Something about the Fredericksen family and their home that backs up to Blackwater River State Forest in tiny Baker, Florida, is special. It is welcoming and nurturing.
“When we were furnishing the house, my husband asked why we needed so many tables: a breakfast nook, a big square dining table, a long formal dining table,” matriarch Lisa says. “I told him we needed all the tables for all our grandbabies to come over and eat with us. That’s how this home is going to be.”
Daughter Kadance wants to ensure other children feel this same kind of love. In 2017, she started her nonprofit organization, Kada’s Promise, which gives teddy bears and blankets to children without homes or who suffer from abuse, neglect and other trauma.
Kadance, 15, was a toddler when her parents divorced. Like her father, Matthew, she was born in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Matthew, a combat aviation adviser stationed at Hurlburt Field, had a visitation agreement that brought Kadance to him summers and alternate Christmas holidays.
Kadance was 6 in 2012 when Matthew and his new wife, Lisa, noticed signs of abuse at bath time on Christmas Eve. They immediately started the fight to bring Kadance home to Florida for good.
“It was four years of battle in the courts,” says Lisa, who is now Kadance’s legal mother. “Kadance came to live with us permanently when she was 9, and the legal adoption was final in 2017.”
Kadance had bounced from house to house, crashing with friends of her biological mother and stepfather.
She says the only thing that gave her comfort in lonely and scary times was a stuffed animal someone had given her.
The sense of stability that came from that was the inspiration for Kada’s Promise.
“Kada was what I used to be called in my old life,” says Kadance. “I wanted to keep that part as a reminder of what that was and how things can get better.”
In third grade, Kadance—a shy child who hardly spoke—started participating in pageants. Lisa had been part of the pageant world but didn’t think it was a good fit for Kadance, who lacked confidence and self-esteem, and was working through her challenges with counselors and psychologists.
“She came home one day with a flyer for a school pageant,” Lisa says. “They were doing Disney’s ‘Frozen,’ and she wanted to compete. I was worried and immediately called her counselor. He thought it would help her confidence.”
Lisa was encouraged that Kadance was challenging herself. Matthew wasn’t so sure.
“I didn’t want her to get involved with it,” he says. “The closest I ever was to something like it were rodeo queens when I was growing up in Idaho. All I knew about pageants was the ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ show, and I said no.
“But Kadance has always pushed herself. She used to love to ride the Zipper at carnivals. We’d get off and she’d pull me back in line saying, ‘Again, Daddy!’”
Kadance won most photogenic in her first pageant and slept with her trophy for a week. In 2017, she was crowned Little Miss Northwest Florida. That pageant is where she discovered community service.
This summer, Kadance won a national title, Princess America National Junior Teen. She has her eye on the Miss USA crown.
“Pageants give Kada’s Promise a big platform,” Kadance says. “Miss USA is the most well-known pageant, and it’s the most service-driven pageant. Service is what I love to do the most.”
Kadance started volunteering for Ronald McDonald House as a youngster, raising $25,000 in four years with a lemonade stand. She still serves with that program.
Her awards and press clips fill stacks of scrapbooks. She received the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her work in 2017-2021, and will be a recipient again in 2022.
Kadance doesn’t shy away from talking about the trauma of her past life.
“Sharing my story doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I’m proud of it, and I can’t change it. I want people to know about it so I can use it to do some good.”
Her glamorous pageant side belies her normal teen side. She and her friends hang out at each other’s homes, ride go-karts and four-wheelers, and are excited about homecoming. Kadance loves animals, earns good grades and will graduate high school with her associate degree thanks to dual enrollment at Baker K-12 School.
Her friends are supportive, but her work and her old life are not a focus.
Rebecca Logan, 15, has known Kadance since sixth grade. She says the work her friend does is important.
“I know she has a background like the kids she helps, and she connects with them,” Rebecca says. “With the teddy bears, she gives them something to hold on to—a little friend that lets them know someone cares for them. I think it’s extremely sweet.”
Kadance sees up close how children react to her outreach and genuine care. One of her regular service sites is a residential community in Fort Walton, where children and teens in crisis live.
She visits to personally give the children teddy bears. Many of the boys want pink bears because they want moms, Kadance says, noting pink bears represent the feminine caregiver absent from their lives.
Seeking ways to expand her platform, Kadance will add author of a children’s book to her list of talents.
She would like to be a veterinarian one day, but is in no hurry to leave her home.
“When I got here permanently, I had a real family,” she says. “The college is kind of far away, and I don’t really want to leave soon. I’m just happy here.”
The Fredericksen family has a plan for how to keep their children close, if they so choose. Lisa’s older daughter, Megan, and her husband have a house waiting for them at the entrance to the property. Jax, 11, has chosen several acres behind the house. Kadance has dibs on 2 acres across the lane, in view of the front porch and tire swing. She has already planted a few trees there.
“This place is perfect for our family,” Lisa says. “I’ll carve a little path to each house so my grandbabies can run back and forth. It’s our safe haven. We’ll never leave here.”