Sunday, December 27, 2015

Making New Year Resolutions

How is it that 2016 is just around the corner….can you believe it?! I must say that 2015 was one of my best years, which gives 2016 very big shoes to fill! Typically every year starts off the same for me. I spend the last few weeks of the previous year thinking about my resolutions for the New Year. I write them down in my journal, and then I write them down in my phone (so I have no reason to forget!). My goal is always to accomplish each of the resolutions, but typically there are 1 or 2 that get rolled over to the following year! I do know that some people have resistance to setting resolutions, so I thought I would share some tips as to how I come up with mine as I think it is always important to start the year with goals!

1. Manageable – Make sure that the resolutions you set are manageable and realistic. Although you should always set you goals to set your achievements on the next level, you also want to be realistic. For example, your resolution should not be to travel the world if you do not have the budget for that. Instead, you can make a goal of visiting one new country this year. This will allow the ability to accomplish your goal without feeling like a failure due to unrealistic expectations.

2. Set Resolutions for Different Areas of Life – I try to set a resolution for different aspects of my life as I believe in the “whole” self. For me that means setting a spiritual goal, mental goal and a physical goal. I also set goals that will advance me in my career and other goals that will help my relationships with family and friends. This way every part of your life will have a chance for improvement!

3. Shhh! It’s a secret! – Not everyone is going to support you in the goals that you set for yourself. Do not let other people’ negativity and insecurities affect you setting and accomplishing your goals. Because of this, it is not imperative that you tell everyone you know what your New Year resolutions are. Only tell those who will support you and will hold you accountable.

I hope these tips will help as you think about the year ahead. Can’t wait to see what God has in store!

Wishing you a blessed 2016!

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Years Resolutions

January allows us to start the New Year fresh. For many of us that starts by creating a New Year,s Resolution. With the new year, 2016, fast approaching I keep thinking of my New Year's Resolution. A new year means a fresh new start and there is always something you can change about yourself. Even minor changes have just as much of an impact as major changes, whether it's hitting the gym or simply saying hello to everyone you see. Your resolution can be made to impact yourself and you can also make it a priority to impact others daily. You could become a volunteer and log on to to find the organization for you.

I like to think back to my 2015 new years resolution. After the new year, I signed up for Miss Teen Arkansas International. I hit the gym and lost twenty pounds. I studied for interview at home and at school. I practiced modeling every weekend and after a lot of hard work my goal was met. Then a new goal came along, Miss Teen International. I kept exercising, eating right, studying, and modeling. That goal was met on August 1, 2015. So from January 1st to August 1st , I worked very hard to reach my goals and now I am continuing to live out my dream for the next seven months!

If you are having trouble picking a goal here are some ideas:

1. get more sleep

2. break bad habits

3. eat healthier

4. volunteer

5. manage time

6. get in the gym

7. travel more

8. be nice

9. be positive

10. try new things

11. spend more time with loved ones

12. sign up for your state, country, or regional International pageant ;)

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Museum of the Bible

I had a wonderful trip to Washington, D.C. and Virginia recently. The weather was wonderful and I got to do one of my favorite! My schedule was definitely tight as I wanted to make the most of my time while I was there. One of the appearances that I did was at the Museum of the Bible. You may be thinking, "What is she talking about? I've never heard of that museum before." And I wouldn't blame you for thinking that because the museum is still being built! A few years ago, my Mom was approached by the Green Family (owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian Bookstore) about a project they were going to do that they wanted her to be on the founding board of directors. The family has been collecting an impressive amount of Biblical artifacts over the years and they wanted to build a museum to display everything. My Mom jumped on the chance to be a part of this amazing opportunity.

After I won Miss International, I was asked if I wanted to take a tour of the museum during the construction phase. Of course I said yes as I wanted to see what my Mom has been talking about for such a long time. Plus, how cool will it be when I can take my grandchildren one day to see this museum and tell them that their Grandmother was there when it was being built!

Even through all of the construction, the museum was a sight to see! I was given specific details about where the artifacts will go, the architectural design and the reasoning behind it, and the interactive program that they have made for students. Children will not only have their own section of the museum, but programs are being piloted in different schools to bring the Bible to life for them! It was interesting to find out that these piloted programs are more accepted outside the United States because of their acceptance of religion in the school system. It is also important to point out that the point of the museum and their school programs is not to push Christianity. It is to discuss one of the most influential books in the world.

The museum is set to open in 2017. I can not wait to see the finished project. I also hope that all of you reading will be able to visit once it is open, because it will be amazing!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Holiday Food Drive

One way that my community gives back is by collecting canned goods for our local food pantry. Every year our elementary school and high school students bring canned goods to donate. My school has an annual “White Christmas” muscial performed by our elementary students and then our Senior class has a Christmas play immediately following. Each student is welcome to bring as many canned goods as they wish to this event. As Juniors, it is our job to transfer all the goods to the food pantry. The boys in our class pulled up their trucks and we all helped load them up with all the goodies!

Since my class was in the 7th grade we would make shapes out of the pile of cans to help bring in the Christmas spirit. We started with a cross, then a Jesus fish, then three crosses and we have done crosses ever since. Next year we will be doing the Senior play, so we hope our under classmen will take over the tradition. There were at least 2,500 cans collected this year, all going to help our local food pantry serve people in need this holiday season.

