The night before an exam his first year at Carolina, Jack Davis was just looking for a place to study near his dorm room. Everything was closed, except the UNC Children’s Hospital, where he found a spot for his late-night study session.

Davis was interrupted by a young patient who wanted to draw in Davis’ notebook. After scribbling in Davis’ notebook, the child wished Davis luck on his upcoming exam and left.

“That was a really kind, precious gesture that struck a chord with me,” he said.

It was the boost of motivation Davis needed at just the right time.

Now, Davis, a political science major, is returning that support and encouragement to the patients of the UNC Children’s Hospital as the founder of the Superhero Project.

Superhero Project graphics director Lahari Pullakhandam sketches a superhero in the Undergraduate Library. The student organization aims to empower UNC Childrens Hopsital patients to be strong when they feel weak.
Superhero Project graphics director Lahari Pullakhandam sketches a superhero in the Undergraduate Library. The student organization aims to empower UNC Childrens Hopsital patients to be strong when they feel weak.

Formed last year, the Superhero Project is a student organization that pairs UNC Children’s Hospital patients with Carolina students and local artists to create superheroes modeled after the children. The initiative is designed to empower them to be strong when they feel weak.

“When somebody is in a place of sickness, and a place of weakness, there is this sense that you’ve lost agency in your life and you’re not in control of your own life,” said Davis, the project’s executive director. “Art has a really neat way of reminding you that you can put on a mark on a page, that you do have agency, and that you can forge your own path and you do have strength.”

The group’s goal, Davis said, is to help the young patients build strength through creative outlets. With that mission, superheroes became a natural fit for the group.

“Our whole organization runs around the idea of strength and finding strength through creative means,” he said. “We just felt like a superhero could help us teach that, illustrate that, in a really unique way.”

Instead of the ability to fly or lift a building, the project’s characters are kind, brave and positive — the same traits that make the patients superheroes in their own right.

“We take these characteristics that are often overshadowed and try to elevate them to make them feel like those are superpowers in and of themselves,” said Sarah Lundgren, a junior majoring in media and journalism and history, as well as the group’s publishing director.

The Superhero Project promotes its message with a coloring book made specifically for the UNC Children’s Hospital patients. The book highlights the exploits and powers of superheroes like Captain Courage, President Positivity and King Kindness.

At the end of the book, there’s a place for the patients to write about themselves and their own superpowers. The Superhero Project’s graphics team uses that information to design new characters that draw the children into superheroes that ultimately end up in a professionally designed comic book.

While promoting those positive traits, the coloring book and drawings give the patients a break from their reality for a brief period of time and act like any other kid.

“They have a lot on their minds and are forced to be more adult than they need to be,” said Lahari Pullakhandam, computer science major and cognitive science minor, and the organization’s graphics director. “To give them a chance to really tap into their fun and childish side is important. Being in the hospital can weigh on your mind. That escape is necessary.”

By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications

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