What Is GEMS?


If you follow my social media or have watched my journey through the Miss America Organization, you’ve probably heard me mention something called GEMS a few times. You may already know about it, or you could be wondering, “What is GEMS?” Well, today is your lucky day, because I want to share one of my favorite things in the entire WORLD with you.

Let’s go wayyy back…

If you know anything about the Miss America Organization, you know that a huge part of being involved is having the opportunity to choose a platform (an issue or cause that you feel passionate about that you wish to promote). Many women will choose their platform based on their personal life experiences, or partner with an organization that they truly love. Some examples include platforms about military support, mental health awareness, the importance of arts education, autism awareness, literacy, domestic violence awareness, etc. Essentially, every woman has a unique story that they are able to share through their platform.

I always had a passion for women and girl’s empowerment, so I knew that it would be a great thing to be able to promote through my platform. I am the oldest of five children in my family, I was an assistant cheer/dance coach for a year, and I volunteer with Girl Scouts, among other opportunities to see the impact of girl’s empowerment. Through these experiences, I have seen how important it is for girls to feel strong and confident, because it fuels their fire to succeed.


First, I chose to promote the Girl Up campaign through the United Nations Foundation, which was something I really enjoyed. Girl Up focuses on ensuring that every girl, worldwide, has the resources to be safe, healthy, educated, and counted. I am still a huge supporter of this campaign, however, I wanted to hit a little closer to home.

I thought to myself, “Jess, why not have your own program?”

This is when I teamed up with a wonderful friend and mentor, Brenda Collins, to share ideas and develop a program for girls right here at home. We wanted every girl to find their worth, know that they are valued, and allow them to begin to explore some ways that they can use their individual talents and passions to serve others. This is when GEMS was born.


SO…what is GEMS?

GEMS is an acronym standing for Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve. It is a program designed for young girls and women to interact, support, and encourage one another to be confident, motivated, and service-minded.

With GEMS, I am able to reach out to community organizations and schools across Wisconsin to organize workshops and establish clubs for girls (and even boys) to join, learn, and participate in conversation and activities about goal setting, perseverance, self worth, exploring talents and passions, life skills, and community service opportunities.


GEMS Workshop VS. GEMS Club

The difference between a GEMS workshop and a GEMS club is permanence. A GEMS workshop can be held ANYWHERE with any group of people. It is a one-time event, usually scheduled to be a couple hours long, we discuss a variety of topics during that time, and participate in a small service project. A GEMS club, on the other hand, is more permanent. For example, the GEMS Club at Portage High School consists of about 65 girls total. We meet monthly to discuss a different topic at each meeting, participate in group activities, and plan larger service projects throughout the school year.

Some of our members of the PHS GEMS Club

GEMS workshops are usually tailored specifically to the group I meet with. From Daisy Girl Scouts, to co-ed middle school classrooms, to a Kiwanis Club, the curriculum differs slightly depending on the needs and interests of the group. My favorite part about it is that I am able to bring something new to the table at every workshop!


Why is this important?

Our communities need confident, motivated, service-minded young people to step up and be the next generation of leaders. It’s important that we provide an environment for young people, specifically girls, to empower each other, find their passions, and steer those passions into an avenue of community service. Each girl possesses a unique ability and it’s crucial that we encourage them to use their talents in positive ways to contribute to their communities.


If you have more questions about GEMS, or would like to schedule a visit to your classroom, organization, event, meeting, or troop, please contact gemswisconsin@gmail.com for more information. I can’t wait to meet more sparkling GEMS across the state of Wisconsin.

Love always,



Shining GEMS: Brenda Collins

In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.

In continuation of this blog series, meet Brenda Collins, a woman of faith with a heart for service. I’ve had the privilege of working with Brenda for a few years now throughout my journey within the Miss America Organization. She has also been an amazing resource in the development of the GEMS program and I’m so lucky to call her a great friend and mentor.


Brenda is a Wisconsin Rapids native and had the opportunity to serve her hometown as Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area in 2001. Shortly after high school, she received her certification in Youth Ministry Studies and pursued her career wholeheartedly.

In 2005, Brenda moved to Portage, Wisconsin and began working with high school teens in her parish. Since then, she has organized and embarked on several mission trips around the country doing inner city service work. For three years, she also served as the Executive Director for a local Miss America Organization scholarship program held in Portage.

In 2015, Brenda got involved with a local service organization called Love Begins Here, which led her on a total of 16 weeks of missionary work.


Today, Brenda stays involved by serving as a judge and mentor within the Miss America Organization and volunteering as a Lead Missionary and Host Site Work Coordinator for Love Begins Here.

Love Begins Here is a Catholic service learning program inspired by Saint Mother Teresa’s call to bring love into one’s own community.

“This past summer, there were over 600 teens in the Madison area that put in over 17,000 hours of service,” Brenda said.

At an LBH mission trip, teens learn about the Mission Manifesto, which instills the importance of putting neighbors first, doing small things with great love, and learning what it means to be a missionary.


“I thought the concepts of doing small things with great love and starting service work in local neighborhoods were so much more realistic and doable for teens,” Brenda said. “These are concepts that everyone can do on a daily basis and learn to do more frequently. They don’t have to wait every year or go to faraway places to put service and love into action.”

Brenda has learned a lot from being involved. For example, she believes that sometimes we get caught up in thinking that making a difference means we have to do something big or be in a position of power.

“It’s quite the opposite! If we all did small things with great love for those we interact with every day, the world would be a much better place. The people that we’ve served have been so grateful for our help and time spent with them,” Brenda said. “It makes you feel good and want to do more.”


Brenda has found inspiration in the teens, as many of them come back year after year to participate.

“They take a week from their summer vacation to help their neighbors in need and grow in their faith,” Brenda said. “We often hear a lot about what is wrong with the current generation of teens, but after working alongside them for a week, I see a lot that is positive and uplifting.”


Brenda believes that it’s important for girls to get involved in something that will give them a sense of purpose.

“Not only does it help the community, but it helps girls gain self-esteem and learn more about who they are. When you take time to help others, you see a different perspective,” Brenda said. “Focusing on others can also distract your mind from any negative thoughts about yourself and help you see yourself in a new light.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Love Begins Here, visit their website or Facebook page! You can also reach out to your own church or other faith based organization in your community to find more opportunities for mission work.


“A great way to get involved is simply by living out the Mission Manifesto, doing small things with great love, and giving service to your neighbors.”

Brenda is a great example of  embracing your faith to give back to your community. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is, you don’t have to travel far to make a difference in the lives of others. The people who need the most might be right next door.

Shining GEMS: Serena Larie

In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.

In continuation of this blog series, meet Serena Larie, a former Miss Oshkosh and a young woman with a mission to G.I.V.E. back in any way she can.

Serena is currently a senior studying Communication and Radio-TV-Film at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. Serena was also born and raised in Oshkosh, a place that means a lot to her family.

“My sister and I both held the title of Miss Oshkosh, so it’s a city very near and dear to our hearts.” Serena said.


Serena has always had a passion for people and assisting them in any way possible. One way she does this is by working with the Community Blood Center.

“I began donating blood when I was 17. The initial appeal was all the pizza and ice cream offered at our high school blood drives,” Serena admitted. “However, after my first donation, I fell in love with the fact that even though I was the one giving blood, I was gaining much more in return.”


Serena was determined to graduate high school as a “Gallon Grad,” which involved donating up to a gallon of blood before gradation. With eight weeks between a single donation, she raced to accomplish her goal, completing additional donations of platelets and plasma.

“I achieved my goal and proudly donned the Community Blood Center cords at graduation. It was in that moment, I vowed blood donation and my relationship with my supportive Community Blood family would not end there,” Serena said.


As a regular donor and advocate for blood donation and the Community Blood Center, Serena was asked to share her experiences and the story of her tiny inspiration, Mira, at a high school blood donation conference. At just nine months old, Mira was diagnosed with HLH, a disease that weakened her immune system by destroying blood cells, causing severe inflammation, organ and tissue damage, and an extremely low blood count.

