Tag Archive | steffani jiroux

Enjoying Life’s Journey

I LOVE to travel!!! Every time my family explores a new place, we put a pushpin in that city or country on our big, world map. Every place is unique, with its own defining traits and memories.

 

The Dominican Republic, always on ‘island’ time. South Dakota, the ease and simplicity of good friends and campsites. Hawaii, a place so beautiful I think God himself used it as a personal canvas. Phoenix, home of Spring Training, aka sheer happiness: BASEBALL. My paradise: Cancun, water so blue it captivates you.. you can’t look away, and you never want to.

I want to see it all. I want to walk the same fields in England Queen Elizabeth did in 1560. I want to climb Skellig Michael, the iconic Irish island Rey visits in Star Wars. I want to see South Africa, New Zealand, Denmark, Tahiti… and Harry Potter World in Orlando.

Travel is expensive. I miss my kids every single moment we’re apart if they don’t join us. But the moment I land after an adventure, I’m ready to choose a new destination and do it again. There are 7.6 billion people on our planet. Our globe includes endless oceans, 195 countries, nearly 7,000 different languages. In the United States alone, every city has it’s own sound, feel, people, food and pace. This isn’t the stuff of fairy tales or movies.. this is REAL. This is our world. We each only have one life… I want to fill it with as many experiences as possible.

At just 14 years old.. Rachel Young also has her passport ready.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I believe a problem facing our youth today is the lack of experiences they get,” Rachel told me. “Most kids don’t get to travel the world or see many interesting places. It’s so important that the youth of today see other cultures and learn about the history of the world.”

Rachel’s had great inspiration, encouraging her mindset through example. She was a Little Sister to Miss Nebraska finalist Steffani Jiroux, who has spent time dancing and modeling in cities across the world including Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Rome.

with STeffani

“When I was a Little Sister for the Miss Nebraska Organization, I got the opportunity to take a deeper look into what being Miss Nebraska really meant,” said Rachel. “I became inspired by all the contestants, including my Big Sister Steffani, to follow in their footprints. I’ve always wanted little girls to look up to me in a positive way, as I did to my Big Sister and the rest of the contestants. They really ignited my passion for performing and competing in these pageants.”

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Rachel was crowned Miss Twin Rivers’ Outstanding Teen 2018 in February. Just as she saw her mentors share their talents at Miss Nebraska, Rachel was provided more opportunities to sing, a passion she’s been fine-tuning for several years.

“When I graduate in 2022, I really want to go to Juilliard in New York City and be on Broadway,” said Rachel, currently  student at Adams Middle School in North Platte. “I get to perform in front of people that will help me ready my goal of getting on Broadway. I can also get scholarship money from these pageants to be able to afford to go to Juilliard.”

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Rachel is also using her title to encourage her peers to find their passions, whatever they may be.

“My platform is ‘Express Yourself, The Benefits of Extracurricular Activities’,” said Rachel. “I talk about joining activities and how you can benefit from them to kids of all ages. I talk to different groups and try to get kids involved in school. With high schoolers, they can get scholarships and go to college through these activities. I post things on my social media and try to talk to as many people as I can about it.”

Ask Rachel and she’ll tell you service is key for any Miss Nebraska titleholder.

 

“You should put others before yourself, especially when you have something to offer others to benefit them,” said Rachel. “Most [titleholders] don’t serve because they are required to. Most girls love to serve their communities and help others, this just gives them more chances to inspire people and help out.”

 

 

Even at this young age, Rachel knows she can lead others. People like her vocal coach, Nikki Schmidt, (“She is one of the most reassuring people in my life; she is busy, but somehow she always has room to help me learn and grow”), and the Miss Nebraska contestants she met as a little girl taught her that someone is always watching.. and it’s up to you what you show them.

