WNC Student using Miss Lyon County platform to help those with mental illness
Courtesy Steve Yingling, Western Nevada College
Through all of the obstacles that Abbey (Bernhardt) Fredenburgh has overcome as a young adult to become a first-year student at Western Nevada College and earn the title of Miss Lyon County, three things have remained most important in her life: family, friends and education.
As a child, Fredenburgh was ostracized in school because of learning challenges and mental health issues. Lacking support and understanding from teachers and administrators, repeated bullying from classmates and the culmination of being “different” depressed Fredenburgh and made her attempt suicide.
Fortunately, Fredenburgh received a second chance at life and was surrounded by family members who cared about her, encouraged her to persevere and convinced her that being different was going to make her stronger as a person.
“Through the dark times I had so many people who wanted to help,” Fredenburgh said. “My family has always been by my side. My mother was my advocate, making sure I had resources in place to navigate the school system. My grandparents and aunts set values to never give up and never set limits to what your capabilities are.”
Finally, after various changes in public and private schools outside of Nevada, a Carson High School teacher entered her life at a very important time.
“I had a teacher I will never forget — Wendy Tims,” Fredenburgh said. “She worked with me every day, even coming to my house on a holiday to ensure that I would graduate with my class.
“A few educators supported me, but most did not. In fact, principals and teachers belittled me, telling me that I was hopeless, helpless and that I would never amount to anything. Others denied bullying in the classroom. Kids like me need a voice and need to understand that life can get better and change with the right resources in place. Kids need a team like I had that will advocate for their best interest. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Wendy.”
Five years after graduating from high school, Fredenburgh realized that education provided the means to what she really wanted to do in life: help others. But since so much time had elapsed since she completed her high school education, Fredenburgh felt she needed college preparation. Consequently, she utilized WNC’s Adult College Career Education and Literacy (ACCEL) program to prepare for taking higher education courses at WNC.
“The ACCEL program was an excellent place to start because it offered tutoring and I feared I might be behind due to missing a lot of school,” Fredenburgh said. “I met with (Enrollment and Retention Specialist) Elizabeth Best who guided me through the process determining what my strengths and weaknesses were and developing a strategy to obtain my goals. The program is outstanding! It really helped me to progress in my studies.”
Fredenburgh has a 4.0 GPA and is pursuing an Associate of Science degree, then plans to enter law school. She recently received scholarship funding from WNC Foundation.
“I think Abbey’s bravery in sharing her experience and putting herself out there is commendable,” said ACCEL Director Angela Holt. “I’ve observed her to be incredibly driven to succeed. Her work ethic and commitment to pursue her goals is exemplary of what we hope all students strive to achieve.”
Besides her dedication to education and a professional career, Fredenburgh has found friends and happiness in pageantry.
“Sometime after high school I became interested in pageantry and competed for the preliminary to Miss Nevada, Miss America organization,” she said.
In the process, she met Miss Nevada Outstanding Teen Director Jillian Helget, who taught her that being unique will make her stronger as a person and essentially that everyone is different and has a place in society.
“She helped me discover who I want to be and what I want to be,” Fredenburgh said. “Jillian encouraged me to develop a platform to achieve my goals, which gave me a purpose. She showed me how to be strong, defying all the odds against me.”
Helget is proud of the progression Fredenburgh has made since they met about 5 years ago.
“She used to have a negative view of the world,” Helget said. “I made her realize that it’s a blessing every day to be on this Earth and to find the good things to celebrate instead of focusing on the negative things she can’t control.”
Now, Helget loves the person Fredenburgh has become.
“Her growth has been immense,” Helget said. “She started out very shy and not contributing much, more of an observer. Over time she started sharing her opinions and more of her personality. She’s such a vibrant young woman, and previously, I don’t think she believed that.”
For Fredenburgh, the pageants became family gatherings.
“It’s a sisterhood. I made friends with my pageant sisters and their families,” she said. “We all support and encourage each other. The four points of the crown represent style, service, scholarship and success. The sisterhood is a lifelong journey. Former Miss Nevadas believe in the sisterhood and the organization, mentoring future contestants and queens through shaping and molding them.”
More importantly, her “sisters” accepted what she had been through earlier in life and the message she was presenting at pageants.
“They accepted me completely and I felt safe, something I’ve never had before,” Fredenburgh said. “I chose ‘mental illness will not define us’ as my platform. In my year of service, I aspire to educate others about mental health and eliminate stereotypes. I also want to educate on the importance of ending bullying as it can make mental illness worse or cause it.”
Helget competed in several Nevada pageants when she was growing up and fell in love with the organization.
“It’s a special program that brings out the best in these young women, helps them find out who they really are and sets them up for success,” Helget said.
Becoming Miss Lyon County hasn’t been easy. Helget said that Fredenburgh has used past pageant disappointments as lessons to become a stronger and more determined contestant. That is why earning Miss Lyon County and the right to compete for the Miss Nevada title means so much to her.
“Winning Miss Lyon County means everything to me!” Fredenburgh said. “Miss America is a leader for young women. She has poise, confidence, kindness and compassion, and wants to make a difference, as I do. It provides a platform to tell my story and a way to reach people who are struggling with mental illness. I want others to know there is hope and that someone loves them. It takes constant hard work every day, but it can be done. Dream big and make goals. We are just as capable as everyone else.”
That perspective has now become one of her strengths as she pursues her own selfless goals.
“I want to help people and become a civil rights attorney,” Fredenburgh said. “I want to help people like me that need a voice.”
But in the near future there is the opportunity to become the next Miss Nevada and compete in the Miss America pageant. She’ll compete with at least 16 other Miss Nevadas for the crown.
“I’m excited to compete for the title of Miss Nevada in June!” she said. “It’s my dream, but more than anything, I’m proud to represent my cause to help people. I’m eager to present my platform and share it with the judges and audience.”