Tag Archive | miss heartland

Omaha Nursing Student and ‘Smart Girl’ Competing For Miss Nebraska

Alexandria Roth and Allie Swanson are adding to their already jam-packed schedules, both hoping to be crowned Miss Nebraska 2019 this week and compete in this year’s Miss America competition live on NBC. Roth is nursing student and Nurse Tech at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy; Swanson is a graduate program student, state champion basketball coach, and Engagement Coordinator with Omaha based non-profit Smart Girl Society.

Alexandria Roth

Roth, a 24-year old Wall Lake, Iowa native who now lives in Omaha, studies at the College of Saint Mary and will graduate with multiple honors in July. She has participated in events across Nebraska and Iowa advocating for people with diabetes and educating others on what diabetes is and what the symptoms are. Roth, diagnosed with diabetes as a child, is the first Miss Nebraska candidate in recent years to display her insulin pump throughout all stages of competition.

“My social impact initiative, Don’t Sugarcoat It: Diabetes Awareness and Advocacy stems from my own diagnosis and struggle with diabetes. Although over 30 million Americans have diabetes, but I often run into individuals who do not know much about it,” said Roth. “As Miss Nebraska I plan to work with the Nebraska Legislature to draft a bill that would put a limit on how much diabetics are charged for their prescriptions. Ultimately, being selected as Miss Nebraska isn’t about me, it is about serving the state of Nebraska and being a good representative and role model. I hope that if chosen I can visit all parts of the state to educate everyone from children to adults and advocate for diabetics.”

Allie Swanson

Swanson, a 24-year old graduate and two time All-American athlete and Scholar All-American from Evangel University, is now pursuing her Master’s degree at Bellevue University. Swanson, who was selected to sing the national anthem at the 2018 College World Series, performs across the midwest through My City Church; she is an Assistant Girls Varsity Basketball Coach at her alma mater, Millard North High School; she is a certified barre-code instructor at The Barre Code-West Omaha; and she is the Society Engagement Coordinator at Smart Gen Society (formerly Smart Girl Society), a non-profit teaching students, parents, and educators how to safely use digital media. Swanson has been sharing that message across the state as both Miss Omaha and Miss Heartland, winning the Miss Nebraska Overall Interview Award and Community Service Award in 2018, and finishing as 3rd Runner Up. She is again nominated for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award this year.

“I love setting big goals and pushing myself to accomplish them,” said Swanson. “I have raised over $60,000 for SGS programming and education, while also acquiring partnerships from Microsoft, the FBI, and NCMEC. In a world where 3.2 Billion people use social media every day, my social impact initiative aims is a proven model across seven states that have drastically decreased digital based anxiety, depression, sexting, and cyberbullying. My message to everyone is that your online presence affects more than just you.”

Preliminary competition at the 2019 Miss Nebraska event begins tonight, June 6 in North Platte, Nebraska, and will be streamed live online at www.MissNebraska.org. Candidates are eligible for more than $70,000 in prize packages and an estimated $1.4 million in in-kind college scholarships. Tickets are still available for the event.

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

Jesus

When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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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 Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

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

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

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

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

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

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

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

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

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

Miss Heartland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

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

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

Breaking The Silence

“I had nightmares every night.”

“I didn’t understand why it was happening.”

“I didn’t want people to judge me.”

This year, 16 incredible young women will take the stage in North Platte to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska.  We only see the sparkle and the smiles.. we don’t always see the story behind each contestant, the life experiences that contributed to who each person is.

One of these women is tired of hiding.  Her name is Tristen, and she is determined to share her story with every, single person willing to listen.

Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

“As one of the 1 in 6 women who have been/will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, I know how important it is to educate America on this problem,” Tristen told me recently.  “Sexual assault is often put on the back burner and not addressed due to its sensitive and uncomfortable status.  Well guess what, I’m not here to make people feel comfortable; I am here to save lives.”

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Tristen Wecker is part of a unique Miss Nebraska class; she is one of 13 contestants this year who have never competed at Miss Nebraska before.

“I have always admired the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Tristen.  “It really is an organization that represents such poise, elegance, and empowerment.  Last year I decided I was ready to be one of those girls who makes a difference in her community and stands for something she believes in.  I competed in my first ever pageant last year and was amazed at how much it had to offer me.  Aside from the countless friendships I made, I also took away with me interview skills, a better view of myself as a woman, and scholarship money for college.  Even though I didn’t walk away with a crown that night, I knew competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization was something that God had put on my heart.  I have so much to teach others and so much to share about my platform.”