“I was so moved by her story and the Erdmann family’s appreciation for all the donations that gave them a happy, healthy daughter. It was yet another reminder that I was pursuing my passion,” Serena said.

After speaking at the conference, Serena had the honor of being pictured next to Mira on the side of the Community Blood Bus.


From this point, Serena began seeking additional opportunities to promote the important message of getting involved and being an engaged citizen.

“I competed in the Miss Oshkosh Scholarship Pageant and was crowned Miss Oshkosh in 2016. I developed a platform called G.I.V.E, standing for “Get Involved Via Engagement,” to advocate during my year of service and beyond,” Serena said.

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G.I.V.E. encourages people to actively engage in their communities and experience the value of doing so. Involvement contributes to the overall well-being of a community and plays a vital role in the health of individuals by giving them purpose, hope, and positivity through meaningful activity.

“Blood donation is one of the many ways I personally choose to give back to my community, but there are so many unique ways in which each individual can G.I.V.E. of him or herself,” Serena said.

Serena encourages youth, and young GEMS in particular, to practice kindness every day, help their families and communities, G.I.V.E, learn the value of serving others, and immerse themselves fully into their passions, interests, and goals.

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“It is so fulfilling to see your personal contributions benefit others. Ask what you can do for someone. Be the change you want to see in the world. You have every opportunity to make a difference, so spread kindness, compassion, and love everywhere you go,” Serena said. “Never forget that we rise by lifting others.”

Serena is a beautiful example of what it means to (literally) dedicate your life to your community. Blood donation was something she tried once, and over the course of a few years, that simple decision to try something new has provided her with countless opportunities to spread her love for involvement to so many others.

Shining GEMS: Emily Klein

In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.

In continuation of this blog series, meet Emily Klein, a Michigan native with a passion for leadership in youth empowerment programs.


Emily grew up in Menominee, Michigan and graduated high school in 2014. She then moved on to receive her Associate of Arts and Science degree in 2016 from UW-Marinette. Emily will soon finish her college career at UW-Stevens Point as a Studio Arts major with a minor in Business Administration. She hopes to pursue a career in graphic design (hit her up if you need some AMAZING web design work, you won’t regret it).

In the summer, Emily works as a camp coordinator at her hometown YMCA and also enjoys being a Big Sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Stevens Point.


Emily and the YMCA

At the YMCA, Emily holds a leadership position as a camp coordinator. One of her responsibilities is managing a program called Adventure Camp, where kids can gain life skills, explore the outdoors, and develop their leadership skills.

“Our mission statement is ‘to put Christian principles into practice through programs that help build a strong mind, spirit, and body for all.’ We also have four core values: Respect, Responsibility, Caring, and Honesty,” Emily said.


Emily has been with the YMCA for four years, usually involved with the child care programs each year.

“My favorite part is the summer camps. During the past two summers, I have been the coordinator for the oldest group, which works with 9-12 year-old kids. Each week during the summer, we have a different theme for Adventure Camp. My job is to plan daily activities to go along with the theme, including crafts, physical activities, and swimming,” Emily said.

A big part of Adventure Camp is keeping the kids engaged and taking them on field trips.


“Our favorite field trip is going to the animal shelter to pet all the kitties!” Emily said.

Emily initially choose to get involved at the YMCA simply because she needed a job during high school.

“I was a senior in high school and I needed a job, but the Y was much more than just a job. Everyone here is so kind and helpful. When I joined the Y, I joined a family,” Emily said.

Emily mentioned that working at the YMCA has given her the opportunity to create great relationships with many children and community members.


Emily and BBBS

Along with her involvement at the YMCA, Emily also serves as a Big Sister within the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

BBBS makes it possible for young kids to have strong role models in their lives. Most of the Big Brothers/Sisters are in college, and Littles range from about second grade to high school.

“Just about a year ago, I was paired with a Little Sister at one of the local elementary schools. Once a week, I meet my Little for lunch. We eat lunch together and either play games or do a craft. In the summer, while I am home in Michigan, we stay in contact with each other as pen pals,” Emily said.


Emily chose to get involved with BBBS because she missed being involved with kids during the school year while she was away from home and her local YMCA.

“BBBS is such a great program to get involved with and build relationships with kids. Even though you’re only paired with one child, you’re still making a big difference,” Emily said.

Emily’s Takeaway, How To Get Involved

“The most important thing that I learned from both of these organizations is to always be kind. The children you work with come from all different places and backgrounds. Unfortunately, they aren’t always in good situations. I think it’s so important to be kind to them. Sometimes all they need is a little bit of love and attention,” Emily said.

Anyone can get involved with these organizations by applying to be a volunteer. If you want to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, check out more information on the Big Brothers Big Sisters website.

There are so many ways to get involved through the YMCA as well. If you’d like to apply at the YMCA, all you have to do is stop in at your local Y and check out the open job opportunities or ask about being a volunteer.


“I think it is so important to give back. As girls, we can help other girls and children grow up and be positive role models too. We have to lead by example,” Emily said.

Emily has chosen to be a positive role model for kids in her community. What started as a high school job soon became a passion. Working with children has helped Emily grow and has given her so many more opportunities to serve and lead.

Shining GEMS: Susan Fochs

In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.

In continuation of this blog series, get ready to meet an incredible young woman I call a friend and sister, Susan Fochs.


Susan grew up in Door County, Wisconsin and just received her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services Leadership from UW-Oshkosh in May. She is also currently serving as  Miss Door County 2017 (and let’s be real, I don’t know a single person who WASN’T jumping out of their seats when she was crowned).

Susan has always gone above and beyond when it comes to community involvement. She has been a volunteer, guest speaker, and alumni with the Wisconsin Leadership Seminar; a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin – Fox Valley; a volunteer with Girls on the Run; an intern and volunteer with the Oshkosh Area Community Food Pantry; an intern with the American Red Cross; the Special Events and Public Relations Intern with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin; and various other organizations such as the United Way, Door CANcer, the YMCA, Community Blood Center…the list goes on!

However, one of her greatest accomplishments has been her position as the Founder, President, and CEO of Operation Not Alone. Although this is a pretty important role, Susan thinks “Head Blanket-Making Director” or “Care Package Extraordinaire” describes her position more accurately.

Operation Not Alone – Never Alone. Never Forget.

“At Operation Not Alone, we strive to give our service men and women the utmost support and encouragement by sending very unique and heartwarming care packages to our nation’s bravest,” Susan said. “All of our packages are put together with tremendous care and love. Every service member will receive a handmade fleece blanket specific to his or her branch of service in the military, much needed supplies to use during deployment, and a slew of cards and letters from all types of community members.”


Operation Not Alone (ONA for short) also has a Cheer Package program, which is sent every year around Veterans Day to brave veterans.

“Our goal is to make sure that no one feels alone during the deployment and beyond, and that each and every service member comes home to warm and open arms. No one will be forgotten and our nation’s bravest will feel our continuous gratitude,” Susan said.


From the Beginning…

Susan has always been a service driven person, before she even knew a term like that existed.

“I remember doing things in elementary school with my friends, like hosting fundraisers or supply drives for the tsunami victims, planting trees, cleaning up highways, etc. because that’s what I genuinely wanted to do.”

Her biggest catalyst to furthering that service was when she became involved in the Wisconsin Leadership Seminars as a sophomore in high school.

“It was the first time I was truly surrounded by motivating, driven and inspiring individuals who were all trying to find their and make their place in the world. From there, I figured out how to reach out to more organizations to start volunteering!”

Then, as a senior in high school, her life would change forever as she embarked on her first Miss America Organization experience.

Susan and the Miss America Organization

“I took the community service platform very seriously and thought about what I wanted to do in my community and wake up every single morning to advocate for. Something surrounding supporting our troops was the simplest decision to make when I walked home that day and looked at my dad,” Susan said. Susan’s father is a United States Marine Corps veteran.


