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Children call on their superhero powers to create fanciful prosthetics

Jewel Lin, a Superhero Cyborgs facilitator, made a Mad Max-inspired forearm for a character named Imperator Furiosa.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

SOMERVILLE — The kids knew their mission Sunday morning as they walked through the door.

First, they picked their superhero name. Then, they picked their superhero power.

Eight children born with different limbs — such as a hand not fully formed or legs that had portions missing — learned how to view their differences as superhero upgrades in a one-day design event called Superhero Cyborgs held at Canopy City, a co-working and incubator space in Somerville, and hosted by a Missouri-based nonprofit called Born Just Right and KIDmob, a design firm based in San Francisco. The event was sponsored by Helping Hands Foundation, and the children worked with volunteer designers.


The children, who ranged in age from 7 to 15, created designs and then used a variety of materials such as wood, wax, fabric, old toys, batteries, and even pom-poms to build their own fanciful prosthetics.

“People who live in the disability world have a superhero ability to live in a world that was designed for typically formed bodies,” said Jen Lee Reeves, founder of Born Just Right. “So we’re just taking advantage of that superhero ability, that mindset, to think differently and to build upon it and take advantage of it.”

Her 11-year-old daughter, Jordan, who was born without a left hand or left elbow, had previously created a prosthetic arm that shoots glitter. The 11-year-old has spoken around the country about how the experience changed the way she viewed her disability.

“I thought [the workshop] was really cool because you weren’t just doing it on your own,” Jordan Reeves said. “You had other people supporting you and you got to support them too.”

And then, she said, she enjoyed seeing the finished results.

“You have to be committed,” she said. “And when something goes wrong, you’ve got to keep on trying.”


Jordan Reeves demonstrated her "Glitter Blaster." Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Kate Ganim, 30, codirector of KIDmob, said the experience is about empowering the children.

“For me, it’s about having the kids understand that they have the capabilities to come up with their own ideas and bring those ideas into reality,” Ganim said.

By the end of the day, the children were showing off their designs to their parents.

Nine-year-old Lawman Johnson, who lives in Norwood, built a sword out of a neon-yellow pool noodle.

“I’m proud of him and I hope he uses his powers for good,” said his father, Lawman Johnson, 43, of Wilmington.

Saige Walker-Smith became a superhero called Fire Princess and built a glowing shield around her prosthetic legs.

“My first invention didn’t really work,” said Walker-Smith, 10. “So I tried again. . . . I really like that I made new friends and I let out my creativity and I was able to make inventions.”

Nick Wardner, 11, of Nashua, took the name Captain Marshmallow and built a contraption that shoots off marshmallows from his hand.

“It feels good,” Wardner said. “That you’re not the only person that doesn’t have two hands and now you know there’s other people like you.”

Lawman Johnson worked on his "big idea" assignment. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Jewel Lin, 21, of Cambridge, who worked with the group as a facilitator, said she hoped the children walked away knowing they’re unstoppable.

“Being a limb-difference person myself, it’s interesting and important to help other people achieve what I wanted to achieve when I was a little kid,” Lin said. “I do not consider myself disabled in any way. I’ve been able to overcome any barriers and emotional barriers that have ever come up.”


Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.