(Geeks for Good features groups and individuals in the game, comic, and cosplay industries that are helping their communities. Check back monthly for more stories about inspiring geeks.)
Foundation 4 Heroes is turning cosplay into cause-play. The nonprofit brings support and smiles to children's hospitals and veterans groups throughout the Chesapeake region. Their motto - "Even Heroes need a hero". Founder and Chairman Jay M. Lipoff chatted with me about the group and its mission. How did Foundation 4 Heroes get started?
In 1988 I went to my first couple of hospital visits dressed as Randy “Macho Man” Savage with friends during the apex of the WWF and Hulk Hogan. I knew how great that appearance felt but never knew how important it was until it struck home. Decades later, a good friend of mine lost his little girl after she had suffered for months and months after her birth. It started a conversation between my wife and me regarding what and how would we deal with losing one of our children.
For three hours or more we cried lying in bed together. At times we couldn’t breathe just imagining the thought of not hearing our child laugh; touching them or any of the other things we would be denied. Would we even be able to maintain our marriage due to the persistent stress afterwards? I knew finding a way to support these families enduring such uncertainty and pain, and trying to bring a smile to a child in need, would be a daunting task, but a fulfilling one. Foundation 4 Heroes was started to do just that. But starting up a non-profit group is no easy task. Having a great idea is good but the work behind it is the real barrier. Over the last 4-5 years we have had the opportunity to visit 1000s of children. We have received countless letters of support and appreciation. But there is a price to be paid for doing this.
Most of our volunteers are parents and take these trips to heart. They use personal leave, vacation time or schedule work around an important trip to visit children. Seeing some the children in the situation they are in can be very disturbing and even bring you to tears. We try to hold it together because we all can relate with the pain the family must be experiencing.
Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of childhood illnesses and deaths, most volunteers have a friend or family member who has lost their fight. Sometimes we have to talk to help cope with what we have seen knowing their futures are unclear. But knowing we are bringing a smile to that child or offering an ear to their parent keeps us moving forward.
The volunteers are amazing. We have formed good bonds with one another and after all we have witnessed; it brings us together like a family. We have lots of fun banter traveling back and forth and sometimes I think that is a way to reduce the magnitude of what we see. But the ultimate goal is making a difference in the lives of someone else and the F4Heroes Team always delivers.
What prompted the decision to use cosplay to help local groups?
In what I refer to as "Cause-Play," superheroes are a great avenue to connect with children. We use characters from various areas but strive to keep them kid-friendly and recognizable. Sometimes even the old wrestlers I break out are well-received because parents can also use a laugh under times of stress and uncertainty. Cause-Play is also about the children or Veterans. We don't visit Comic-Cons unless it is a way to find more volunteers.
What's your favorite part about helping in your community?
I've always hated receiving gifts or praise. It is much more fun and enjoyable to give. I'm not rich by any means. I wish I was because then I wouldn't have to work and find time to do cool things for others. Seeing the smiles on a child's face while their attached to $100,000 machines or shaking a hand of a Veteran from any war and looking them in the eyes to say thank you; it really doesn't get any better than that. Giving back is just a decent way to show other's you care and they are not alone.
Can you share some of your favorite reactions from fans?
Well, we receive some pretty touching notes and letters, there are tremendous moments when you are suited up as Batman and the child is oblivious to everything else as their favorite superhero is there. When they give you hugs or hold your hand, it takes your breath away. But so do the times when you visit a hospital and you don't know what the future holds for an unbelievably beautiful and engaging child or visit a burn ward and see the aftermath and scars. However, to answer the question, one of my favorite responses was from a World War II Veteran. Freddie was 100 years old and we brought him, and Vietnam and Korean War heroes, to a Washington National's game. We had Mr. Moffett on the field before the game and recognized on the big screen. We provided him with a Nats jersey with his name on it and the number 100. Five months later he passed away at 101 years old, but before he did he told his sons that day, the one Foundation 4 Heroes made possible, was the best day of his life. I cried when I read that and still get pretty choked up.
How is the group organized? Can anyone join?
The group is organized like any other charity, with a board and advisory board. While anyone can help or join, we do require that they have Criminal Justice Investigating Services (CJIS) background checks to ensure that when we visit a child or hospital, staff and parents know we have taken extra precautions to make sure everyone is safe.
How does Foundation 4 Heroes find opportunities to help?
We receive about 100 requests each year for us to support charity walks, do birthday parties, come to Cons, visit schools and hospitals, etc. While their are many great causes, we have to support the ones closest to our mission which is primarily to visit and inspire children in hospitals and schools and honor Veterans and thank them for their courage, service and sacrifice. The other issue is that donors want to see us doing what they are giving us money for; the children and Veterans. In addition, some of our suits are $2,000 and if we keep wearing them for every event imaginable, they will wear out and need to replaced; a cost people don't consider.
Whats next for the Foundation 4 Heroes?
We are hoping to secure a hospital trip with the Governor, in costume or not. We have also been in contact with a professional football player and actor from the original Power Rangers series. Hopefully they will help us gain more exposure. We appreciate having an opportunity to discuss our organization with you! Foundation Heroes will host Veterans Trip to the Ballpark again May 3, 2018. Find out more about Foundation 4 Heroes on their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!