After she knew she wanted to have a platform surrounding military support, her ambition grew immensely.

“When I got to college and spoke with my sorority sisters about my passions for competing in the Miss America Organization and supporting our troops, they encouraged me to make the largest the difference I could – founding a non-profit organization,” Susan said.

In the last four and a half years of Operation Not Alone, Susan is so proud of the impact that the team of volunteers (aka – the ONA Family) has been able to make.

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“We’ve got over 500 service members and veterans in our database of Care and Cheer Packages and we’ve been able to visit countless children and classrooms to raise awareness to ensure that no service member is ‘ever alone and never forgotten,'” Susan said. “The ONA Family is certainly unmatched and there are larger projects on the horizon!”


Greatest Takeaways

Susan reminds everyone to remember the people who were with you during your failures, not just your celebrations.

Anything is possible if you surround yourself with the right people. Find your village, the people who help to push you to become the best possible version of yourself and wholeheartedly have your back,” Susan said.


In the words of our sensational Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, “Find a ‘why’ that is not about yourself. Whatever your goals or dreams are, whatever your ‘why’ is, I am a firm believer that our second, or even our third reason ‘why’ should all be the same. If you know ‘why,’ you can endure any ‘how.'”

“Don’t ever take anything or anyone for granted and say ‘thank you’ as often as you can. Oh, and Google is basically my best friend. All hail the power of Google being at our fingertips,” Susan said.

*insert hands-up praise emoji*

How to Get Involved

For more information regarding Operation Not Alone, visit http://www.operationnotalone.net or feel free to send an email to operationnotaloneinc@gmail.com and keep your eyes peeled on their Facebook page for event updates. ONA’s largest volunteer event will take place during the first week of November.

“PLEASE send us the names, branches and addresses of active duty service members and veterans to add to our database!”

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Susan is quite honestly one of the greatest examples when it comes to GEMS. She is truly a Girl Empowered and Motivated to Serve! Thank you for all you do, Susan! You inspire so many to chase their dreams and make their communities a better place.

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Shining GEMS: Brittany Moncrief

In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.

To kick off this blog series, I am so excited to introduce Brittany Moncrief.

Brittany is a recent graduate of Winona State University with a degree in Special Education Developmental Disabilities and a minor in Dance. She recently accepted a position as a special education teacher at Winona Senior High School. From St. Paul, Minnesota, Brittany is also a dancer and power lifter, teaching fitness classes, dance classes, and choreography. Fun fact: She is also a former Miss Winona and competed at the Miss Minnesota Scholarship Pageant last year.


Brittany has also been involved with the American Cancer Society and Special Olympics for many years now. Here is her experience:

Brittany and the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating, preventing, and helping those battling cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. In fact, their motto is driven from the idea of having a world with more birthdays. She has held positions like Chair of Social Media, Team Captain, Committee Member, and participant with Relay for Life over the past 9 years.

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“I got involved with the American Cancer Society, specifically their Relay for Life events, when I was in eighth grade. My sister was the captain of her Relay team and invited my mom and I to come to the event,” Brittany said. She and her mom have now attended over fifteen events in the state of Minnesota and have raised over $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. “We won’t stop Relaying until cancer stops first!”


Brittany chose to get started with the American Cancer Society as a way for she and her family to bond and fight cancer.

“We have family friends who have fought cancer. Some beat it and some did not. We now make it a tradition to attend at least one event a year and pay our honor and tributes to those who have had to hear the words, ‘you have cancer.'”

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“I’ve learned that cancer puts up one heck of a fight. It’s the hardest battle to beat, but because of donors and research, there will be a cure one day,” Brittany said.

When she was Miss Winona, Brittany used to write a “Survivor of the Month” column to honor a special survivor. “There is nothing quite like a community that’s full of mutual hatred….a hatred for cancer!”

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Brittany and Special Olympics

Special Olympics is centered around giving children and adults with different kinds of disabilities the opportunity to train and compete in various events. This allows them to have the chance to work on physical fitness, teamwork, courage, and experiencing an exciting event. Brittany has volunteered and helped her students at Special Olympics for the past two years.

She started volunteering with Special Olympics two years ago when she was in her field placement to become a Special Education teacher.

“My students were involved with the Olympics event that Winona hosts every year for surrounding communities. I am now a high school teacher and plan to bring my students to the event to participate every spring.”

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Brittany chose to get involved in Special Olympics because she wanted to see her students participating in team and individual events.

“I wanted to be able to see their confidence grow throughout the years with me as their teacher.”

Through Special Olympics, Brittany learned that any single body is capable of anything.

“Just because my student is labeled with a disability doesn’t mean they can’t do something, it means they do things differently than most people,” Brittany said. “My students are successfully able to turn the word disability into DIS-ABILITY!”


Do you want to get involved with the American Cancer Society or Special Olympics like Brittany? Follow the links below!

ACS: https://secure.acsevents.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=relay_find_event

Special Olympics: http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Get_Involved/Get_Involved.aspx?src=navinvolved

How To: Pageant Hair

It’s time to get fabulous!

I’ve gotten plenty of requests to write a blog article or even post a video about how I curl my hair for pageants and appearances. I finally found a little down time to go full glam, which is definitely not an everyday process. In fact, the most exhausting part of Miss Wisconsin week was waking up 2-3 hours early just to do hair and makeup…You can usually find me in athletic shorts and flip flops with unwashed hair wrapped up in a ponytail, so this post is a real treat for y’all.

Every girl does their hair a little differently for the stage, but this is just what works for me and my hair type! Feel free to experiment with different products and techniques to get the look you want. Here’s how I do it:

Collect your materials. I’m not a big fan of fancy and expensive hair and makeup products because I’ve found that anything from the drugstore works just fine if you look hard enough. All of these products can be found at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, or any other drugstore:

  • Big Sexy Hair Big Altitude Bodifying Blow Dry Mousse (optional)
  • TRESemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray
  • Psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo
  • Big Sexy Hair Spray & Play Hairspray
  • Wide tooth comb
  • Teasing brush (Goody, Conair, etc.)
  • 3/4 inch Revlon curling iron
  • Remington hot rollers (20 pc.)


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Step 1: Prepare the hair

Weeks before your event: ask your stylist to cut in lots of layers, especially face-framing layers. This will allow your curls to swoop back, softly frame your face and emphasize your features.

The day before your event: Shower and wash your hair with any volumizing shampoo and conditioner. TIP: When washing your hair, condition FIRST to protect the ends and then shampoo AFTER to wash it away. I’ve found this backwards technique keeps my hair softer and healthier. After your shower, let your hair air dry like I do, or use a small amount of blow dry mousse before using a hair dryer. Then, put your hair up on top of your head in a loose bun when you sleep. This draws the hair follicles UP, creating more volume.

Step 2: Prep and protect

On the day of your event, use a wide tooth comb to brush out day-old hair. TIP: Start brushing from the ends FIRST to prevent breakage and split ends. Once the ends are untangled, work your way up. Finally, spray a heat tamer spray  from your ears down to protect the ends of your hair from frying and splitting.


Step 3: Divide and conquer

After your hair is tangle free and protected from the heat, separate your hair about two inches above your ears and tie off the top section with a clip or hair tie.

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Then, grab your dry shampoo and spray the roots. TIP: When working with day-old hair, or if you hair gets greasy easily, dry shampoo is a life saver to give you more texture and volume, making it look cleaner! Let it sit for a minute and then massage your scalp to work it in. Next, grab your teasing brush and tease at the roots.

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Finally, split your hair one more time down the middle so you now have two even sections to work with.

