Laura Kaeppeler: Miss America on a Mission
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Laura Kaeppeler from Kenosha, Wisconsin was crowned Miss America 2012 on January 14, 2012, at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. While her competitors pushed platforms promoting the health benefits of milk and protecting the environment, Laura chose a platform more personal: mentoring children of incarcerated parents. As a young teen, Laura’s father, Jeff Kaeppeler, served an 18 month prison sentence for mail fraud. He began serving the sentence when Laura was graduating from high school. Although it was a very painful time for Laura and her family, she believes God placed that struggle in her life for a reason.
After many long conversations with her family, she boldly decided to make mentoring children with incarcerated parents her official platform for the pageant. She and her family saw the need for empowering these children to help them know their value and reach their full potential in life. “It taught us God can turn anything into good if you let him,” says Jeff. “My father and I have never been as close as we are today,” reveals Laura. She says he is her best friend. She is looking forward to sharing this journey with her dad. The overall message: “No matter what your circumstance whether you are in prison or not you deserve a relationship with your child and that child deserves a relationship with their parents as well.”
“There are more than 2 million children in America who have parents in prison,” shares Laura. “I was one of those children,” says Laura. Unfortunately, there are not many resources for children who have parents in prison. “I did not really know of where to turn,” recalls Laura. In an effort to bring about positive change, Laura has been working with the U.S. Dream Academy, an organization who serves children who are at the highest risk to become incarcerated at some point in their own life. This organization helps children to realize their own potential despite their background and circumstances. “A parent in prison does not have to define your life,” reveals Laura. She used her painful experience to inspire her and to help others.
Laura told pageant officials she planned to obtain a master’s degree in speech and language pathology to become a speech therapist. However, that changed once she became Miss Wisconsin. She now says she intends to use the $50,000 scholarship money to pursue a law degree and become a family attorney who specializes in helping children of incarcerated adults. “I really feel like I’ve been called to work in this,” says Laura. “Whether I became Miss America or not, this is something that I would pursue in my career no matter what.”
As Miss America Laura will spend her year touring the country to encourage all young women to pursue a college education, and will focus on driving interest in the arts, as well as science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM) education. She will also travel approximately 20,000 miles each month speaking to audiences about her platform: mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents and acting as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and improving the lives of children by raising funds for children's hospitals – the official charity for the Miss America Organization. Children’s Miracle Network is the official platform of the Miss America Organization. Since 2006, over $6 million has been raised for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the Miss America Scholarship Fund.
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