Have an event coming up like a school play, holiday party or even a family gathering? Almost any event will work as a food drive, just ask people to bring a couple of cans along to help those in need. This would be a great way for anyone to get involved! Christmas is the season for giving!

Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Algor Family Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas Season, ya’ll! The season of Christmas parties, elf on the shelf and lots of lights and wrapping paper is finally upon us. I hope you enjoyed your season of giving thanks for all of your many blessings! The Christmas season is much more than about giving and receiving gifts. More than about what color coffee cup you are drinking out of from your favorite coffee place. It’s about the birth of our eternal King.

Christmas is one of our favorite holidays in the Algor house. This year, I actually decorated the inside of our house before we left for Thanksgiving so that we could begin our favorite season the minute we walked in the door from New York. We were there for 12 days, so it was a special treat to walk back into our home and an added bonus to see our beautiful decorations.

In a previous blog, I wrote about choosing the right traditions for your family. A few traditions that we have always done are get matching family Christmas pajamas, drive through our favorite neighborhoods in Dallas to see the lights, receive special Christmas Eve pajamas from our elf, elves this year, take family pictures and make handprint or footprint plates with the kids. This year we have 2 elves and I’m already stressing about remembering to move them everyday! Ha!

We decided that this year we would introduce and add an Advent calendar to our list of traditions. We waited until now because we wanted the boys to be more aware of what Christmas was truly about and how they can serve others, just like Jesus did. Our advent calendar won’t hold little trinkets or candies. Instead in its pockets, it will have easy things the kids can do to serve others, like taking Christmas cookies to our fire stations. We will also have special days to do our favorite things to get into the spirit of Christmas like baking cookies and watching special Christmas movies.

Of course, the story of Jesus will always be at the center of our Christmas.

I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Until the Mission is Complete,


Responding to Our Kids Regarding Terroristic Attacks

With the recent events in Paris, and other parts of the world, it is normal to have questions and feelings of fear. As I sit and watch the news, there are times where I sit in astonishment at what is happening in our world around us. As an adult, I know that if I have not fully processed the current events, I can only imagine what children may be thinking or feeling. That being said, I thought it may be helpful to give a few tips to use with your children if and when they have questions.

1. Remain Calm – Children often look to adults to see how they should respond in a given situation. Although the attacks in Paris are very serious, your child needs to see that you are handling everything in a calm and positive matter.

2. Age Appropriate Conversations – Honesty is always important as our kids are smart enough to recognize when we may be “sugar-coating” a situation. However, be mindful of how many details you give your child as it may be traumatizing. For elementary aged children, the conversation may look more like “There are some bad people who are purposely being really mean to nice, innocent people”. For middle school and high school kids/teens, you can use this as a conversation starter using questions like “Have you discussed similar topics in social studies class?” or “Is there any part of what you heard that you have questions about?”. Make sure to get a clear understanding of what your child knows and clarify any discrepancies.

3. Empathy and Listening – Often times a child just needs a place to vent any concerns. Use this opportunity to listen for any fears that your child has. Instead of discounting feelings with statements like “Don’t be scared”, respect the fact that those are their feelings and remind them that they are safe. This is also a good time to review your family’s safety plan in the event of an emergency. This allows a child to practice what to do in a time of crisis and for them to feel assured that there is a plan in place.

If your child’s school has a school counselor, remind your child that he or she can always go to their office to talk about any concerns that they are feeling while at school.

My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the victims and their families.

God Bless,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Christmas Parades

'Tis the season for Christmas Parades and lamp post lights. The spirit of Christmas never fails to warm my heart. During the first weekend of December I rode in my hometown's Christmas Parade and Little Rock's Christmas parade the following day. Christmas Parades seem to bring pure joy to everyone and ignite the Christmas spirit. I can remember watching my hometown's Christmas parade and being in awe at the spectacular floats. I'll never forget seeing titleholders riding and waving in the parade. I would always say, “Look Mama, a princess!” 

Now being in the princess position, I always look at the little girls who say the same to their mothers and I always say “Merry Christmas” to them. I like to make them feel like they can be anything they want to be. They could be a princess one day too. Thinking back to when I watched princesses, I never would have imagined being where I am today. 'Tis the season for giving. One thing I will give the little princesses is belief in themselves that they can do whatever they set their minds to. For all the big princesses in the world, we can encourage the next generation of princesses to follow their dreams!

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holidays in the Big Apple

It is so fun to have family in a city that is completely different from where I grew up and where we currently live. We spent almost two weeks on Long Island, New York during Thanksgiving this year visiting my in laws and friends my husband grew up with. Justin was able to work a few days at his building in Manhattan, while the kids and I made our rounds visiting. I was also able to spend some time with a few of my bridesmaids that live in the city now, too!

I took the train into the city and navigated my way around pretty well all things considering. The city, as you can imagine, was very busy with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade occurring in a few days and the increase in security because of that. Most of the windows were decorated for Christmas with lots of decorations. The rush, the people and the festive cheer is so exciting to be a part of.

Luckily, the weather was seasonably warm for New York this time of year. I did however Amazon prime heavier coats for the kids just in case, although they never even wore them. One day, we took all 6 of the grandchildren, 7 and under, to the park and played. I will say that this was our most fond memory from our time there. We all played red rover red rover, ran relay races and had our first annual Algor family football game.

The simple things like playing at a park with family you don’t get to see often is what makes this season even more special.

