Atlanta business Summer Shirt Project teaches skills

Jackie and husband Ben immediately took action and started Jordyn in speech therapy. At the time, the only way she could communicate was by crying. If she cried less than 45 minutes in the rocking chair, that was a good start to the day, recalls Jackie.

The autism also affected Jordyn’s ability to gesture. She couldn’t point when she wanted something or raise her arms when she wanted to be picked up. She would take her mother’s hand and lead her to things she wanted and stand beside it.

As the years passed, Jordyn remained non-verbal. Jackie and Ben taught her basic signs and head nodding to help her communicate. Though strangers might not understand, since the signs were not technically American Sign Language, family and friends became fluent in Jordyn’s modified language.

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When Jordyn was 5, the Moore family moved from Columbia, Missouri, to Cumming where there were more resources for children with autism. Jordyn attended the Summit Autism Center for two years and worked with a therapist who specialized in autism and apraxia of speech, a brain disorder that affects movement of the tongue, lips and jaw.

“Within months of working with the therapist, Jordyn began gaining sounds, then the therapist taught her how to combine sounds,” said Jackie. “She She learned to speak one sound at a time.”

It was a joyous breakthrough.

“We often get asked what’s wrong with her voice because it’s very deep,” said Jackie. “There’s nothing wrong with her voice. It was a struggle to gain that voice. Listening to her talk is a miracle. ”

What comes next?

At age 7, Jordyn transferred to public school in Forsyth County where she received special services in a moderate to mild disabilities (MIMO) classroom, and she remained in the school system until she graduated high school in May 2021.

When Jordyn was 17, the end of high school was looming, and her parents grew fearful about what would come next for Jordyn.

“We knew, based on her struggles, that getting a job was probably an unrealistic goal,” said Jackie. “The topic began to keep us up at night and every conversation went there.”

While out on a date, the couple decided to change their focus. They stopped thinking about what was not available and started thinking about what they could create for their daughter.

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In summer 2018, Jackie and Ben launched an experiment they called the Summer Shirt Project. They created and trademarked a colorful T-shirt design that read “Be Kind to Everyone.” Their goal was to sell 40 shirts and teach Jordyn how to package them.

“I was so nervous the night I put it on my personal Facebook page,” said Jackie. “I called my mom and asked her if she’d please comment on my post and request a shirt, just for momentum. When I made the post, I explained we were taking pre-orders and that this would be a project for Jordyn to work on all summer. Then I held my breath.”

Within minutes, people Jackie didn’t know were replying and sharing the post. The hope to sell 40 shirts in their first order was superseded by the sales of 1,000 shirts. The Moores were astounded.

“We imagined we’d create a different project for Jordyn every summer,” laughed Jackie. “Never in a million years did we imagine we’d get something like this right off the bat.”

The Moores took the money from the first batch of sales and rolled it over to purchase more inventory and build the business. They haven’t slowed down since.

She believed she could, so she did

In March 2021, when the business outgrew their basement, the Moores purchased a 3,000-square-foot warehouse. Jordyn graduated high school a couple months later and began working for the company full-time. Early this year, the family upgraded to a 12,000-square-foot warehouse, where they employ nine people, including one other person who has autism, and Ben left his real estate development career to run the Summer Shirt Project full-time. Product is sold direct to consumer from its website and ships nationwide.

“The shirt shop,” as Jordyn calls it, is in Cumming, a short drive from the Moores’ home. The space is bright and cheerful, with light streaming in through giant glass service doors and a banner above them that reads, “she She believed she she could, so she she did.” Across the way, a rainbow of folded shirts boasts positive messages: Be Kind to Everyone. Never Give Up. Have a Good Day.

Jordyn thrives on routine and is eager to get to the shirt shop every workday. She lays out her outfit the night before and tells her mom to hurry up in the mornings. She typically works eight hours a day, five days a week and can complete her tasks independently.

“I roll a shirt and add a wristband,” explained Jordyn when asked about her workday. Her big brown eyes, identical to her mom’s, stare out the window as she speaks, her fingers fidgeting with a blue band around her wrist. “I like the ‘Y’all’ shirt.”

When Jordyn needs a break, she gets a Dr. Pepper and sits in one of two oversized blue rocking chairs in the middle of the work room, where her black Labrador mix, Max, gazes at her, hopeful she has food to share.

Jackie maintains their social media accounts, where they have 1.7 million followers. She frequently posts videos of Jordyn working in her signature braids, which garners thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. The videos of Jordyn rolling shirts and stamping cards are especially popular. “There is something therapeutic about watching Jordyn roll shirts,” one commenter posted. “Jordyn is so fast it amazes me,” posted another.

The Moores continually help Jordyn develop new skills. They’ve added pens and decal stickers to their online shop and have created modifications to help Jordyn sort and package the items successfully. Jordyn isn’t the only one to benefit from the modifications. The MIMO class from Jordyn’s alma mater, South Forsyth High School, visits every Tuesday morning to learn job skills.

“This job has helped Jordyn so much,” said Jackie. “Seeing it work for other kids is just amazing.”

Finally getting every chance

Jordyn has gained more than just job skills at the Summer Shirt Project. Her speech has improved, which Jackie notices most when she records the family’s podcast.

Launched in June 2022, Be Kind to Everyone podcast focuses on the experience of parenting Jordyn and the resources Jackie and Ben have discovered in the process. Jordyn joins them frequently to answer questions submitted by listeners. Speaking in sentences that are increasingly longer and more clearly enunciated, she talks about her brother Hudson, 9, and signs off with her signature line: Have a good day, you guys.

Jordyn’s job has also afforded her the opportunity to develop a social life.

She met Sarah Chirchirillo, 21, when they were in high school. Chirchirillo has worked for The Summer Shirt Project since the beginning, and she and Jordyn have become close friends. Chirchirillo, who is neuro-typical, has helped teach Jordyn work-related skills, but the two also make time to chat about things like music and nails.

“This job has given Jordyn so much time with Sarah,” said Jackie. “That’s something many kids with autism never get — one-on-one time with a typical peer, just hanging out like most kids do.”

A few years ago, Jackie thought it might be fun for Jordyn and Sarah to go out to lunch on their own. She warned Sarah that Jordyn might be nervous; she she’d never gone out to eat without a parent. Jackie couldn’t have been more wrong.

“I still have a picture of them at the car getting ready to go to Mellow Mushroom. Jordyn couldn’t say bye fast enough,” said Jackie, laughing at the memory. “Before that, I never knew what she was missing. I realized then that she noticed what happened around her, she saw what other kids do, and she was excited to finally be getting a chance to do the same.”

Jackie and Ben’s concerns over what comes next for Jordyn have dissipated. Their daughter is thriving. The Summer Shirt Project has given Jordyn purpose, growth, friends and legions of followers who cheer her on and eagerly await the next T-shirt release.

Jackie and Ben believed they could create a better life for their daughter, and they did.

Learn more about Summer Shirt Project or to listen to the Be Kind to Everyone podcast, visit Follow Summer Shirt Project on Instagram at @summershirtproject.