“My favorite part has been the reaction of kids and how their faces light up when I come and talk to them and visit them,” said Rachel. “Little kids think it’s the coolest thing in the world when young ladies with crowns and sashes come take an interest in them. You are being an inspiration to these kids and it reminds you why you were chosen to have the title you do.”

Rachel will take that reminder on her next adventure.. to Omaha later this month, where she’ll compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. Her current cover photo on Facebook perfectly describes her outlook, one that translates to this journey and most others we may all embark on throughout our lives.

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“My goal is to have fun, meet as many people I can that will help me benefit in the future, meet new friends, and do the very best I can,” said Rachel. “I am a very empathetic person and I care about everyone. I love volunteering and meeting new people. If you have fun, that’s a win right there. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring me.”

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To follow Miss Twin Rivers’ Outstanding Teen Rachel Young on Facebook, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland

NEXT.. Miss Sandhills Outstanding Teen Olivia Terwey

ROAR

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

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

IT HAS BEEN FABULOUS!

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

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

MISS NEBRASKA 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4th Runner Up, Miss Northwest LaRissa McKean

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

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3rd Runner Up, Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux

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

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

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

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

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

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1st Runner Up, Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen

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

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

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

The 2nd Annual Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My thanks to Taylor Swift for the assist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nebraska’s Got Talent Awards..

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

BLOWN AWAY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brittany Jeffers Awards for Super Awesomeness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#MNOT2015.  Trending.

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

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

MORE THAN $42,800 IN CASH AWARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracle Worker

You advocate for something because you believe in it.  You put your face and name behind a cause to share a compelling argument for why you are so passionate about that effort.  It takes courage to speak out (especially from a personal place); it takes time and dedication; it takes a leader who can command attention and compel others to make a difference.

This is one of the reasons I advocate for the Miss America Organization.. because no matter what you think of beauty pageants, or women competing for crowns, when that ONE DAY of competition is over, they are out in their communities and states 364 OTHER days of the year trying to do all of the things I just mentioned, in most cases, serving others.

This young woman will continue to promote her platform after her pageant days are over; she wants her cause to become her career.

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MISS DOUGLAS COUNTY 2015 ALYSSA HOWELL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I will be a junior at Creighton University, studying Elementary Education, with the career ambition of becoming a child life specialist in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” Alyssa told me recently.  “Truly, Children’s Miracle Network is my passion, and my platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’, stands to improve the lives of children in hospitals all over Nebraska.”

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Several of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, including Alyssa and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson, delivered gift bags to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Rainbow House pediatric patients and their families for Miss America Serves day.

Children’s Miracle Network is also Miss America’s community partner, the organization which titleholders all over the country must raise money for in order to compete at the local and state level.  Money raised benefits hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Many of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants have spent time volunteering at Children’s; Alyssa visits on a consistent basis, inspired by her cousin and former CMN patient, Shayna.

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“Eight years ago my family (after a streak of 12 boy cousins) was finally blessed with a girl!  However, Shayna was sick with a frightening virus that left her sick and in the hospital for days after her birth,” said Alyssa.  “18 months later, she tested positive for profound hearing loss.  My family was devastated, however, with the help of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (a CMN facility), Shayna was able to receive cochlear implants that allow her to hear as a normal child.”

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Alyssa witnessed part of that journey in person, staying with Shayna and her family for two months while Shayna attended the Central Institute for the Deaf.  Alyssa had already been involved with CMN fundraisers as a young girl, at her sister Devin Howell’s side during her time as Miss River City 2008, Miss Douglas County 2009 and Miss Omaha 2010.

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When Alyssa was crowned Miss Eastern Nebraska 2014, (click here to see read my interview with her last Spring!) she wanted to take her passion for CMN hospitals and the children they serve to another level.  Alyssa designed and implemented something she calls the Miracle Bags Program.