Until the Mission is Complete,


The Semicolon Movement

In October, I traveled to San Antonio, Texas to emcee the NAMI San Antonio Walk & Fundraiser. The venue and weather was perfect as the walkers and I came together to support those living with a mental illness. As I was walking the 5k, I noticed one of the walkers had a semicolon tattoo on her wrist. I was definitely intrigued as the tattoo seemed very simple. I knew there had to be a deeper meaning. So I decided to ask her why she choose to get that tattoo. She informed me that she was a survivor of attempted suicide. She was in so much pain that she wanted to end it all… a very permanent decision. Having survived the attempt, she realized that her struggle with depression was just a part of her story, not her entire life story. And this is why she got the tattoo.

In grammar, a period represents the end of a sentence, while a semicolon represents a pause or a continuation. With The Semicolon Movement, the tattoo represents that any struggle with depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide is a pause, not a stop, in the person’s life story. This symbolic gesture is a silent but powerful way to show that there is still hope even through the struggle. Part of my mission as Miss International is to recognize ways in which people can start a conversation about mental health as a way to make the topic less intimidating. So if you encounter someone with a semicolon tattoo, I encourage you to spend a few minutes getting to know the person’s story. Every person deals with struggles, and getting to know how someone persevered through them is a beautiful way to get to know someone better with compassion and empathy!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Ronald McDonald House Lighting

On December 1st, Ronald McDonald House of Arkansas had their thirty fifth House Lighting Ceremony. I was super excited to be invited to this event. When we drove up to the house there were so many cars and big smiles on everyone's face. A choir sang Christmas carols while everyone made their way inside for tasty treats. I caught up with Ronald McDonald himself and the one and only Santa Claus. 

The previous time I visited the house was a few weeks prior when I delivered eleven gallons of pop tabs. I met a nice family and took pictures with their daughter. I was able to recap with the family at the house lighting ceremony and it touched my heart. More families came down from their rooms for the event and it made me so happy to be able to meet them as well! 

It was finally time to light up the house so everyone made their way outside. With much excitement, I was on Arkansas News Channel 11 as Miss Teen International with Ronald McDonald and Santa. After a brief interview the countdown began. Counting down from ten the crowd anticipated the lighting while the choir still sang carols. Finally, the house lit up along with everyone's spirit for a philanthropic Christmas, as every Christmas should be.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Traditions That Fit Your Family

Traditions in our family are very important, however, finding the time to incorporate everything that you run across on Pinterest these days can leave you feeling rather overwhelmed. I feel like as a mother, that I put a lot of unnecessary stress on myself during such a special time of the year. Often times I find myself trying to do or plan too much for the sake of our children because I want them to be able to experience it all! I feel like if another family enjoys doing it, surely ours will too.

I came across an article recently in my MOPs newsletter that discussed choosing Christmas traditions that fit your family and how to decide on what to say yes to and what to say no to. Most importantly not saying yes to every single thing on Pinterest.

Something OLD- Say yes to a few traditions passed down from previous generations. This develops a sense of heritage. Choose one from each side of your family, if possible. Such as decorating the Christmas tree together or doing an advent calendar beginning on December 1.

Something NEW- Start new traditions for your own family. This could be something as simple as buying ornaments for your tree from places that you have traveled together throughout the year. When you decorate your family tree together, you will be able to look back and reminisce on the memories from your trips together.

Something BORROWED- Just because something didn’t originate in your family doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Again, Pinterest has a plethora of ideas that you can check out. Which brings me to my next point.

NOTHING Blue- Christmas isn’t a time to stress about. Don’t feel overwhelmed with incorporating too many traditions and certainly if certain traditions are beginning to make you feel anything less than cheery, get rid of them or try again another year.

Christmas traditions can build so many wonderful memories for your children and family that will be cherished for years to come. By learning to say yes or no, we can hopefully reclaim the joy and peace surrounding such a magical season.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Accept the Challenge

"If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you."

Over the last few months, I have been increasingly more inspired by my sister queen Maggi Thorne (Mrs. International 2014). Not only did she have an amazing year representing the International family, she has been so committed to her fitness competitions since giving up her crown. (Side note: If you haven't followed her fitness journey, check it out!) As I have watched her continue to challenge herself mentally and physically to get ready for competition, it made me think about what I am doing to challenge myself. After all, if you want to grow, you have to be willing to stretch yourself in a way that may be uncomfortable.

We all have different areas of our lives that we need to work on. It may be easier to address some of those areas versus others. But what is the most important is to take the time to challenge yourself so that you break through the obstacles.

For me, I know that I have I work really hard at putting boundaries up around my life. My tendency is to "people-please" to make sure everyone is happy and comfortable. Unfortunately, that sometimes meant that I was not making my own needs a priority. I decided to focus on this area of weakness in college by simply saying "No!" more. It was the hardest thing for me to do, but it has made all the difference in who I am today. I feel comfortable telling someone if I disagree and making my needs a priority. In order to grow, sometimes you experience growing pains. It will never be easy, but the journey will be worth it.

As we finish the 2015 year, I challenge each of us to to think about what we can conquer in 2016. Having a verbal and/or visual plan is helpful, but putting action behind it will be everything you need to be the better version of you!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Red Ribbon Week

I believe the biggest challenge facing teens today is peer pressure. Peer pressure can cause a teen to do something they will regret greatly, such as alcohol and drug abuse. It is hard to say “no,” but it is not impossible. The best way to avoid peer pressure is to think about the rest of your life ahead of you. Teens have yet to reach their full potential. We have places to go, and people to become.

