Alvin Garcia Flores is outgoing, friendly and able to accept that his right arm ends just below his elbow.
But Leticia Flores de Garcia said life can still be rough for her son, a fourth-grader at Gateway Elementary School in South Omaha. Sometimes others treat him like a freak. Adults can stare.
“Sometimes they see him as a different person ... a stereotype,” she said. “It’s really hard when people just look at him.”
But on Thursday afternoon, 9-year-old Alvin got a new arm. It won’t make him less noticeable, but it might make his life easier.
Members of the 501st Legion — a group costumed as the bad guys from the “Star Wars” films — presented Alvin with a 3-D-printed bionic arm at Gateway, in front of about 130 of his fellow fourth-graders.
The Commander Arm, white with gold trim, is similar to that of a “Star Wars” stormtrooper. It’s the creation of Limbitless Solutions, a Florida nonprofit that provides children with bionic arms for free.
Limbitless Solutions is behind an Iron Man-style bionic arm presented to another child by Robert Downey Jr. in a video that went viral last year.
Albert Manero, the nonprofit’s founder, said that as a kid he saw Luke Skywalker get a replacement hand after losing one in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader.
“It certainly inspired our work and humanitarian efforts,” he said.
The arm system uses the electrical currents in muscles to control the arm’s hand. When Alvin flexes his biceps, the electrical current prompts the hand of his new arm to grip.
Limbitless designs the arm, which should last about a year, and constructs it in an industrial 3-D printer before installing the electronics.
Alvin’s arm has its origins in the Downey video. A year or so ago, Gateway Principal Terry Burton saw the video and immediately thought of Alvin.
He later showed him the video. Alvin’s response: “Oh, I want one of those,” Burton said. “I was kind of in a corner.”
He wrote to Limbitless. The organization agreed to build the arm.
On Thursday, teachers gathered the students in the school cafeteria. Alvin did not know what was about to happen, though he was aware that a bionic arm might be in his future.
“We have some very special guests,” Burton said, “and they have a very special delivery for one of our fourth-grade students.”
Darth Vader strode in, along with an imperial officer, two stormtroopers and a black droid carrying a box containing the arm.
“These guys are all here to deliver Alvin his new arm,” Burton told the kids.
Burton and Alvin’s teacher Dan Kirchhevel helped Alvin pull off his gray sweatshirt and strap on the bionic arm, placing electrodes on his biceps as a horde of TV cameras surrounded them. Alvin slowly smiled as he watch his hand grip for the first time.
As Alvin showed his new appendage to his classmates, Burton compared the new arm to a pair of glasses.
“You’ve got to be careful on the playground because you don’t want it broken,” he said. “What do you guys think?”
They applauded, then crowded around Darth Vader and his crew for pictures.
The little boy with a yellow T-shirt, jeans and Nikes was again surrounded by a phalanx of cameras. He said he was excited to have the arm and looked forward to using it.
Leticia Flores de Garcia teared up. “He’s going to feel better as a person,” she said.