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Step 4: Curl, curl, curl

Notice that I use a curling iron that has a clamp on it, but instead of using the clamp, I use it like a wand. Clamps on curling irons tend to make kinks in the ends of the hair, and wands are usually smaller at the bottom, creating a strange shaped curl. I decided to go for the best of both worlds and just use this method of ignoring the clamp. When curling the left side of my head, hold the curling iron in your right hand and work with your left hand, like so:

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I usually take pretty small sections, maybe an inch or two in size. Taking too much hair onto the curling iron will prevent the hair from heating evenly, causing your curls to fall flat faster! Also, make sure you always curl AWAY from your face to create the most flattering and voluminous look. TIP: Keep the hair laying flat against the barrel of the curling iron so it comes out looking like a ribbon.

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Switch and repeat on the right side of your head until it’s all curled. Hairspray LIGHTLY.

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Step 5: Divide and repeat

Once the bottom layer is done, let down another section of hair from your clip. Now, only the crown of your hair should be tied up.

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Spray the roots with dry shampoo again, let sit, massage it in with your fingers, and tease once again before curling.

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TIP: Tease ALL layers of your hair for the most volume. Lots of girls only tease the top layer of their hair, but if you want it to stay big all day, start teasing from the very first section. Now, repeat the same curling process, curling away from your face in small sections. Once this layer is all done, spray lightly with a medium hold hairspray, and your base is complete.

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Step 6: Roll It Up

Now that you have a solid base of curls using the curling iron/wand technique (came up with that term myself), plug in some hot rollers. (This is totally optional and something I usually only use for pageants. For an easier everyday look, you can continue the technique using a curling iron if you’d like!)

Since I have very long, thick, layered hair, I NEVER have enough rollers to cover my whole head! Instead of buying a second set of rollers, I resorted to using my trusty curling iron on most of my hair and only using a handful of rollers to finish up. This means more volume on top and around my face (perfect for the stage).

Once your rollers are heated up, take out the top section of your hair and divide it into one-inch sections, starting from the back.

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For this part, I spray dry shampoo at the roots AND I also use a little bit of hairspray at the roots as well.

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Then, tease like crazy!

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Next, take small sections and start putting in the rollers. THIS TAKES PRACTICE. TIP: If you plan on doing your hair with rollers for a special event, PRACTICE before the big day! The last thing you want is to be struggling with them when you’re on a time limit. Like we did with the curling iron, curl your rollers away from your face, too!

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Continue taking small sections, spraying, teasing, and rolling them up until it’s all gone. Feel free to take a few pieces from the sides by your ears as well. Now, spritz with a little bit of hairspray and wait! Be sure to wait until they are cool to touch before taking them out (mine usually takes 20-30 mins…perfect time to start your makeup).

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Side note… If you lose your roller pins/clips all the time like I do, giant hair clips usually work just fine and they are 100x more fashionable…(sarcasm). Believe me, I’ve used clothespins, bobby pins, and even held them all in with my hands for a half hour when I lose my roller pins..

Step 7: Roll On Out

Once your rollers are cooled down, carefully unroll them…DO NOT just pull them out, it’ll ruin your curls! It’ll look a little strange, and the curls from before and the new ones from your rollers will look a little different. Don’t worry, we’ll fix them!

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Take a section from the side of your hair and spray roots with hairspray and tease like crazy until it can stand up on its own.

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Continue this step for all top and side sections until your hair looks a little like this:

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Now, let the hairspray dry and gently smooth out the teasing mess with your comb. The top will be smooth and voluminous.

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Then, touch up your curls with the curling iron so the ones from earlier and the new roller curls blend together and look the same. Do not spray all your hair yet..

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Step 8: Brushing for Backflips

BUT WAIT, you’re not done. Sure, it looks just fine now and you could be done here, but we can do better! Take your wide tooth comb and brush out the ends of your hair from your ears down ONLY. Don’t comb out the top! TIP: Brushing out your curls gives you more volume and prevents your curls from looking too structured and crunchy.

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Once your curls are gently brushed, flip your head over, shake it out, and spray all over. I usually scrunch it up a little too, but that step is optional. Now, keep your head flipped over and tease the back of your head.

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AND NOW, flip it back over, smooth it out to the way you like it, touch up any fallen curls, and SPRAY SPRAY SPRAY. TIP: Make sure you’re using a medium hold hairspray for final touches. Using one that’s too flexible won’t hold your volume and and one that is too heavy will weigh down your curls and make them crunchy.

VOILA! Here is the final product!

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Again, this is a pretty extensive process that I usually only use for the stage. For everyday curls, I’ll use the same process, but without rollers. Now you know!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or contact me using the information on the “About Me” tab.

Fun fact: I LOVE doing hair and makeup for special events. If you’d like to have me do your hair or makeup for homecoming, prom, pageant, or any other occasion, contact me! I’d love to send some examples of my previous work and have the chance to be a part of your special day.

Now get out there and be fabulous.

Love always,


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Meet Jade Strick: National American Miss Wisconsin 2015

Time to get back into blogging mode (as I sip tea from my new “blogging day” mug from my wonderful pageant director). Speaking of, there are TONS of pageant organizations out there, from Miss USA, to Miss America, to National American Miss and beyond. Each program is a little different, but they all offer so many life changing opportunities for the women involved.

Back in December of 2015, I was connected to Miss Jade Strick through a mutual acquaintance. I thought it would be a fun idea to collaborate with her on an article about the impact of pageant involvement and how her experiences have shaped her life thus far. This Q & A was conducted through a previous interview she did for a friend, but her answers are spot on! Jade has been involved in the National American Miss program for a few years now and she is currently a NAM titleholder and director for the Miss Amazing program, empowering girls with disabilities. Meet Jade…


Q: You’re very involved in the pageant industry, could you please explain any pageants or organizations you’ve participated in? Also any titles you’ve won over your pageant career?

A: I have been involved in the National American Miss pageant system. NAM is the largest pageant system in the United States. It is a more “family oriented” system and their staff refers to it as a “confidence pageant” rather than a beauty pageant. The areas of competition are personal introduction, interview, formal wear, and community service.  This is the only system I have competed in so far but I am very familiar with other systems and hope to compete in the Miss USA organization. I currently hold the title of National American Miss Wisconsin 2015 and placed 4th runner up at the national pageant.


Q: There are many controversies over whether minors should be allowed to participate in pageants. What is your opinion on this?

A: There’s a huge difference between organizations like National American Miss and what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras. National American Miss doesn’t allow younger contestants to wear makeup and it isn’t judged on outer appearance whatsoever. I completely advocate for younger girls participating in pageants like this if it is something they want to try! Beauty pageants, on the other hand, I do not agree with. I would never allow my daughter to participate in anything like what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras.

Q: Are there any ways participating in pageants has positively influenced your life? Anything negative?

A: Pageants have been extremely influential in my life. I first competed in National American Miss when I was 16 years old and it felt like I found my home, my “thing,” if you will. I was never good at sports and I tried and quit countless other activities. When I competed in NAM, I immediately fell in love. I placed in the Top 10 in my first pageant and knew I found my “thing.” When I came back to school in the fall, I felt like a different person. I was always somewhat introverted, not that it’s a bad thing, but the pageant definitely helped bring me out of my shell. I was more eager to speak in front of the class and talk to new people. It also lead me to getting much more involved in volunteer work. I saw the amazing things my fellow competitors were doing and that gave me the confidence to believe that I could make a difference too. I started with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Miss Amazing program a few months later. I would have never had the confidence in myself to be able to direct and lead a statewide organization like Miss Amazing if it weren’t for my experience with National American Miss.


I think the only negative experience I had with NAM was the final year I competed in the teen division; I was very competitive and put way too much pressure on myself to win. I really didn’t enjoy myself that weekend and ended up messing up my personal introduction and bawling my eyes out when I didn’t win. This really wasn’t a negative experience, it was a lesson.  The lessons I learned that weekend contributed to my amazing week competing at nationals this past year. Of course I would have loved to win, but I did my best, didn’t put pressure on myself, and had fun. It is for that reason that I placed in the Top 5!

