Sunday, September 17, 2017

" Project 427" by Stephanie Welter




    When Casey Schutrop of Wow Ministries first messaged me on Facebook to ask me to be a part of her Project I had no idea how it would change the world as I know it.
    Casey has organized local events for, a national effort called Project 427 that intercepts kids caught up in human trafficking, and help provide legal, housing and life development programs for them.
  
 
   I was shocked to learn that the project took it’s name after a set up statistics. Every hour, 42 children are trafficked 7 days a week. As an advocate of the Autism Community, I am also troubled to learn that special needs and vulnerable individuals are targets to trafficking.
    The 427 Project is both a coalition and a platform for a public awareness and education campaign before, during and after the Super Bowl 52 which happens in the Twin Cities in February 2018. What rocked me to my core, is when Casey explained to me that the children trafficked each year in the US would fill the 66,655 seats in the U.S. Bank stadium FIVE TIMES. She also told me that for cities that host a major event (like a super bowl) trafficking rates skyrocket in that city, and unfortunately, they do not come back down much in the months and years following.
  

 
 
  I was invited to two fundraising and awareness events, and when Casey does a thing….she does it right! I arrived on the beautiful grounds of the HighView stables to a summer celebration of BBQ chicken and other great food (including the best S’mores I’ve ever had) along with great drawing prizes, games and a live 11 piece musical ensemble!
  
 
  The most memorable thing however, was meeting the “behind the scenes” and “in the field” individuals who make intervention and prevention possible. From police sergeants to educators to therapists and a team of volunteers, it truly take a village of heartfelt, compassionate persevering individuals to help end and heal the devastation of human trafficking.
 
    I was awestruck to hear from those who were victimized by trafficking and what their lives had been reduced too. As Casey spoke, she mentioned that although we were in a beautiful area in a beautiful wealthy suburb in the Twin Cities, a brothel was in operation just 1.5 miles from our gathering.
    I was an am honored to partner with Project 427 to raise awareness, money and anything else needed to help set captives free from the every growing travesty that is human trafficking.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"My most memorable experience" by Serena Schreifels





So far, one of my most memorable experiences as Miss Minnesota International, has been the Miss International Pageant.  It was a week filled with not only the glitz and glamour of the pageant world, but volunteering and giving back. I met so many new and wonderful people and had experiences I will carry through the rest of my life.

 

Miss International was held in Charleston West Virginia.  I love the east coast and West Virginia has some of the most beautiful sceneries in the U.S. Orientation day, we met the Mayor of Charleston. He was so excited and humbled to have us there and the sense of community we all felt was tremendous. My favorite service project was interacting with the kids at the local boys and girls club. We colored, played games, and chatted about basketball and movies. It was so amazing to catch a glimpse of life through their eyes. 

 

Although I didn’t make top ten on finals night, I’m still proud of my performance. I know I did the best that I could and tried to make Minnesota proud as well.  I am so honored to have such amazing support here at home and this pageant only made me realize how much I love this state.  All the friends I made and the people who influenced me pageant week have left an imprint on my heart.  I can’t wait to see what’s coming next because of the experiences I had at Miss International.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"My Plans for the year " by Devika Narayan

 
 
 
It’s been some time now and I’ve done a lot of thinking. Being crowned with a title such as Miss

Teen Minnesota International involves so much more than simply wearing a crown, wearing a

banner, and looking pretty. There are obviously parts to the title that involve all the glamour and

fun you see on TV, but I myself have decided to commit myself this year to this title, and the

countless opportunities that it brings with it.

There are plenty of issues within our society that I think need more attention, but my mission this

year will be to not only promote my platform as well as the AHA, but get my own generation

more actively involved within the community. For me, teaching and advocating, using my voice

and title to inspire others, will be something I strive heavily for. Using the Alzheimer’s

Association, I will help with the search for a cure, by educating and promoting prevention. Using

the AHA, specifically Go Red for Women, I will advocate for heart healthy lives and teach about

the importance of prevention beforehand. By being an active member within my community, I

hope to lead by example and teach my own generation that making an impact on the community

is possible, through involvement and service.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"Hoyt Lakes" By Stephanie Welter

 


    Shortly after being crowned Mrs. Minnesota International, I got my first official request. How exciting! It was from my director Allison, sending me my very first appearance request as a new crown titleholder!
    She explained to me that this was a tradition amongst the international queens, that each year, the Minnesota International royalty made a trip to Hoyt Lakes which is in northern Minnesota to Crown local Hoyt Lakes royalty in this beautiful part of our state.
    That was three months ago, and I've done many appearances since then, but this week I finally got the chance to head to Hoyt Lakes for the very first time and be a part of this extraordinary tradition. Robert Bartholomew has been spearheading this beautiful crowning event for decades, but this year he's passing the torch on to a group of young women who are already prepared to carry it forth with excellence. Bob is a jack-of-all-trades as head of the Chamber of Commerce, a local business owner, a guitar player, and  a man that is highly respected in his community for his public service.
  
