Monday, December 4, 2017

"AHA Gala" by Devika Narayan




“We raised a RECORD-BREAKING 1.5 million dollars this year!!!” Hearing this statement, made my heart fill with joy, knowing that I had been a part of the incredible feat. Last weekend I was lucky enough to volunteer as well as appear at the annual American Heart Association Gala at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The red-carpet event is held annually to help raise funds for the AHA to help patients directly.

 

Today over 610,000 individuals are affected yearly by heart disease in the US alone. Affecting individuals of all ages and abilities, the heart disease plagues the lives of many. Being a part of the event and knowing I was helping this cause made me happy to represent not only the International Organization, but also the fact that I could connect with donors and supporters and hear their “why”, or their passion or inspiration for attending and supporting the AHA.

 

Hearing the “why” from people was a really moving experience. To hear about family members affected, and how other family members can only watch and contribute to events such as the Gala really made me appreciate the efforts of organizations like the AHA and their mission to help patients with the resources they really need.

 

One of my very fun roles of the evening was to be a part of the Tiffany booth, one of the main auction booths. There, I was not only able to help donors understand the purpose and goal of the Tiffany booth, but was also able to meet and speak with them personally, talking about my platform with my title, and my commitment with the AHA. As a queen, you always get to talk about all the fun events and organizations you work with, but that evening it felt really great to tell people about how I really am committed to these individuals and the efforts of the organization.

 

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience that I will cherish. Being able to connect and use my title the way that I am able to is something I will always be grateful for.

"Kind kids" by Stephanie Welter

 


    One of my favorite jobs is to spend time on the air with my friends at KTIS Radio. My good friend Keith Stevens of the KTIS afternoon show did a segment while I was on with him called “kind kids,” where we took a minute to acknowledge good hearted kids who go out of their way to do kind things for others.
    We took phone calls from listeners who wanted to share with pride their kids and how they are doing things like befriending kids at school who seem lonely, and others who are starting charitable organizations to help kids who go without school lunches. During our time listening and cheering on other parents for supporting their kind kids, I had the chance to reflect on my own amazing 4 children (two of which are no longer “kids” but amazing nonetheless).
   

 
  I was reminded of how much my 12, 14 and 21 year old help their 20 year old brother Ben who has a diagnosis of Autism. When you are a family with an individual with special needs - and special gifts, your kids have endless opportunities to display kindness and help. They grow up with a different perspective than most. They tend to be a bit more flexible. They are more understanding of others with special needs and exhibit acts of compassion because they have more opportunity too throughout life at home and out and about in the community with a sibling who needs a bit of extra assistance.
   


  Last week my heart melted as I watched my 12 year old daughter help her brother bake chocolate chip cookies. He was really excited about the prospect of having cookies and I thought it would be fun to teach him how to make them himself (with appropriate measures of help). My daughter Savannah stepped in and I marveled at how sweet and gentle she was in her instruction.
   
 
  I see as my kids get older how incredibly beneficial it has been for them to have come alongside their brother to teach him different things or to guide him through the daily components of life. I know how much we have all been blessed by Ben’s sensitivity, his intelligence, his sweet spirit and his sense of humor. We’ve learned more than I have room to write about from Benjamin. There have been challenges, of course. But, as my children grow and mature, I can see now all the incredible qualities they exhibit the older they get and the more we spend time with other families and with other kids. Compassion, empathy, kindness and patience are not necessarily qualities that come naturally to everyone. But these qualities certainly can be taught, practiced and encouraged in our own kids and giving kids the chance to prove how kind they can be will be an exercise in humanity and care that I believe we will all benefit from. I’m proud of my “kind kids!”