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“I go to sororities [including her own, Pi Beta Phi], business groups, girl scouts and schools and collect donation items.  Each bag [I create] contains a blanket, coloring book, crayons, Play-Doh, and a handwritten card,” said Alyssa.  “I then deliver these bags to the patients at Omaha Children’s, and let me tell you, nothing makes a sick child light up like a princess with a bag of goodies!”

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To Alyssa, the Miss America Organization presented opportunities for both volunteering and for her own personal growth.  It’s a stage for this pianist (and piano teacher) to play for a crowd; it’s a path to scholarships for this college student; it’s a platform for her to share Shayna’s story and encourage others to help pediatric hospital patients.

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“I truly believe that EVERY woman can gain so many incredible things from this organization, and Miss Nebraska stands to represent every woman in the state regardless of career, beliefs, appearance or education,” said Alyssa.  “As the All-American daughter of a former Marine and the 1981 Miss Iowa Dairy Princess, my upbringing led me to big dreams, big accomplishments and making big differences in the lives of everyone I meet.”

Alyssa Howell isn’t just an advocate for Miss America or for Children’s Miracle Network, she shows what strong, smart, talented women can accomplish when inspired by something as powerful as a little girl’s smile.  Just a guess, but I’m betting the feeling is mutual, and that Shayna’s grin will light up the entire North Platte High Auditorium in just three weeks.. as her princess, Miss Douglas County, competes to become the next Miss Nebraska.

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(Photo courtesy Studio FBJ)

To find out more about Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Miracle Bags Program, and to contact her for appearances and events, email alyssahowellva@gmail.com or click here to visit her Facebook page.

For more information on the Miss Omaha/Douglas County Pageant, click here to visit their website, here to visit them on Facebook, and here to follow on Twitter.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at 402-330-8033 or by email at missomahapageant@yahoo.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 Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

NEXT.. Miss State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

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

Dancing Queen

I have been a performer (coughcough a show off coughcough) since I could smile for photos.  In every old-school VHS home movie, I’m the loud one trying to get my Dad’s attention, singing, or making up a dance (and forcing my brothers to join in).  In junior high I LOVED choir and show choir.. a passion that continued into high school, along with theater and speech.  I did not, however, ever take dance.. and it shows.  I am NOT good.

That being said, for someone who knows nothing technically about it, I am MESMERIZED by dance.  Telling a story without words, transmitting emotions through movement, so many backgrounds and styles, all connected yet all so different.

For an Omaha woman, dancing isn’t just a hobby, it’s been part of her soul for as long as she can remember.

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MISS HEARTLAND 2015 STEFFANI JIROUX

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I started dancing since I was the ripe age of two and a half.  Basically, I went from getting comfortable with walking into learning how to point my toes in a short time,” Steffani told me recently.  “Ever since that first class, I fell in love with the art form of dance.  I realized that it stimulates my brain and body at the same time while capturing every emotion I could feel.  It is a beautiful way to express myself, and now it is a part of me.”

It’s a piece of her heart that Steffani shares every time she steps onto a stage.. which she does a lot.  She’s danced at the collegiate level, as backup for Weird Al, and as you see below, for classic ballet performances.

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Steffani competing at the Miss Nebraska Pageant in 2013 as Miss Lincoln & performing in a recent production

“Dance is my first love,” said Steffani, who in the last year alone has starred as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and the lead in Paquita.  “It is the thing I go to when I need a boost, and the stage is the place where I can say with the utmost truth, I feel alive.  I truly live for the moment I step out of the light, BOOM, and await my music.  It is those seconds where both nerves and enthrallment combine; it’s the moment you can hear a pin drop; it is the time I feel nothing but myself and God and where time seems to stop.  With that, I am confident in saying that being able to share my talent with others is my favorite thing to do.  It is sharing something that God has granted me, and in that I cannot ask for anything more.”

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Steffani danced throughout her undergrad years at Creighton University, cheering on the sidelines of all home basketball games at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center (including for now NBA basketball player Doug McDermott).  She’s still at Creighton, immediately pursuing her law degree after earning her BSBA in Management.  Steffani plans to become an entertainment attorney.