  As I made my journey 4 hours north of the Twin Cities, I passed rolling hills, tall Northern Pines, an occasional deer grazing near the tree line and lots and lots of lakes!
    As I pulled up to the event venue I caught a glimpse of the stage with all the beautiful young ladies in their perfect gowns and got excited.
 
 
 
 
Bob walked up to greet me warmly and we chuckled about the fact that we were both wearing royal blue. He escorted me to the stage, and up I went to take my place among the hopeful new royalty. I was given opportunity to say a few words, so I encouraged the lovely young ladies and talked about how much courage it took to be up in this position standing up in front of the community having worked very hard to win a local title. The fact that they all had promising futures ahead of them as strong, beautiful young women inside and out, and had the chance to talk briefly about my role as a representative not only for the state of Minnesota but also for the beautiful autism community, and how I would soon be given the opportunity to share the platform of Understanding the Puzzle of Autism with a national and an international audience.
    Within no time, the new Queen had the crown placed upon her head, and the mini’s in their beautiful little taffeta dresses came clicking up in their tiny shoes to hug her and take photographs with her. But, what struck me most was how all of the other young ladies her age turned to her to embrace and encourage her and spent time afterward chatting, hugging, and taking photographs together... as a group of friends. It really seemed to be a network of support and encouragement.
    Thank you Hoyt Lakes for showing me your beauty, and allowing me the experience of helping to Crown a group of truly exceptional and promising young ladies!





Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"And your new Miss Teen Minnesota International is.....DEVIKA NARAYAN!!



“And your new Miss Teen Minnesota International is…... DEVIKA NARAYAN!!” It was in my

crowning moment that I knew that a lot of the sayings I had heard growing up really could be

true. Hard work and commitment really did produce results. I still remember my face, full of

excitement as I looked out for my parents in the crowd, realizing it was just as much of a shock

to them as it was to me. Being my first pageant, I really wasn’t expecting to claim the title on the

first try, but the odds seemed to work in my favor this time. Being selected as one of the 11

amazing young women on that stage to represent Minnesota not only for the International

pageant, but also for the year gave me a sense of pride and joy all at the same time. I think that

the crowning moment in itself is one I wish I could replay every moment. It’s one of those rare

moments in life that feel like they last a lifetime but in reality, are only a few seconds. To sum it

up, it was a moment of pure joy and happiness that are inexplicably matched to anything else

I’ve ever done and for that I am very grateful.



Monday, July 24, 2017

"TEAM" (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) by Stephanie Welters



    “Here they come! Wow! They look like they mean business!”
That was the unified chant of the crowd the day the word TEAM took on new meaning for my son and his school mates at The MAC School.
    We love chartering new territory, and although it’s risky, we typically charge forward full steam ahead. Kathryn (the MAC School Director) loves proving people wrong when they express “concern” over our kids trying new activites. That’s what makes it fun. We’ve learned that it always pays off to take those risks.
  
 
 
 
 
 
   This day, was another “first”. The very first softball game EVER played by my son Ben and his classmates. We took our seats in the bleachers, and the kids ran enthusiastically out to the field, suited up, ball caps and all, and gloves in hand. They began to practice and the crowd began to fall silent. I think there was a collective “awe” that we’re really gonna try this and see how the kids do their first time playing softball.
    After a few minutes of watching my son Ben toss the ball to his classmate, we watched the Minnesota Twins van roll up and again began to cheer as we watched TC the bear bounce out of the van, followed by Twins pitcher Hector Santiago! We began clapping as they took the field to practice with the kids.
 
 
 
