Courage. Strength. Resilience. This is what children draw upon when hospital patients, whether due to an illness or disability. “We often hear doctors, parents and caregivers referring to them as “superheroes,” the website The Superhero Project says of the meaning behind its moniker. What this organization does — help kids embody their superhero selves.
Founded by Lisa Kollins, an administrator at the Social Justice Institute, The Superhero Project interviews children to find out about their inner superheroes, then works with volunteer artists who design a distinctive superhero for each of them. The character is professionally printed and given to the child. Of the program’s growth, Kollins tells Parentology, “Its success has enabled us to work with hundreds of families, which makes me very proud.”
The Superhero Project’s Origins
For nine years, Kollins worked as the program specialist at a camp for kids impacted by HIV/AIDS. “Each summer there was a different theme, including one about finding your inner superhero and what that means,” she recalls. “I had an idea to ask the campers on the first day of camp who they would be if they were superheroes – what they would stand for, what they would look like, what kind of powers they would have.”
Information in hand, camp staff had drawings of the kids’ visions made for them. “They were thrilled adults had taken their ideas seriously and were really excited to see themselves in a heroic way,” Kollins says. “I saw how impactful it was, and felt I stumbled into something really special.”
Impactful is one of many ways The Superhero Project is described. The program is designed to encourage and inspire youth to envision their Superhero alter ego to help them face these challenges.
Bringing Superheroes to Life
The Superhero Project works with volunteer artists from eight different countries. “I love that they’re doing this just out of the goodness of their hearts,” Kollins says. “They’re all generously volunteering their time, talent, passion and thoughtfulness to make these kids’ ideas – even the wacky and far-out ones – come to life.”
Now the combined visions of the children and the artists are being shared with a wider audience through the Look at Me: Recognition and Representation in a New Pantheon of Superheroes exhibition. The project features characters created by African American, Latinx, Arab America, Asian American and Native American youth. The exhibit, which will be traveling to different venues, will be accompanied by an essay about representational justice from artist Amanda D. King.
Look at Me is one more step towards the mission of The Superhero Project. “There’s a critical need for young people of color to see themselves reflected in art and popular culture,” Kollins says. “Uplifting their voices and images through this exhibit is an additional way to support them.”
Learn more about The Superhero Project at sidekicksohio.org.