Tag Archive | miss gering

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.

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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!

It’s A Small World After All

There are 7.4 billion people in the world.  319 million of those live in the United States, and about 1.8 million live in Nebraska.  Any given day, you could come across any number of strangers… or you could bump into familiar faces in the strangest of places.  Last year as my husband and I were traveling to Cancun, we randomly bumped into his cousin at the airport.. a cousin who lives in California.  Then while we were at the resort, 2700 miles away, we literally ran into our good friend, Megan.  Of all the hotels in all the vacation destinations around the world, we chose the exact same spot at the exact same time.  There is some truth to the saying ‘it’s a small world after all.’  So perhaps I shouldn’t have been as surprised to hear, the first time I met the new Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen, “I think you know one of my teachers..”

Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

Alex Nervig is a proud Millard North Mustang, the high school where my husband has been an assistant baseball coach for 11 years.  Turns out, head coach Dave Cork is one of her teachers this year. Of all the schools and all the teachers in the Omaha metro…

but Millard is getting accustomed to having ‘pageant girls’ walk their halls.  Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson and Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters are both Millard Public Schools grads.  Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean and Miss Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend are Millard South alums, and Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich studied at Millard West as she prepared for state competition.

“I decided to compete for my local title because I know a lot of people who have competed in this system and have absolutely loved it!” Alex told me.  “This is also my last eligible year to compete in the teen pageant so I decided even if I don’t win, it will still be a really fun experience.”

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But she did win, and hit the ground running through every door that opened up for her.  Alex has since been spotted volunteering for the Salvation Army, taking part in fundraisers for Children’s Miracle Network and spreading some Irish goodwill in Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“My goal is to enjoy the journey and make the most of it,” said Alex.  “I have met so many new friends and I have gained multiple opportunities that I never thought I would have.  I am so excited to see what the rest of the year holds for me!”

A year that was already jam-packed with performances and competitions; Alex is a member of the World Champion Stepperettes Baton Team, and she’s part of the state-finalist Mustang Varsity Cheer Squad.

Through cheer, Alex became part of the Sparkles program, partnering cheerleaders at several Omaha area high schools with students who have special needs.  The Sparkles held their first annual showcase this winter, and they volunteered at the Annual Rock and Roll for Disabilities in Omaha.  Friendships have always been integral to Alex, and she’s dedicated her year of service to the special relationships she’s formed through Sparkles.

Click here to read more about the Sparkles 1st Annual Showcase in the Omaha World Herald!

“My platform is called ‘We Are One’ and it promotes the equal treatment of people with special needs,” said Alex. “I chose this as my platform because throughout my years of school I have seen students with special needs get bullied and I want to see it come to an end.”

Flashback to October.. and telling Coach Cork that once again, a Millard girl was our newest titleholder in the Miss Nebraska system.  I heard then how kind Alex Nervig was to everyone around her, and how involved she was in the community. She didn’t transform into an outstanding teenager when she put on a crown; those qualities were already there.  That crown, and the 17 others worn by teens across Nebraska, simply highlight the extraordinary things they would be doing with or without their titles.

Alex and girls

“So far, my favorite part has been meeting the other local titleholders and becoming friends with them,” said Alex.  “I would really like people to know that pageants are not all about wearing pretty dresses and wearing a crown.  The crown gives us an opportunity to spread the message of our platform and make a positive change in society.”

Our connections to each other around the world are simply incredible.  It’s the Kevin Bacon effect.. someone knows someone who knows someone.  When those stories are exchanged, when we connect the dots as to how we all relate to each other, how will everyone describe you?  Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Alex Nervig hopes to stand out as a funny, talking, outgoing young lady who made a difference in this world.

Alex C&G

“I want people to know that your success is determined by your definition of success, not someone else’s,” said Alex.  ” As long as you accomplish your goals, you can call yourself a winner.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig or to get more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant! You can also email Director Kelsey Ellis at omahadouglascountyot@gmail.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

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!