Recently, my high school participated in Red Ribbon Week, advocating drug awareness. 

Each day a woman spoke to a different group of students to educate us about drugs. She told us that Red Ribbon Week was started by the wife of a police officer. The police officer had been investigating a large drug deal and had been sent into witness protection. He was getting close to finding the head of the deal and shutting it down. When he was on his way to eat lunch with his wife he was shot and killed, so his wife started Red Ribbon Week to raise awareness of the devastating harm that can come from drugs.

Again, think of what you are yet to become, focus on those goals, and focus on achieving them. If you do this, the things that might seem like fun for the moment will not seem like anything in which you would want to participate. Say no to drugs!

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” -Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thankful for: The International Pageants

Veteran’s Day, a day to honor those that have served us, has come and gone. The weeks and months leading up to this special day were very busy and now as things are at a somewhat slower pace for a second, I’ve had time to reflect on more things that I am thankful for. There are many things happening in our world right now that are scary and controversial. While many of us don’t have the same view point on things, one thing that we can all agree on and be thankful for is the International system and its owners, The Richardson Family.

The International pageant system has consistently been the leading standard for not only married women, but young women and teens as well. Our system not only promotes our healthy lifestyles and self-confidence to allow ourselves to be judged, but it allows us a voice that is bigger than one that we may have without our Mrs., Miss, or Miss Teen titles. We are lucky enough to live in a country where we, as women, can voice our opinions, be key decision makers and be generous volunteers outside of our homes.

The entire Richardson family (Mary, Mel, Cristen, Paige and their husbands) along with the entire staff, who are all treated like family, work tirelessly to ensure that we have a system that we are each proud of. They take our calls, emails and answer our questions without hesitation. They promote each of us and our platforms. They work long days and hours preparing for an even bigger and better pageant for the next year. You can ensure that they are posting in each of the social media worlds so that more people are aware of our causes and our system. They do it for each of us.

So, to my entire International Family, THANK YOU! Thank you beyond words and measure. Thank you for supporting not only me, but my sisters and giving us each the tools necessary to be leaders in our communities.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Financial Stress

Earlier this year, the American Psychological Association did a survey with 3,068 adults to get an idea of people’s stress levels regarding finances in America. They found that 72% of Americans felt some type of financial stress at least once during the past month. Of this group, 77% of parents and 72% of millennials (ages 18-35) report significant stress involving their finances. 

This survey was definitely not surprising to me as I could raise both of my hands if asked if my finances cause me stress! I sometimes wonder why I ever wanted to be an adult! Thankfully my parents taught me from a very early age to know the value of a dollar and how to make smart financial decisions. Here are a few tips that I have found to be helpful:

1. Designate where your income is going to go. Sometimes financial stress comes from not having a plan. A simple formula to use is: Tithe (if you have religious affiliations), Pay your bills, Save some, and Spend some. Having a plan will allow you to know how each of your well-earned dollars will be spent that month. Additionally, do not spend more than you make. Yes, credit cards can be incredibly useful, but unless you can pay the amount off at the end of the month, you should really think before buying.

2. Pay Yourself. I used to struggle with saving money. After all, when you work hard, you also want to play hard! But I’ve come to realize the value in saving. Tomorrow is not promised to us, but it is very important to have money saved for emergencies or big ticket items that come up in the future. I like to call it “paying yourself” because although you are not able to use the money right then, it will be available later…and will be so worth it!

3. Invest In a Financial Advisor. Having a professional guide you through different financial options can aide in decreasing financial stress. I recently met with mine to discuss retirement…AHHH!...but I actually left a bit relieved knowing that I was being proactive instead of having to address the issue when I am older. Financial advisors can also recommend wonderful investment opportunities. It’s all about making your money grow!

These are just a few of the tips that can make all the difference in your finances. I hope you can put them to use!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

How International Changed Me

The International pageant system is amazing in so many ways. It brings people closer and builds new friendships. It provides a sisterhood with girls from all over the world with so many things in common. Most of all, it changes us for the better. Since becoming a part of the International family I have developed more responsibility, work ethic, punctuality, and even better study habits. Because of our time competing and preparing to compete, the International girls will be prepared for job interviews from how to dress to how to speak. In addition to job interviews, we will have no problem speaking in public. I know we will work hard for anything and everything we do.

I appreciate everything the system does for us. Although my year has just begun, I will never forget the skills International Pageants has instilled in me and will continue to instill in classes to come. To the International Class of 2015, I am so proud of every single one of you and I hope to see you all again. To the International Class of 2016, you are in for a treat. I cannot wait to meet all of you and watch you grow.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


The boys had a rough time adjusting to the time change and have been coming downstairs and into our room earlier than normal lately. I normally (try) to guess at what time they will wake up in the morning so that I can shower and be for the most part ready for our day. One day last week, one of the boys totally caught me off guard so I had to throw on my mom uniform and go without makeup. Once they are up, it is a race to the finish line. Constantly picking up toys just to be dumped out again or making snacks and playing cars and princesses, running from errand to errand or practice to dance.

This morning in particular, we were rushing out of the house because I needed to be at the boys’ school earlier to handle some classroom mom duties. I was definitely feeling not my best because I didn’t have time to make myself more presentable. I don’t know if one of the boys could sense me feeling down, keep in mind they’re 4, but before we walked out of the door to the car he stopped me and put both of his sweet, tiny hands on my cheeks and said “Mommy you are the most gorgeous mommy.” Well, if that didn’t melt my heart and make me want to go Santa crazy I don’t know what will.