“I think versatility is an element of uniqueness and I strive to fulfill it,” said Steffani.  “Some can’t understand how the world of law intrigues me as a dancer and someone who likes to wear a lot of pink.  Now, my nickname is Legally Blonde (and fun fact, I had already owned a chihuahua, Shadow, since I was 2).  I am okay with that because it is a movie about embracing being yourself in a world that clings to conformity.  No matter what, purely being yourself will guide you to your ultimate goals.”

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That is a message Steffani is now bringing to young people as Miss Heartland, in addition to her personal platform ‘Arts For Academic Excellence; The Benefits of Fine Arts In The Education Of Our Youth’.

“I have been graced with the opportunity to partake in many forms of art, and I realize just how beneficial it has been throughout my life,” said Steffani.  “I have started a service project called Tutus N’ Dance Shoes, where I set up boxes in dance studios around Omaha in order to collect lightly used dance wear and shoes.  I organize them and bring them to dance programs where the children don’t necessarily have the means to buy a new pair of tap shoes because they grew out of their last one or just don’t have the means in general to afford the necessities dance requires.”

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Steffani says she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to compete for Miss Nebraska, nor did she realize, as she puts it, that her lifestyle and experiences were preparing her for this role and competition.  In a way, this adventure is simply another stage for Steffani to showcase her passions.

“The Miss America Organization provides brilliant young women with an opportunity to share their voices, touch others, and be the change they hope to see in the world,” said Steffani.  “As Miss Heartland, I know that I can truly be myself through every step of the way.  We are all ourselves, we are all so different and have so much to offer.  I can honestly say that I present myself and act with the utmost respect everyday; none of that changes when we affix the sparkle upon our head.  Competing to me means making a difference and making the days of all the new faces I see while on an appearance.”

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Now, this law student, volunteer and dancing queen wants to stay in the spotlight.. but on a MUCH bigger stage.

“Being Miss Nebraska would be absolutely fulfilling,” said Steffani.  “Because making everyone else’s day a bit brighter is my dream job.”

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(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Follow Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux and contact her for appearances and events

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org.

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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 Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell

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

Unanswered Prayers

The thing about being a reporter is you never know what’s going to happen that day at work, what you’re going to cover.  On some of the biggest days in my career, I bounced from one story to another, from humorous to devastating, from trivial to unforgettable.  We also get to witness things firsthand that others only see through their TV’s or read about.

Last Thursday, I got to do this..

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Thanks to Mary Nelson from The Morning Blend for snapping the photo!

One on one, KETV photojournalist Ashley Nodgaard and I interviewed the most successful musician in history, Garth Brooks.  He has sold more albums than any other artist, more than 69-MILLION.  Songs alone, he’s sold more than 150-MILLION.  You’d think all of that success would go to a guy’s head.. not this guy.  He was gracious, genuine, down-to-earth and FUNNY.  He shook not only my hand, but went out of his way to shake every photographer’s hand as well, making sure to thank them for their work.  He truly seems to be completely fulfilled by his life in music, traveling the world with his wife Trisha Yearwood at his side.

Click here to watch my One-On-One interview with Garth Brooks!

Click here to see Garth Brooks’ news conference with Omaha media!

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When I asked Brooks about his advice to aspiring artists, he said PAY YOUR DUES.  The gigs you play for little (or no) pay, the criticism you take that’s just flat out MEAN, the grueling hours you spend devoted to your craft without an end in sight… he said it’s all for good reason, it helps you become BETTER.  Ironically, a few minutes later Brooks teared up a bit when he told me about hearing tens of thousands of fans singing his song, Unanswered Prayers.

It’s a song I’m guessing this young lady has played a time or two at home..