Good Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy  Loren C Winkler Images

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LaRISSA?

2015 * Sleepless Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

Cap And (Evening) Gown

We are deep into graduation season!! My dayplanner is jam-packed with party invites, cards for graduates, and gift cards. Every spare spot on my calendar is covered in scribbles with names, dates and places.  I’m really not that popular.. just have lots of awesome cousins and my husband is blessed to coach some great graduating seniors. (Go Mustangs!)

High school came easy to me.  I kept my head down, got good grades, and stayed CRAZY busy. (Emphasis on the crazy.)  College was a completely different ball game.  I flatter myself to think I’m pretty smart; doesn’t matter at that next level.  You WORK for what you want.  At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I experienced my first all-nighter (several of them) studying and completing projects.  I spent lots of quality alone time in the basement of UNL’s Pound Hall cramming for finals all day.  To this day, I still have nightmares about getting notices from university officials that there was an error and I’m short a few science credits.  In reality, the day came when I donned a cap and gown and walked across the stage, feeling TRULY accomplished and proud of what I’d achieved, a college degree.

Imagine the pride you’d feel, and that of your parents, if you were the FIRST in your family to experience all of this; that is what fuels this young woman.

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MISS CHADRON 2015 TOSHA SKINNER

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“In August, I will be the first college graduate in my family,” said Tosha, a senior Management major, minoring in Marketing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  “I could not have done [this] without the support of my parents and the Miss America System!”

I first met Tosha last year when she was competing for Miss Nebraska as Miss Sugar Valley.  (Click here to see her 2014 profile!)  She was EXTREMELY busy then, and still is today as a member of Delta Delta Delta (previously serving as Vice-President of Public Relations), President of Students for St. Jude, a family representative for Dance Marathon (raising money for Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center), and a member of Phi Beta Lambda.

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Still, Tosha made time between classes, studying, volunteering and activities to be part of our KETV Chronicle special showcasing the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014.  She was down-to-earth, conversational and well spoken. (CLICK HERE to see for yourself!)  While arguably all of those contestants and the women competing this year want to show their inner beauty, Tosha also wants to affect change on outer beauty, or at least how we all define it.

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“I am very fortunate to be able to promote my platform, ‘BEAUTY: Redefining the Ideal’, which focuses on the importance of a healthy body image,” said Tosha.  “My goal is to never have someone struggle the way I have struggled all my life.”

Reading this caught me off guard for a moment, to think there was such sadness hiding behind this gorgeous smile. Little did I know, Tosha says her battle with depression began around the same time we met last Spring, leading to the first stages of an eating disorder.

“At the time I was preparing for Miss Nebraska, which is a terrible combination,” Tosha told me recently.  “Lucky for me, my platform gave me an outlet to learn more about body image disorder and it helped with the recovery process.”

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Tosha with Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen and Miss Gering 2015 Kaylee Carlberg & Tosha with Allison and Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen Merrilee Prill

Tosha, a vocal supporter of the Miss America Organization, has also been active in all facets of the program, including raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network and earning her Duke of Edinburg Award by trading her crown for camping gear and a fishing pole.

“I can truly say I am a better person today because of competing in the Miss America system,” said Tosha.  “I feel that as young women especially, it is hard to find your voice, and the Miss America system has given me mine.  It gives all of us opportunities to work towards things we are passionate about and tell our stories to others.”

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Tosha on Facebook:  “These are the moments that make it all worth it. I remember being that little girl and wanting one day to be exactly like the “princesses”. I hope I can inspire at least one little girl, the way they inspired me.#misschadron #mao

Tosha’s story: role model, fighter, trail blazer.

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We all take different paths in life. Every now and then, those roads converge at places like graduation.  In just months, Tosha Skinner will stand side by side with thousands of other UNL students receiving their diplomas, but no story is quite like hers.  Similarly, when this beauty walks across the Miss Nebraska stage, she may be next to 12 other incredible young women, yet they’ll all be independent and unique.

