You are here

Local Hero: Young Women with Special Needs Enjoy Their Moment in the Spotlight

Jordan Somer, a graduate of New York University, now runs the Miss Amazing nonprofit full-time.

Inspired to Help

Growing up in Omaha, Jordan Somer, 23, had been competing in beauty pageants for eight years before she won her first crown at the National American Miss Nebraska Junior Teen pageant in 2007. That’s when the 13-year-old had a very grown-up revelation. “Of course I was thrilled to win, but it didn’t have anything to do with being the prettiest girl in the room,” she says. “All those hours I’d spent preparing for interview questions and practicing speeches had taught me how to express myself and believe in myself. I wanted to help other people feel the same way.”

Jordan knew exactly whom she wanted to reach out to—girls and young women with special needs. She had been volunteering for years, from sorting donations at food pantries to playing piano at nursing homes, but it was her work with the Special Olympics Nebraska that truly had the most meaning. “It’s a celebratory event that provides opportunities for every athlete to take chances and improve themselves,” she says. “I realized a pageant for girls with disabilities could also help them reach their full potential.”

Big Steps

The ninth-grader contacted local social services groups and the Special Olympics Omaha office to encourage people to enter. The first competition, held at a community center, featured 15 participants, each of whom went home with a trophy and tiara. Three years later, the annual pageant had received so much positive buzz that Jordan was awarded a $25,000 grant from Nickelodeon’s HALO Awards for teens making a difference. She founded her Miss Amazing nonprofit in 2011, with the goal of expanding the contests nationwide for girls and women ages 10 to 35 with physical and mental disabilities.

Inner Beauty

Since then, more than 1,700 contestants have participated in Miss Amazing pageants, which are now held in more than 30 states, with a national event every summer. Thousands of volunteers have signed on to organize local competitions, hold fundraisers and act as one-on-one buddies. Divided into six age groups, the pageants include an interview with a judge, a segment where participants take the mic and introduce themselves to the audience, an eveningwear presentation and an optional talent showcase. “Someone in each division is crowned queen,” Jordan says, “but there’s not a whiff of competitiveness.”

Jordan, who graduated from New York University in 2015, now runs the Manhattan-based nonprofit full-time. Increasing visibility for women with disabilities is one of her goals, but even more important is creating a sisterhood. “We have participants who come back year after year to offer support,” she says. “That’s because they remember that moment in the spotlight when they were accepted and celebrated just as they are. There’s no reason they shouldn’t always feel that way.”

For more information or to donate, go to missamazing.org.