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Q: You are very involved in the Miss Amazing program. Could you explain what it is, your role, and how it has influenced the participants’ lives?

A: Miss Amazing is a non-profit organization that gives girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to gain confidence and self esteem in a supportive environment. The founder of Miss Amazing was a National American Miss queen in Nebraska, who designed the pageant to be similar to NAM. I am Wisconsin’s state director, so I am in charge of our program for the whole state. I plan the annual state pageants, which consist of finding a venue, fundraising, promoting the program to get participants and volunteers, and planning all the details that go into the event. I also work with the families of the six queens to get them to the National Miss Amazing pageant and help them get into the community for appearances and volunteer work. Recently, I took on a new role in the planning committee for the national event as well.


Miss Amazing has hugely influenced participants across the United States. I’ve witnessed it having the same impact on the girls and women who participate as National American Miss did on me.  It is really empowering for the participants to have their time in the spotlight– their time to feel beautiful. I could tell you so many stories. One of my favorite stories is about a girl named Sarah. When I first met Sarah, she was sitting backstage waiting to practice for the talent showcase. My mom pulled me aside from my busy errands and asked me to talk to a really nervous participant. I dropped everything and sat down next to this terrified young lady. I tried to get Sarah to talk to me, but she could barely even look at me. Finally, her mom came back and mentioned that I looked like a character from her favorite TV show, Victorious. That sparked her interest and we finally got some smiles, laughs, and a few words out of her. I asked her if she was ready to go practice, but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, we got her to just stand on the stage. She didn’t practice her talent, she wouldn’t even wave to the small crowd, she just stepped on stage. Her talent was decorating cupcakes and when it came to the final show, I went on the stage with her and helped her do her talent. The next day, I saw her confidence slowly growing and the real Sarah was coming out. Sarah was quirky, funny, and had a contagious smile. The final show came around and Sarah walked across the stage in her red ball gown, flashing that contagious smile and waving to the crowd. My heart was beaming with pride, as she ended up winning her age division and she became the Wisconsin Miss Amazing Teen. I saw the transformation as Sarah grew into a confident young lady and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Q: What is your favorite Miss Amazing memory?

A: If you haven’t noticed, when it comes to Miss Amazing, I could write novels for you.  There are so many memories and stories. One thing that stands out for me was at the end of the second pageant I held. The first one was very small and had only 3 participants and a handful of volunteers. The second one had almost 20 contestants and around 50 volunteers. The show was over and I lead all the girls onstage for a final bow and photos. As I turned, the crowd was on their feet and one of the participants brought me a bouquet of flowers. I immediately started crying because I was so exhausted, but all that hard work paid off in that one moment. That feeling is something I will never forget.


Q: Has participating in pageants changed your outlook on the world and/or life? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure that they’ve changed my outlook, but they have empowered me to feel that I can make an impact on the world.  They’ve empowered me to be a leader. I am a more confident person because of my experiences with pageants and I am forever grateful for everything I’ve learned.


Jessica’s reflections…

Thank you for sharing your stories, Jade! Although we do not compete in the same organizations, I definitely connect with many of the experiences Jade has had through her involvement as well. I can honestly say that the Miss America Organization has also allowed me to gain public speaking skills, interviewing skills, scholarship dollars, stage presence, confidence in myself and my abilities, and connections within the community through service opportunities. It is because of these skills learned through preparing for and participating in pageants that I feel empowered to make a change. I encourage all young women to try at least one pageant, whether it be with Miss America, National American Miss, Miss USA, etc. It’s time to end the stigma around pageantry.

Love always,

Miss Wisconsin 2016: My Experience

Waking up in my own bed was a strange feeling on Monday. For most people, it’s comforting to get home from a week spent in a hotel and finally sleep in your own bed. Although I am thankful I didn’t have to wake up at 6:30 a.m to head to rehearsals again, I would be back in Oshkosh in a heartbeat if I had the chance to spend one more day with 24 outstanding women for the best experience of my life a.k.a.. Miss Wisconsin week 2016.

Let’s rewind a little bit.

Here’s A Little Background Check

My friends and family know that I started this crazy journey about 2 and a half years ago during my senior year of high school. I heard about a local pageant affiliated with the Miss America Organization being held in my hometown and decided to give it a shot just for fun. Sure enough, I had a phenomenal experience, caught the “pageant bug,” and took on 5 more local pageants after that until I captured the local title of Miss Northern Lights 2016 in mid-January of this year. Since then, I’ve been spending the majority of my time (in between a full-time college schedule and part-time job) developing my platform, making appearances in the community to speak and volunteer, and also prepare for the next step… competing for the state title of Miss Wisconsin.


Like me, 24 other women from across the state of Wisconsin had also captured local titles and would be joining me to compete at the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant in June. For each and every one of us, our goal was to become Miss Wisconsin 2016 and represent this great state at the Miss America Scholarship Pageant (Yes, THEEEE Miss America. No, not Miss USA or Miss Universe, those are both completely different organizations. We’ll discuss that another time). However, only ONE of the twenty five of us could be Miss Wisconsin. We each prepared in our own ways, working with our directors, local board members and volunteers to improve for each distinct area of the competition: Interview, Onstage Question, Lifestyle & Fitness in Swimwear, Talent, and Evening Gown.

The preparation process became one of the greatest growing experiences for me, as I learned about my personal strengths and weaknesses. As humans, we often do not put ourselves in situations that force us to look at both sides. We tend to avoid areas of our lives where we are weak and continue in areas where we feel comfortable and strong. This opportunity forced me to recognize my weaknesses and address them directly, and that is something I don’t think I can find anywhere else. Preparing for each area of competition was one thing, but the lessons I learned about perseverance, motivation, and self-awareness through that preparation process are skills I’ll carry with me forever.

Time was running down, finishing touches and final mock interviews were held and soon enough, it was time to pack up for Miss Wisconsin week. I took every lesson learned, every word of constructive criticism, and every ounce of confidence in me and I hit the road for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Behind the Crown

So many people think that being a titleholder is such a glamorous lifestyle. At times, it can be. The crown and sash, dresses, makeup, photo sessions, and public appearances can make you feel like a celebrity sometimes. However, that is only a small fraction of what a titleholder does. Me and 24 of my sister queens were NOT competing for prizes, photo shoots, modeling contracts, or fame. We were each competing for the JOB of Miss Wisconsin.


Miss Wisconsin is NOT a beauty queen. In fact, as soon as she is crowned, she serves as an official spokesperson for her personal platform as well as Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and CITGO. She spends an entire year traveling across the state of Wisconsin and beyond to speak about important social issues. She embodies the four points of the crown: Service, Style, Scholarship, and Success. She does not win a fancy apartment or loads of spending money, but instead receives a $10,000 scholarship to go directly toward her college education. She is a fund raiser, advocate, spokesperson, and role model for the state of Wisconsin and the Miss America Organization. Therefore, Miss Wisconsin week is essentially a very extensive job application.

Sorry I got a little excited…

Miss Wisconsin Week

As soon as all 25 contestants arrived in Oshkosh on Sunday, we checked in at the auditorium and the hotel where we would all be staying together for the week.


Saying goodbye to mom and dad, we went right into orientation and rehearsals on Sunday evening. I was lucky enough to have Miss Fond du Lac, Katrina Mazier, as my roomie for the week. Aside from the competition itself, the time spent with all the girls in our hotel rooms is where my fondest memories of the week will be held. Taking off the gowns, washing off the makeup, and just kicking back and having fun with some of the most incredibly kind and intelligent women I’ve ever met was the best part of the experience.


The really cool thing about the Miss America Organization is that every girl involved comes with a unique story. Talking to each contestant during the week, I learned what fuels their fire for service and advocacy. Whether she is an advocate for autism awareness or promoting literacy or domestic violence prevention, each woman I met was aiming to make a difference in the lives of others and stand up for something she believes in. When you put 25 of the smartest, most driven, kindhearted, and motivated women in the state of Wisconsin on one stage, it’s a pretty amazing experience. As a matter of fact, everyone is genuinely rooting for each other to be successful, something you’ll never see on Toddler’s & Tiaras, is it?



