and coffee, and she’s a proud sister who enjoys going to rodeos to watch Cam compete. ¬†She¬†has also taken part in events across western Nebraska,¬†from fairs¬†to fundraisers to classroom visits.

No matter where she’s at, children are the people who always seem to gravitate to Alex, and vice versa.

These are the hearts Alex hopes to connect with, and to inspire with her message.

“My platform is Rock Your Scar: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness,” said Alex. ¬†“Everyone has a scar whether it is physical or emotional and we should never be ashamed of them. ¬†We should actually use them in a way to tell a story.”

Alex hopes to do that in every facet of her Miss Nebraska experience, even dedicating her talent performance to children facing the same battles she did.

courtesy Linda Teahon

Photo courtesy Linda Teahon

“My talent is a lyrical [dance] piece to ‘One Day You Will’ by Lady Antebellum,” said Alex. ¬†“The reason why I chose this song was because being a Congenital Heart Defect survivor I have gone through a lot, and this dance is a tribute to the kids that have gone or are going through what I went through. ¬†My message to them is one day you will make it through and you will realize that you are 1 in 100, and you should be proud to join the zipper club.”

PROOF…

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This is Regina, the second patient Omaha’s team operated on in their latest trip to La Paz. ¬†At 22-months, she had open heart surgery. ¬†Within 24 hours, she was walking, standing, smiling and coloring.

These kids are TOUGH.  They are strong, and so are their families.. along with the passionate doctors, nurses and others who care for them.  Ironically, in a club all about fixing hearts, these people are ALL heart.

Alex O’Connor is ready to share HER heart¬†with our entire state and beyond.

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“Being Miss Nebraska is a privilege. ¬†It’s a job and the right person has to be ready for what the job entails,” said Alex. ¬†“I’m ready to use my talents, my knowledge and my courage to fulfill the job of Miss Nebraska.”

Stay tuned to KETV in June for our special report, Operation: Open Hearts

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Fur Trade Days 2016 Alex O’Connor¬†on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEX?

2014 * Survivor

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant, visit their FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Directors Caitlin Rodiek and Sara Smith by email at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com.  You can also contact Caitlin Rodiek by phone at 308-207-0336.

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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 Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Cherokee Purviance!

NEXT.. ¬†Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Carsyn Long!

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!