Jeffros Heroes, Bringing Smiles to Kids in Hospitals
By Krista Martinelli
Jeff Ritter is a true super hero. It all began about 3 years ago when he founded Jeffros Heroes. He dresses up as different superheroes and visits kids in hospitals and rehab centers. It’s something that he and a few of his friends do free of charge. These days he often gets calls from nurses and finds out who to visit and who the preferred superhero is. Ritter explains, “When their real hero thinks they are cool, that’s the best feeling. I bring positivity and assurance to kids.”
Here is Ritter in action with a teenage boy who has cerebral palsy. People have asked him how he knows what to say. “It’s easy,” he says. “I just start by saying 9 or 10 nice things about them.”
Ironically, Ritter says that he has “no special talents.” I would argue that he has a special talent for talking to children who are going through a rough time. He makes what some might find awkward as effortless.
He was dressing up for kids’ birthday parties when he got the idea to bring cheer to kids in hospitals three years ago. He works as a waiter at a restaurant called BrickTops and does this on the side. “You have to use what you have to help others,” he strongly believes.
He says that he’s had a giving spirit ever since his childhood, which is something his parents instilled in him. Their church was doing a toy drive for kids in Haiti when Ritter was six years old. “I believe in the Golden Rule,” says Ritter. “I couldn’t even picture what it might be like to be a kid with no toys. I gave away all of my toys for that toy drive.”
His best costume, according to Ritter, is the batman costume. “It looks the coolest, but it’s also the sweatiest.” With a little help from friends, they can also bring Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Supergirl and a few other superheroes to hospitals.
They have visited children in St. Mary’s, the Nicholas Children’s Hospital in Miami, Quantum House and a few foster homes, including Grandma’s Place.
Ritter says that people can donate via his GoFundMe account, Heroes4Hospitals, which is a 501c3 organization. He also has a Facebook page for his related non-profit organization The Love Planet. And there’s a Jeffros Heroes Facebook page too. Jeffros Heroes can take checks. Also, those who would like to volunteer can get in touch with Jeff Ritter for more information.
Another small way to support Jeffros Heroes is to buy a wristband for $5. On one side, it says, “You are someone’s hero” and on the flip side, it says, “I am someone’s hero.” According to Ritter, these are intended to circulate in the community. If someone does something nice for you, you can give them the wristband, telling them, “You are someone’s hero.” For every bracelet purchased, $1 goes directly to one of three families in need.
Recently there was an 8-year-old girl who had been in a car accident. Her birthday was coming up in a week and what she really wanted was a visit from Ironman, her favorite hero. In just two days, they were able to raise the $1,000 needed for an Ironman suit. This girl got a visit from Captain America, Batman and yes, Ironman. She was crying – tears of joy. “You can make a difference,” says Ritter, “even when you have only a week.”
He takes heart in the fact that most of these kids want to give back. He often asks them what they want to be when they grow up. “99% of the time they say, ‘I want to be a doctor for kids or a nurse. When you see love and compassion coming from kids like that, it’s amazing.’” These are kids who are being poked and prodded throughout the day for medical reasons, but still have the energy to give back.
Often the parents feel helpless in some ways, not knowing how to improve the situation for their kids. “They are always so gracious and overly thankful,” says Ritter. Because he doesn’t do it for money, but just out of kindness, the parents treat him as a hero as well.
Jeff Ritter has always loved kids. “Even at 15 years old, I was thinking about having kids,” he says. Today he and his girlfriend Kara have a 5-year-old daughter and a son on the way. Often he has his daughter help him in some way with his volunteer work. “I have her help me, not because it’s cute to have her there, but to instill in her what my parents instilled in me at an early age about helping others.” For example, recently his daughter presented the $3,000 that they raised for his friend Tony, who has cancer of the esophagus.
He grew up in Loxahatchee. His parents are “like traveling pastors.” His Mom sings, and his Dad plays keyboards as well as other instruments. “They’re proud of me,” he says. “It took me 35 years to make them proud, but I did it.”
It’s good to know that there is a local superhero that kids can count on. Sometimes he brings a few of his superhero friends too. Thanks, Jeffros Heroes!
On Facebook: Jeffros Heroes
(for tax-deductible donations)