Friday, May 22, 2015

" YouthCARE" written by Kate Howe

What a fun evening!  Tou Ger and Andrea Bennett Xiong invited Alexis, Nicole and myself to their 10th Annual Celebration of Urban Youth Dinner.  Tou Ger and Andrea are long-time, passionate volunteers of the organization.  It was very interesting to hear about Camp Sunrise, which brings together urban youth, 13-18 year olds from diverse cultural backgrounds to experience the outdoors, learn about the environment and build respect for themselves and others.  Tou Ger was once an adolescent attending the camp!  It is amazing to see him giving back to an organization that had a huge impact on his life.

The ladies and I are pictured here with former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and his wife, Megan.  R.T. is the Executive Director of Generation Next, a powerful coalition of civic, business and education leaders aiming to close the achievement and opportunity gaps in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Generation Next leaders will use the cradle-to-career framework to help students achieve five key goals, or success benchmarks.  These goals are research-based competencies and key transition points that are necessary for students’ developmental progress.  My platform, Ignite the Imagination aligns with goal #2: 3rd Grade Reading Benchmarks - which means by the end of 3rd grade, each student meets key benchmarks for success in reading and reading comprehension. 

A special part of the evening was being able to talk to Andrea about being a Mrs. Minnesota Queen J.  Andrea was our 2013 Mrs. Minnesota International – definitely a beauty inside and out!  The Mrs. Sisterhood runs deep and strong, with a lot of support.  I am so honored to be a part of this group of women. 


The fun thing about being a “Mrs.” is that you always have a guaranteed date for events like these.  I am so lucky – Joe is definitely my biggest supporter. 


So Blessed!

Mrs. Minnesota International 2015

Kate Howe



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

" No More" by Alexis Adu-Bobi

          When you look at the picture above what do you see? You see a young woman happy and full of smiles. The woman you see on the left was not always happy. I grew up in Bronx New York in the projects. That is where my journey began. I grew up in a home where my father was physically abusive towards my mother, siblings and I. This period in my life was very difficult. I was a young child dealing with adult problems. Due to what I was dealing with at home I was a very quiet and withdrawn child. As the years continued my home life became increasingly worse.  My Mother somehow found the strength to leave and was able to divorce my father and put herself through nursing school. Once she was more financially stable we packed up and moved to Minnesota for a fresh start.


          Minnesota is where I was able to have a normal childhood. I was at a new school, made new friends and I was given the opportunity to try new things particularly. All was well for a while. Once in high school I began to experience some of the side effects of children who had been abused. I was angry all the time and I began to resent my mother for my childhood. I became depressed and I had constant anxiety. Sports became my outlet. I was a two-sport athlete in track and volleyball. I would avoid my issues by staying active all the time. I eventually graduated from high school and moved on to college.


          When I started college I thought things would be better. I was in a new school and new environment. I was still dealing with my depression and anxiety but I found ways to cope. It was there I met my college boyfriend. When we first met things were perfect, but as the relationship progressed he became controlling, jealous, and verbally aggressive.  Eventually he became physically and emotionally abusive. The man I thought I knew was a complete stranger. As time went on the abuse became worse and worse. I then began to realize this was not the life God had planned for me. I finally left my abuser and sought refuge at a women’s shelter. I ended up spending one month at the Alexandra House women’s shelter. I took that time to utilize the resources provided which was a great help in helping to pick up the pieces and find myself again. With the help of Alexandra House I am proud to say I moved to Duluth, MN to start a new life.

          God has given me a new sense of hope. He has pulled me out of the darkness and into the light. When I moved to Duluth I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to educate and raise awareness so that people would not have to endure what I have. I am proud to say I am an advocate for the “No More” campaign, which fights to prevent and end Domestic Violence and sexual assault against women and children. My goal as a survivor is to continue to provide resources for victims and empower our future generations to break the cycle of violence before it begins. I am living proof that there is life after abuse, and it is never too late to rewrite your story.