"Autism Speaks " by Stephanie Welter




 
    A few months ago I received a message from a beautiful woman that I had met this spring when I had the honor of giving the commencement speak at LionsGate Academy graduation ceremony. Her and I had the chance to speak about her little boy and also her nephew, who at the time was graduating. We exchanged contact information and resolved that we would connect down the road.
    When I received a message from Ramona to join her and team Autism Love at the annual Autism Speaks walk, I was thrilled. I immediately said yes and knew we were going to have an incredible adventure. I was honored to walk with her and Jayden, but was also walking for my son Benjamin and our entire family.
   Our walk began as we gathered together at the US Bank Stadium, a place I had never been, but was awe-struck by. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece of architecture and the fact that we were going to get the chance to actually walk ON the field sent a thrill up everyone’s spine. We gathered together in the middle of the field and prepared to honor our loved ones with a sensory friendly cheer. We each had pom-poms and instead of cheering and clapping, we quietly shook out pom-poms in solidarity and with excitement as we prepared for the national anthem.
    A young man took the stage. I was told he had autism, and as he stepped to the microphone to sing the national anthem, tears fell from my eyes. It was a beautiful sound and an even more moving site to see this young man stand in courage in front of a crowd and share in these moments of togetherness and community.
    We watched as photos flashed across the jumbotron of our smiling, laughing faces and teams gathered for team shots. We saw the signal 3...2...1 on the jumbotron and the walk officially began.
    As we walked we all talked and shared stories, therapeutic journeys and bragged about the amazing progress and achievements both big and small that our loved ones were making. Kids shook their pom-poms, parents pushed strollers and advocates held team signs. After a few laps about US Bank Stadium, the walk was complete and the organization Autism Speaks completed another successful fundraising walk to help kids on the spectrum get the help and support they need to live full productive lives.
    The more time I spend in the autism community the more fascinated I am and the more proud I become.



"Spooktacular" by Stephanie Welter

 


    If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in being partnered with The Minnesota Autism Center Schools (The MAC School) is that when they put on an event, they do it right and they do it well! This year’s annual “Spooktacular” was no exception!
    The staff goes out of their way to present fun, adventurous activities for the students, so when they get a chance to decorate, set up game stations and put together a “spooky trail” they go all out and spend a lot of time and energy.
    This year the kids walked through the doors dressed up in their favorite costumes to a hallway filled with games. In order to get their “treat” the students had to do various things like tell a joke, play a game, or throw a ping pong ball into a tiny glass in order get their candy. As I approached the first station with my son Ben, the girls behind the candy station said to Ben, “Ummm….in order to get candy here, you have to tell us a joke.” I hesitated and said, “uh oh, I don’t think…..” no sooner did I get those words out of my mouth when Ben started. “Knock Knock” he said. “Who’s there?” they both chimed in simultaneously. “Boo!” he said. “Boo who?” they asked. “Don’t cry, it’s only a joke!” He replied as we all laughed.
    We sat and ate pumpkin shaped sugar cookies and headed into the dance. The gymnasium had special blue lights and a hologram projection of a haunted house against the wall with some quiet playing music and rubber insects on the floor.
   They offered a “trail of terror” type of experience which I never do. I don’t enjoy being scared out of my wits, but I asked Ben if he wanted to go and of course he said, “yes!” Off we went, tour guide in front of us cracking “scary” jokes, flashlights in hand we ventured off out the back door and into the woods. Left and right people dressed like zombies popped out of us. My sons laughed and joked while I screamed and jumped nearly out of my skin. I had more fun than I expected too and we all decided at the end that once again this year this event was even better than last. Complete success!
The kids were happy, the parents got great photographs and the staff got to try their hand at costume design and acting.
    One things that us parents of kids and even young adults on the autism spectrum, is when we get the opportunity to do “typical” kinds of things that other kids get to enjoy. The MAC School goes out of their way to provide “typical” kinds of fun activities for kids that are not neuro-typical. These kids work hard each day to do the things that most of us take advantage of, so to be able to laugh and enjoy and watch them thrive is a treasure to a parent like me.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"The Great Minnesota Get Together”by Devika Narayan





Receiving the request to be a part of the State Fair parade was an invitation I wasn’t truly prepared for. Ever since I was little, I had always anxiously waited for the time of year when I could go experience all the fun and excitement the fair had to offer. Being invited to be a part of that experience brought a whole new level of excitement I had never felt before.

All four of the International queens were invited and we were able to join other state queens on the float!! It was so fun to see and hear about the experiences of other queens across the state and to hear about their accomplishments and goals for their reigns.