 
    When the Minnesota Twins baseball franchise heard about our desire to start the first ever softball team for kids on the spetrum. They got excited and wanted to participate!
     It was what came next that suprised and amzazed even us “seasoned” parents. We stood to sing the national anthem sung by Nate who has the voice of an angel (many kids on the autism spectrum have what’s called “perfect pitch” and it is exactly as it sounds...the ability to sing perfectly on pitch after hearing a note). As soon as he completed the song the empire shouted “Play ball!” and the first  student stood up to bat sending the crowd once again to our feet cheering and shouting encourgement and praises for each swing. Hector Santiago tossed in that first pitch...and...a base hit!! The next child stood up to the plate with therapists, parents and sibblings cheeing them on. On it went in like fashion. Tears stung the sides of my cheeks as I watched my 19 year old son walk up to the plate, take hold of that bat and swing….CRACK! A nice grounder to third base, putting him safely on 1st! All in all he was up to bat twice and got base hits both times. I was felt such pride and such gratitude for this moment...for all these little moments of victorious “firsts.”
    After the game, we all enjoyed snacks and lemonade, marveling at the job well done by the students and staff, telling them so - profously! TC gave hugs and Hector signed autographs and the kids absolutely beamed with pride at having done something new, and having succeeded!
   I was asked to take the microphone and say a few words, so I thanked the staff for working so hard with our kids. Thanked the Twins for their encouragement and support, and reminded the parents of my new favorite accornym:
Together
Everyone
Accomplishes
More


Warmly,
Stephanie Kay Welter
Mrs. Minnesota International 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"So, I was crowned Miss Minnesota International. Now what?" by Serena Schreifels


 
 
So, I was crowned Miss Minnesota International. Now what? Well, I’ll tell you! I’m so excited for all the events and opportunities coming up this year, especially about my platform. I plan on taking advantage of this title as much as possible and I hope to inspire and influence many people throughout my reign. I can’t wait!

 

Recently, I was accepted to the Speaker Bureau for my platform, MakeItOkay. I will be trained as a professional speaker and volunteer. With this opportunity I can educate so many people and the importance of mental health. I will be able to spread awareness for my platform and share my story!

 

I also plan on making as many appearances as I can! I hope to talk to different schools and public events about this wonderful pageant system and of course, my platform. I’m also looking forward to volunteering for many community nonprofits and events. This includes, Walk a Mile in her Shoes, NAMI, and the animal shelter! I’m so excited and I can’t wait to share it all with the amazing people around me!


Friday, July 21, 2017

"Graduation Time " By Stephanie Welters

 



Her name was Anna. She was having (this is not the technical term for it) a meltdown.Beautiful in her bold, satiny Royal Blue cap and gown, wheat blond hair brushed smooth, blue eyes pooling with tears and a look of sheer terror settling onto her face.
    “Mrs Welter, would you please spend some time with Anna, she needs a “break“. “Of course!” I said, literally jumping into action and finding a small, quiet corner outside of the Marriott Hotel lobby. I had done this many times for many kids over the years, and the school director who has known me for 15 years knew that Anna was in good hands.
    As we sat down side by side I started to ask Anna a few questions to take her mind off of her present state of anxiety, providing a pattern disrupter to move her into a new state in her breathing and in her body. We giggled a few times. Her eyes went from terror, to curiosity and she got very close to my face and asked my if I was wearing the crown because I was this year’s Homecoming Queen. I laughed and told her “kind of.” As she expressed her concern over the potential levels of volume during the  graduation ceremony (that we were moments away from), and that she had never graduated before, I reminded her that there would also be as much quiet as there was loud, and shared with her that I had never spoken at a graduation ceremony before. After admitting that we were both a bit nervous, but that it would be ok to be nervous for a little while, and that some of the nervousness might actually be mixed with a little excitement, we stood up arm in arm and got into the processional line.
   I was there to see Anna and her classmates graduate from Lionsgate Academy (a High school for students on the Autism spectrum). She and her classmates were there to hear me speak to them and send them into their next season in life with some sort of encouragement.
    What ended up happening was a much deeper, much more profound exchange.
   


  As I stood up to speak and looked into the faces of these extraordinary seniors ready to graduate, I looked down into my open binder, glanced back up again, this time at the student’s parents, siblings, and glancing at the staff and teachers, I closed my binder. I knew in that moment what they needed most was for me to share my story and the parts of the journey that they might most identify with.
    I shared the most vulnerable things I had gone through. Anna had inspired me to talk about my 10 year struggle with acute anxiety and panic.
   I shared that shortly after Ben was diagnosed with Autism, I felt very helpless and out of control as to how to best help my precious son. To my surprise, a few of the students, staring up at me actually shook their heads “yes” in order to let me know that they ‘knew’....that they could identify with that feeling. I was astonished. I went onto to describe my journey and how it led me to that stage that night. I encouraged them to do what their hearts told them they COULD do (despite what anyone else said) because if that dream lived in their hearts, than they already have everything they need to see it come to pass, and explained how that might look for them going forward. That it might include a bit of resistance, a test or two, but that all of that would be a part of the process that would end up helping them eventually and that continuing in their goal or dream would be well worth it. No matter how “big” or “small” that seemed.
    When I was finished speaking, each student got to select a staff member, therapist or teacher to speak on their behalf and tell a funny story or share something unique about that student. These students range in their diagnosis from moderately affected by the symptoms of ASD, to “twice exceptional” with IQ’s in the geneious range so the stories of progress and accomplishment were amazing!
  I can honestly say it was one of the most precious experiences to be a part of. These staff members reminisced, laughed and cried as they shared their favorite stories and how proud they were of the progress they’ve seen these kids make and how far they’ve come since entering the Lion’s Gate Academy School program.  
    By the end of the night we shared some laughs, a lot of sentimental tears, a few hugs and a ton of encouragement.
    Lionsgate had given these kids the wings to fly. Now, I cannot wait to see all the wonderful places those wings take them!

