Superheroes Saving the Day in Arizona

Writer Fadi Sitto 

Photography Courtesy of Justice League Arizona 

Did you ever wonder where all those superheroes go when they’re not fighting villains? 

Justice League Arizona superheroes spend their downtime visiting kids at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, parades, comic-cons and other fundraising events to make a positive difference in children’s lives.

Robert Rowlands serves as president of Justice League Arizona—a title that sounds like something most children would dream of. He leads this all-volunteer organization to bring smiles to Arizona children through the magic of superheroes.

“At the Arizonans for Children’s Carnival, I met an amazing kid,” said Rowlands. She absolutely loved the Joker. She followed me around the entire event and told me things even I didn’t know about the Joker. 

“There always seems to be that one kid, whose day you totally made just by being there and listening to them. It’s hard to put into words.” 

The non-profit offers the kids they visit a break from their daily struggles, creating authentic moments of fantasy in which their personal heroes are there to see them. You can see as soon as one of the volunteer superheroes walk into the room, there’s instant magic. At the end of the visit, it’s clear that the benefits are not only for the kids, but the nurses and also the volunteers who don the costumes.

“What I find interesting is that our members come from all walks of life. It’s the most diverse group of people I’ve ever met in my entire life. The one thing we have in common is we want to help people and we have wonderful costumes,” Rowlands said.

When you talk to the nurses at Phoenix Children’s Hospital for example, they’ll tell you that having Batman, Wonder Woman, or Superman show up is one of the things the kids look forward to most. 

For parents who endure the pain and heartache of watching their children fight illness, seeing smiles on their faces is a beautiful gift. If Justice League Arizona can bring one more happy moment into a child’s life, the volunteers feel like they have accomplished something priceless.

Founded in 2011, the non-profit is the brainchild of Dustin Dial, who saw the opportunity to bring like-minded people together to give back to the community. A child of the ’80s, Dustin grew up in northwest Tucson absorbing the heroics of the Super Friends and Caped Crusaders through comic books and film.

Today, due to his passion and hard work, Justice League Arizona has about 70 volunteer superheroes and members.

“My favorite part of volunteering with the JLAZ is when I’m dressed as a child’s favorite character. We visit with children with all types of backgrounds; some are ill, some have a history of abuse, some have been removed from their parents’ custody and we show up to celebrate their reunification,” says Renee Behinfar, Justice League Arizona Volunteer.

Renee, a loyal local hero since 2015, has happily and routinely dressed up as Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Batgirl for Justice League Arizona events.

“When a young girl comes up to me in amazement and discloses that Wonder Woman is her favorite character, I do my best to strengthen her connection to the character and highlight that she is the true superhero,” she says.  

Renee is aware of the impact of her role and mission as a Justice League volunteer, and it shows in her deeply personal and intuitive connection with the children. Memorable moments are often created when she least expects them, and the real-life, real-time connection between a superhero and child is a genuine bond that can change everything.

“A recent memorable moment was at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. We were in the Child Life Zone and, after interacting with a boy who had recently undergone a medical procedure. His mother quietly told us, as her eyes welled up with tears of gratitude, ‘This is the first time he’s smiled in weeks,’” Renee fondly recalls.

Sometimes, you don’t need to be able to leap a tall building in a single bound or have the strength of a thousand men. Sometimes a kind honest smile is worth much more. 

There’s more than one way to save the day, and Justice League Arizona has humbly learned and mastered the art of superhuman kindness.

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