Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Bare Necessities"

Merry Christmas!!

The season of giving is finally upon us. Christmas is a time to give to our loved ones without expecting anything in return. I don’t think there is any greater feeling than giving back, especially to those in need. My platform focuses on giving to those who cannot afford the necessary things to live. Bare Necessities is a closet within my school that holds everything from mittens to toothpaste. It provides to families within my school district who cannot afford the, “bare necessities”, to life.

I chose this platform due to a few personal experiences I have had that impacted my life. The past six years I have lived with my mother and two younger sisters. With my mom supporting us off of her single income with no help from others, we struggled financially.

I also experienced something that has changed my life forever. High school students are paired up with elementary students who may misbehave during class, struggle learning, or could have a tough home life. My younger sister and I share an “elementary buddy” and he had mentioned to my sister that he could not afford to bring snack to school like the other kids. My sister came to me wondering if I had any food in my locker and I had luckily brought an extra muffin to school. Our buddy was more than grateful for the muffin we were giving him but then told us he was going to save it for supper. With tears in my eyes, I knew I found my calling right then and there. I was going to do whatever I could to help this little boy, along with his six other brothers and sisters. I was going to make sure they had food to eat EVERY night.

I know what it is like to not be able to afford the small things in life. I know how embarrassing it can be for a child and how hurt they can feel, even when they can’t control how financially stable their family is. I want to share my stories with others in hope to have their eyes open to what some families are going through. I plan on sharing my Bare Necessities organization with other schools in hope to have them open a closet in their school to help families in their district who are less fortunate. I WILL continue to help those in need in hope to change their lives for the better.

I hope you all are having an amazing holiday season! Blessings to you all.

Yours truly,

Madison Johnson

Miss Teen North Dakota International 

Find Your Voice: Embrace Speaking, Empower Knowledge, Encourage Debate!

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that somewhere around 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety and are afraid of public speaking. Why is this percentage so drastically high? The best ideas won’t mean anything if we can’t communicate them. Whether it’s a doctor working with a patient, a manager coaching their team, or a retail worker responding to questions from a customer, all of us will be expected to speak and be put “on the spot” at some time. Maybe we won’t know the answer, but we need the skills to be flexible and to handle ourselves under pressure.

Find Your Voice is an online resource founded on my passion and belief that debate develops students into confident leaders in our community. As Miss North Dakota International, it is my mission to promote Find Your Voice to students, school faculty, and state leaders to increase the presence of debate programs. Find Your Voice advocates for students to reach their goals as effective communicators and connects volunteer debate alumni with current debate competitors. These experienced mentors work with students individually to guide them through everything from debating to professional networking while also reaching a large audience of debaters with blogs, tips, and advice. Find Your Voice is a complete debate resource available online and is accessible to students in rural communities and urban areas. Find Your Voice was created entirely to support and feature student debaters as well as to promote more opportunities for debate. Some of the most common feedback from debaters is that they want more competition, more teams, and larger tournaments.  

The word “debate” for most people brings up images of how debate is portrayed in the media. There is an underlying assumption that in order to win a debate, you must be the loudest, the smartest, or the meanest competitor. When I think of an exciting debate, I am always most inspired by the team that is the most prepared. Preparation comes from personal experience to extensive research and allows for creative ways for students to present and interpret information. Another stereotype is that debate is for students who want to be attorneys or politicians. Effective discussions are key in any career field. Learning unique techniques for communication through debate can be applied in a variety of situations.

At this time, it is suggested that the United States ranks 17th internationally in education when comparing literacy and graduation rates. To address this deficiency, a new national initiative that is about to be released is the new Common Core curriculum. Common Core is a challenging new national curriculum that includes English and Language Arts standards that will require extensive speaking and listening skills. The National Forensics League, which is the leading national honor society for speech and debate programs, lays out their plan to meet the Common Core standards with the alignment of debate programs in schools

The purpose of a school of any type is to guide students to learn and succeed. When I see students coming off a bus at 6:00am on a Saturdayin suits and ties and heading inside a school to debate, I see a group of students that are preparing to be successful.

Unfortunately, debate teams are drastically underfunded compared to athletics. Many schools believe they cannot afford to offer a debate program. Debate teams require the same funding for buses, hotel rooms, coaching, and tournament fees. Here in North Dakota, just about all of the 160+ schools offer opportunities to be in basketball or football, while only around 20 schools offer competitive debate. Although a debate tournament typically doesn’t include any pep rallies or immediate funding from tickets and concessions, schools will see the return in improved GPA scores, increased standardized test scores, and higher college admission rates. Debaters often surpass their peers in critical thinking, listening, research, and analytical skills.  Also, debate offers equal opportunities for everyone to participate. Higher standardized test performance and student achievement can potentially benefit the funding that schools receive. Funding for debate programs in schools not only benefits the students that are competing, but the support also benefits the school district and the community as well. When students achieve greater accomplishments through education, communities grow and thrive.

