This world is certainly an art to be mastered. Fiscal support is often imperative to our goals and objectives in business, life… and even in the quest to become Miss Nebraska. Every dollar invested in our program through scholarships, cash sponsorships and donations directly benefits the young women taking part across our state. It’s a message a Papillion woman is delivering directly to as many people as she can.
“My goal as a titleholder in this organization is to meet as many people as I can and to help change the stigma that comes with ‘pageantry’,” Jenni told me recently. “I strive to be kind, intelligent and passionate about serving. I hope the people I meet are left feeling that the Miss America Organization is much more than just women in swimsuits. It is also my goal to use the credibility of my crown to help in every way I am able – whether this is educating, giving my time, or just putting a smile on someone’s face.”
For this young woman, pageants are not just something that take place every few months to win a tiara for the trophy case. This is Jenni’s second Miss Nebraska local title, meaning for 13 months and counting, she’s been on-the-go nonstop speaking, serving and advocating for the causes important to her.
She spent her Valentine’s Day delivering surprises to veterans. She’s delivered food to those in need on the holidays. She’s helped Shriners raise money. When I interviewed Jenni last year (click here to read more!) she told me she’d volunteered for more than 40 organizations in about four years time. Jenni did all of this while attending the University of Central Missouri with a 4.0 cumulative GPA.
“The Miss America Organization has been an excellent networking tool for me but I think the biggest thing I have gained is a sense of purpose,” said Jenni. “I have a better understanding of how my words and actions influence others, which makes me more deliberate in what I say and do. I have always participated in service work, and viewed myself as a leader in my community. However, being a titleholder gives me more credibility and I feel I am able to make more of an impact.”
From the beginning, Jenni has connected with and focused on two groups in particular.. children and people with special needs.
“My platform, ‘Celebrating Abilities in the Differently Abled’ is a product of my experiences working with the special needs community for the past 10 years,” said Jenni. “I began helping the special education classroom in 8th grade as a way of getting out of PE. That class ended up being my favorite part of the day. I loved how I could escape my own worries and focus all my attention and love on someone else. Whether I’ve been a teacher, a camp counselor or working at a group home, I’ve noticed there is an emphasis on what a person with a disability can’t do. Instead, I’ve found it to be more productive to focus on their strengths. Everyone has abilities and everyone has disabilities. It makes more sense to simply appreciate a person for who they are.”
And when it comes to kids, Jenni adores every little nugget she comes in contact with, often as her alter ego, Cinderella.
“I feel that I have a unique outlook on what it really means to wear a crown because of my experience as a princess character at the Omaha Children’s Museum,” said Jenni. “When I am in a ball gown and tiara, children hang on to every word I say. One day, a mother of one of my regular visitors at the museum pulled me aside to thank me for complimenting her child’s glasses. She said at first her daughter hated the glasses, but after hearing me compliment them a few times, she thought they were great. That is when I realized how much power I had to influence a child’s life. An opportunity like this should never be wasted. I she a responsibility to use this power to teach children and make them feel special.”
Jenni will combine those passions in her chosen career; she graduated top of her class in December with a degree in Special Education. That field has also inspired her talent for the Miss Nebraska stage, a slam poetry performance summarizing her passion for teaching.
“I am a teacher because I made a choice to be and I have a high GPA because I’m passionate about that choice so I work hard,” said Jenni. “When I present my talent, it never fails that someone comes up to me after to let me know hat my words resonated with them. People will tell me that they are a teacher too, or that their mom was a teacher for 40 years and would have loved to hear it. Performing a talent with meaning is empowering and I love how it feels to make a difference.”
It’s all about connection.. and that is where Miss Nebraska State Fair Jenni Wahonick truly shines.
For every appearance she’s made, Jenni has taken the opportunity and extended that exposure tenfold through social media, spreading her messages about inclusion, education and the value of community service and encouraging others to do the same.
Those Valentines Jenni delivered to veterans? They were supplied by a local business.. one of countless donations and sponsors Jenni has secured through marketing her title. Asking for help is never easy, but this gal is a flesh and blood kickstarter campaign proving that when you support a Miss Nebraska contestant you’re not enabling a beauty queen, you’re investing in a young woman’s impact on the world.
“This organization makes me a better person. Every aspect of competition makes me a more well-rounded, healthy individual,” said Jenni. “I make healthier decisions and appreciate my body for what it can do. I take time every day to educate myself about what is going on in the world around me. I am more aware and confident of who I am, and I am better able to articulate that in a professional setting. I am excited to wake up and make a difference every day.”
In 2016, Miss Nebraska contestants were awarded $39,700 in cash awards, more than $25,000 in college scholarships offered, and more than $25,000 in gifts and services. That’s in addition to what is offered at the local level, and what Miss Nebraska is eligible for at Miss America. All of that happens thanks to incredible businesses and donors across Nebraska, selfless volunteers who bring them into our world, and incredible women like Jenni Wahonick who give them something (and someone) to believe in. She may not have an MBA (and darn proud of her Education major!) but this girl is taking care of business in her final push before taking the Miss Nebraska stage.
“When asked which point of the Miss America Crown is my favorite, I have a really hard time deciding between service and scholarship,” Jenni wrote on Facebook last week. “As a special education teacher, I have found the most value in my life helping others. I also think scholarship is so important though. Not just getting good grades, but loving the process of learning and growth. We are so blessed to live in a country where we are provided an education. We are able to explore ideas like philosophy, art and psychology. How incredible is that? I’m so grateful for my education and the opportunities I’ve had to help others.”
Click here to follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Jenni Wahonick on Facebook.
Click here to check out what Brandi wrote about her last year.
Check out the gallery from last year's Miss Nebraska Pageant.
Brandi Petersen is a former Omaha television news anchor, the Co-Marketing Director for the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Organization and the author of blog Anchor’s Away. To read more about this year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants, visit www.brandipetersen.com.