Other than the incredible other women that stood with me on the float, the experience of seeing what “The Great Minnesota Get Together”  really meant was unforgettable. To see someone’s face light up or even smile made me realize how prestigious this title really can be.




Other than my amazing experience on the float, I was able to represent my title as Miss Teen MN International at the Alzheimer’s Association booth. As it is my platform, the Alzheimer’s Association asked if I would like to volunteer and represent my cause at the fair, which excited me beyond words! By using the simplistic game of plinko, I was able to invite individuals to come, play, and learn of the effects of Alzheimer’s. It was really humbling on my part to be able to talk about Alzheimer’s in such a way to not only represent the association, but also to help spread the importance of prevention and my mission to find a cure. By participating in such fun appearances, I know I have fulfilled my duties as a queen.


Friday, September 29, 2017

"Queen’s Parade" by Stephanie Welter

 


    When I received the email request to appear in the State Fair parade, I nearly jumped out of my high heels! The great Minnesota Get Together is visited by record breaking numbers each year. This year alone over 1.9 people attended, and my family and I were among them only this year I got a very special seat.
    As a state titleholder with the International system, myself and my sister queens (the Miss, the Teen and the pre-teen) were all invited to ride the Queen’s float! It was thirty minutes of smiles, waves and laughter as we watched the crowd mirror back to us the official “royal wave.” We were surprised and delighted to see how familiar this royal hand-swaying gesture really is and we had to admit that many in the crowd had it mastered even better than we did!


 
    As we arrived on the grounds, our float awaited us like a chariot waiting to enter a royal processional. As the other minnesota royalty arrived, we each took our place on benches and platforms to prepare for the 40 minute ride. The girls, all in their beautiful sparkling gowns, banners and crowns, I was the least “formal” as my family and I had plans to visit the animal barns at enjoy at least one tub of the fair’s famous “Martha’s Cookies!”
    There’s truly nothing like watching thousands of strangers display smiles and waves of kindness, knowing that you represent their community and state with pride and grace.
Several times as we moved along the streets of the parade grounds, I heard my name yelled from the crowd and would look up with delight to see a familiar friend! One familiar voice especially caught my attention (the voice of my husband) and as I heard my name being called I frantically searched the sea of faces to find his. It took me several seconds but at least I saw my husband and our line of kids all along the curb smiling and waving with pride. My heart skipped a beat as I saw their faces, especially my son Benjamin for whom if it were not for his brave journey through what we know as “autism” I wouldn’t be up there as a representative not only of our beautiful state, but also of our precious and invaluable neuro-diverse community. I swallowed back a tear, blew them a kiss and proceeded to scan the crowd for new and excited little faces.
    After the parade my family and I enjoyed touring Minnesota’s businesses at the grand stand, marveling at record breaking, award winning livestock, and indeed indulging in funnel cakes, cookies and pronto pups!
    I have never been so proud to be a Minnesotan, and to represent the title of Mrs. Minnesota International than on that day among hundreds of thousands of friends and neighbors on a picture perfect August day!

'My Current Hometown" by Devika Narayan





The City of Plymouth, my current hometown, is the third largest suburb in Minnesota and one of the most simplistic yet incredible places yet. It’s easy for anyone to say that their hometown is fun for a various list of reasons, but Plymouth is definitively one of the best places to live, besides, we’ve won the best place to live in Minnesota for a countless amount of years. Now living here, I may be a bit biased in my opinion, but there are a ton of reasons to love Plymouth.



We have so many fun places to eat, like Honey and Mackie’s (my favorite place), a family-owned restaurant with the ABSOLUTE best ice-cream and fries. The food there is obviously really great, but the atmosphere is what really makes the place amazing. From the moment you step in you almost immediately feel welcomed. For me, that’s what makes it so memorable and keeps bringing me back. Other than all the amazing places to eat, there’s also so much to see!




The Plymouth Millennium Garden has to be one of the places I think back to when I think of a “fairytale garden”. The thousands of flowers and fountains in the garden make it the perfect place for any occasion, ranging from the weddings that have taken place there, to my various Girl Scout bridging ceremonies!! At the end of the day, it’s a city with so many special things to see and do, but I’ll just end this blog with that so you come visit me and see for yourself ;)!!

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.