Monday was made up of rehearsals, rehearsals, and more rehearsals. We were usually on the go from 8:00 a.m to as late as 11:30 p.m some days. In between morning and afternoon rehearsals on Monday, we had the pleasure of joining the Winnebagoland Shrine Club and some incredible veterans from central Wisconsin for lunch and good conversation. After that, it was back to rehearsals. If you can imagine spending six hours a day dancing and walking in heels, you can get an idea of how nice Band Aids and a hot bathtub felt at the end of the day.


After rehearsals concluded on Monday afternoon, it was back to the hotel to get ready for Merchant’s Dinner, where we were able to get dressed up to meet our sponsors and judges for a night of dinner, conversation, and entertainment. This was a very cool experience as well, seeing the faces behind the Miss Wisconsin program who make it all possible with their generous donations. Having the opportunity to speak with the judges on a personal and intimate level made the competition seem a lot more comfortable as well.



On Tuesday, half of the contestants were preparing for their private interviews. Most people don’t know that this is a huge part (25%) of how a winner is chosen. Before the actual show begins, we all have a 10 minute private interview with the judges, where they can ask us virtually anything. Usually, we converse about our platforms, viewpoints, goals, and accomplishments, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for a wide range of questions. Politics, current events, and social issues are also hot topics discussed in private interview.

I was placed in the second group of contestants, so I went to a two-hour talent rehearsal until my interview on Wednesday morning. After group one was finished with their interviews and group two completed talent rehearsals, we joined together for a picnic with the Oshkosh Kiwanis Club, where we each spoke about our platforms and talents while getting to know community members. After that little break, we were back at rehearsals once again until dinner and relaxation time at the hotel that evening.


DEEP BREATHS… On Wednesday morning, I had my private interview. I was up early to look my best, say a little prayer, and call my director for a quick pep talk. Needless to say, I ruined my makeup with a fountain of nervous tears while I was on the phone (mixed with a little bit of overtiredness). Knowing that all my hard work and hours upon hours of preparation would lead up to this moment was a very scary and emotional realization. But I was ready. I was prepared to show the judges what I had accomplished and all the things I have to offer. I was prepared to show them my passion and drive. You never know exactly what the judges are looking for, so the best idea is to remain true to yourself and be confident in who you are. The best way to win is to win as YOU. I was called downstairs to the holding room until the judges were ready for me. Soon enough, I was introduced to the judges and my 10 minutes to make a lasting impression started right there.

Walking out of my interview, I couldn’t help but burst into tears of relief, gratitude, and pride. I felt that I was able to show the judges who I truly was and that’s the most I could’ve asked for walking out of that room. Whether I ended up being Miss Wisconsin or not, the judges saw ME.


After interviews were complete, it was back to rehearsals for the afternoon to prepare for the first night of preliminary competitions. I competed in Swimsuit and Onstage Question on that night, which account for 15% and 5% of the total scoring.

Let me tell you, walking on stage in a swimsuit and heels takes a lot of strategy. You have to mix the perfect amount of sexy, classy, and confident. A lot of people disagree with the swimsuit portion of the competition, but in reality, the Miss America Organization began as a bathing suit contest way back in 1921. It’s a part of the program’s history and it continues today as a testament to a woman’s ability to appreciate and take care of her body, regardless of size or shape. Since the job of Miss Wisconsin may include uncomfortable or awkward situations at times, it’s important to remain confident. That’s what this area of competition is truly testing. They always say if you can walk on a stage in just a swimsuit, you can pretty much do anything.


In regards to Onstage Question, I was asked whether or not I believe Hillary Clinton is a role model for my platform GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve. Regardless of political affiliation, I answered YES, Hillary is in a position of leadership and it’s important for young girls to understand that possibility in themselves. My platform is all about encouraging young girls to make a difference in their communities through service and leadership. We need more female leaders, starting locally in our communities, and if we teach our girls to be confident and proud of their abilities, they can stand up for what they believe in, make a difference in the lives of others, and achieve anything. *mic drop*


After each night of prelims, there is a preliminary swimsuit winner and talent winner named. My goal was to win a swimsuit prelim, but it wasn’t in the cards for me this year and that’s perfectly okay because I am so happy with how I performed the first night. In fact, our fabulous Miss Madison-Capital City, Sarah, won the preliminary swimsuit award after getting burnt in the leg with a hot garment steamer backstage 10 minutes before the show. Even with her skin peeling off and blistering, she still rocked the stage and looked AMAZING and walked away with a $250 scholarship. You go girl!! *fist bump* Just goes to show you never know what happens behind the scenes. What you see on stage is just a small representation of what actually goes on behind that smile and sassy strut.


Thursday morning, we woke up for a short rehearsal and then we were free to meet our families for lunch and a backstage tour. After a long week filled with early mornings, late nights, stress, and rehearsals, it was nice to take a break to see all the people who came to support me.


After lunch, it was back to rehearsals one more time before the second night of preliminaries, where I competed in Talent and Evening Gown. Now, I always say that my talent is my weak point since I have never been professionally trained in any kind of dance. In fact, I only started dancing as a sophomore in high school while many of my sister queens have been dancing since age 3. I knew it was going to be tough, so I put some long hours into that 90 second routine and I am incredibly thankful for all those who took the time to help me create and polish it for the stage. (Shouts to Hayley, Grant, Megan, and Katie). After a very rough talent rehearsal earlier in the week, I was nervous for my talent performance that night. Since talent actually makes up the majority (35%) of a contestant’s total score, I knew I had to nail it in order to bump up into the Top 10 on Finals night. I knew that I had to connect with the audience and captivate the judges by telling a story through movement. I took a deep breath, walked out onto the stage, got into my starting position, and just closed my eyes for a moment and took it all in. I thought to myself,

I was chosen by a local panel of judges who believed in my mission, I practiced and prepared to the best of my ability, I took constructive criticism, and I am ready to perform this talent on the Miss Wisconsin stage. I am good enough, I can do this.


I hit my turns and finished my final pose strong and looked up in tears as I walked off the stage. I could not have been happier with my dance that night. I may not have had the best routine out of all the talents, but I knew how far I had come and how hard I worked to get there. That was absolutely good enough for me.

After both nights of prelims, we were all able to go into the audience to visit with our families. I cried again (mostly because I was exhausted and relieved by my performance). I left it all on the stage both of those nights and was more confident in myself than ever before.



Rise and shine and RELAX! Friday was a breath of fresh air, as we were all headed to a golf outing to benefit Miss Wisconsin scholarships. We were given a lot of freedom, which I could describe as a pilot episode of “Miss Wisconsin Contestants Gone Wild” if you can imagine all of us behind the wheel of golf carts. It felt so nice to get outside, relax, and spend time with one another off the stage.


Friday was an interesting day because, now that preliminary competitions were over, everyone was (im)patiently waiting to find out the following night who would have the honor of being chosen as a Top 10 semifinalist and continue on in the competition. Friday was a mix of relief and feeling on edge, and those two emotions together can be really exhausting.

After the golf outing, the majority of us fell asleep on the 10 minute ride back to the hotel before having some free time to meet with our directors. As soon as I met with Katie for dinner, I immediately started crying. In fact, I cried almost every day that week. It’s so strange because I always felt so grateful and blessed to be where I was, competing for Miss Wisconsin, but it was also a very stressful week because of the fact that we were all working so hard for that position. With the combination of very little sleep, stress, and an irregular eating schedule, my body was just exhausted to tears. After a good cry every now and then, I put on my big girl pants and focused myself once again. I was taking on the most amazing opportunity of my life and I wanted to soak in every moment.


