Superhero Saturday

Many children dream of becoming superheroes. Last weekend, thanks to California-based nonprofit Capes4Heroes and local collaborators in Chapel Hill, more than 80 pediatric patients at N.C. Children’s Hospital were able to live that dream.

Superhero Saturday click to enlarge William drives off in his superhero gear.

by Hannah Crain - hannah.crain@unchealth.unc.edu

Two-year-old William isn’t feeling as well as he should – he’s been battling leukemia. But he must have superpowers, because no matter what’s going on with his treatment, he never misses an opportunity to dance and cheer up his parents.

“He dances when he hears any music,” says his mom, Kaitlin Erkkila, “but especially when Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ comes on. If he’s upset, we turn on that song. It truly helps us to keep our spirits up.”

Last weekend, William and more than 80 other pediatric patients at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital proved their superhero status when the California-based nonprofit organization Capes4Heroes came to town. Started five years ago by a California mom who was struggling to dress her two-year-old son who had autism, Capes4Heroes has made more than 8,000 capes for children worldwide. Over the course of two hours on a Saturday, pediatric patients at UNC were presented with the handmade capes, which brought smiles to their faces and gave them a needed boost as they face their health challenges.

Zeba Khan volunteered at the event, delivering capes to patients’ rooms. She describes the experience as the most moving she’s had during her five-year tenure as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital.

It is thrilling to see their faces light up and their entire countenance change for the positive. No one can measure the good this does for the children. --M'Liss Dorrance

“These capes mean so much,” Zeba says. “The children had the happiest looks on their faces as we delivered them to their rooms. Kids who seemed to be sleeping, as soon as they saw the capes, immediately rolled over and wanted to try them on.”

Putting together the event at the Children’s Hospital required collaboration and hard work from a number of people, including members of the UNC women’s soccer family, UNC Hospitals Volunteer Services, and volunteers who traveled across the country from Capes4Heroes headquarters. 

M’Liss Dorrance, cofounder of the Ballet School of Chapel Hill and wife of women’s head soccer coach Anson Dorrance, first heard about Capes4Heroes from former Tar Heel goalkeeper Gretchen Overgaard Hunt, who had worked with Barbara Casados, the founder of Capes4Heroes, in the Bay Area.

“A few years ago, Barbara was planning a trip to do an event at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham and I jumped on board to do what I could to help,” says Dorrance. “It is thrilling to see their faces light up and their entire countenance change for the positive. No one can measure the good this does for the children.”

Dorrance didn’t attend her initial Cape4Heroes experience alone. Alongside her were freestyle soccer champion and former Carolina women’s soccer undergraduate assistant, Indi Cowie, and Indi’s mom, Judith. Indi performed for the children at that event. Judith, meanwhile, learned just how powerful the gift of a cape could be for a sick child, and for last week’s event at the Children’s Hospital, she committed to sewing more than 200 capes, with her younger daughter and professional soccer freestyler, Skye Cowie, volunteering with her.

“I’ve experienced firsthand the look on a child's face when he or she receives a cape,” says Judith, who worked with seamstresses on the day of the event to sew children’s initials on the capes as a way of personalizing them. “These capes help them feel special and give them strength as they face their own life struggles. I was overcome with emotion at the difference a cape could make for a sick child. I was immediately hooked and wanted to get involved.”

Volunteer Team
(L-R) Joy Javitz, Judith Cowie, M’Liss Dorrance, Judith’s younger daughter and professional soccer freestyler, Skye Cowie, Lisa Champine, Linda Voelker and her daughter Nicole.

Joy Javits has been volunteering at the Children’s Hospital for more than two decades through her organization DooR to DooR, which brings musicians, poets, dancers, and visual artists to patients, in their hospital rooms. She credits UNC Hospitals Volunteer Services with opening its doors to Capes4Heroes, and she was taken aback by the response of patients and their families.

“We wept and smiled as we gave these gifts acknowledging the challenges of being young and in a hospital,” says Javits. “I felt like I was ten years old again. I couldn’t believe how beautifully finished they were.”

Kaitlin Erkkila was excited to find a Superman cape that matched William’s blanket and teddy bear.

“A ‘W’ was quickly stitched on right there in the room and pictures were snapped,” she says. “It was a great celebration of super-strength, courage, and inspiration for others.

Kaitlin, who often shares her feelings about her family's experiences at UNC Hospitals on her blog dedicated to William's journey and on her Facebook page, William's Warriors, couldn’t be happier that so many volunteers contributed to such an important effort, and she appreciated how friendly volunteers were as they greeted William and the other children.

“I am unbelievably impressed with the volunteers, Capes4Heroes, and the wonderful people who poured out their love and time into those who are hospitalized,” Kaitlin says. “Visiting our little ones who need extra support means so much to us.”