It did me thinking, however. Thinking about how we put so much emphasis on how we look on the outside and not enough on what really matters the most, our hearts, our deeds, our actions. To our children, they couldn’t care less that I’m wearing my full pageant face or if I had no makeup on at all.
They don’t see my hair that terribly needs to be done. They see me playing with them, feeding them, loving and nurturing them. They see me volunteering and as they know it, helping the soldiers.

Don’t we wish the rest of the world could see us through the eyes of children? The eyes that look up to US to teach them, to show them how to love not only others, but also to love ourselves. Those eyes that will lead our country and our world sooner rather than later. We should be teaching them to not judge someone’s outward appearance or the clothes they are wearing, but get to know the persons heart.

If only we could see each other through non-judgmental eyes. To see that we all need to be built up instead of tearing up other down. See that our outward, physical imperfections aren’t what really matters. We should all love to embrace and love those ‘imperfections’ because that’s what makes us, us. Spending time working on our physical appearance only takes time away from working on our most valuable asset. Our heart.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Monday, December 7, 2015

Writing Your Story

During my first semester of graduate school, all the candidates were required to write their autobiography in order for our professors to determine whether we needed to seek counseling. You would think that this would be an easy assignment to do as you do not have to do any research when you are writing about yourself! However, this was one of the most difficult papers that I ever had to write. I had to be vulnerable enough to write down the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of my life for someone else to read. I would drag my feet every night when I would sit down to write more about my life, as I knew everything I said would be viewed by someone else. The amazing thing is after I wrote my 25 page autobiography, I experienced one of the best feelings. Going through every part of my life was emotionally draining, but it allowed me to see how hard I have worked, how many blessings God has bestowed upon me, and the people that have walked with me in the journey of my life so far. 

There may not ever be a reason where you need to write out your entire life. I do encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about their life story. It will not be easy, but it gives you so much perspective about how you have become the person you are today. When you spend some time being vulnerable and honest regarding your journey, it sheds light to the highs and lows that create a beautiful story!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Elderly People

My elderly family members mean the world to me, and for the past few weeks they have had to make transitions that they had never imagined for themselves.  I cannot go a single week without visiting at least one grandmother, but for about three weeks the visits have not been quite what they used to be.  You always hear people say that when they become elderly they would rather lose their mobility, as opposed to their mind, or vice-verso.  In my family I have one grandmother experiencing one of those scenarios, while one grandmother is experiencing the other.  To me both seem to be very hard to actually live through, but my grandmothers still keep their heads up and persevere.

My Great Grandmother Webb turned ninety-two this summer, but you would think she is still in her seventies by having a conversation with her.  She had a stroke two years ago causing limited use in her right arm and slurred speech.  She stayed in her home for several months with the supervision of my mother, Great Aunt, and grandmother alternating every night. Grandmother Webb went through months of Physical Therapy hoping for a full recovery, but unfortunately that never happened.  They moved her into an assisted living facility in February of that year, where she stayed for nineteen more months, until she suffered from a second stroke a few weeks ago. This time causing the left side of her body to be temporarily paralyzed.  She was transferred to a rehab center a few towns over, and now she is staying in our local nursing home and rehab facility.  Thinking back to when I was a child I would never have thought this for Grandmother Webb seeing that she has been incredibly independent and a hard worker until her first stroke.  Now, she is still a hard worker, striving to get as mobile as possible, and I could not be more proud of her.  

This is Great Grandmother Webb

As for my Father's mother, I call her Meme, she is perfectly mobile at the age of eighty-seven.  However,  she is suffering from Advanced Dementia.  When I visit her I am asked the same question multiple times, and she cannot remember what she said or did in the last thirty seconds, but she remembers many childhood stories in detail.  Every time I visit her, she puts a smile on my face telling me stories about her “days on the farm.” (Of which I live on, that her Grandfather founded in 1891) Her children have now decided that she should be moved into an assisted living facility so she will be in safe hands.  Again, I would have never thought this would be the case for Meme.  I stayed with her all summer, every summer. She taught me how to play golf, and how to be a lady. I can never thank her enough for everything she has done for me.  

This is my Meme and a colt named Apollo
I read a statistic that around one million elderly people regularly go an entire month without speaking to a friend, neighbor or family member. This broke my heart.  Our senior citizens' generation worked so hard to keep a roof over their head and food on the table for their families, and many of them are now all alone.  They deserve company more than anyone and we can learn so much from them.  There are many ways you can  help make a difference in the life of an older person.  You could help them around the house or in the yard, run errands like grocery shopping, or visit residents of a nursing home or assisted living facility just to name a few. I challenge you to  spend just thirty minutes or more a week with and elderly person.  I am sure we all have one in our lives.

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Be the Change!

This world has become more and more scary. It terrifies me just to think about what our world will be like when our children are adults. It seems like all too often these days we hear stories of school shootings, theater shootings, bombs being put in crowded places and these are just in the United States of America. Then you add in the threats received daily from other countries or radical groups proclaiming terrible things on us and it’s enough to make you not want to go anywhere.

I don’t have the answers to closing our borders or what to do about ISIS. I do know that there isn’t a simple solution or a cookie cutter answer. I do know that we should all have HOPE and FAITH in not only our nation’s leaders, but also in God. HE is the only answer we need and HE alone will save us in the end.

