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High School Rodeo Queen gets involved with many programs

by Nancy Hamlett

Jessica Helms may be a little young for some people to consider a hero, but Helms doesn’t let age stand in the way of her loving and caring heart.

Helms is probably best known as the reigning Nevada State High School Rodeo queen. However, that is only part of her story. An honor student at Douglas High School and a volunteer for many community organizations and events, Helms manages to balance school, work, her responsibilities as queen and other volunteer activities.

Perhaps the most poignant cause Helms volunteered for was Laura’s House, a transitional housing program for women gaining sobriety. Operating from 1997 to 1999, Laura’s House, named for Helms’ mother, relied solely on private funding and donations. Helms sold raffle tickets and worked yard sales to raise money for the home, in addition to spending time with the residents.

“Many of the women lived there with their children. Jessica babysat and played with them two or three times a week,” said Gaye McCaslin, who with her husband Tom has raised Jessica since she was three. “Jessica was there to help, regardless of what she was asked to do.”

As the state high school rodeo queen, public speaking and personal appearances are part of her responsibilities. Helms speaks positively about the family values embraced by high school rodeo.

“Many people don’t realize high school rodeo isn’t just about the contestants. In most cases, it is a family effort to attend rodeos scattered all over the state and to do the day-to-day things that are required of rodeo contestants,” said Helms.

The reaction of small children to her queen outfits, and what she had to say amazes her.

“During the National High School Rodeo in Springfield (Ill.) the state queens were required to wear their outfits when in public,” said Helms. “Kids asked us for autographs, and I realized that what I had to say would have an impact on them. I was a role model, someone that they looked up to. The responsibility was a little bit overwhelming.”

As rodeo queen, Helms earned a spot on the Wrangler All-American Rodeo Team, an honor she cherishes. She also travels regularly to Eureka to attend Nevada High School Rodeo Association board meetings.

“Student officers don’t have a lot of say, but we are important for our input, because our opinions reflect what is good for kids in rodeo,” said Helms.

Helms helps raise money for the rodeo scholarship and crisis funds. The Special Kids Rodeos at the state and national levels are favorite volunteer programs.

“You can’t imagine the joy of spending one-on-one time with underprivileged and special needs children,” said Helms. “The Special Kids Rodeos give them an opportunity to do things they never could do any other way. It’s a volunteer program that affects so many kids in a positive way.”

Helms currently carries a 3.8 grade point average and appears in Who’s Who Among American High School Students. She is a National Science Merit Award winner and Nevada Silver Scholar. After graduation, Helms hopes to attend the University of Nevada, Reno as an engineering student with a minor in psychology or a related field.

“Even if I don’t pursue it as a career, I see all the good things my grandmother does as a counselor. What I learn will be valuable all my life,” said Helms.

Claudia Varin, who has known Helms for many years, nominated her for a youth award through the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“I can’t even begin to list all of the things that Jessica has done,” said Varin, an agent with Century 21 Clark Properties. “If someone needs a teenager to help with a project, they immediately think of Jessica. She helps with a handicapped riding program and volunteers at programs through Carson Tahoe Hospital. Jessica is honest, hard working and modest. Whenever a fuss is made over her, she can’t imagine why. I really don’t think she wants the credit.”

The 2001 rodeo season begins this weekend in Pahrump. Helms and other rodeo club members have spent every day during the year preparing for the circuit.

“Rodeo isn’t like other sports where you train and then have time off,” said Helms. “Horses have to be fed and ridden every day, and stalls have to be cleaned. We are tied to our sport every day.”

With the Douglas High School Rodeo scheduled March 31 and April 1, Helms is on the committee to find sponsors. She said that it costs almost $10,000 to put on the rodeo.

“But the rodeo brings almost 500 families into the Valley, so it is great for our businesspeople,” said Helms. “Right now, we really need community sponsors. Business card ads are only $25, a chute sign is $200, and we need items for our silent auction. We need a lot of people to help us, even with a little. Little donations add up.”

As the rodeo dates approach, Helms said that rodeo club also needs volunteers.

“Our community isn’t as agricultural as it used to be, and we don’t have many rodeo club members,” said Helms. “We used to count on members and their families, but now we have to turn to the community. The good thing is, you don’t have to be a rodeo or horse person to help.”

Helms credits her grandparents for providing opportunities to excel in rodeo sports. She competes in barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping, although this year she is emphasizing the barrels.

“I got my first horse when I was seven. I didn’t want a horse, I wanted a kitten more, but my grandmother made me. So the rest of it is all her fault,” said Helms, joking.

She then laughed when she revealed the deal made with her grandmother.

“I clean the stalls and my grandmother cleans up the dog poop, and my grandfather has supernatural powers,” said Helms, counting off the ways he helps. “He works all day and then feeds the horses for me when I have to work, he drives the motor home for hours and hours to get me to rodeos, he polishes my boots. He doesn’t give me a lot of praise, but it’s all those little things he does that let me know that he cares.”

Gaye McCaslin said her granddaughter has balanced her volunteer activities, school and work through great organizational skills.

“At her age, I was no way as equipped to handle all of the responsibilities that Jess handles,” said McCaslin. “She is organized and disciplined. She prioritizes what is important to her and then goes for it.”

Jessica waved off the compliments.

“I’m a teenager and I like to do what other teenagers do. Along the way, I get involved with special programs, but so do a lot of other teen-agers,” said Helms. “I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunities to be involved because rodeo and all of my other activities bring a family together. My grandparents and I are a team, and I couldn’t do what I do without them.”

Side Bar

What: Douglas High School Rodeo

When: March 31 – April 1, 2001

Where: Douglas County Fairgrounds

Businesses or individuals willing to contribute financially or with manpower can contact Alton Anker, director of the rodeo at 782-2448.