In my opinion, debaters are some of the friendliest people you will meet. They love to have conversations and they have excellent listening skills. The community is incredibly supportive of each other. The best way a debater can improve is if their opposing team challenges them to be better. Check out the Student Interview section at Find Your Voice to hear what students have to say about their experience as debaters

Now students even have the opportunity to debate internationally. Many new tournaments use modern technology to allow students to share ideas across the world! Technology is so relevant to how we communicate and students are using modern technology effectively and appropriately to exchange ideas globally. They are able to debate virtually using essays and even programs like Skype to meet students all over the world.

Finally, one of the most exciting ways to support the debate team in your community is to become a judge. Judging is a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many students by giving them your unique feedback. Advocate for education in your community and get involved with the forensics team in your district. Who knows, maybe you’ll watch the next great Oscar winner, justice of the supreme court, or CEO of a Fortune 500 Company!

To wrap up, I want to close with a quote from one of my most favorite forensic team members: “Forensics… I believe in it! It’s about the power of words to influence ideas, to uncover a higher truth, to change minds, and, for a lot of people, even to change lives.” -- Oprah Winfrey

For more information on forensics and debate programs, visit:

Meg Pulkrabek RD, LRD
Miss North Dakota International 2014

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My platform: For Every Child, a Place to Call Home

This year, I want to raise public awareness about the need of adoptive families for children in the foster care system.  I want to direct perspective adoptive families to agencies that can walk them through the adoptive journey and I want to use my own story of adoption and foster care to encourage others that you don’t have to be perfect to fill these kids’ hearts. 

More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, unfortunately the remainder will stay in the foster care system. Nationally there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. This is a HUGE, staggering number.  But if only 1 in 500 people in the United States adopted, there would be no more children in foster care.  

Who can adopt?  We all can: any family, including singles, couples with or without children.  We simply must have the ability to give a child unconditional love, patience, commitment and be willing to use the community services that children need to succeed.

Let’s look at the numbers on a more local scale.  Currently in the state of North Dakota, there are 1,000 children whose sole desire is to have a family to call their own.  There are 864 towns/cities in the state.  That means that every city needs to adopt one child.  One child. 
250,000 children are too many kids for me or any single person to adopt.  But as a nation, a people dedicated to seeing the lost and weary children crying out for homes around us to be given a new chance, we can make a difference.  One child at a time, and for that one child that difference will be the world.

Pushing Back the Dark
By Josh Wilson
One million reasons why, you shouldn't even try.
After all you're just one heart, a single candle in the dark.
And there are shadows here, feeding on your fears,
That you don't have what it takes - who are you to make a change?
But oh, oh, don't underestimate the God you follow.
So there you have it… my heart on a platter, or should I say on my platform.  I would love to walk your adoption journey with you.  We can take this grand adventure together.
Janelle Steinberg, Mrs. North Dakota International 2014

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meet Your New Miss North Dakota International 2014!

Ten Facts about your new Miss North Dakota International 2014, Meg Pulkrabek!
1.) I grew up in Mandan, North Dakota (go Braves!) and graduated from Mandan High School in with the always fabulous class of 2007. 

2.) I began swimming competitively at 8 years old and even into my freshmen year of college until injuries put me into early retirement. I still like to try to get back in the pool every once in awhile and someday soon I will compete in a triathalon! 

3.) I graduated from North Dakota State University in 2011 with my Bachelor's degree in dietetics and a minor in chemistry. If you're interested in becoming a dietitian, this is an excellent program! 

4.) I will graduate in May 2014 (fingers crossed!) from NDSU with my Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science.

5.) I work as a dietitian at Bethany Nursing Home where I have the opportunity to provide care to over 100 residents.
6.) My two black cats, Wednesday and Bear, are both rescues. And Bear is a polydactyl (he has 25 toes!) 

7.) I am the founder of Find Your Voice ( and promote debate programs every chance I get. You'll hear a lot about this organization soon! 

8.) I have four older sisters, 6 nephews, and 5 nieces! 

9.) In my spare time, I love obstacle course racing, managing my fantasy football team, learning self defense, fishing, camping, biking, running, and swimming. 

10.) Someday, my goal is to work in a research lab, work with patients with eating disorders, or receive my Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and train athletes. If I work hard, maybe I will do all three ;) 

I am so excited to see what the rest of the year will be like and I can't wait to share it with you! 

Meg Pulkrabek RD, LRD
Miss North Dakota International 2014

Friday, December 13, 2013

Meet Your New Mrs. North Dakota International 2014

Hello!  Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Janelle Steinberg. I am so honored to be Mrs. North Dakota International 2014.  It is a great privilege to represent today’s married women, North Dakota, and the Mrs. International pageant system this year.

I was born in South Dakota and from there my family moved to Harwood, North Dakota.  There I was able to grow up in the “suburbs” of Fargo, North Dakota. I graduated from Oak Grove Lutheran High School in 1994.  I took a grand tour of colleges: I first did a year in St. Paul at Northwestern College, followed by a year at Minnesota State University Moorhead.  While at MSUM, I cheered for the Basketball Team.  Next I landed at NDSU; and I finally had found a college home. I received a Bachelor’s of Art degree in Apparel Construction and Design, with a minor in Business and in Merchandising in 1998.   I consider myself a NDSU Bison through and through.