Alexis Adu-Bobi

Miss Minnesota International 2015


Saturday, May 9, 2015

"I thought arthritis was just for old people..." by Nicole Doyle


It was just another normal morning for my at-home mother.  As always, I woke her up bright and early yelling “Mama, UP time!” (I was just three years old).  My big brother Nate and I were playing and we didn’t have a care in the world.  Very quickly our lives were going to change, and none of us would have ever guessed it.


That “normal” morning was the same day my mom noticed my swollen, hot, and painful finger…and it was the day that forever changed my life.  My mom’s maternal instinct was telling her that something was really, really wrong.  She took me to my pediatrician who somewhat dismissed it, figuring I must have just bumped it or something while playing that morning.  We were told not to worry about it and were sent on our way.  However, my mom was convinced that there was something else going on.  


 We went to doctor after doctor, eventually ending up at an adult rheumatologist due to the fact that only about 250 pediatric rheumatologists exist in the entire United States (a rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in arthritis and other joint/tissue diseases).  As a three year old, I did not know what was going on—all I knew was that I did not like the doctors!  I did not want to be there and have them examining me; I just wanted to go back home and play with my brother.  I remember this day (with the adult rheumatologist) distinctly.  I remember her extending and bending and checking all of my joints.  The next thing I remember is entering a lab while holding my big purple stuffed bunny and squeezing tight.  I did not want to be poked and prodded by needles, but I had to.  


This blood test forever changed my life.  “I’m sorry to tell you this but your daughter has arthritis.”  What?  How could this be?  Isn’t arthritis for “old” people?  My daughter is only three years old!  I was sent to the one child rheumatologist in Minnesota (yes, there is only ONE in the entire state!).  We started an intense treatment plan to get this under control called methotrexate.  I was started on methotrexate after being diagnosed with JIA in my knees, jaw, fingers, and that one cute little toe that is still little now from damage. 


The treatment started. Since I was quite young, the methotrexate had to be administered in a liquid that my mom would mix into food or drink.  It was okay at the start but then I started to get sick.  A vicious cycle began.  I remember switching from liquid to pills and pills to liquid hoping it would help make a difference with the nausea.  My mom would put the liquid medication into everything and anything trying to hide the bitter taste.  From soda to milk and even applesauce—you name it!  I specifically remember losing my appetite if I were to drink any of the things she put it in to try and get the meds into my system. I used to love milk, but if I drink it now I get reminded of the sickness instantly. The same thing happens with most sodas—you name it and we’ve tried it!  I remember being a little spitfire sneaking upstairs claiming that I will only drink it “alone,” yet secretly I was pouring it down the sink to avoid being sick and missing school.  I loved school and I wanted to go! 


 At around 8 years old, we then tried pills; I remember trying to swallow 7 little orange pills, trying to keep them down.  I was old enough to know what these pills led to:  sickness, nausea, vomiting, me missing school and activities.  I remember vomiting after taking a few and my parents having to dig through the vomit-filled sink trying to find them…and me having to take it again and re-attempt holding them down.  Then afterward, getting sick and missing school.  This is very common for children afflicted with Juvenile Arthritis—sometimes the treatment for the disease is even more painful than the disease itself.


Teachers did not understand. They told my mom that I was falling behind.  I could not keep up.  I would have a flare-up and be stuck in bed for days.  My medication would cause nausea, which again would cause me to miss more school.  We tried adjusting it, taking it in the morning, taking it at night, on the weekend. Nothing worked and my teachers had a hard time understanding how one day I could appear perfectly fine and the next day be in bed for days at a time. 