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Crowning Moments" by Stephanie Welter

 
 
    As I left my moche interviews just 4 short days before driving to the hotel to check in and register for the Mrs. Minnesota International Pageant, I burst into tears. “What am I doing? I don’t know if I can do this! Am I ready?” All those thoughts and more poured through my mind as I drove home that night.
    One thing is for certain, If we wait in life for the things we think we are “ready” for or wait for the “perfect time” to stretch ourselves in new areas...we won’t do it at all.
I let myself cry, wiped my tears, took several deep breaths, texted my coach for some much needed reassurance and 72 hours later was arriving at the hotel for the weekends worth of events. As prepared as I ever would be.
    The weekend was so much more than I could have ever expected, complete with new friendships, moments of learning, laughing and yes...lots of rehearsals in high heels! And, it was magical.
    Completing interview the next morning left each of us with a large portion of our scoring completed, and feeling ready to walk to the stage before the judges once again and now also with an audience. As we walked through each portion of the evening’s you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief, followed but a rush to get ready for the next event.
    Finally there we were. Evening gown was complete and we were back onstage for the announcing of the new queens and the crowning.
    As the curtain opened I glanced around at some of the incredible women and young ladies standing around me. I was looking to see how they might be feeling in that moment. Were they nervous? Excited? Finally myself and my sister contestants walked to the front of the stage. It was our turn. We grabbed each other’s hands and squeezed. We glanced nervously at each other, then at the MC, then at the judges and audience. I was moments away from possibly hearing my name announced and my body was flooded with adrenaline. The third runner up was announced. The second runner up. There was a pause that seemed to last an eternity before the name of the first runner up was announced! As our hands broke, we hugged each other and the three remaining grabbed onto each other’s hands even tighter. There we were, the final three. In those moments of anticipation and excitement, I could see the audience faces in the front row and saw the expressions of hope and anticipation on the face of my friends.
  Finally, there it was…”Your Mrs. Minnesota 2017….” I heard my name and my throat dropped, my stomach flipped and a tears welled up in my eyes as a flood of emotion washed over my body and soul. My hand went over my heart and I found the judges faces. I mouthed “thank you” to them and then my eyes went to search the audience to find my son Ben. He was why I was here. I wanted him to see that we did it. I wanted him to know that this honor was for him as much as for me. As I continued to look around at the faces of those who had loved me and supported me during the journey, my husband was helping to pin the crown to my head, the banner was being placed over my shoulder and I was handed the most exquisite bouquet of roses. Within moments I was flooded with hugs, handshakes and lots and LOTS of photos.
 
 
 
   It’s difficult to find the words to describe that magical, divine moment. Every minute of work you put in has paid off in those moments. Every hour in the gym, every article read for research and interview, every moments spent planning, preparing and dreaming has finally become a reality and there you are. Royalty.
    Those moments were filled with a magical sense of gratitude, joy and  excitement. I let myself bask in that glow and glory the following day as I rested and recovered. Then, the work begins. As a queen, we are agreeing to a year of ambassadorship and public service. And THAT’S where the real fun and magic begin as you get to now take what’s close to your heart - your platform - into new stages and into new venues, meeting and working with amazing new people, and that’s really what it’s all about!  







Tuesday, July 11, 2017

" I still can't believe it" by Serena Schreifels




I still can’t believe it.  Being Miss Minnesota International is such an honor and a dream.  The whole Minnesota International experience was a blast! Even if I had not have won, it was a weekend I’ll never forget.  All the other contestants, the staff and volunteers, and all the support I had made it that way!

 

My favorite part of any pageant experience is always meeting the other contestants.  All the other girls were so wonderful and so passionate.  They had so much support for one another and were each amazing on and off stage! It was such a privilege to meet them and grow beside them pageant weekend!

 

When my name was called my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t go into this pageant expecting to win but to do my best and grow in the experience. Winning was the cherry on top of the whole thing! But I am so ecstatic that I did! The best part about winning was that my mom was there to see that. She is my biggest supporter and I’m glad to make her proud!