Opening Speaker: Debbie Harris
Debbie is a registered nurse by education with a passion for encouraging others to live life to the fullest. A health, fitness, nutrition and self-development warrior who pushes herself out of her comfort zone, Debbie has completed numerous marathons and other endurance challenges. Debbie is best known for surviving 21 days in the jungles of Guyana on the Emmy-nominated Discovery Channel show, “Naked & Afraid.” In the pages of the “Oola for Women: Find Balance in an Unbalanced World–7 Key Areas of Life to Have Less Stress, More Purpose, and Reveal the Greatness Within You,” Debbie shares how she overcame obstacles to pursue her goals. Debbie currently is launching an inspirational apparel brand. Her wish for others is to breathe life into their dreams and to be their own biggest fans.
Peyton Medick, founder, Peyton’s Promise
When Peyton Medick was 8 years old, she watched a news story about a little boy, in Camden, New Jersey, who did not know what the words breakfast, lunch and dinner were. Peyton watched this show and her heart broke for this little boy. She turned to her parents and asked, “Are there children like that who live here?” Peyton’s parents began to explain about local food pantries and how families need the help of pantries every once in a while. Peyton wanted to help these families and decided to contact her principal to do a food drive, and the rest is history.
Since then, Peyton’s Promise has grown into an organization with hundreds of volunteers and more than 100 trained advocates working in their schools, and throughout their community, to organize food drives, raise awareness about the problem of hunger and distribute food to over 30 food pantries in Marathon County.
Sarah Kaufmann, Model
Sarah Kaufmann is a 21-year-old model who got her start at 17 years old in New York City when she was offered a contract with Major Model Management. Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, she drove two hours to the city after school every week day to attend meetings, castings and photo shoots, all while finishing her senior year of high school. Sarah stands at 5’5, which makes her one of the shortest models In the industry, but that didn’t stop her from following her dreams. She managed to book three New York fashion week shows in 2016, strutting her way down the runway when many told her she’d never be able to walk due to her short height. She didn’t stop there, she got offered a contract in Los Angeles with one of the top agencies in the world, Wilhelmina models where she worked with many top brands such as, bare minerals, too faced, L’Oréal Paris, nylon magazine, seventeen magazine, NARS, Ross commercials and many more. During all of this, she graduated high school with honors and attended college online full time since education is very important to her. Throughout the glamorous life of modeling, she realized it wasn’t going to last forever; the industry is very unpredictable and having a plan B was her top priority. She graduated with her associates degree in management with a concentration in marketing with a 3.6 GPA and is now entering her senior year of college to finish her bachelors degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. She plans on opening her own business in the near future after modeling. She used the hard earned money she made from modeling to pay off her first two years of college and continues to stick with her zero-debt goal throughout her last year of college. Sarah continues to empower and encourage other young woman to follow their dreams and to never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve a goal or a dream, because anything is possible if you just believe in yourself.
Ashley is a 22-year-old recent graduate form the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and minors in both Pharmacology and Biology. She grew up in a small town near Appleton and felt the need to spread her wings. She landed in the big city of Minneapolis. After having visited 22 states and three different countries, she studied abroad in Spain, went on an educational tour to Italy, and completed mission work in the Dominican Republic, she was sure that she was up for the task of city living.
Ashley’s passion for helping people be the best versions of themselves has been well served in her five years in the medical field. She has had her sights set on attending Medical School since she was a little girl but after discovering direct patient care, she altered her path in her 3rd year of college to become a Physician’s Assistant. Her first application to the program was denied. Viewing obstacles as opportunities as she does, Ashley has since landed a job in the Operating Room as an Anesthesia Technician and plans to reapply to the program in 2019.
During her studies, Ashley served as a camp counselor for four consecutive summers at Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit that provided a week’s camping experience at no cost to children whose parents have been affected by cancer. Additionally, Ashley served as a member of the Executive Board for the organization for two of those years.
While it would seem that she had no free time, she did find the time and welcomed the opportunity to serve as Team Manager for the university of Minnesota’s Softball Team. As she traveled around the country with the team she witnessed many wins, attend two B1G tournaments, and was awarded with a B1G championship ring when the team took the title.
Ashley prides herself on always being true to who she is and encourages others to do the same.
Marissa Lynn Nelson, Miss Wisconsin United States 2018
I am Marissa Lynn Nelson, Miss Wisconsin United States 2018. I was born and raised in the small village of Frederic in Northwestern Wisconsin. I was born to a single, 18-year-old mother and raised on food stamps and free lunches. My mom later married and blessed me with my best friends, my younger sister and brother, and their biological father legally adopted me. What started as a small dependence grew into full on alcoholism, and changed the man I knew and loved as my father. My home quickly changed into a place of physical and emotional abuse leaving bruises much deeper than the eyes could see.
At eight years old I received a pamphlet in the mail for the Miss Wisconsin pageant. My mom told me it was too close to the date of the pageant that year, but the following year I could compete if I still wanted to. I think she believed I would forget all about it, but I continued to remind her. I placed third runner up out of almost 40 young girls. Walking onstage and sitting through interview made me forget about who I was in Frederic, the home life I was struggling through, and gave me confidence I never thought I would find.
I competed two more times, placing in the top five both times, but had to take time away from competing when my parents got divorced. My dad’s alcoholism and abuse continued and got even worse after the separation, ultimately leading him to prison. Money was tight before the split, but we were well below the poverty line afterward. My mom worked three jobs to try to make ends meet and I spent many daytime and evening hours watching over my siblings.
Throughout middle school, I dealt with unrelenting bullying and hid my home struggles from everyone at school, including my best friends. I battled severe anxiety and periods of depression, even crashing my car on purpose, ending in a failed suicide attempt.
After my junior year in high school, I competed in my hometown pageant and was crowned Miss Frederic and Miss Congeniality. I went on to compete at Miss Wisconsin Teen USA and made the semifinals in a $50 used gown from eBay. Just as when I was younger, my confidence soared and I finally felt safe sharing my story.
I went on to become a first-generation college student at the University of Minnesota and complete graduate school at the University of Minnesota with a 3.9 GPA. I would not have been able to physically make it through college without the confidence instilled to me by pageants and past educators, as well and the love and support of my family and the children I met through student teaching, summer school, and motivational speaking sessions.
I endured many struggles throughout my childhood and adolescence and would not be where I am today if it were not for teachers and other adults who believed in me when I did not believe in myself. This led me to create the motivational speaking platform “Ignite the Light” to share my story with school-age children and show them that where they came from is not a determination of where they can go. Many of the hardships I endured had nothing to do with decisions I had made, but I still held so much personal shame and kept it to myself. I realized that not only was that hurting myself, but it was also not helping anyone else.
If sharing my story changes one child’s mindset, then it was all worth it. They are our future. In a world that can sometimes be so dark, I want to be one of the adults that Ignite their Light.