AVON, Ohio (WJW) — Superhero kids teamed up to save the day, with a little help from an Avon charity.
More than 40 volunteer heroes from Avon-based nonprofit Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio helped local “Super Kids” who have “overcome illness and adversity” save the city of Avon from super villains Saturday at the Avon Aquatic Facility, 36265 Detroit Road.
About two dozen kids participate every year, the charity’s founder, Brian Chulik, told FOX 8.
The nonprofit is also collecting goods for the Neighborhood Alliance, including matchbox cars, toilet paper and unscented baby wipes, which can be dropped off at the center until 4 p.m. Saturday.
**Read prior coverage on Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio below:
It manifests when he and others don masks, suits and capes and take on heroic personas for children drawing on their own superpowers to fight illness.
The 54-year-old Dr. John Hanicak practices family medicine at Lakewood Family Health Center. He’s also been appearing as Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man and Doctor Strange for the nonprofit Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio for the last eight years, striking heroic stature in local pediatric wards and at charity events.
He told FOX 8 he’s seen a young girl who had, for days, been too weak to leave her bed finally get up just to say “hi” to Superman. He’s seen a blind girl who was “afraid of every single thing happening around her” be comforted by a song from Elsa, of “Frozen” fame, and seen her smile start to spread.
“We saw this thing happen that almost seems like magic,” Hanicak told FOX 8.
“The kids are stressed out. And kids in general don’t belong in the hospital. … From their standpoint, it’s confusing or stressful,” he said. “When their favorite superhero or princess shows up, they’re able to be distracted for a minute. They just start smiling, and it makes a huge difference.
“I’m a doctor. I can’t think of any medicine that does that,” he said.
** Video courtesy of Cleveland Clinic
‘Courage, bravery and positive attitudes’
Hanicak, dressed as Spider-Man, and others from the group posed as Supergirl and Deadpool to visit pediatric patients at the Clinic’s Fairview Hospital late last month.
They “took a break from fighting crime to learn a lesson or two from our own superhero pediatric patients,” reads a news release from the Clinic. “The children were also introduced into the Super Hero Club and awarded for their courage, bravery and positive attitudes.”
The nonprofit has hosted more than a thousand such events since it began in 2010, said founder Brian Chulik, with local celebrities like attorney Tim Misny and FOX 8’s Suzanne Stratford, getting into character for the charity. It now has more than 90 volunteers, filling out a varied gallery of superheroes, Disney princesses and other popular characters.
Hanicak said he joined up on a whim. His father was a fan of Superman comics and so he grew up reading them and watching the Man of Steel on the big screen.
He’s suited up for nearly 100 events for the charity, he said. But it’s “that magic” that keeps him coming back, he said.
‘Greater than the rest of us’
Around the Clinic’s nursing departments and pediatric wards are photos of Hanicak and others suited up as their heroic personas, being readied for CAT scans or vaccine shots.
“The nurses all say the same thing: If [the kids] see a superhero doing the thing they’re going to do next, it really lowers the stress and anxiety,” Hanicak said.
He said superheroes can be a “distraction technique” for kids undergoing scary or painful procedures, and studies show those types of techniques can actually lower a child’s pain threshold. And, superheroes are easy for children to idolize — they represent the ideals most would want to embody.
“They’re just inspired by things that are greater than the rest of us,” Hanicak said. “Things they feel keep them safe and, on some level, make them feel everything’s going to be OK.”
Hanicak said he’s a scientist at heart, and he’d love to see more focused research into the psychological or physical impacts this superhero effect could have on children. He and others have considered setting up their own research — but he worried it could be too intrusive on families who are in difficult situations.
Superheroes can be the focus of a kind of meditation for kids — and using comic book characters makes that practice easier for them to comprehend, said Elizabeth Short, a professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and director of its early intervention program.
She’s been working with the Chagrin Falls nonprofit The Superhero Project, which pairs children facing serious illnesses or adversity with volunteer artists to collaborate on a superhero alter-ego that embodies the child’s strengths and ideals — creating something that transcends their diagnosis and gives them a new way to look at themselves.
“Thinking about something beyond yourself and not focusing on yourself or the stress and pain you’re experiencing — that’s a very effective strategy,” she told FOX 8. “The tricky part for kids is it’s hard for them to transcend time and space.
“That’s why the superheroes are something that’s more age-appropriate and something they can relate to.”
‘Bring hope and smiles’
Hanicak said he usually sets aside a half-day each month to visit pediatric wards — sometimes more. But for others heading the Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio nonprofit, it’s a full-time job.
The nonprofit regularly works with the Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals and Ronald McDonald Charities of Northeast Ohio, according to Chulik. This year, the group donated $10,000 to the Akron Ronald McDonald House to assist families — on top of its annual $5,000 donation — and another $5,000 to Lorain County’s Neighborhood Alliance Organizations.
“We try to go wherever we are needed for any special situations in an attempt to bring hope and smiles to kids and people,” he said. “We are thankful that this organization has continued to gain new members who give of their time, energy and compassion.
“As co-founder Jimmy Myers stated previously, ‘The kids are the real heroes!’”
This is the first part in a three-part series. Click here for more.