We need to have hope for a better world for our children to grow up in. In doing so, we also need to be part of the solution to ensure that it happens. One simple way is by voting. I know we still have a year before the next presidential election, but familiarizing yourself with the candidates' opinions now and staying up to date on the debates will help make next November easier for you.

As a part of a group of women that has so many connections, together, let’s be the change that our world needs now more than ever.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Friday, November 27, 2015

Beat the Holiday Blues

The end of the year is one of my favorite times! Spending time with family & friends, enjoying yummy treats, and making special memories are always so much fun! With all of the holiday traditions that we have, sometimes it is hard to think about someone who does not find this time of year to be a joyous one. There are people who actually dread the holiday season as they have nothing to look forward to. In the mental health profession, this has been called “The Holiday Blues”. 

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes The Holiday Blues as temporary feelings of anxiety and/or depression, during the holidays, that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations, or memories that can accompany the season. It is found that 64% of people are claimed to be affected by The Holiday Blues. It is also reported that 24% state that the holidays have a negative effect on them. Some of the symptoms include fatigue, tension, frustration, loneliness/isolation, sadness, and a sense of loss. The Holiday Blues vary from clinical depression and anxiety in that the feelings are short-term. Although the symptoms are temporary, it is still important to take seriously as they can lead to long-term mental health concerns. 

So what are some ways to avoid The Holiday Blues?

- Make sure to continue with normal routines as much as possible. This will allow consistency and normalcy while going through the holidays.

- Sleep is essential. It is recommended that a person should sleep between 6-8 hours a night. Although there is much to do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, sleep is still very important.

- Watch your food and drink intake. If you are feeling any depressed symptoms, it is best to avoid alcohol.

- Continue to exercise. Not only will it help burn the calories of all the amazing holiday treats you have consumed, it also increases the endorphins in your brain. Endorphins help combat sadness and fatigue.

- Set a budget. A lot of stress during the holidays is due to financial burdens from buying gifts and the many activities that are planned. If you set a reasonable budget before the holidays get started, this will give you peace of mind about where your money is going!

- Finally, set appropriate expectations and goals during the holidays. There will most likely be a million things that have to be done during the last few weeks of the year. Plan your day out and make a to-do list in order to simplify your life and avoid the chance of double booking yourself.

My hope is that these tips will get you, or someone you know, through the holiday season!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I'm Thankful For

Thanksgiving is a time to pause for just a moment. Most of the time my life is so busy and it seems like I am always rushing off from one thing to the other. I have to remind myself to take the time to stop and reflect on what I'm thankful for.

I could make a long list of all the big and small things I am thankful for because I am truly blessed, but I want to focus on just one thing today – my family. I can't wait wait to spend time with all of them this Thanksgiving. I know it will be full of good food, laughter, and catching up. They have supported me through everything in my life. From my mom and dad, whose unconditional love and guidance helps me in more ways than they will ever know, to my big brother and sister-n-law who are always just a phone call or text away, to my extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins with whom I share the most wonderful memories. Two of my grandmothers are dealing with some health issues right now and I am so thankful that I am able to spend time with them and help them during this difficult time like they have always helped me. I am missing both of my grandfathers that went on to be with the lord several years ago, but I am forever thankful for the time that I had with them and will cherish those memories forever.

My challenge for all of you is to take a break from the turkey and think about what you're thankful for and share it with the special people in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” - Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Season of Gratitude

It is finally November which officially means that we are in the season of gratitude. This is one of my favorite times of each year. I love all of the decorations that come with Thanksgiving and Christmas, all of the food and especially being able to spend extra time with our families that live far away. This time of year is so very busy, but taking a moment to reflect on all of the good that we EACH have going on in our own lives is even more important.

For me, not only am thankful to be able to represent each of you and the International system, I am eternally thankful that my platform is one that my husband and I can do together. I’m sure some, if not all, of you know a veteran. In my experience, they tend to keep those memories (good or bad) locked away in the back of their mind. My husband was, and is, still one of those veterans. It wasn’t until I dove headfirst into competing for Texas and shortly after I won that he really started to open up about his experiences more and attend more veteran outings. Getting veterans around their brothers and sisters that have faced the same situations is so important. They need to be reminded that they are not alone and don’t have to face their return to civilian life alone. Even if that reentry to civilian life was 1 month, 1 year or 20 years down the road.

So for this, I am thankful. I am thankful that I have a supportive husband and one who encourages me. Because that same one is also the one who is benefiting from becoming Mr. International 2015, regardless of if he can see that right now or not.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Staying Healthy While Traveling

Before winning Miss International, I loved to travel for fun. Now I get to travel as a part of my job! Although there are so many perks to traveling (different foods, different cultures, etc.), I noticed that if you aren't careful, traveling can lead to some unhealthy habits. With the excitement of going to a new city, state or country, our first thought isn't necessarily "How can I maintain my healthy habits while I'm on my trip?"! But if you are a person on the go, like myself, it's extremely important to still treat Your body with the respect it deserves. Here are a few tips that I wanted to share with you!

1. Make sure to drink plenty of water. We should do this anyway, and this is definitely a struggle of mine, but especially when you are on traveling by plane you need to stay hydrated. One way is to drink plenty of water. Secondly, you can spritz water on your face and other body parts to keep your skin hydrated on the surface! Also, make sure to take some anti-bacterial wipes with you to wipe of the arm rests and tray table on the plane. They are full of germs that you don't want! 

