San Antonio non-profit founder awarded for work with sick kids
No kid wants to be in a hospital. But Joscelyn Laurence said her son River enjoyed his time there thanks to special visits from superheroes.
“They put Legos together,” she explained about one interaction her son had with Batman. “They played. And I think he was really sad when he had to leave."
Just a few months after various costumed characters started spending time with River, the 5-year-old lost his battle with cancer.
The little boy from Converse received an honorary firefighter's funeral in July. He always dreamt of becoming one. Batman even turned out to say goodbye at his funeral along with dozens of other costumed characters. They joined forces to form a superhero Honor Guard in River's memory.
"We stood at attention as his mom carried his ashes with the firemen escorting her in, and we stood up near his ashes as they did the last call for him," Dawn Russell said.
Russell’s not only the founder of "Heroes N More,” she’s also one of the 47 volunteer members who dresses up in costumes to help brighten the faces of kids who are sick. They visit hospitals, birthday parties and give out superhero boxes, which come with outfits, games and activities, to kids fighting life-threatening conditions.
"Everything princess,” she said to describe some of the characters. “All the Tinkerbell fairies. Harry Potter. Disney. Anything you can name. We have superheroes. We have villains."
She started the local non-profit in 2014 along with her husband David, as a way to pay it forward for the kindness shown to their son.
"It's amazing,” she told Fox San Antonio’s Ryan Wolf. It's the best feeling in the world to know that you're giving them that moment of joy."
But behind the costume, is a person who's dealing with her own unimaginable pain. Her son Gabe, who was born with a number of medical issues, has become very sick.
"They always gave back to him via clowns and stuff like that because a long time ago that's basically all there was,” she said.
Gabe is now 19 year old. He’s facing a life-threatening brain condition. Russell had to quit her job to be by his side after her husband lost his life to pancreatic cancer last year.
"For a little while after he passed away, I didn't think I'd be able to do it again after having been personally impacted by cancer,” she explained. “Watching him suffer, I didn't know if I could. But I knew that I had to because we started it to give hope to people."
Russell is seen as a real-life hero for her unrelenting desire to help others. River's mother helped surprise her with CASH FOR KINDNESS on behalf of Fox San Antonio.
“You have done so much for us and so many other children,” she told Russell outside her home while the two held hands. “And even when you're going through such tough times yourself, you give so much of yourself. You have a servant’s heart. And I really wanted to be a part of this surprise for you because I love you so much and I know how much you do for everyone else."
The two hugged each other and wiped away their tears.
“People are at their toughest moments dealing with cancer and death, and you, you come along with 'Heroes N More' to give them hope," Wolf said to Russell next.
He asked her to open her hand to accept a cash award from Fox San Antonio.
"$500, $600, $700, $800, $900, $1,000," she counted aloud with a shocked look on her face.
"Everyone has it in them,” she said after a long pause. “It doesn't really take a cape or a mask. All it takes is a driving force in the world. And to me, that's the best superhero."
Russell said she planned to use her CASH FOR KINDNESS money to help pay for her son’s medication. She also is going to make sure more sick kids will get a chance to smile.
Click here to nominate someone for the $1,000 CASH FOR KINDNESS award.