Following my vent session, we were all ready to get dressed up again for the Teen pageant that evening. Seeing those young girls perform and watching the crowning of the new Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen made me so excited for the following evening when we would find out who our own Miss Wisconsin would be. Come 11:30pm, we were back at the hotel for bed time, but I could not sleep. The next day would be the final day of an amazing, exhausting, liberating, humbling week competing for the job of my dreams. I didn’t want it to end.


Today was the day.

My 24 fellow contestants and I were off to the Oshkosh Farmer’s Market for a morning engaging with community members, signing autographs, and taking photos. This is easily one of my favorite parts of being a titleholder because there is no better feeling than seeing a little girl’s eyes light up at the sight of your crown. It’s moments like these that make me realize why I do this. Even though I was running on a few hours of sleep and plenty of physical and emotional stress, I realized that there are people who look up to me and my mission. There will always be a little girl in the corner of my eye admiring my presence, and for that, I am so blessed to serve as a role model in this position.

After the Farmer’s Market, we were off to Festival Foods to have lunch and help bag groceries while promoting the final night of the pageant that evening. By this day, I think the majority of us were all zombies from the lack of sleep and long days, but it was all SO worth it.


Following our short stop at Festival, we were able to go back to the hotel to rest, recover, and prep for the final night of competition. I took this time to reflect on how incredible this journey had been. Just two and a half years ago, I entered my first pageant not knowing what the Miss America Organization was all about. Now that I had spent the week with numerous directors, volunteers, contestants, supporters, and sponsors, I knew exactly what my involvement meant.

Regardless of the results of the competition, Miss Wisconsin week is made up of just a few of the 365 days that I have the privilege of being Miss Northern Lights. This competition is not an accurate representation of what it truly means to be a titleholder. I was standing there on that stage because I pushed myself to be the best version of Jess. I chose to surround myself with people who were going to lift me up and believe in my abilities. I had a platform that I wished to spread throughout my community and the state of Wisconsin, and with a crown or not, I knew that my mission would still continue after the week’s events concluded.


Fast forward to the announcement of the Top 10 semifinalists that evening… I stood there  on stage, praying that my performances throughout the week would carry me into the Top 10, a goal I set for myself going into my preparations for Miss Wisconsin. I hoped the judges saw a potential Miss Wisconsin in me, believing in my mission and my abilities to carry the organization further with a state title. As the names continued getting called, I was more and more nervous. I wanted to be able to perform one more time that night for my friends and family. Before the final name was called, I looked over and felt so much pride for my sister queens who were moving forward in the Top 10. The Miss America Organization is beautiful and unique because everyone is genuinely cheering for one another and there is always so much love, positivity, and encouragement between contestants. I was especially excited for my Miss Wis roomie, Katrina, for making Top 10. I wanted to run up and hug her so badly as soon as she looked back at me with such excitement and relief when her name was called as a semifinalist (P.S.. if you’re reading this, Miss Fondy, I love you tons and I am so proud of all you’ve accomplished and overcome).


After the final name was called and the words “Miss Northern Lights” were left unspoken, I did feel upset. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little disappointed. However, I had to remember that this was not the end of the world. I was still receiving a scholarship just for being there, my family and friends were still there cheering me on, and there were 10 outstanding women who needed my support as they advanced in the competition. I could not have been happier with my performances in all areas of competition that week and I left it all on the stage. I will never forget going back to the dressing room to get into my comfy clothes with the rest of the non-finalists and crowding around the backstage monitor, cheering on our sister queens. Katrina, Miss Fond du Lac, Top 10 semifinalist, and my lovely Miss Wis roomie, came out from her dressing room, ready to perform her talent and I gave her a huge hug and we cried together. This was one of the best moments. I was so incredibly proud of her for being only 18 years old, surviving a very hard time in her life, spreading her message of suicide prevention and awareness, and I was so happy the judges saw the beauty that I also saw in her.


Fast forward to later that night… a new Miss Wisconsin was crowned (Courtney Pelot, you are fabulous and I am so excited for you!!!!), we all embraced backstage, and I felt so blessed and humbled to have been a part of this experience. Two and a half years of working toward a dream of walking on the Miss Wisconsin stage and I just did it. I reached a goal this past week. I didn’t make Top 10, I am not Miss Wisconsin, and some people might look at those results and give up after not reaching a specific goal like that. However, I am proud of myself and how far I’ve come since the very beginning and I will keep spreading my mission as Miss Northern Lights because that is God’s plan for me right now. This week, I gained scholarship dollars, life experiences, confidence, a greater sense of self, and 24 amazing sisters. Priceless.


Thank You

During my two and a half years of involvement and preparation, there are so many people I’d like to acknowledge for their efforts toward my journey.

First and foremost, thank you to my family and friends for allowing me to do this. Thank you for watching me go off on my own and always understanding when I had to cancel plans for Miss Wisconsin prep or last minute Miss Northern Lights appearances. Thank you for letting me run wild toward my dreams. I love you all, you know who you are.


Mitch, thank you for jumping head-first into this pageant boyfriend role. When I met you, I was preparing to compete for Miss Northern Lights and you have never ceased to believe in me and my abilities from that point. Thank you for understanding when I would have to finish paperwork or read up on news articles while you sat patiently next to me, or when I would have to cancel date nights for mock interviews, appearances, and talent rehearsals. Thank you for always treating me like a queen, with or without a crown on my head.


On the flip side, thank you to those who didn’t think I could do it. For those who doubted me or didn’t think what I was doing was worth it. Thank you for fueling my fire.

Katie, I am so blessed to call you my director. From day one, you put so much time and effort into my readiness for the job of Miss Wisconsin and I am eternally grateful for your advice, hugs, constructive criticism, and words of motivation and empowerment. I look up to you in so many ways and I will be lucky to be half the woman you are when my time as a contestant is over. I am so honored to be your very first Miss Northern Lights. Thank you for teaching me to be confident in my accomplishments and for never giving up on me.

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Megan and Brenda, thank you for all your help along the way. Megan, thank you for traveling hours to help me choreograph and perfect my talent piece. Your advice allowed me to improve as a dancer, communicator, and titleholder. Thank you for sacrificing your time and energy toward my journey! Brenda, thank you for reaching out and getting me involved in this organization during my senior year of high school. Since then, I have loved getting to know you and growing in my faith, my platform, and as a young woman. Thank you for building me up from the very beginning and helping me understand my true worth as a woman of the Lord.

To the host moms who spent the entire week with all the contestants both backstage and in the hotel, thank you for taking care of all of us by donating your time, hugs, helpful hands and kind words. Having you all around made the environment so relaxed, and without you, we all would’ve been starving, dehydrated, stressed, and left with unzipped gowns.

To Jeremy and the rest of the security team, thank you for keeping our best interest in mind and for keeping us all safe and in order. No creepers got to us this week, thanks to you and the crew. You rock.

To the Miss Wisconsin Board of Directors and stage crew, thank you for offering this opportunity to the women of Wisconsin. I appreciate, more than anything, your time and commitment to this organization to make this program a success. I look forward to working with all of you in the future!

To my sponsors: Nona Lione for my alterations, Dave and Trish at Fast Signs for my autograph cards, Big O’s of Portage, Sean Malone, Gary O’Hearn of the Optimist Club, Knights of Columbus, and Amy Sullivan, THANK YOU for your generous donations on the road to Miss Wisconsin. I was able to purchase state wardrobe, pay for gas to get to appearances, and gather everything I need for a successful week at Miss Wisconsin and beyond as Miss Northern Lights. Money is hard to come by these days and I appreciate that you were able to donate to my efforts. THANK YOU!

Finally, to my sister queens, thank you for being YOU. Each of you is unique, passionate, driven, smart, and deserving of this opportunity to serve and represent your communities. It was a pleasure and honor to be surrounded by each of you this past week. Nobody can understand the value of these relationships until they take the step to get involved and I am so happy you all chose to enter your local pageants, because if you didn’t choose to get involved, you wouldn’t have been able to change at least one person’s life with your stories. I am so blessed to call all of you my sisters and I can’t wait to see you all again and continue to watch you change the world with your efforts and missions. I love every single one of you.

