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All-Around Champion

I opened up my paper Saturday morning to an awesome surprise…

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High School Speech.  FRONT PAGE of the Omaha World Herald.

This is absolutely fantastic!!! So often the first thing we see on the front page, or leading the news, is the negative or controversial.  I get it; I understand the process that goes into those decisions and often these subjects are extremely important and affect a large amount of people.  Our media members are also serving our communities; what is the state talking about? The Huskers often steal the spotlight during football season, and once in awhile, fantastic moments of celebration and joy.  Seeing speech kids, on the front page?  THAT. IS. AWESOME.

A few years ago (ok.. long ago in a galaxy far, far away..) I was one of those kids.  I am a proud 2-time Nebraska State Champion in Original Oratory.  Just last week, a new generation of students joined our exclusive club.

Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

She’s just a junior, but Carsyn Long is also now a 2-time state speech champion.

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She was named Champion in Serious Prose just one day after she turned 17.  And this moment atop the podium at UNK was just one highlight for a teen so extraordinary, she’s competing to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization empowers young girls of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, etc. to achieve their dreams and do things that are so much greater than themselves,” Carsyn told me recently.  “From my time being an Outstanding Teen, I have gained so much confidence and have grown so much as a young woman.  My dreams and goals have become more of a reality to me and the work I have done throughout the state has made my heart strong and completely full.”

You name it, Carsyn’s involved in it at Gering High School.  She’s involved in theater, cast in a leading role for Gering’s competitive One Acts earlier this year.  She’s  a State DECA qualifier.  She’s a consistent member of Honor Roll and an Honor Society inductee.  She’s an active advocate for her faith, even appearing on NBC Nebraska Scottsbluff in October to promote one of the biggest events in her diocese (CLICK HERE to watch!) And this year, she was selected for the prestigious Doane Honor Choir.  Still, Carsyn told me last year (click here to read more!) she has long dreamed of pursuing another goal since meeting Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan as a little girl.

“Looking back on it now, Teresa has represented everything I have ever wanted to be as a young woman,” said Carsyn.  “I had seen all of the amazing things she was accomplishing and all of the service she was doing during her time as Miss America.  I wanted to be that girl, too.  I wanted to be the girl who changed the world.  I wanted to be that girl who served her community, state, nation and world.  And I wanted to be that girl who would possibly touch an 11-year old girl on the shoulder and she would have the same feeling and attitude towards me as I did with Teresa.”

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Last fall, Carsyn was crowned Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen, punching her ticket to the state competition.  Almost immediately, in addition to her studies and activities in high school, she lined up a slew of appearances and volunteer events.

[Miss America 2015] Kira Kazantsev said something that really struck me at Crowns and Gowns,” said Carsyn.  “[She said]: ‘You want to get something done? A pageant contestant is the best person to go to.’  We are always working on things greater than ourselves.  We are self starters.  It isn’t beauty or just a time for a girl to walk around on stage aimlessly.  [Pageants] are a time to show all the hard work and effort these girls have put in to better themselves and their state.”

Proof: Carsyn has been implementing her personal platform of service in every facet of her life, from home to school to Facebook.  She calls it ‘Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns’.

“A few months ago there was a girl in Kearney who chose to end her life because of other girls’ hurtful actions,” said Carsyn.  “She had become a target for mean comments, cyberbullying, etc.  After reading about her story, I had realized that I am her.  I am the girl that had become the brunt of other girls’ snide and just plain mean , rumors, dirty looks, etc.  I felt so hurt and so alone and wondered what I did to make these girls dislike me so much.  I had a decision to make each morning: I could either let these girls have power over me and make me feel small, or I could remind myself that this won’t matter in 5 years.  I chose [the latter].  I can’t stop thinking about that girl in Kearney and ‘what if I had been her friend?  What if I had been that one girl who was actually kind to her?'”