 When I was 11, I made a very big decision in hopes that it would help.  My doctors taught me how to give myself a shot of the medicine.  It helped a little bit but due to the nausea, I still missed out on many things.  In middle school, I remember keeping a big bag of Skittles in my backpack and sucking on them through the day to try to distract myself from being nauseous so I could be at school and go to hockey practice!  I remember going to the school nurse often to snack on some saltines.  Luckily, my school nurse’s daughter also had arthritis.  This was the first time I had a school staff member understand me!  She knew what I was going through because her daughter went through the same thing as me!  She knew I loved school, she knew how a little break like laying down for an hour would help me recharge.  I realized I was not the only one affected with J.A.


 At the end of 7th grade year, I went into remission…but not for long.  By the end of summer, it had come back.  I told my doctor I just could not take methotrexate again.  So we tried another plan of attach.  It took months to get my insurance to approve Enbrel, which once again is a shot I self-administer.  It went well and really helped, and best of all I wasn’t nauseous!  I have been on it ever since and still take it today.


Once I entered high school, my arthritis still had its ups and downs.  Hockey tryouts began and I remember feeling so nervous wondering if would make the team.  Five exhausting days of tryouts later, after skating through with my aches and pains, I made it!  I was on my high school hockey team!  Little did I know how stressful this would end up.  Coaches don’t understand. If you don’t have a cast on, why are you missing practice? I would miss practice due to a flare-up and when I returned the following day, I’d get penalized (i.e. not playing as much during the game).  They did not understand what arthritis was, because I looked normal on the outside.  The same goes for lacrosse—I remember being at the trainer’s office everyday to get my ankle and knees taped as it helped me and gave me extra support.


I have a very busy schedule. Starting at age 10, I have gone to physical therapy twice a week each week. This and other doctor appointments made me miss a lot of school and sports. However I had to go because it helped to control the pain. When I was about 9 years old, I had a full 16 ounces drained out of my knee.  I remember my doctor had the nurses put a big book in front of my face to avoid me seeing the massive needle.


Throughout my life I have been a very picky eater due to my jaw pain being too terrible. I think I lived on noodles bread and butter for a while.  I could not eat chewy things or chew gum because of the pain.


 I have learned to live with this disease.  Believe it or not, I have actually turned the fact that I am affected daily from Juvenile Arthritis into a positive. I am living proof you can overcome JA as a 18-year-old who played both hockey and lacrosse for Lakeville South High School!  For the past 10 years, I have been proud to promote awareness and education, as well as challenge and inspire others through the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation as a spokesperson, an advocate, and also a patient dealing with the disabling disease of JA.  I have learned to not just survive, but to truly THRIVE. 


Remember, kids get arthritis too!


Nicole Elizabeth Doyle

Miss Teen Minnesota International 2015

" Children’s Surgeries International" by Kate Howe



Children’s Surgery International is a non-profit organization which serves underprivileged children around the world by providing free surgical services in a safe, compassionate, and culturally sensitive manner.  Many of these children have no other access to medical, let alone surgical services. 

CSI also provides professional training, education and support to surgeons, nurses and other caregivers in the local communities.  Their goal is to provide the locations they visit with the proper skills and resources so they can perform the procedures locally and eventually no longer require their services.


I had the honor of attending the 11th Annual Gala at the Millennium Hotel downtown Minneapolis.  The event raised more than $160,000 for the children they serve.  This organization is truly making a huge difference in the lives of the children they reach.  The stories brought tears to my eyes over and over again throughout the evening.  To be around such skilled surgeons, compassionate nurses and dedicated volunteers was truly inspiring. 


Joe and I sat next to Miss Sauerkraut 1973 and her family!!  Pageant sisterhood runs strong J.  Her family is what I dream about my family becoming in 25 years.  Her entire family is strongly involved in CSI and has dedicated a large part of their lives to this amazing organization.


The event brought in local celebrities like former Minnesota Viking Esera Tuaolo and KSTP anchor Chris Egert.  The funniest part of the evening was trying to leave the hotel.  There was a high school volleyball tournament staying at the hotel and I was completely swarmed by high school girls wanting pictures – so fun!


Loving being Mrs. Minnesota!!

Mrs. Minnesota International 2015

Kate Howe