By Greg Jones
Launched by Lisa Kollins in 2017, in Cleveland, Ohio, The Superhero Project interviews kids and teens with serious illnesses and special needs about their superhero alter egos – what they stand for, what powers they have, what they look like, and how they make the world a better place. The storytelling collaboration continues when volunteer digital artists design the characters the children have described, creating a visual representation of the superhero’s strength, courage, and resilience. The children and their families receive inspiring posters of their superheroes to hang on their walls and treasure forever.
Over 400+ superhero children from across the U.S. and from five other countries have participated and inspired the artists with their creativity, humor, kindness, and determination. The Superhero Project recognizes the tremendous gifts and unique abilities that each child brings to the world. One mom of a child with special needs shared the following:
As parents on this journey, we are regularly faced with having to detail out all the things our kiddo can’t do. This is a cool and meaningful way to showcase the awesomeness of our differently able warriors.
The program has worked with kids and teens living with a broad range of health challenges, from critical illnesses to lifelong conditions. If a child or teen is non-verbal, parents, siblings or other relatives can complete the interview on their behalf. Each design is unique, inspired by the interests, values, ideas and imagination of the youth and their family.
Interviews are currently being done via video chat or phone call. Once the interview is complete, the child is matched with an artist who receives the first name, age, photo and interview details, along with the general design specifications. Since the connection with the artist is done via e-mail, the artist can be located anywhere in the world – and they are! In addition to the many American and Canadian artists who have participated, volunteers come from around the globe, including from Australia, Brazil, Italy, Vietnam and Panama.
The final designs of Superheroes are delivered within 12-14 days, sent to be professionally printed, and then mailed to the families, along with a short character story and a note or bio from the artist. All work by The Superhero Project and the assigned artists is done at no charge, as an act of love, support, and inspiration for the child and family.
Lisa Kollins, the originator of The Superhero Project, says:
What The Superhero Project really needs is more artists willing to donate their time and talents to creating a superhero. Interested artists can apply by completing the form on our website or sending an email with samples of their work and explaining why they are interested in volunteering for the program.
Finding artists with the experience and talent to interpret a child’s individual requests, to adhere to the design guidelines and deadlines, and to return a high quality digital image that captures the child’s likeness is critical, to make sure that the families are truly inspired by the final design.
“We are so grateful to the incredibly talented individuals who share their time and expertise with us,” says Kollins. “We are fortunate to maintain a professional standard for our designs, even though we are working with volunteers. We’ve had storyboard artists and character designers, children’s book illustrators, graphic designers, animators and comic book artists, and many others who have stepped forward to help a child in need. We are excited to welcome applications from the artists from the Art of Autism as well!”
The Art of Autism has already had some autistic artists participate in this program; in the Spring of 2020, our first Art of Autism artist designed a character in collaboration with a superhero child.
If you are an experienced digital artist with the time, talent and discipline to create a superhero character to help a sick child and their family share some joy during a difficult time, we encourage you to visit the Superhero Project website, where you’ll see more examples of the artwork and can decide if you are interested in getting involved. This is an excellent opportunity for an autistic artist to connect virtually with a child, create a unique art piece for a great cause, and add a special experience to their resumé. Please note: Due to the specific requirements for participating artists, not all applicants are accepted.
If you know a child eligible to be a recipient in The Superhero Project, please send them to the website for additional information, answers to frequently asked questions, and an online form for families to complete in order to participate.
Superhero Project Artist Credits – in order as published above:
- “Hi Speed” – Created by J. (age 4) and designed by Ken Knafou
- “Super Teddie” – Created by E. (age 13) and designed by Mischi G
- “Princess Z” – Created by Z. (age 6) and designed by Ana Gusson
- “Turtle Woman” – Created by K. (age 9) and designed by Ace Connell
- “Forever Emily” – Inspired by E. (age 8) and designed by Taryn Cozzy
- “JAC-MAN” – Inspired by J. (age 7) and designed by Robert Walland
Greg Jones is a board member of the Art of Autism nonprofit. His son Austin John Jones is a recent participating artist in the Superhero Project.