So Carsyn spreads that kindness everywhere she can, for example, posting surprise well wishes for strangers when she competed for that state speech title.  She posted on Facebook: “Not only was it a perfect day to bring my A game, but it was a perfect day to spread some love! I know all too well the importance of saying kind and uplifting words to others. With left over sticky notes I had in my bag, I gathered some of my sister Queens to team up with me to spread empowerment and brighten someone’s day. Speech days can be really tough for some kids and so we thought we’d offer up some encouragement for some beautiful girls competing yesterday. #realqueensfixeachotherscrowns #mneoteen #misskearneysot 👑”

“I am here to let girls know that they are not alone in their hurting – even someone competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen goes through this,” said Carsyn.  “It is my job to show girls how to stop looking at each other as competition and as threats, but rather as a sister or a friend.  We all bring something so unique and special to the table, so why can’t we just encourage each other to use these gifts rather than tear each other down?  Strong and confident women choose to fix each other’s crowns instead of breaking them.”

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A phenomenal message for women everywhere, especially for little girls who may look at Carsyn just as she looks at her Miss America idols.

Last Fall, as Nebraska speech season kicked off for high school teams across the state, the NSAA used a state champion to serve as the face of their #MyReasonWhy campaign… Carsyn Long.  They posted her photo on Facebook, with the caption: “Whether it’s preparing for the big debate or practicing for the big solo, setting goals for tomorrow helps you set goals for life.”

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From one speech kid to another, I wish this outstanding teen good luck no matter what the stage.

“If I don’t win the state pageant, I’ll be busy preparing for senior year and pursuing my dreams of performing,” said Carsyn.  “I love to say that ‘I may be small, but I have giant plans’.  And I know that whatever God has in store for me will exhibit that.”

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Click here to follow Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CARSYN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Little Big Shots

For more information about the Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Megan Goeke at jenna@hellobeautifulbridal.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 Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

NEXT.. Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

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!

Talking To The Walls

I had four words listed on the back of my high school letter jacket.

DRAMA CHOIR SPEECH ACADEMICS

I had friends who shook their heads and cried NERD.  They were probably right.. I mean, who does that!?!  But you know what? I was PROUD.. and I’m still proud today.

<Pardon me while I climb onto my high horse.>

I’m a 3-time high school state champion in Nebraska with two individual titles in Persuasive Speaking and a team title for Mock Trial.

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My weekends from October to May were spent like this.. waiting for food with my team at any local Valentino’s or Village Inn we could find after a long day of competition.  We worked for weeks prior fine tuning our speeches, our interpretations of plays and poetry, and our research and knowledge of current events.  I think those days served us pretty well.. the two people in this picture are still my friends almost 20 years later.  Cassie is a respected pharmacist, wife and mom on the east coast, John was my fellow KETV reporter and meteorologist before joining the private sector and raising three boys (one a foster kiddo) with his wife in Texas.  We ALL use public speaking in our jobs, and we are all better in our careers and beyond because of those long days and quick years at speech tournaments. To those who didn’t compete with us,  we were likely just the weirdos they saw talking to walls.  To everyone in our circle, the more you practiced to that audience of brick, the more often you’d see your name on those ‘finals’ lists, and the more trophies you brought home at the end of each weekend.

Times may have changed since my high school years (if you need proof, look at my hair again..) but that unspoken thread connecting speech kids is still strong.  Now though, as I’ve learned from Scottsbluff High School’s Ashlynn Haun, we’re called ‘speechletes’.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I am a Varsity memeber of the SHS Speech team and love every minute of it!’ Ashlynn told me recently.  “It has helped develop my speaking skills and meeting other speechletes is a blast!’

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Ashlynn was a contender and winner at several high school meets this season, making district finals in two separate events.  That alone is impressive, let alone considering Ashlynn was also busy with golf, 4-H, dance and her school’s musical (click here to listen to Ashlynn sing!)

