These individuals and families provide support and beyond for the special needs community By Lindsey Geiss
Kourageous Kylin Santana (superhero image by Artist Josh Lusby)
Superheroes Serving Children
leveland is the birthplace of Superman (1932) and home to two nonprofits with superhero-size missions to spread joy to children facing adversity across Northeast Ohio and beyond. Lisa Kollins, of South Russell, founded The Superhero Project after nine years as a program specialist at Camp Sunrise, which until its final summer in 2018, was the only camp in Ohio serving youth touched by HIV/AIDS. A culminating project allowed campers to work with artists to design their own superheroes. Through that process, she realized the emotional impact of seeing your inner hero come to life and wanted it to continue. Volunteer “Sidekicks” interview children facing critical illnesses or disabilities to discover their superhero alter-egos — what they stand for, who they fight for, and how they make the world a better place. Each child is
matched with a professional artist who brings the character to life, and families are delivered a poster (and digital file) to treasure. “I consider it an honor and privilege to get to know these children,” Kollins says. Lorain resident Sarah Santana is the mother of 5-year-old Kylin, who had his superhero alter-ego created by Columbus-based artist Josh Lusby. The artwork, “Kourageous Kylin, Dravet Syndrome Warrior,” shows Kylin as a superhero with a “Super Smile,” along with his sidekick big brother Wise Wesley. “Our family finds the artwork truly inspirational,” Santana says. “The image hangs on our wall as a source of strength and hope through Kylin’s smile, which has persisted through every hardship. “During the interview process, we got the chance to actualize qualities that represent Kylin,” she says. “This alone was exciting, because as a special needs mom, we spend most of our days advocating for our children. Dravet Syndrome (a type of epilepsy), has taken so much away from Kylin, but this project was giving back. This organization inspires
children to let their differences electrify their inner superhero rather than define their lives.” The Project has created superheroes for 200 children to date, and the artwork reflects the diversity of the children themselves. Representation is important to Kollins, who serves as administrator of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University. “People become marginalized for lots of reasons, including race, class and level of ability,” she says. “Seeing others who are like them is empowering. Another wonderful outcome of this effort has been creating a pantheon of superheroes of color. There are few in pop culture, so it’s lovely seeing African American, Latino, Native American and Arab American superheroes. That inclusivity is really special. “A project is now in the works to create an exhibit of these images in area libraries and community centers,” Kollins adds. “It is important for all children to be viewed as people of agency with the power to make the world a better place.” Most children connect with the organization through its partnership with the Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s in Cleveland or other Northeast Ohio organizations, including Youth Challenge adaptive sports and recreation activities. However, The Superhero Project works with families anywhere and has even interviewed children in the UK and partnered with an artist in Australia. Interviews may be done inperson locally, or by phone or email. If you would like to have a design created for a child you know — or if you are a professional artist looking to create joy for a child — email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sidekicksohio.org for more information.
5th Annual Resource Guide for Individuals with Special Needs and Their Families - Northeast Ohio Edition