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Get Involved

I can honestly say that this organization has changed my life for the better. Like I’ve said before and will continue to say for the rest of my life, there are so many programs to get involved in, but none of them are like the Miss America Organization. Service opportunities, scholarships, sisterhood, and personal growth are all things that I was looking for as a young girl. I found all of that through this program and I encourage every woman between the ages of 17 and 24 to reach out to me personally or visit one of the websites below. Do it, just do one local pageant like I chose to do almost three years ago. I guarantee you won’t regret it because you have nothing to lose, only so much to gain.

To compete to become a local titleholder within the state of Wisconsin:



If you live, work, or go to school in a different state in the U.S:



The state pageant lasts one week, my reign as Miss Northern Lights 2016 lasts one year, but the skills gained through this experience and my involvement in this organization lasts a lifetime. For that, I am forever grateful and so proud to be serving as your very first Miss Northern Lights.


Love always,


Miss Northern Lights 2016

“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” -Walt Disney

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I’m having a hard time getting these goosebumps away, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.

It has been a very eventful week and I can’t even begin to explain the emotions that have been running through me within the past six days. A mix between shock, gratitude, joy, and overwhelming excitement would sum up my feelings fairly accurately, but unfortunately there isn’t a word for all of those combined.

Let’s back up a little bit. What’s going on?

Alright, I’ll start from the very beginning of this crazy journey..

Around this time about two years ago, I heard about a local scholarship pageant happening in my hometown. I’ve seen a little bit about pageantry before as I grew up watching the annual Miss America pageant (and a few glamorous episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras), and I always wondered what it would take to be one of those strong women standing on that stage.

Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to get involved in a program that would allow me to speak about issues I’m passionate about, earn scholarship dollars, engage in community service, represent my area, and ultimately make a change in my life and the lives of others. What do I have to lose?


As a senior in high school, I was mainly focused on the scholarship aspect in order to pay for my quickly-approaching college expenses, but I would soon find out that this organization offered so much more than just scholarships. I decided to participate in the pageant with absolutely no experience, no platform, no clue what to wear, how to walk, or what a private interview consisted of. Thankfully, I was able to reach out to some friends and classmates who were involved in pageants and I went into the event feeling excited and prepared.

The first pageant was a learning experience, as are all of the pageants I’ve done since then. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I walked through the doors, I was greeted by a few of the other contestants who continue to remain great friends of mine to this day. I was able to get to know the girls, hear their stories, and gain a sense of sisterhood. We were all there for the same reasons– to earn scholarships, serve our communities, and make a difference. Many people see pageants as a catty contest revolved around appearance, but that couldn’t be more false. When you put a group of young women together who have similar ambitions and views on success, it’s a truly remarkable phenomenon.


Once my first pageant was over, I realized the impact that the Miss America Organization was having on my life. I started to set goals; I had the drive and motivation to do something with my life; I felt that I had a purpose. For the previous sixteen years of my life before getting involved in the MAO, I participated in various activities simply because I enjoyed them. When this organization came into the picture, I began participating because I started to notice immense growth within myself. I knew that I wanted to continue my involvement.

Preparations were under way for my future competitions, but in the mean time, a few of my pageant sisters and I decided to attend the Miss Wisconsin pageant to see the local titleholders compete for the state title and the chance to compete at Miss America. After that experience, watching those women perform and showcase their passions at the state level, my love for the organization grew and I wanted more than anything to be able to have that same opportunity.

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I went home and focused nearly all of my time on developing my platform, improving my talent, working on my interview skills, and embodying the true spirit of the Miss America Organization. I wanted this.

The next year came around and I was eligible for four more pageants in 2015. I took what I saw at Miss Wisconsin and I felt so much more prepared to take the stage once again. However, in 2015, I did not place in any of the local pageants I participated in. I had great experiences, met even more wonderful women, and was proud of what I was doing, but I still felt disappointed in myself and wondered where I was going wrong. Over-analyzing is my middle name, so I beat myself up in every way possible, thinking of all the hard work I put in and not being able to show it to my very best ability.


Over time, I began to understand that it’s okay to feel upset. It’s okay to be a little disappointed, but every stumble serves as a chance to pick yourself up and continue to improve. I took these experiences as lessons and used them toward bettering myself for the next year. There was no way I was going to simply give up. I had a dream.

In the summer of 2015, my pageant sisters and I attended the Miss Wisconsin pageant again to see the newest class of local titleholders compete. This time, I actually watched and learned. This time, I noticed what the Miss America Organization was really about. It’s not about fitting into the perfect “pageant girl” mold or wearing a sparkly crown. It’s not about instant gratification. It’s not just about a chance to stand on a bigger stage for recognition. It’s about setting goals, perseverance, service to others, hard work, and advocacy. It’s about the journey. THESE were the qualities that I needed to focus on.


Before heading into another year of pageants, I spent some time reflecting on my past experiences within the Miss America Organization and I realized I hadn’t really been focusing on the bigger picture. Winning a title through this organization means serving as an ambassador and an advocate for change. Being a titleholder comes with responsibility, selflessness, and a heart for service. I humbled myself and started working toward my goal to serve as a local titleholder because I wanted to positively represent my community, my platform, and the Miss America Organization with every ounce of passion in me.

This year, I was made aware of a brand new pageant in my area, the Miss Northern Lights scholarship program. I was already registered for three other pageants later on in the year, but I decided to give this one a shot. I thought of this opportunity as a chance to start fresh and to see how I’ve improved over the past two years. For the first time, I felt very calm during the whole day and I spent a lot of the time getting to know the other contestants, running through my talent performance, and snacking (surprise, surprise). I said a quick prayer while I was alone in my dressing room, asking God to allow me to relax and show the judges who I truly am. I thanked Him for the day and for my journey that led me to this point. In the past, I got so worked up before walking into my private interview with the judges, trying my hardest to focus on saying the right things and being professional. This time around, I just took a deep breath, put away my notes, and told myself to have fun.


I walked out of my interview feeling relieved and ready for the rest of the afternoon. We had one more rehearsal before the show began, I said one more prayer, and before we knew it, it was time to hit the stage. The actual show feels like one big whirlwind and each phase of competition flies by quicker than the last. Each time I was on stage, I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment. It was the first time where I felt no nerves and I knew that at the end of the day, I couldn’t have been happier with how I improved and performed that day. I left it all on the stage.


Soon enough, it was time for crowning. I looked around at all the ladies beside me, feeling blessed to have spent this experience with so many amazing and influential people, being able to gain many new sisters that day. Any of those girls could absolutely fulfill the duties of Miss Northern Lights.


In a matter of seconds, I snapped back into reality as I was flooded with emotions. The tears fell and I soon realized what I had done. By the grace of God, I had just accomplished one of my biggest goals.


As I cried on my entire hour-long drive home that night, I stopped to pray once again to thank God for giving me this opportunity for a year of service to my community and to Him. I thank him for the challenges He put me through in the previous years, because they taught me valuable life lessons that I will take with me forever. I continue to thank Him for allowing me to spread my mission on a greater scale and soon onto the Miss Wisconsin stage. I pray that I am able to stay focused during this year in order to accomplish as much as possible with this opportunity. I have faith that this experience will challenge me and allow me to continue to grow and I wake up every morning looking forward to what is ahead.


Now, as I sit here with a crown and sash next to me, I feel so grateful to represent the Miss Northern Lights, Miss Wisconsin, and Miss America Organizations as a local titleholder. I look back to where I started and realize that a dream is only a dream until you take the steps to make it a reality. Through perseverance, determination, patience, hard work, a strong support system, a positive mindset, and faith in yourself and in God’s plan, ANYTHING is possible.

Love always,

Your 2016 Miss Northern Lights, Jessica Hammer