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MISS SCOTTS BLUFF COUNTY 2015 BRITTANY ECKERBERG

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I competed 12 times before I won anything.  The 13th time is when I won Miss Scotts Bluff County,” Brittany told me recently.  “There are so many times when I would get discouraged and want to quit because I didn’t understand why I was never winning, but thankfully I kept going.”

Lucky #13 for a woman who has certainly proven herself worth of her crown.  Brittany, a freshman at York College majoring in Business Management and minoring in Accounting, thought she would only participate in choir when she started college.

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“Once I got on campus I became involved in speech, cheerleading, Theta Psi social club and Songfest.  Next year, I’m going to be a Resident Assistant, Treasurer-in-training and Fashionista of Theta Psi, and I am the Vice President of York’s new chapter of Phi Beta Lambda.”

Advocating for things she believes in is nothing new to Brittany; when York College announced plans last month to cut the school speech team, Brittany joined a vocal group of students pushing for a chance to appeal the decision.   Click here to learn more about #YCFreeSpeech.

Now as Miss Scotts Bluff County, Brittany is also volunteering throughout her community.

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From Brittany:  “Spent my #MissAmericaServes day by helping with clean up at the East Hill Clothing Drive! I helped sort through all of the clothes that are going to be donated to different charities in Nebraska! And I also helped load clothes into multiple trailers! Today was a great day to serve! @missneorg #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #MissNebraska #MissAmerica #clothingdrive “

Brittany says some days, she can barely find time to eat. (Please note I took another bite of my Jimmy Johns as I read this.. Momma ALWAYS finds time to eat!)  And there’s more!  When she does get a break from classes, Brittany spends that time each summer, a full month, at church camp.

“My faith is very important to me,” said Brittany.  “I chose to attend a private Christian school because I wanted to have a Christ-centered education while still being equipped for my future career.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without my faith.”

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Brittany wants you, and the Miss Nebraska judges to know all of this, and it’s why Interview is a favorite moment for this pageant veteran.

“It’s nerve-racking yet fulfilling at the same time,” said Brittany.  “It really makes you be who you really are.  I love the fact that I have no idea what they are going to ask me, whether it be what my favorite move is or what my platform means to me.”

That platform is ‘No One Is Invincible: Underage Drinking Prevention’ a mission inspired by her father’s work as a Scottsbluff police officer.

“Growing up I was taught to never do drugs and alcohol,” said Brittany.  “I knew every, single police officer that my dad worked with and I knew that if I ever got caught, I would immediately have consequences.  I was scared to drink.  I have personally seen how your life can change in an instant because of drinking alcohol as a minor.”

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From Brittany:  “Enjoyed spending a little time today at the YMCA preschool. I got the chance to explain what the Miss America program is and I talked a little bit about citizenship and my platform! Preschoolers are such a joy to be around, and I’m so blessed that I got the opportunity to hang out with all of these kids today. Brings back good memories from when I went to this preschool! #MissNebraska #MissScottsBluffCounty2015 #myjobrocks”

Family continues to inspire and support Brittany as she pursues this new goal of competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

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“I have an older sister, two younger sisters and a younger brother. I know for a fact that I would never trade my siblings for anything,” said Brittany.  “We are all different from each other which is the best thing to me.  We cover the pageant scene, the sports scene, the computer guru area, and the country music loving scene.”

And speaking of country music, Garth Brooks once wrote:

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Perhaps, each of those 12 times Brittany prayed for a crown, to be recognized for her gifts, leadership and service, it wasn’t that no one listened, but that there was a different plan in place.  Maybe #13 was always meant to be her lucky number.  Maybe THIS gift is also a guide, keeping Brittany Eckerberg on the very path she’s now taking in 2015.. the road to Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2015 Brittany Eckerberg

on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

To contact Brittany for appearances and events email bneckerberg@york.edu.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt at 308-783-2940 or by email at cengelhaupt@fnbnp.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 Western Nebraska 2015 Chrissy Townsend

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

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