“My family, friends and the members of my community all play important roles in my life,” said Ashlynn.  “My family has always supported me through all of my endeavors.  My friends and community members help each other in so many unknown ways, it truly amazes me.  These people are important to me because they are uplifting and kind, and I hope they view me in the same light.”

That devotion to her community and those in it led Ashlynn to several service projects, often with 4-H Junior Leaders.  She wanted to become more involved and meet more people.. and found the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Ashlynn was crowned Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen last fall.

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“By being involved in the program I have been able to improve my leadership and interview skills,” said Ashlynn.  “The Miss America Organization is a wonderful scholarship program for young women everywhere.  This experience isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about meeting interesting new people and giving back to our communities.”

Ashlynn does that both through philanthropy and emotion.  She often gives back through dance, sharing her gift with audiences as both Miss Gering’s OT and as a teaching assistant at Tabor Dance Academy.

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“I LOVE being on stage!” said Ashlynn.  “Performing gives me such a thrill and has always been fairly easy for me.  I love being able to entertain others while doing something I’m passionate about.”

Ashlynn is also focused on her personal platform, ‘We Are All Survivors’, advocating for cancer survivors and their families.

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Ashlynn on Facebook: ‘Had a blast talking about my platform and participating in the Boxer Rebellion 5K today!😊This great event brings awareness to colon cancer and raises money for Festival of Hope.’

“Almost everyone knows someone affected by cancer in some way, whether it be a family member, a friend, or a friend’s family member,” said Ashlynn.  “My platform is centered around supporting not only the patient, but also those who care for them.  I know personally that seeing someone you love hurt and struggle is terrible.  Often people don’t know how they can help, so I want to spread creative ways that will be most beneficial to these families.”

Here’s a young lady who not only has big ideas, she’s using her words and abilities to bring those visions to life.  She also admires those same traits; when I asked her who her role model is, she didn’t name a celebrity or high-profile stranger.

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“Someone who is a role model for me is my fellow dancer, speechlete and schoolmate Emily Ostdiek,” said Ashlynn.  “She inspires me because she is extremely kind, talented and is always smiling.”

THAT inspires me.

Speech kids RULE.  Speech kids who are also pageant girls are AWESOME.  These women aren’t just talking to walls or waving manicured hands, they are promoting causes and showing everyone around them the power of grace, intelligence and positivity.  Ashlynn Haun wants to represent all of that.. along with her school, her hometown, and speech kids everywhere.

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“I should be Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I have pride in my community, county and state,” said Ashlynn.  “I would use my leadership, desire to serve others, and poise to represent them in a very positive light.  I would also take the opportunity to support cancer patients and their families in a more public format to bring awareness to my platform.  I love being part of and promoting the Miss America Organization and would enjoy becoming a bigger part of it.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashlynn Haun on Facebook.  You can also contact Ashlynn for appearances and events by emailing ashlynnhaun@gmail.com.

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.  You can also email thirtyone.hayes@yahoo.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 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 Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt!

NEXT.. Miss Gering 2016 LaRissa McKean!

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!

That’s What Friends Are For

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to take a different approach with what I share on Facebook.  I still try to tell our viewers what they should tune in for that night at 10.. and share links to the developing story online that could impact them.. but more and more, I’m trying to share things that just MAKE ME SMILE.  Memes that make me laugh, links that have me giggling at my desk, and photos that warm my heart.  Hopefully they make someone else’s day a little brighter, too.

A few weeks ago, I shared this beauty.

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Photo courtesy Sherri Harnisch – Picture Taker

This is Macy.  I used to work with her momma, who is also the incredible photographer who styled and shot this photo.  Macy is sassy, smart, talented and SWEET.. she is also one of the national representatives for down syndrome awareness and support, featured on billboards in Times Square, and a frequent visitor to Washington DC for new legislation.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to watch Alex Hoffman’s story on KETV with Sherri Harnisch, about her family’s work to pass the ABLE Act.

Macy is showing the world that people with special needs bring love, joy, laughter and so many other things into the world and into our lives.  They deserve our respect, our time and OUR love.

