‘Citizen’ in the spotlight as TEDxCoMo returns to Columbia

Fourteen speakers will share ideas about what it means to be a citizen as TEDxCoMo takes the stage Thursday night in Columbia.

The Missouri Theatre will host TEDxCoMo, a local event modeled after the global TED Conference, a popular annual event focused on “ideas worth spreading” in areas including technology, entertainment and design.

TEDxCoMo will run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., preceded by a mixer that starts at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online.

“Everyone has their own take on what it means to be a citizen,” TEDxCoMo organizer Keith Politte said. The event aims to explore the ways in which we act as citizens and hold collective responsibility for our society, he said.

Politte said his hope is that people will come out of the event inspired and with a change in their worldview. “I hope this experience touches them and gets them to engage more with their communities,” he said.

Here’s a small sampling of the speakers — and their ideas — that will take the stage Thursday:

Ashley Yong
Courtesy of Give A Box

When Ashley Yong was a senior in high school, she used money she had saved up for her prom to buy food and supplies for homeless people: toothbrushes, tissues, band aids, water, T-shirts, fruit, popcorn, applesauce, crackers and gum. She packed individual sets of those supplies into 20 boxes and added a handwritten note to each one. Then she went and delivered the boxes to homeless people in Chicago.

Yong made a video of herself passing out the boxes and uploaded it on YouTube. When she showed the video to teachers at her high school, they suggested she start a campaign on GoFundMe, a crowdfunding website. She set a target of raising $200 for another round of giving out boxes.

Her eventual fundraising haul dwarfed that original goal. The video went viral after receiving media attention and being shared by Ashton Kutcher and Nicki Minaj on Facebook. Yong was featured by the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Huffington Post. She was in a PBS documentary about philanthropy in the Chicago area. Her GoFundMe page received more than $6,000 in donations.

But what really led Yong to start Give A Box was seeing more homeless people that her boxes couldn’t help. “I realized it isn’t just about doing one good deed and wiping your hands off,” she said. “I wanted to get people to think about homelessness.”

Give A Box aims to create networks to give essential supplies — food, clothing and other necessities — directly to homeless people.

Give A Box has given out about 400 boxes to date, according to Yong, partnering with organizations looking to help the homeless. Organizations supply volunteers from their ranks, and Give A Box supplies the goods.

Yong will be speaking at TEDxCoMo about how philanthropy can harness the power of the internet and social media. She will address the perils of “slacktivism,” or offering superficial support for a cause on the internet without devoting actual time and effort to it.

Yong will also talk about how service and philanthropy can come in a variety of forms. “It doesn’t necessarily have to involve your credit card,” she said.

Jordan Reeves
Screenshot from The Rachel Ray Show

Jordan Reeves is only 11 years old but has already gained national attention. Reeves, who was born with one hand, may be familiar from her appearance on the Rachael Ray show or from multiple media profiles of her. The bubbly local girl is aiming to revolutionize medical technology by using 3-D printing technology.

Her TEDxCoMo talk will focus on how people all have different views of what is “normal.” She will use stories from her own life to explain her theme.

Jordan was born missing the lower part of her left arm, a condition known as a limb difference. Last year, she petitioned the makers of American Girl dolls to make a limb difference doll for children that wanted a doll that looked like them. She also invented a glitter blaster that uses compressed air to shoot out glitter. The device was invented mostly using a 3-D printer.

While she has a lot of fun with the sparkles, Reeves also has a practical invention: a pocket-sized tool that helps people with limb differences use paper towel dispensers in restrooms. It could also be used by people who have two hands but are carrying something in one hand.

The inventions were born from her time at a workshop called Superhero Cyborgs in San Francisco. While the camp only lasted a week, Reeves has been working for more than a year on perfecting a medical prosthetic arm with help from her prosthetist and a designer from the software company Autodesk.

Reeves was invited to be on the Rachael Ray show to pitch both her inventions to the judges from the hit ABC show “Shark Tank.” She said she was very nervous when appearing on the show.

“But it was fun,” she said. “Everything happened so quickly.”

Billionaire Mark Cuban, one of the “Shark Tank” judges, called Reeves a “superhero.” Another of the judges, Daymond John, called Reeves’ invention “the new version of the silly string gun,” suggesting that she patent it.

Jordan and her mother, Jen Reeves, are also working on an autobiographical book about how she got to where she is.

Barbara Buffaloe
Courtesy of Barbara Buffaloe/LinkedIn

Barbara Buffaloe, sustainability manager for the city of Columbia, said her job is to encourage people to be active citizens when it comes to the environment. Buffaloe was hired for the newly created sustainability manager position in 2010.

Buffaloe has long been a fan of TED talks, which help people grasp complex topics easily, she said.

Buffaloe’s talk will focus on how people in the community can help combat climate change. The other broad themes of her talk will involve the importance of saving energy and being active in environmental protection efforts.

“Climate change is a concern we all share,” Buffaloe said. “I want to talk about things the average citizen can do to help mitigate its effects.”

In her job, Buffaloe is tasked with helping create short-term and long-term sustainable solutions for the city.

The biggest thing she has learned through her job is the resources and people in Columbia that can help in making a change, she said.

Buffaloe’s office is involved in rebate and loan programs being offered by Columbia to help people save energy and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The sustainability office is also trying to encourage people to think about the waste system and not to let recyclable items end up in landfills, Buffaloe said.

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