Capes & Crowns transforms children with illnesses and special needs into superheroes, athletes, princesses

WOODLAND HILLS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Christopher Martinez, 2, was excited to flex for the camera in his Batman costume. His bravery is beyond comparison because in real life the little boy from Lawndale has undergone months of chemotherapy to battle Leukemia.

The Capes & Crowns Foundation hopes that for just a few hours Christopher can forget about his treatments and doctors, and instead focus on his inner superhero bravery while being a kid.

"We want to help these kids feel strong, help them feel empowered, and give them joy amidst really tough times," said Kylie Cole, president and founder of the organization.

The Oregon-based nonprofit is traveling the country, photographing children who face life changing illnesses, surgeries and special needs. Each child gets to decide what they want to be in their special photo, whether it be a superhero, princess, or athlete - at no cost to their parents.

Cole said the idea started three years ago while photographing a child, who happened to have cancer, and that photo brought the boy's mother to tears.

"These families get to hold on to that (photo), and being able to give that gift to the family means everything to us," Cole said.

Children with illnesses and special needs were photographed and transformed into Mary Poppins and Disney Princesses, thanks to the team's Photoshop skills.

Arianna Villegas, 10, plays baseball and after overcoming major heart surgery has dreamed of hitting a home run at Dodgers Stadium.

"When I see other people stand there, I picture myself there, too," Villegas said.

That's why she chose to take her photo as an All-Star baseball player. Capes & Crowns even contacted the Los Angeles Dodgers and shortstop Corey Seager sent Villegas a signed jersey and personal message before her photo shoot.

"It's really just about letting these kids escape and letting their imaginations take over," said Halsey Hendrickson, Capes & Crowns vice president of marketing and photographer. "These kids are being poked and prodded in the hospital all the time, so this is just letting their imaginations take over and have fun."

They also encourage parents and siblings to dress up with the children. The team of volunteers, most of them moms themselves, recently stopped in Woodland Hills and San Diego before moving on to other destinations across the country.

Each is giving their own time with no salary, with all of the money raised so far going toward costumes and travel costs.

"This is priority over everything else besides our families," Hendrickson said. "Sometimes these shoots are the last memories these families have with their kids."

Cole agreed.

"Being able to give that gift to the family, means everything to us," she said. "We work 60 to 80 hours a week and it's unpaid. It's all volunteer, and I would not be doing anything else."

To find out more about Capes & Crowns, as well as see the foundation's tour schedule, click here.
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