It’s a message Ashly Helfrich has known and advocated for since she was younger than Macy.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Ashly, a junior at Millard West High School in Omaha, is also Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016.  She’ll compete to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this June.  The program is a preliminary competition to the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, described by many as the ‘little sister’ pageant to the Miss America Organization.  Just like their ‘miss’ sisters, these teenagers spend a year promoting a cause they are passionate about; Ashly calls hers ‘The Positive Power of Inclusion.’

“Two of my cousins have down syndrome, so I have witnessed how inclusion has affected them while growing up,” Ashly told me recently.  “[My platform] is focusing on creating inclusive environments in both schools and the community for people of all ability levels.”

Ashly is a student leader for Millard West’s West Friends club, an organization that twice a month brings together students with and without disabilities.

“I love spending my time with these kids, as they are some of the most genuinely kind people I know,” said Ashly.  “They almost always have a smile on their face, and they always greet me like they are so happy to see me.  For me, inclusion goes so far beyond just putting students of all ability levels in the same room.  The objective of West Friends is to create long-lasting friendships between these students by making a safe, fun environment for all.”

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Ashly and West Friends organizers are also creating a model for other programs across the state, as one of the first schools to participate in NSAA-sanctioned unified sports.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH Andrew Ozaki’s story on KETV, featuring Ashly, about this new opportunity for special needs students to compete in sports.

Ashly also knows a little something about competition; she trained in tumbling and competitive gymnastics for 11 years and is currently a Millard West varsity cheerleader.

She’s also copy editor for her school’s yearbook, a member of the National Honor Society, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and Student Ambassador for Millard West.  Ashly has lettered in Academics, Cheerleading and Pole Vault.

WHAT?!? How could this girl squeeze one more activity into her schedule.. and why?!?!

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Ashly answers by noting her role model is former Miss Nebraska local titleholder Chrissy Townsend. (Click here to learn more about Chrissy!)

“My grandparents were Chrissy’s host family during her pageant week in North Platte and for several summers I stayed there with her during that week,” said Ashly.  “She really showed me how cool it was to be on stage, I always enjoyed getting to watch her do her favorite thing.  She truly paved the way for my own pageants because she gave me a great example of how to be happy with whatever the outcome may be.  I always admired the girls in that spotlight; I admired their grace, pose and confidence in front of all of those people, and I knew that someday I wanted to do that myself.”

Despite multiple surgeries on her Achilles tendon, Ashly decided this, her last eligible year to compete, she would try to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She revisited the piano, an instrument she played for years as a little girl, and won a local title last fall.

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“I would tell someone who criticizes pageants that the girls who compete in them are not just focused on their appearance,” said Ashly.  “Pageant girls are driven and compassionate, and they are more than ready to help anyone else out before themselves.  They all have goals set for themselves and they are ready to do all the work that goes into reaching that goal.”

And THEN some, like in Ashly’s case.  Since earning that crown in late October, Ashly has volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army, helped blind and visually impaired shoppers over the holidays, and just this weekend, took a VERY chilly plunge into Cunningham Lake for the Special Olympics.

At work (Omaha’s Vintage Financial Group), Ashly has earned the nickname ‘Miss America’ from firm President and Millard School Board member Pat Ricketts.  Easy to see why with the sheer amount of self-lessness, talent and ambition this young lady has.

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What’s even cooler to me is WHY Ashly wants all of this.. for her cousins, her West friends, and kids she’s never met, like Macy.

“I want to be the next Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because I want to spread my message of my platform all around the state.  I am so excited to be part of a team with some of my favorite people,” said Ashly.  “I want to be someone that is a good role model for all teens, and someone who can be trusted with anything.  I am very dedicated to the things that I commit to, and competing in this pageant is another step for me to get closer to reaching my goal of being confident in any situation.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE,FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.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 Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters!

NEXT.. Special Feature, Miss Nebraska USA 2016 Sarah Hollins!

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!