Neither journey is easy, and in the end, neither marks the end of the road.  They call graduation ceremonies ‘commencement’ for a reason.. these moments mark the beginning of new paths, and new journeys out into the world.  Tosha Skinner is keeping her eyes open for two signs, hopefully marking her one new journey; the college graduate embarking on her new adventure as Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

and contact her for appearances and events on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 

on her blog: ‘BEAUTY: Redefining The Ideal’.

For more information about the Miss Chadron 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.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Emma Keifer

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ 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.

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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 ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Just Add Glitter

We are only four contestants in to this year’s series profiling the 2015 Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, and I am already seeing a trend.. ENERGY.  Nonstop energy.
School. Activities. Volunteering. Leave when it’s dark, come home when it’s dark.  NEVER stop smiling.

Maybe it’s this 34-year old body.  Maybe it’s being a momma to two little boys who never stop running (and I thank God everyday for that.)  Maybe it’s because my Scooters mug is never quite full enough.  But I am exhausted FOR these girls; WHERE do they find their energy?

Case in point, today’s featured titleholder is participating in ten extra-curricular activities. TEN.

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MISS WESTERN NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 ALLISON BAIRD

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I spend long days and evenings at {Gering High School} making sure every project is finished and every speech is practiced,” Allison told me recently.  “I’m lucky if I see my parents some days, and although it’s overwhelming I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I never feel like I’m spread too thin because nothing feels like work.”

Fun or not, Allison is involved in A LOT.  (Again, TEN different activities in and out of school!) She’s involved at church, in Cheer/Dance, Student Council, Key Club, Girls State (one of two selected to represent western Nebraska), Varsity Show Choir, Drama, Speech, she’s the editor-in-chief of the school paper, and recent national qualifier for DECA.

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How could this girl possibly fit one more thing in her schedule?  And why?

“The opportunity to be able to represent my favorite state at Miss America, the chance to grow as a person, meet new people and share my ideas is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Allison.  “I’m competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to be able to expand what I’ve been able to do with my local title across the entire state.”

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When Allison was crowned Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, she didn’t just dream of big things, she immediately kicked off a plan to make big things happen.

“My platform is Digital Citizenship: Learning To Live Responsibly Online.  In an increasingly growing technology-using society, it’s naive to think we can get away from it,” said Allison.  “Sure, there are negative effects to use of internet, social media in particular, but rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, or fearing it, it’s time we embrace the use of technology by educating youth, teens and adults on how to ‘live’ online respectfully, responsibly and safely.”

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“Digital Citizenship isn’t only about recognizing and dealing with online hazards,” said Allison.  “{It’s} about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage your personal information and about being internet savvy, using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way and inspiring others to do the same.”

THIS is what Allison wants to talk about, and one of the reasons she says Interview is her favorite part of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition.

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“I love how vulnerable this particular part of the competition is,” said Allison.  “It’s the one time that the judges get to see the real, raw me.  I can share the passions, goals and aspirations I have.  No rehearsal, no preparation, just me.  I love that.”

So who is Allison Baird at the end of the day?  When this high school junior closes her speech notes, puts away her crown, and adds another DECA trophy to her shelf, who is she really?

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“All of these activities have made me who I am today, but underneath everything, I’m still just a normal teenage girl,” said Allison.  “Netflix and sweatpants are my best friend on a free Saturday night (on the rare occasion there is one).”

I’ll have to disagree with Allison here.  Normal? No.  Exceptional? For sure.  Allison also competed for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen last year, and finished 1st Runner-Up.  Soon after, here’s what she posted on Facebook:

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“THIS is why I love pageants. The sisterhood is so strong. Win or lose, even after the crown is gone, these girls are forever.”

Graceful.  Positive.  EXCEPTIONAL.