I worked my way through college at the Buckle.  I loved working in retail.  It is always changing and busy.  I started with the Buckle when I was 16 and “retired” from there when I was 24.  While with them, I had the opportunity to work in many positions, everything from assistant manager, manager-in-training to seamstress.  It was a wonderful place to work.

While I was with the Buckle, I met my husband, Keith.  He came into my life to buy a watch.  He never did buy a watch from me that day, but we did end up on a date.  We quickly fell in love.  Within two months we were already talking about marriage.  (Don’t tell my parents)  They probably knew anyway, because within five months, we were engaged and we were married by the end of the year.  This may seem quick, but hey, when you know, you know.  And I knew Keith was the one for me.

We are the extremely proud, overprotective parents to six amazing and busy children, Claire is 13, Loren is 10, Nate is 8, Marc is 7, Karl is 6, and Aubrey is 5. Now this is where our story really gets interesting…We had decided to be done having children after our first two girls were born, so we got a puppy to round out our family.  A few short months later we found out we were having another baby, and along came Marc.  It is amazing for me to think that while Marc was being knit together in my womb, my son, Nathan was being lovingly formed in the womb of another.  The boys are only six months apart. While God knew the plan for my family all along, it took us almost another four years to become the family of eight that we are today.  In 2010, we became the foster parents of two sweet brown-eyed little boys.  Twenty months later, those boys along with their sister, legally became ours.  I am not sure what will happen next for our family, but I am done telling God how big I think our family should be and am just ready to listen.

So there you have it… that’s a bit about me.  I am ready to walk this year with my family and you.  Together we are on a grand adventure and I’ll be sure to keep you informed!


Janelle Steinberg, Mrs. North Dakota International 2014

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Meet Your New Miss Teen North Dakota International 2014

My name is Madison Johnson and I am your 2014 Miss Teen North Dakota International…. I could say that all day

I am a senior in high school and I have two younger sisters that are my world. I would do anything and everything for them.  I also have two dogs and a cat. Aspen, my 1-year-old Siberian husky, is my baby. Playing with her is one of my favorite things to do! I also like to play softball. I am the captain of my varsity softball team as well as being the catcher. Along with playing with my puppy and playing softball, I also enjoy being with my friends and family. Whether it is jet skiing at the lake or sledding at the infamous ‘Johnson Hill’ (self named), I enjoy doing it all as long as I am with my loved ones. I have no idea where I will end up next year for college, but I plan on studying mass communication and one day having my own talk show. My ultimate goal is being the next Oprah J how fun would it be to use your wealth to help others?!

I can’t wait for what the next year of my life has to offer. I have been truly blessed to be in the position that I am in today. I will take advantage of everyday for the next year to make a difference in not only in the beautiful state of North Dakota, but also our country.

Yours truly,
Miss Teen North Dakota International 2014 
Madison Johnson 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Holiday Lights Parade

Last week, Jen, Grace, and I were invited to be a part of one of Fargo-Moorhead’s favorite holiday events- the Holiday Lights Parade! Thousands of people braved the single digit temps to line the streets and see the brightly lit floats. Jen, Grace, and I were able to ride in a “reindeer” drawn sleigh courtesy of the City of Fargo. We had a great time waving at all of the people and attempting to throw candy with our mitten-ed hands. Grace and I even had a sweet couple by us coffee and cookies while we warmed up inside a corner coffee shop after the parade was over.

This event was bittersweet, though, as it was the last appearance that all three of us would do together before we pass on our crowns to the next deserving ladies. While I am sad that our reign is coming to an end, I know that we experienced our year to the fullest, and I can’t wait for the next set of queens to have their turn!

Xoxo, Taylor

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dream Big!

You only get one chance, one life to make a difference! I always hope that along the way I can make a few people feel important and special. It is always wonderful to catch that glimmer of excitement in a little ones' eye as we pass through a parade. The crown we wear makes many little girls think we are true princesses, as titleholders we are role models. 

As Grace, Taylor, and I made our freezing way through the Holiday Lights parade it was that one last time to watch little faces light up with excitement seeing the sparking crowns on our heads, and smiles on our faces (of course the candy helped too!). 

My last hurrah will be the day before the new queens are crowned. I am fortunate to be able to donate a few hundred teddy bears to the children in Sanford Childrens hospital. I am maybe more excited than they will be! 
Lastly, I want to thank everyone who made this year possible for me! I can't wait to see what the upcoming year has in store for the 2014 International queens! 
Dream Big! 

Monday, December 2, 2013

All Good Things Come To An End!

Where did the year go? I remember much too well last year deciding and then preparing for the ND International Pageant and reminding myself that this is something I would never have done. But, these chances in life don't come along everyday and I knew I had to just try it!  

I was incredibly nervous but my goal was to be myself, live up this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and get to know some fabulous women. I achieved each one of my goals and went above and beyond my wildest dreams.
So, my words of advice for the contestants are to do these things too! Of course we all want to be crowned at the end of the weekend but as my dear friend told me along the way, 'the true crown is in your heart'.
Even if you make an impact on just one person, you have done what you were put in that place at that time to do.
Be yourself and be amazing!
Jennifer Mauch
Mrs. ND International, 2013