Tristen returned to compete in the first preliminary pageants possible to qualify for Miss Nebraska 2017.. and she won, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest last summer.

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“I knew this was a sign from God that I was ready to make an impact,” said Tristen.  “With a crown on my head and the Lord at my side, I knew that this was my calling.”

Young women join our program for any number of reasons; they love to perform, they enjoy networking and meeting people, and they benefit from the thousands in cash scholarships we offer.  Tristen, a Minatare High School graduate now studying at Black Hills State University, was drawn to all of it.

“Being driven is a huge part of where I am now,” said Tristen.  “When I want something for myself or another person, I do everything I can to help make it happen.  Between juggling 18 credit hours in college, volunteering for local organizations, working part-time, being family oriented and preparing for Miss Nebraska, I have no choice but to be motivated.  Being driven has helped me achieve everything that I have done so far.”

Tristen was also eager to share a message.  To many of our titleholders, this is known as a platform of service.  To Tristen, it’s an opportunity to expose part of her soul in the hopes of helping others.

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“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember a series of strange events happening to me,” described Tristen.  Her story is graphic and disturbing, detailing years of assaults she kept quiet from everyone.

“I finally decided to say something when I was in 7th grade,” said Tristen.  “I was at a Wednesday night Youth Group and my youth pastor had a lesson that had really told me that it was time. All of a sudden I see myself pouring my heart out to my pastor. I had no intentions of this happening that night. I felt a sigh of relief when she listened and I learned that the same thing had happened to her when she was young. I felt comfort in sharing my secret to someone who understood. I thought that she could help me in this silent battle. A couple days later, I am at school and get called to the office. My school counselor informs me that we are headed to CAPWN, a local organization that takes on cases like mine. I knew what was happening. I was so angry, words couldn’t even explain. I thought to myself, how could she say something? My entire high school life is going to be ruined, I’ll never be liked. I hated myself and everyone.”

Tristen began counseling, and in time, opened herself to support, encouragement and confidence.

“I realized what an amazing woman I am,” said Tristen. “At this time I was an 11th grader, I had more volunteer hours than I could count, I had straight A’s, I was a starter in volleyball and basketball, and was the captain of the cheerleading squad. I really evaluated myself and thought, ‘Why are you hiding your secret?  You are a bad-ass woman and its time to stand up for those who can’t’. (Excuse my language, I NEVER cuss, but that was literally my thought that day.)”

Tristen is now using her notoriety as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to share that lesson and to address taboos about sexual assault, assumptions even victims may feel about their situations and about themselves.

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“Through the Miss Nebraska Organization, I am able to educate citizens on how to identify if someone has been assaulted, how to be an effective bystander, and the legalities and right you are entitled to as a survivor,” said Tristen.  “Being encouraging is something that is so important to me.  When I look back at past events in my life, I remember those who supported and encouraged me through my journeys.  I remember how good it felt for someone to believe in me.  I strive to make others feel that way.”

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tristen-and-allison

“Creating lifelong friendships is better than any gown I could try on.”

“I am thankful that my struggles have made me realize my true self and my purpose in life.”

“I’m not quite where I want to be, but I know I will get there.”

In preparing to write this article, I told Tristen how sorry I was all of this had happened to her.  She told me, “Don’t feel sorry, God had it happen for a reason and now I know why!”  This incredible young woman chose to speak out.  Beyond just breaking her silence, she turned the volume up to 10, hoping to make a difference for someone else.  She exemplifies what I hope people in our audience in North Platte and far beyond remember about all of our contestants.. that they are so much more than sparkle and smiles.  They are style, success, scholarship and service.  And in the case of Tristen Wecker, Miss Old West Balloon Fest.. STRENGTH.

“Obviously, my goal is to win Miss Nebraska,” said Tristen.  “It has been my dream to represent this great state with grace and elegance.  I am confident that I would serve the title well.  If my dreams come true and I win, I hope to share my platform on the Miss America stage and reach millions of people who desperately need to hear my message.  To me, sharing my platform is more important than winning the Miss America crown, but doing both would be nice.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Tristen Wecker on Facebook.

For more information about Miss Old West Balloon Fest or for details about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE.  You can also learn more about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant by visiting their Facebook page (CLICK HERE), or by contacting Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email atcengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Elkhorn’s Oustanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

NEXT.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

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!

The “It” Factor

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

Brook is a REALLY. BIG. DEAL.

