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Omaha Magazine

The Amazing Anna Harris: Amplifying Events for a Good Cause

Mar 01, 2022 11:43AM ● By Meghan Townley
anna harris in front of uno business school

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Anna Harris, 22, is a senior in the business management school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also the director of ambassadors at Nebraska Miss Amazing—a national nonprofit organization with a local Nebraska chapter. As stated on the organization’s website, their mission is: “Providing opportunities for girls and women with disabilities across Nebraska to build self-esteem.” Miss Amazing wants to dispel the stereotypes that girls and women with disabilities face in their everyday lives. 

“I fell in love with the atmosphere and the girls and how brave everyone was. It was such an empowering experience that I knew I had to come back,” Harris said of her first time volunteering in 2017. 

They hold what they call ‘Amplify Events’ that, “amplify the girls for who they are,” said Amy Stoddard, state director at Nebraska Miss Amazing. “Beauty is not really what we are all about.” At these events, the young women complete a one-on-one interview, introduce themselves on stage, and demonstrate something they are passionate about. “These girls just get up there and they do it and that is how we get them to start building confidence in themselves,” Stoddard said. “Most of our girls already know that they are ‘all that and a bag of chips’ so they just get out there and tell the world how wonderful they are.”

The other way the organization builds confidence in young women is through the monthly Miss Amazing events. These events include a fashion show, paint night, movie night, family picnic, and a spaghetti fundraiser. The goal of these events is to raise funds and awareness, but the main purpose is for participants to build relationships with each other. “They wouldn’t have these friendships if we didn’t do these events,” Stoddard said. An important aspect of the organization, besides building confident leaders, is to build support networks for young women. 

This is where Harris comes in as the director of ambassadors. Harris is responsible for managing 15-20 ambassadors, the name given to volunteers who come to the monthly events to help organize and execute, along with other responsibilities. “I…[recruit] others to help volunteer with our program,” Harris said. “I make sure we are always covered and have a decent showing. I want our volunteers to be engaged and excited about being an ambassador.” Growing the interest and awareness of Nebraska Miss Amazing is one of Harris’ many passions.

“Anna coordinates everything and does it with amazing ease. I don’t know where we would be without her,” Stoddard said. Her coordination skills and interest led the Nebraska Miss Amazing staff to task her with a fundraising goal. Health and wellness is another passion of Harris’, so she decided to merge her two passions by creating a 5K fun run at Standing Bear Lake. The process of organizing the 5K took about two months: raising money, obtaining the proper licensing to rent out Standing Bear, selling T-shirts to those who couldn’t attend the race, and designing and printing banners. 

“I hit the ground running and just did the best I could,” Harris said. Her strategy was to reach as many people as possible (friends, family, and work connections). She also posted on the Omaha Running Club website for a couple of months. 

All proceeds from the run were donated to the organization. The 5K in 2019 raised $1,700 and the 2020 virtual event raised $1,000. The organization’s third 5K should be held this coming summer.

Stoddard praised Harris’ smarts, organizational skills, work ethic, and ability to manage with grace and style; however, the most important aspect of Harris’ success comes from her empathy. “Anna is one of the most generous and amazing human beings I have ever met,” Stoddard said. “She has a very strong heart for this program and is just one of those human beings who understands where these girls are coming from and she has the ability to walk into a room and everybody is her friend and nothing else matters.” 

Harris gushed when speaking of the participants at Miss Amazing, “They empower me just as I see them empowered as they step onto the stage,” Harris said. “My whole life I have had a heart for people with disabilities. I have a really awesome dad who is super-involved with the Special Olympics. We were always at events, and he was exposing us to volunteering at a young age.” 

Harris isn’t done yet. She said she wants, “To continue to be involved and grow our participant pool. I want to create an even stronger community of women with and without disabilities.” This is good news for Stoddard, who finds Harris a crucial part of Nebraska Miss Amazing. 

“I love her,” Stoddard said. “I tell her constantly that she is not allowed to leave us, which I know is not a feasible thing. Anna has an incredible love and passion for these girls. I kind of want to be Anna when I grow up, even though I am old enough to be her mother.” 

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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