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Former Mrs. Minnesota shares highlights of her year as royalty

Published in For the Health of It Author: Melissa Brenny, LPN

Editor's Note: Melissa Brenny, LPN, cares for patients at Coborn Cancer Center — accessing peripherally inserted central catheters and ports for infusions, assisting during bone marrow biopsies and during doctor appointments.

Melissa also has other talents. In 2016, she was named Mrs. Minnesota! We recently caught up with Melissa to discuss what her experience was like, what it was like to hold that title and to discuss a cause that is important to her — one that originally motivated her to enter the pageant.

Melissa Brenny, LPN, with a patient at Coborn Cancer Center

Q: Tell us about your children.

Melissa: I have four children: Lucy, 11; Blake, 10; Layla, 6; and Ellie, 3.

Q: How long have you worked for CentraCare?

Melissa: I started my career with CentraCare back in 2000 as a college student. My first position was a childcare specialist at Journey Home, then an orderly in Adult Rehab, followed by a nursing assistant in Endoscopy, then an LPN in OBGYN and now as an LPN at the Coborn Cancer Center.

I worked several years at Quiet Oaks Hospice House and truly love caring for people. This is a very intimate journey people are on here at the Cancer Center and I feel it a privilege to be a part of. I genuinely love comforting people and this is a good place to do that.

I am interested in patients as people — remembering what is important to them. I listen but also provide empathy if needed, excitement and joy if needed and hopefully, just a general sense that they are cared for.

Q: Why did you enter the Mrs. Minnesota pageant?

Melissa: I became aware of criminal sex trafficking and that it was present in my hometown of Sauk Rapids. A burden was placed on my heart and I just could not turn away from it. I attended workshops and watched documentaries on exactly what was happening and how. The tug on my heart became deeper and I knew I needed to get a microphone for this issue. Everyone needed to know what was happening right under our feet. The idea came to me to run for Mrs. Minnesota and become the voice to those who had lost theirs.

I spent the year speaking at businesses, churches, schools, organizations and events about human sex trafficking and how to advocate against it. I attended and volunteered at several events throughout the year. I did travel some but chose to stay local as my mission was to really make an impact in my community.

Q: What don’t people realize about sex trafficking?

Melissa: Although I feel sex trafficking is gaining more attention in Central Minnesota, many are still unaware that it is happening in their hometowns, their communities, their neighborhoods. This is a very real fast growing criminal enterprise and our area is being affected. St. Cloud area is considered a training hub for sex trafficking. We are ranked second in the state as far as prevalence of sex trafficking.

Q: What are the signs of sex trafficking?

Melissa: I always tell people if your gut is telling you something is wrong — most likely it is. You not only could save one person but hundreds by exposing a sex trafficker. Watch for people who:

  • Avoid eye contact
  • Are not allowed to speak for him/herself
  • Has inconstant stories
  • States they are “just visiting”
  • Are not dressed appropriately or appear malnourished
  • Are fearful or anxious — especially around law enforcement officers
  • Have tattoos of a barcode

Q: What should you do if you suspect sex trafficking?

Melissa: Call the police. We have a special sex trafficking task force between the Waite Park, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud police departments. You also can call the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center Crisis line at 320-251-4357. For more information, visit www.cmsac.org or www.terebinthrefuge.org.

Q: What is involved in becoming Mrs. Minnesota?

Melissa: I had to apply to represent my city. Once accepted I went on to represent Sauk Rapids at the State competition in Bloomington. Contestants were from all over the state. We were judged in interview, fitness, evening gown, community involvement, volunteer work and our chosen platform.

Q: What were your duties as Mrs. Minnesota?

Melissa: I had a few appearances that were requested by my director but I could make the year as busy as I wanted. I received requests for appearances or speaking engagements and, unless I had a conflict, I always accepted. I really wanted to be present in my community. I did have the opportunity to travel far or be in the Twin Cities a lot, but I wanted my area to have the opportunity to have Mrs. Minnesota to highlight our community and businesses.

For instance, I could have gone to the big memorial service in St. Paul but I wanted to support our St. Cloud VA and for the exciting opportunity to have a Mrs. Minnesota at their VA. When I started this adventure I always said we have so many mission trips that we go in other cities or countries but sometimes we need a mission trip in our very own communities. The more my presence was in Central Minnesota the more my message and awareness was spread.

The kids were a highlight. Whether it was at a circus or a hospital, the kids were always so excited to see me! I went to Gillette's Children’s hospital a few times and the kids just light up. I know I’m not a big deal but they sure think I am! They would be so excited wanting autographs and it was so fun to see how much joy and excitement I brought and to forget their pain or illness even for a brief time.

Q: What was your favorite part of being Mrs. Minnesota?

Melissa: The true honor that I was representing our great state. It was a lot of work but we also had a lot of fun as a family! Representing Minnesota at Mrs. America in Las Vegas was probably one of the top. I was definitely treated like royalty!

Q: How did it feel for the year to be over?

Melissa: Truly blessed and happy that it happened and I was given the opportunity. I feel the title will continue to serve as an opportunity to speak. Even though I am hanging up my sash and crown, I am not hanging up my mission.