“The Miss America Organization and the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen {pageant} specifically are empowering the women of our state and country’s future,” said Allison.  “{This is} a program that fosters scholastic achievement, creative accomplishment, healthy living and community involvement in the future leaders, the movers and shakers across the state of Nebraska.  Who wouldn’t want to support that?”

So maybe with Allison, and all of these girls, the question isn’t about energy, it’s about MAKEUP. No, not MAC or Sephora… young women like Allison Baird are made of GLITTER; they don’t buckle under pressure, they thrive on it.  They don’t crash, they fly.  They don’t sweat, they sparkle.  And Gering, Nebraska is sending a shining star to North Platte.

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Follow Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Allison Baird

on Instagram, and on Twitter.

Click here for a special profile on Allison posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

To contact Allison for appearances and events, please visit the Miss Western Nebraska/Miss Gering Pageant on Facebook.

For more information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley by phone at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.

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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.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Marie Kliewer

NEXT.. **SPECIAL FEATURE** The Future of Miss Nebraska

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

Just A Small Town Girl

Ah, how I love Journey.  C’mon, you know the words…

‘Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.  She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’

<<Great, now it will be stuck in my head all day>>

The next contestant in the 2014 Miss Nebraska class might not even know who Journey is, as this song was released the year I was born.. a good 14 years before she was.

<<Ouch>>

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Miss Gering, Alexis Smith

“While I know and recognize that I’m young, I do believe I can share positive vibes with anyone,” Alexis told me recently.  “I truly do believe that there is no action taken without a reason.  Some people just need an ear to listen to their reason.  As Miss Nebraska, I can share my stories and listen to others.”

Here’s part of Alexis’s story.

DIVERSE, POSITIVE, COMMITTED

Alexis, a high school senior from Morrill, Nebraska, plans to move to Utah in the fall to study pre-med at Utah State University.

“I love to be involved in everything I can,” said Alexis.  “I never like to sign myself in for something if I cannot do it well or finish it.”

Alexis’s latest endeavor was to compete for the title of Miss Gering.  She won.

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“I got involved in Miss Nebraska to better myself in more ways than one,” said Alexis.  “I have always been able to get on stage and dance from my 17 years of competitive dancing, but I’ve never been one for speaking on stage.  Being Miss Gering 2014 has helped amazingly.”

Alexis now says Interview, which accounts for 25% of a contestants score, is her favorite part of competition.  It’s also an opportunity for her to discuss something she is passionate about, agriculture education.

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“I chose my platform because I find that the farmers in America do not get the respect or appreciation they should receive for all the work they do,” said Alexis.

Speaking of work, Alexis is busy.  In addition to studies at Mitchell High, she’s enjoying her new responsibilities as Miss Gering.

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“My favorite part of being a titleholder is the ability to be a role model for youth,” said Alexis.  “My least favorite part is dieting.  I love food! So sometimes it can be a bit difficult for me to fully commit to!”

THERE SHE IS

Still, Alexis believes the dreaded ‘swimsuit competition’ (officially called Lifestyle and Fitness) should remain part of the Miss Nebraska and Miss America programs.

“While it is always a plus to be physically fit, swimwear is more a component of showing someone’s confidence in herself!” said Alexis.  “More girls need to love themselves; we are all so beautiful!  Yes, swimwear should be involved to show more girls to work for what they want to look like and love how they look already.”

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It’s going to be a busy next few months for this small town girl. Finals, high school graduation and preparations to compete for her state’s crown as Miss Nebraska.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet all 925 people in the village of Morrill in Nebraska’s panhandle will be cheering on this beauty come June!  And maybe, just maybe, singing Don’t Stop Believin’ on the road trip to North Platte.

Connect with Miss Gering, Alexis Smith

by email: alexismikellesmith1995@gmail.com

Click here for more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska pageant.

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The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.  For more information, visit the Miss Nebraska website.

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PREVIOUS POST.. Miss High Plains, Megan Dimmitt

NEXT POST….  Miss Heartland, Allison Tietjen!