When New York Comic Con rolls around, local cosplayers are finally able to showcase the hero, villain, and internet meme costumes they have worked on all year. But for Adaina Velez, being a “hero” is more than the costumes she designs. Through her charity, Heroes, the Bronx resident uses her love of costumes and super heroes to bring joy to sick and disabled children.
An active member of the cosplay scene, Velez says she wanted to use Heroes as a way to be a role model for her children. After taking her own children with her to comic conventions and seeing how much they enjoyed participating, themselves, Velez wanted to extend the opportunity to other, less fortunate, kids.
“My children loved it,” Velez says. “I thought it would be awesome to give another person, a child the opportunity to have that experience.”
Velez was introduced to her first potential hero in January. At eight years old, Jhosua Santana, was diagnosed with two forms of cancer: osteosarcoma and leukemia. Velez reached out to Jhosua’s family, and her charity became a reality.
“We got everything rolling, and ever since Jhosua and his mom have been family to me,” Velez says.
Using her experience creating costumes for cosplay conventions, Velez helped create a custom Robin costume for Jhosua. She also sponsored a surprise party for his eighth birthday while he was in the hospital.
“He was so excited,” says Yudelka Bernal, Jhosua’s mother. “He told me, ‘I didn’t know there were so many people coming to see me on my birthday.”
After a bone marrow transplant that was unsuccessful, Bernal gave her marrow in May and Jhosua is now out of the hospital and growing his hair again. She says the “Heroes” program helped her son see the benefit of helping others.
“I think that he will see there are people there for him and for another kid in a hard situation,” Bernal says.
Even though she originally planned to sponsor her heroes for a year, Velez said she would always be involved with Jhosua and his family.
“Jhosua is going to be with me until he’s tired of me,” Velez says. “I’m never going to give him up.”
Velez and met her second hero, 12-year-old Shawn Cuoco in May at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Con. Shawn has Down’s syndrome, and Velez has coordinated with his father to take him to various conventions and create costumes for him.
“He and I went to Garden State (Comic Fest) together, and we had a fantastic time,” she says.
Over the course of the year, Velez has received a number of small donations through a GoFundMe campaign she set up and is currently working to establish Heroes as a non-profit. She’s also begun talking with local hospitals about partnerships and is planning a cabaret fundraiser for the winter. Still, through all her work Velez insists that she is not the hero in her story.
“The hero is not me, they’re not the people who come and see (the kids) in cosplay, the heroes are [the children],” Velez said. “I honor them, they’re my little heroes.”