Philanthropy

Kansas City’s Supergirl Helps Kids’ Dreams Take Flight

When she dons her blue Lycra suit with the big “S” and trademark red cape, a mild-mannered Kansas City mom transforms into Supergirl.

Story by Joe White

Every other month, Jessica Meditz-Porter visits Children’s Mercy Hospital’s Child Life Center with her entourage of costumed superheroes and friends. The results have been up-up-and-away positive…

When she appears, along with a handful of Star Wars characters, the kids also meet comic book heroes like The Green Lantern, HawkGirl and American Dream (the female version of Captain America). The group never visits the hospital empty-handed; they come bearing gifts like action figures, comic books and free tickets to Planet Comicon.

Jessica Meditz-Porter as the Kansas City Supergirl

Depending on their availability, a few comic book artists will also tag along to create one-of-a-kind, personalized sketches of the kids interacting with the characters as keepsakes of the visit.

“It’s an incredible experience for each of us,” explains Meditz-Porter. “The kids enter the room connected to wires, tubes and IVs; some are pushed in wheelchairs. I approach them at the door and say, ‘I’ve got some great stuff for you today, and some neat people for you to meet.’”

Her Supergirl persona, she says, has provided her the perfect vehicle to channel her desire to volunteer and help kids. Her goal with each hospital visit is simple: “You want to make the kids feel special and put a smile on their face, even if it’s just for a few moments,” Meditz-Porter says.

Supergirl’s visits can sometimes involve up to a dozen costumed characters. (“Thirteen is our limit,” she says with a grin.) She’s the only character, however, allowed to interact one-on-one with the patients. The rules in the Child Life department are as follows: Don’t ask about a child’s illness or prognosis, and don’t say “goodbye” when the visit is up. “We just say, ‘See you next time,’” Meditz-Porter explains.

Carrie Criss, Child Life program coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital, sees firsthand the powerful influence that Supergirl’s visit has on her patients. “Our kids take an immediate liking to Jessica when they first see her in costume,” Criss explains. “It’s no surprise that it’s the girls who really connect with her. They look at her outfit; they look at her boots. She reminds them, ‘You’re a superhero just like me.’”

How It All Started

The idea to become the Kansas City Supergirl arose innocently enough, she relates. It began with a favor for her soon-to-be-husband. It was “Comic Book Wednesday,” and then-boyfriend Brandon Porter asked if she would stop by Elite Comics in Overland Park to pick up the newest titles.

Comic book fans and collectors, alike, need no introduction to this weekly geek ritual popularized by the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” Each Wednesday, the industry releases new comic book titles to stores. Fans and store owners alike look forward to Wednesdays like a kid awaits Christmas morning.

At the front counter, Elite Comics owner William Binderup couldn’t help but notice the blond hair and the athletic build of the former Ottawa College cross country runner and soccer player. The next time Porter was in the store, Binderup asked, “Do you think Jessica would be willing to dress up as a super hero and work in our booth at Kansas City Comic Con?”

Meditz-Porter thought he was joking when she heard. But the more she thought about it, the more she was intrigued. “As a kid, I remember seeing the Supergirl movie and thought she was incredible,” she says. “I could relate to her character.”

She commissioned a local dressmaker to create a one-of-a-kind, custom-fitting suit. “I told her that I didn’t want just a Halloween costume either,” Meditz-Porter adds.

But nothing could prepare her for the moment when she first put the costume on and walked up to the Elite Comics booth at Comic Con. With all eyes on her, Meditz-Porter immediately felt the power.

“The booth was so overrun that you couldn’t get anywhere near it,” Binderup recalls of her first appearance in 2009. “You’d think that we were selling beer. Jessica must have posed for about 1,000 photos with fans, freaks and geeks.”

Her notoriety at Comic Con led to a radio interview to talk about fitness and healthy eating. It was there that Meditz-Porter first mentioned that she’d like to use her character to visit kids in the hospital. Moments later, a caller provided her a contact at Children’s Mercy Hospital. She called the next day.

A Day in the Life

While the life of a superhero is serious work, Meditz-Porter says it does have its humorous moments, like the first time she took her costume to her local dry cleaners. “They looked puzzled at the costume and didn’t know what to think at first,” she remembers. “I told them, ‘Don’t you lose it, and don’t you ruin it.’”

Her original costume eventually had so much wear that she’s already on her second one. The first is autographed and framed at Elite Comics.

For Meditiz-Porter, the odd stares and occasional giggles from those who see her in costume for the first time can still be unnerving. But when they learn why she wears the costume, they want to either dress up themselves or help in other ways.

Veterinarian Matt Mayerske, DVM of Elite Animal Care, opted for the latter. Running late from a Children’s Mercy event, Meditz-Porter was still in costume as she rushed home to meet Dr. Mayerske for a house call for her dog. They pulled into her driveway at the same time, and Supergirl emerged from the car.

“He was a little surprised to see me in costume, but when I explained, he thought it was great,” she recalls. “The next week, he sent a donation check from his animal practice.”

This act, Meditz-Porter says, never gets old. “These kids in the hospital are smart. They ask me, ‘Are you really Supergirl? Do you really fly?’ I tell them I could fly but didn’t because the hospital is in a no-fly zone. I do remember a kid telling me once that I could probably give a demonstration from the helicopter pad on the hospital roof.”

That’s why it’s important for the Kansas City Supergirl to always be on her toes for these visits. She admits that she loves the spontaneity that her clients bring. “These kids may be sick, but they’re fun,” Meditz-Porter says. “And these visits help to remind them that being a kid is about all about having fun.”

When she’s not being a mom or Supergirl, Meditz-Porter can be found at Midtown Athletic Club in Overland Park, where she works as a personal trainer dedicated to helping others feel like superheroes inside and outside of the gym.