CLEVELAND — Right now, there are more than 2,400 kids in foster care across Cuyahoga County.
All ages, dealing with all types of trauma.
The people who care for them are constantly looking for ways to lift their spirits and this latest one has them feeling superhuman.
Amanda Wallenhorst is one of the artists with the Superhero Project, and she takes her assignment very seriously.
“So I have her pet hippo over here,” Wallenhorst said, laughing.
The Superhero Project is a Cleveland nonprofit that empowers children with disabilities, serious health issues, and trauma.
Artists are donating their time and their talent to turn kids into the superheroes they’re meant to be.
“They really bring a sense of self confidence and joy to the youth in a way that nothing else does,” said Lisa Kollins.
She created the Superhero Project five years ago. Now, she has interviewed nearly 1,000 kids.
“What’s important to them, what they love, what they do for fun, all about who they are as a whole person,” Kollins explained. Each piece of artwork is unique to the child, with their favorite items, pets, and colors created by artists from around the country and in Cleveland.
And Kollins is now expanding the project to the Cuyahoga County foster care system.
Erika Gaiter has been with the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCJFS) for more than 32 years - she’s just about seen and heard it all.
These days, she’s seeing just how much of an impact a simple poster can have on a child.
“Just to have an option to think about tomorrow is a plus for them because all they can think about is today, and last night,” Gaiter said.
We spoke to one of the superhero kids in foster care, a 14-year-old whose identity we are keeping private for safety reasons.
“When you see the final thing, how does that make you feel?” reporter Homa Bash said.
“I feel great!” the 14-year-old said. “I was like ‘oh my God is that me?!’”
We also spoke to the artist who created her alter ego, Meredith Noyes.
“That’s amazing,” Noyes said, “That makes it all worth it, that’s the coolest part.”
Because it turns out, kids are the best creative directors you’ll ever come across.
“One girl wanted to make sure everybody believes in unicorns,” Kollins said. “It was really important to her, a serious unicorn advocate.”
And using your powers for good is the best use of anyone’s time and talent.
“You get a picture of the kids and they’re holding your poster and they’re smiling and it’s a big reward of its own,” Wallenhorst said.