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

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

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRISTIANSEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo courtesy Christiansen Photography

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

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TOSHA?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Cap And (Evening) Gown

CLICK HERE * 2014 * A Spoonful Of Sugar

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

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

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

Everyday America

Omaha, Nebraska.

This isn’t just where I work, it’s the area where I grew up. I’m officially a Papillion girl.. I rode my bike to Papio Pool, sled on the ‘big hill’ at 72nd and Hwy 370 before the apartments went up, and I graduated from PLHS back when there was only one high school.. #Old.  The first home I remember was near Central Park in La Vista. I played softball as a little girl in Glenwood.  I’ve spent countless family road trips heading west to Seward and east to Atlantic.  This area is all I know–it’s HOME. (And I think these were the original lyrics to Sugarland’s Everyday America.. #TheMoreYouKnow)

North Platte, Nebraska is synonymous with the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  For more than three decades, this city has crowned the women who have gone on to compete at Miss America.  So when North Platte is YOUR home, I suppose it’s destiny that someday YOU will be competing for the historic honor.

Courtney Pelland was been immersed in the Miss Nebraska Pageant for years, and one of the key descriptors of the accompanying Teen program, ‘Outstanding’, could be her middle name.  I think they call this fate.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“My mom has taken me to every state pageant since I was 5,” Courtney told me recently.  “I’m involved in dancing at the Dance Factory with Becky Smith-Wagner, Miss Nebraska 1999. I was involved in the Little Sisters Program in 2008 to Brittany Jeffers, Miss Nebraska 2009.  We are Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner’s host family.  The girls in this program are welcoming and open to who any one girl is as a person.”

While it may have taken Courtney awhile to come out of her shell and compete on her own, there was never a question as to what her platform of service would be.. she wanted to share her personal story.

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“My platform is called ‘Knowing Your Body, Taking A Step Back’.  I decided on this platform after being hospitalized in January 2015,” said Courtney.  “My hemoglobin was at 6.6 (normal is 12) and I had no iron or iron storage left in my body; I was ghost white.”

Courtney received two blood transfusions and iron that day, and had to visit North Platte’s cancer center once a week for the next two months.  In October, doctors diagnosed Courtney with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune condition preventing the body from absorbing needed nutrients (like iron).  In addition, she underwent a hip labrum repair in June, an injury that had caused Courtney pain for at least two years.

“This whole experience has taught me to pay attention to your body and know when something is wrong,” said Courtney.  “That’s the message I want to get out and tell kids about.”

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So in November, when Courtney won her first title as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, she set out on a mission to spread that message to as many people as possible.

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Multiple times every week, Courtney updates both her personal and Miss Western Nebraska Facebook pages with photos and recaps of schools she’s visiting, events she’s speaking at, and where she’s volunteering.  The North Platte High School newspaper, the Bulldogger, even featured Courtney in a recent article (click here to read more!)

“I have gone around volunteering for the Salvation Army this past Christmas, volunteering at my old elementary school, Osgood, at Fun Night, {in addition to Sutherland and Stapleton}, and served at the homeless shelter here in North Platte,” said Courtney.  “My favorite thing about holding a title this year has been going out to schools and talking to them about my platform.”

Courtney is also an All-State choir member, plays the tenor saxophone, is involved with National Honor Society and volunteers at her local hospital for the JV Ambassador’s Program.  Her home away from home is the Dance Factory, where she assists with pre-school and kindergarten classes at the Dance Factory, in addition to training in dance herself.

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Photo courtesy Irish Eye Photography

“My favorite part of the competition is talent because I get to show my skills, release and express my emotions and entertain the crowd,” said Courtney.  “Through this program I have become more confident in who I am as a person and more comfortable with my body.  I have learned to love myself for who I am.  I overcame my shyness and learned more about myself.  This organization is not based on beauty.  It is based on intelligence and builds confidence in girls and women.”

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Now, with the support of her mother (who Courtney calls her role model and best friend), and the rest of her family (“I don’t know what I would do without them”), Courtney wants to become one of the women she learned from and admired all these years in North Platte, and continue the sisterhood of role models crowned in this great city and sent out across the state.

‘That’s how it goes in everyday America, A little town and a great big life.’ — Sugarland

“My parents always tease me about being the social one,” said Courtney.  “I enjoy being with people and talking to children.  I should be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I have a passion to share my experience with others.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Courtney Pelland

ON FACEBOOK and ON INSTAGRAM.  You can also follow Courtney on the Miss Western Nebraska Pageant Facebook page.

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

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2016 Kara Kriha!

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2016 Tyler Rambali!

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!