2. Splurge on food but don't go overboard! I will be the first to raise my hand to go to a new restaurant when I'm traveling! There is nothing wrong with eating some of the delicious, high calorie foods, but those calories can add up quickly if we aren't careful. Make sure to maintain your meals with protein, veggies and fruit. A protein shake can be convenient when traveling too! And for those time when you are traveling by car, remember fast food restaurants always have a healthy option... Salad, grilled instead of fried, fruit instead of fries. When you maintain your healthy eating, then you won't feel too bad when you have your "cheat meal"!

3. Exercise!! Call ahead and see if the hotel you are staying at has a gym. Then you can workout while you are away from home! If the hotel doesn't have a gym, there are plenty of exercises that you can do in your room... And that's actually what I did while competing for Miss Texas International! If you are in a safe place, you can also take a walk or run around the city you're in! I did this while in Paris, and it was a wonderful way to learn more about the city while staying fit! 

4. Rest! Traveling takes a lot of our energy. Make sure that before, during, and after your trip, you are getting plenty of sleep! Definitely talking to myself on this one!

Hope you find these tips helpful as you travel around!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Although summer has ended I am going to reminisce over my dream job! I am so blessed to be able to work at Missouri Fox Trotter stables training the colts and fillies. I began my job last summer training a colt named Apollo. He is my little buddy! He still follows me around and becomes almost as excited to see me as I him. We even made a page in the Horsemen Round-up magazine last summer!

This summer I was able to have fun with two fillies! One named Knicky, the other Princess Leia. These girls were one of the highlights of my summer! While Knicky loved me, Leia did not want anything to do with me. However we still had lots of fun and I can not wait to see what new babies I'll get to play with next summer! I was so excited that we were featured in the August issue of Horsemen's Roundup magazine again this year!

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.” -Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Navy Ball 2015

Recently, I was invited to attend the 240th Happy Birthday Navy Ball. I have attended army balls in the past when Justin was still in active duty so I thought I had a pretty good idea as to what to expect before I arrived. Well, all you Go Army, Beat Navy people out there the Navy is definitely taking the win for the production they put on every year to celebrate their birthday. They not only sold out of their ticket sales (which goes back to veteran organizations), they fly in high profile guests and choose different guests to honor that have made an impact on the United States Navy.

It truly was an honor to meet Sgt. 1st class Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger just like Justin. Leroy is the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He lost his right hand while throwing a live grenade away from his fellow soldiers. Petry became the ninth service member to receive the nation's highest award for valor in those conflicts. He now wears a high-tech robotic artificial hand. Because he made the split second decision to throw away the live grenade, not only himself, but 2 other soldiers lived. Had he not chosen that route, he would probably still have his hand, but the other 2 soldiers would not have survived he told me. 

These are the types of decisions that our nations bravest face while deployed. To save only themselves or to save their brother. They willingly, without even thinking, choose to protect each other (and we back home). They do things that most of us could not and would not be able to do and because of that they deserve our continued support.

Until the Mission is Complete,


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dealing With Others' P.O.V.

Social media is without a doubt one thing that our society has brought to the forefront in the last few years! From Facebook, to Instagram to Twitter, we are constantly giving the world access to what is going on in our lives. For the most part, this type of access can be a positive way to get to know the lives of our loved ones, friends, and even celebrities. However, I have noticed that the negative aspects of social media are just as strong as the positive. Specifically, I have noticed the backlash of people posting their point of view (P.O.V.) online and the enormous amounts of negativity that they receive just for sharing what is on their heart.

I experienced this myself when I wrote a Facebook status a couple of years ago about a pretty significant trial that was going on in our country. I did not take sides on the issue, but simply wrote how I felt with the decision that had been made. What is interesting was through all the “likes” and positive messages that I received from it, one person wrote a very disrespectful message on my post and stated “I am now going to defriend you”. This was not really a person I knew, so the fact that she was going to “defriend” me was not a worry to me. However, I was surprised by how she became so upset with a comment that had no sentiments of judgement or negativity in it. I am so careful about what I post online, that I made sure this particular post would not offend anyone. What I realized is that some people are just not going to respect your point of view. We were all given brains to be able to think for ourselves. Because of this, we are not always going to agree with what someone has to say. However, I do believe in respecting people and their opinions. There is always the option to agree to disagree. By no means do I think it is appropriate to voice opinions that are discriminatory, hateful, or full of prejudice. But with that off the table, I do think that people should be able to share their point of view without feeling as though they are going to be punished for it. There have been many times where I have read or heard comments made by people and disagreed with what they said, but unless I was able to respectfully disagree with them, then I either kept my mouth shut or kept scrolling down the page. At the end of the day, it is how that person feels and it is their opinion. AND. IT. IS. OK.

My hope is that we can continue to be respectful of ourselves and of others so that no one feels as though they can’t share what is on their heart.

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Just Do It!

During my college composition class on Thursday my teacher showed me a video of Shia Lebouf entitled “Just Do It.” While watching it I thought it would make a great blog! He is very motivational telling viewers to “just do it!” He says, “Don't let your dreams be dreams, just do it!” To me this is a perfect example of every titleholder as well as those competing for a title. Everyone may imagine themselves wearing the crown, but it is important to work hard and prepare to “just do it!”

