- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The fifth-grade girl was nervous, though she would never admit it.

Jordan Reeves stared out from stage right behind the heavy curtain in the Missouri Theatre, pacing back and forth for a few minutes. She turned to her mom and teased, “You gotta really listen.”

“I promise, I got you,” Jen Reeves said.

After Jordan was announced at the April 13 TEDxCoMo, she stepped confidently onstage and started to speak about her life experiences.

“My friends are a big reason why I am totally comfortable with who I am,” she told the crowd. “I was born with a left arm that stops just above the elbow. I call it a limb difference.”

Jordan, a Columbia native, has become an advocate for people with limb differences - something she and her family hope to normalize.

Jordan’s limb difference has helped her realize that everyone has a different perspective on what is normal. Because of this, she learned how to embrace people who don’t hide their stares.

“A few years ago, I had a really uncomfortable experience in a new dance class where a few kids just could not stop staring, and it made me really angry,” she said during the TED talk.

This led her to design T-shirts, and soon she wore one to her dance class that read: “Don’t stare, just ask.” Others say “Celebrate the Unicorns” and “Dude, where’s my arm?”

She explained in her talk that she uses T-shirts to help encourage discussion about differences.

“T-shirts have been a really easy way for me to tell stories and encourage others to relax and enjoy differences,” she said.

The Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/2riuseR ) reports that the 11-year-old, whose life has been chronicled largely through her mother’s blog and social media since before her birth, saw a huge boost in online attention after Jen Reeves posted a video of Jordan shooting glitter from her prosthetic arm. She made the glitter arm and called it “Project Unicorn.” She likes unicorns and identifies with how they stand out.

The video was shared by media outlets including FastCompany, Popular Science, TODAY.com and Nerdist. It has been viewed more than 94,000 times since its posting in February 2016.

Also this year, Jordan appeared on the daytime talk show the “Rachael Ray Show” and pitched Project Unicorn to investors from ABC’s “Shark Tank” in front of a live audience. She won $3,000 from littleBits, a company that makes electronic parts for people to build things.

She has spoken at events, such as this year’s Ability Day at Concord Elementary School in St. Louis, and in cities across the country, including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. In January, she participated at Kid Inventors’ Day in Brooklyn, New York.

In January 2016, Jordan was asked to join a Superhero Cyborgs workshop led by a design education group, KIDmob, and hosted by the 3-D software company Autodesk in San Francisco. That was where Jordan invented the concept of a sparkle-shooting prosthetic arm. She was paired with a design expert to continue working on the design through weekly Google Hangout meetings.

She continues to meet with her design mentor, Sam Hobish, online every Friday to talk about designs. Jordan and Hobish brainstormed the glitter blaster into a unicorn horn-shaped prosthetic arm that shoots glitter. The design is close to finalized, Jen Reeves said, and “Project Unicorn” will be on display during an international design expo in Toronto this fall.

This year, Jordan and her mother signed with a literary agent and are working on an autobiography of Jordan’s life. They also visited with an athletic wear company to give Jordan a chance to provide input on a clothing line for 2018.

It is one of many opportunities that give Jordan more reach to advocate for people with limb differences, Jen Reeves said.

The organization she uses to share her daughter’s story, Born Just Right, recently became a nonprofit. As such, the goal of the organization stays the same, which is to raise awareness about the impact design can have on lives. Mother and daughter hope to create more opportunities for disabled kids to learn how to upgrade their lives.

“I feel like it’s crazy - my dog should be internet-famous, not me,” Jordan said of the attention she’s been getting. The family dog, 3-year-old Bailey, is a big, boisterous goldendoodle who never meets a stranger.

Jordan said the attention has not changed how she sees herself: “normal.”

“The funny thing is usually my friends are like they completely forget that I have a limb difference,” she said. “I’m having trouble with something and they’re, like, just use your other arm.”

Her limb difference is not always on her mind, either: “I forget sometimes.”

Jordan, who is finishing up at Fairview Elementary School, is involved with a number of activities, including basketball, softball, CrossFit, honors choir and Girl Scouts. She also participates in Girls on the Run, a running club meant to teach girls to be confident with themselves and their abilities.

At first, Jordan’s involvement in sports was more so that she could stay healthy and work the muscles in her arms. But she’s found a passion for athletics. Her favorite thing she’s done this year? Basketball.

“I’ve never said that she can’t do anything,” Jen Reeves said. “When opportunities have presented themselves, we have to step back and let her figure it out.”

It’s a necessity, she said. “I’ve learned: I don’t have only one hand, so I can’t tell her what to do to figure it out.”

Watching Jordan grow and adapt has been a rewarding experience for her mother.

“I have tried to parent her within some boundaries,” Jen Reeves said. “I hope that leads her in a way where she can find a career where she is not discriminated against, that she has the confidence to fight against it if needed and continue to vocalize her perspectives.”

Raising awareness about limb difference and advocating for Jordan is a family crusade that involves not only Jordan and her mother but her father, Randy Reeves, and her brother, Cameron, who is 15.

Jen Reeves said that because she has documented the family online for many years, the recent attention hasn’t changed their lives much.

“When a lot of requests are coming in all at once, I am now lucky enough to step back and think: How is it going to help Jordan? How is it going to help our community? How is it going to help our starting nonprofit?” she said.

Jen Reeves stressed she doesn’t always agree to the things that are asked of Jordan.

“We want to help others have a different perspective on what a physical difference is,” she said. “We also want kids and adults who have physical differences to know that they can learn and take ownership of their own challenges, instead of waiting for someone else to figure them out.”

Jordan’s family has instilled in her the confidence to take on challenges.

“I’m ready to figure it out,” Jordan said. “I know I can do it. I just have to work hard on doing it.”

She calls Randy and Cameron Reeves her cheerleaders.

“When he was younger he just always wanted to help me,” Jordan said of Cameron. “He was a really nice brother, and he was always there to help me out. Nowadays, he knows I can do those things, and so he just lets me do it - he’s just an awesome brother.”

Jordan’s dad encourages her by sharing her story.

“He’ll go to work and tell people about me,” she said. “He treats me pretty much like my brother. He doesn’t give me like special treatment.”

As the school year wraps up, Jordan is looking forward to next year, where she’ll be a sixth-grader at West Middle School. She hopes the year’s events include American Girl agreeing to start making limb-difference dolls. The campaign began when Jordan and her mother started a petition on change.org in January 2016 asking American Girl to start making dolls with limb differences.

“I want it for other kids so when kids come to the store, they know that this is a thing and you don’t have to go, ‘Oh my gosh,’ when you see someone like me,” Jordan said.

The petition had almost 25,000 signatures as of May 15.

At the beginning of May, the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. started selling limb-different teddy bears. Jordan got one from the company that had the exact limb difference she has. She hopes other companies will follow this trend.

In the meantime, Jordan looks forward to a week this summer at Camp No Limits outside St. Louis. She has attended the camp for children with limb difference and limb loss since she was 3. She also plans to attend a camp in Ohio led by the Amputee Coalition and to attend a limb-difference event in Boston.

Jordan also plans to spend time swimming in a lake behind her house and playing with the ever-excitable Bailey.

After a long stretch of events and appearances, the TED talk was Jordan’s last public advocacy for a while. She ended the talk by giving the crowd a demonstration of her Project Unicorn arm. She put it on her left arm and pressed a button on a can of compressed air, sending glitter across the stage.

The tiny, shiny pieces caught the light and sparkled as they fell.

“I feel like I got the message I was wanting to get out there with some sprinkles of humor,” she said of her talk afterward. “I think that’s what I was going for.”

___

Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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