We had a chance to chat with Jordan Somer, founder and CEO of Miss Amazing, about how she was inspired to create the organization that went from a single pageant in Omaha, NE to now, 10-years-later, an organization that hosts annual pageants in 32 states with over 1,700 participants.
Jordan Somer grew up in the pageant world, competing herself around the country from the age of 7 until she was 18-years-old.
“The experience was always an incredibly positive and formative one,” Somer said. “Pageants challenged me to become a better public speaker, to explore my points of view, and to powerfully articulate myself in conversation.”
She told me how pageants helped her make new friends who also became her role models.
“The girls that I met in pageants were also truly kind and inspirational,” she said.
When Jordan was 12-years-old, she volunteered with Special Olympics for the first time, and it sparked and idea.
“That first day that I volunteered, I was so drawn to the fun and celebratory environment of the games, and I knew that I wanted to give back in a similar way,” Somer said, “The urge stuck with me and, after lots of brainstorming and note-taking, I decided that I would coordinate an event that allowed the female athletes that I met at the Special Olympics to enjoy the same kind of benefits that I had received through pageantry.”
That event was the first ever Miss Amazing pageant.
“In 2007, I held the first Miss Amazing event in Omaha and continued holding the event in Nebraska on an annual basis,” Somer explained. “In 2010, Teen Nickelodeon honored me with a Teen Nick HALO Award, which allowed Miss Amazing to reach millions of viewers worldwide and equipped us with the seed money necessary to expand the program. By spring of 2012, Miss Amazing had expanded to nine states in addition to Nebraska.”
The exposure was beyond anything she could have imagined.
“Practically overnight, my job changed from being the coordinator of a local community event to being the Executive Director of a nationwide nonprofit organization,” Somer said.
And though she says her biggest challenge with this rapidly expanding organization is keeping up the demand, she’s so grateful for the opportunity.
“I learn more and more every day about how Miss Amazing can be a better, more efficient organization, and how I can be a more effective leader,” Somer said.
As the years have gone by and the organization grows, Jordan sees the participants receiving the same benefits that she did when she competed in pageants herself.
“This is the kind of experience that I wanted to offer girls and women with disabilities – one that provided an opportunity for the participants to challenge themselves, fine-tune important life skills, and make inspiring new friends along the way,” Jordan explained.
One participant from 2017 named Abigail has gained a new confidence through Miss Amazing. Jordan told me that she chatted with Abigail’s mom who said, “Miss Amazing has provided her (Abigail) with a powerful outlet to share her story and to exercise public speaking and self-advocacy skills”.
“Unfortunately, Abigail is targeted by bullies at school because of her disability,” Somer explained. “But as a representative of Miss Amazing, she’s been able to claim a platform and speak about her experience as a young woman with a disability in a way that’s empowering.”
“Abigail also expressed how thrilled she was to meet so many new friends through Miss Amazing,” Somer continued. “Because the sole purpose of Miss Amazing is to celebrate strength and potential, I’ve seen the participants in our program often feel most comfortable being themselves at our events. This kind of celebratory environment allows for friendships and sisterhoods to grow.”
As Miss Amazing continues to expand, so does Jordan’s goals for the organization in the future.
“I would really love to offer college scholarships to Miss Amazing participants in the future. I constantly hear from young women in our program who are eager to go to college and earn a degree,” Somer said. “For example, a longtime Miss Amazing participant named Morgan is currently creating and selling her own line of bath bombs and bath salts to save up for college,” Somer continued. “With nonprofit organizations and universities working together to make higher education more inclusive, more opportunities for people with intellectual and physical disabilities to attend college are available than ever before. It would be an absolute honor to make such a meaningful investment in the future of Miss Amazing participants like Morgan.”
Jordan also plans to have Miss Amazing programs in all fifty states and will begin the process of building out regional offices to support year-round programming nationwide.
“We’ve been encouraged by the success that Miss Amazing has had in providing a vehicle for girls with disabilities to begin developing self-advocacy skills as young as five years old. We hope to provide even more opportunities for participants in our programs to develop those skills and to offer mentorship and scholarship programs in the future. At its current scale, Miss Amazing can serve approximately 100 girls and women in each state per year. We’re so proud of how far we’ve come, but so excited to reach the approximately 27 million girls and women with disabilities in the U.S.,” Somer said.
The work the Miss Amazing organization is doing year after year helps the lives of so many girls with disabilities across the country. But for Jordan, that’s not enough.
“I am so happy to say that Miss Amazing has become an environment in which girls with disabilities can set lofty goals and feel free to be themselves,” Somer explained. “However, I firmly believe that Miss Amazing shouldn’t be an oasis, but that girls and women with disabilities should feel supported in this way every day of their lives. I hope that we can influence this kind of deeply-rooted change in our society.”
Keep an eye out for more stories about Miss Amazing and the incredible participants.