This is actually great advice in all aspects of life. Another powerful quote is, “So you're tired of starting over? Then stop giving up!” For the people who do compete and maybe don't win the first time, you can always try and try again! I urge everyone to go watch this video! However, please watch the one minute version, not the twenty-six minute one. Take this video to heart and “Just do it!” 

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible.'” -Audrey Hepburn

Jules Fletcher
Miss Teen International 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran’s day. Veteran’s day is always special for our family since Justin, my brother in law and various other family members were all in the service. I am so happy that this year in particular, Justin is finally taking the day off! He has never been off on Veteran’s day and I’m so glad he is this year! I was honored to be asked to ride in the Veteran’s day parade in Dallas and Justin wants to take the kids to watch.

Texas is and always has been a huge supporter of veterans, veteran organizations and veteran events. We truly are a red, white and blue state not only in regards to our state flag, but also the fact that we support our past and present military. It saddens me that not every state in our country supports them the same way. This needs to change. Immediately.

I have attended numerous speaking engagements where the speaker spoke on our nation’s veterans and their unwavering duty and honor to protect and defend our nation and essentially us. I have heard, and seen, the effects that war has physically, emotionally and mentally taken on our nations bravest. I have met the soldiers that have returned home with missing limb(s) and burns covering their entire body from being hit by a roadside bomb. As hard as the physical rehabilitation was, many of those same selfless soldiers have said that the hardest part was the continued mental recovery. The continued war that they are facing inside their head, every time they walk to the mailbox or drive over a bridge.

We must do more! We must do more than asking “If you ever served in the military to please stand for a round of applause”, more than offering a simple thank you, more than doing nothing at all to honor our veterans. The countless stories I have heard of OUR veterans needing guidance to reestablish themselves as civilians, their families needing emotional support to understand their loved ones new and unfortunate physical condition. Yet nothing or no one is around to offer help.

I urge you to please get involved in supporting our nations bravest. Finding a local chapter for a veteran organization and offering to volunteer at their next event is simple. Are you neighbors with an elderly veteran? Go cut their grass or drive them to an appointment. The easiest thing you can do? Offer a listening ear when they need it most. Because after all, freedom truly isn’t free.

Until the Mission Is Complete,


Monday, November 9, 2015

Grass Is Greener Where You Water It

I've always liked the quote "The grass isn't always greener on the other side... The grass is greener where you water it". In a culture where there is a tendency for us to post all of the highlights of our lives for others to see, it's no wonder why it's easy to look at someone else's life and be envious. This can be especially true if you are watching someone receive the things you have always wanted. But with every joyous occasion that a person shares with you, there is also heartache, pain and struggles that are not always mentioned. Sometimes we stand under the false belief that if we could switch lives, or have what they have, then we would be happy. Unfortunately, life does not work that way. Here are a few tips that I have found helpful when I find myself trying to find "greener grass":

#1 See the cup half full instead of half empty. Instead of dwelling on what you do not have, think about the blessings you do have. I always tell my patients that "There is someone that would switch places with you in a second... Even with all of your struggles. Tell me why you think they would?" This allows them an opportunity to explain the good things that are going on in their lives. If you have never asked yourself that question, you should try it!

#2 Happiness vs Joy. We can all be fooled to think that we will be "happy" if we just had more money, more time, more ___________ (fill in the blank). But the truth is that happiness is a temporary emotion. Yes, you may be happy for a little while, but the happiness will wear off and you will be in search of something. Having joy is a state of being. You could be sad, but still have joy in your heart. Being joyful really means that no matter what you're going through, or what your life does not have, you will choose to be positive. Choose joy!

#3 Be careful with the "if only" statements. In my weak moments, I'll find myself saying "If only I had this..." and "If only I had that...". Recently I have tried really hard to stay away from those statements and instead say "Thank you, God for this..." And "Thank you, God for that...". If we have an attitude of gratitude, your perspective will change!

Let's all remember to water and invest in the "grass" we have been given!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Most of you know, if you can’t already tell by my accent and the frequently dropped ya’ll, that I am from the South. Originally South Carolina to be exact. Surprisingly I don’t consider Texas the south, although living outside of Dallas does have some southern charm, I consider Texas just the west. The South in my eyes is THE Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.

I grew up in church every Wednesday and Sunday, attended a Christian school from 4th grade until my senior year, drank sweet tea, went to cotillion, took shag lessons, attended horse races, went 4- wheeling, mud boggin’, blessed hearts and if I didn’t say yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir, no thank you my heart was the one to be blessed. To this day, I say yes ma’am and the likes out of respect for someone, not because they are older than me.

Often times those adults tell me, nicely, “oh please don’t say that” where I proceed to overly apologize and 5 minutes later am saying yes ma’am to them again. It’s the way I was raised and it is the way we are raising our children. Hearing “yea” come from a child’s mouth when answering an adult makes me cringe. Again, it’s the way I was raised. I often times have to remind our boys (4 year olds) what do you say, but 7 times out of 10 they remember and our just turned 2 year old says yes ma’am. You might actually be a sir she’s answering, but I’ll cut her a little break. Ha!

My point is, no matter if you are teaching your children to say yes ma’am and yes sir or not we should all be teaching our children to use their manners. They are our future. Our future doctors, teachers, military and Presidents. Our world will be left in the palm of their once tiny hands. We should instill in them from an early age that we need to respect every person we come into contact with, no matter their race, gender, religious views, body size or political views.

Until the Missions Continues,